Beauty makes gardeners of us all. When we encounter something beautiful we have an innate desire to cultivate it in some way. We take a photo, tell a friend, or write about it on social media or in our journals, spreading the seed of the beauty we encountered. I wanted to create a collection that highlighted this exchange and the lessons I learned as the desire to create more beauty turned me into a literal gardener and taught me how to be human.
My garden has been such a huge element in my personal growth throughout my late twenties. And it has taught me more about what it means to be truly human, than almost any person. My education began, in more ways than one, with a dead lavender plant on my dining table.
Slowing down and connecting with the earth, nature, and the seasons has a way of bringing my eyes upward and away from myself. Of showing me that the world is big and lovely and that maybe my concerns are not so overwhelming as I thought they were. And even when hardship and suffering do occur, somehow the beauty of the flowers in my garden that bloom regardless of my concerns, makes it more bearable. A little reminder that there is good still. When my hands are in the dirt, my mind quiets and I can think clearly about myself and the world, who I want to be, and what I want to do with my wildly precious life. It reminds me that I am not a machine for making money, but I am a human.
This inspired me to create a collection series, showcasing flowers I cultivated with my own hands and carried some of the beautiful lessons they teach me. This idea came to me, when I was a burnt-out wedding photographer first dreaming of being a fine artist. I dreamt of creating cyanotypes from flowers I grew in my garden. At this point, I had never even tried cyanotype and my “garden” was a hodgepodge of posts on my very shady porch. The only flowers that would grow there were pansies and violas.
But beauty of those flowers urged me on and gave me the desire to cultivate and create.
In the garden
I began making the collection by first cultivating a winter garden. In the fall I intentionally chose flowers that would bloom in the winter and would be beautiful to cyanotype. Generally, that means that they have thin petals and/or an interesting shape. In October when the weather was finally cooling down I planted bulbs and sowed seeds. And have tended to them daily since.
Once the flowers started blooming in January, I began the process of creating the pieces themselves. I decided to stick with my signature cyanotype style, a deep even blue. I think this aesthetic is fitting for this collection as it allows the details of the flowers and foliage to be captured clearly and beautifully. This allows them to become the highlight of the piece.
In the darkroom
In the darkroom, I mix the cyanotype chemicals, coat the paper, cut the paper to size by hand, and only select the very best to be used. Getting an even coating of cyanotype chemicals on the paper is not easy. Paper with blemishes and uneven coating is never used. Coating and drying paper can take days.
I like to work slowly and don’t mind it. This kind of pace minimizes mistakes that ruin pieces and allows me to focus on coaxing the beautiful potential out of each flower.
Once the paper is ready, I head out into the garden. Assess the best flowers and plan which I will use for the day. Then I clip just three or four flowers with my gardening sheers and head back into the darkroom. I don’t cut them all at once, again working slowly to ensure the quality of each piece. Back in the darkroom, the right size paper is chosen for each flower and both are then placed under glass and fastened in place.
Back in the Garden
Then I walk back into the garden, unexposed artwork in hand, to place each piece into the direct sunlight. There is no universal exposure time. Each flower has a particular amount of minutes in the sun that captures its details with clarity. Once that time is up, I move everything into the shade for the wash phase. This part is simply magical every time.
As the water laps methodically I bend low to watch the paper change from brown to blue and the details unfold. As I take them out of the wash, the blue is almost turquoise but as it hangs to dry, it deepens to a rich indigo.
There are ways I could speed up the process and get more pieces done at once. I have tried them but I find quality often gets sacrificed in the hurry. And it’s the quality and clarity of cyanotype that make it such a beautiful medium.
It offers such a unique perspective of its subjects. It highlights things often missed in person or in a traditional photograph. With cyanotype, aspects like the delicate petals of the viola, the intricate repeated pattern of the cilantro leaf, the veins and ruffles of a pansy come to the forefront of our attention. These details often take a back seat but when isolated in this simple yet elegant way, we see the subject with new more patient eyes.
The main challenge while creating this collection was using fresh flowers. In the past, worked with pressed flowers. Fresh flowers are different in two main ways, they have moisture and are not flat. And both of these things can compromise the clarity of cyanotype.
The organic shape
Cyanotype is a kind of contact photography meaning it can only take a photo, of what is touching or close to touching the paper. When the flower is just centimeters above the paper, it immediately begins to lose its clarity and focus. Fresh flowers not being flat, made this a challenge. I used glass I had done previously to get the flower as close to the paper as possible. Yet I couldn’t simply put the flower between the paper and glass and expect it to be lovely. Again, the fresh living nature of the flowers had to be handled with care. Making sure the petals did not fold unnaturally under the glass.⠀⠀⠀
The second challenge, moisture, was much more difficult to overcome. Mainly because it came from multiple sources – pollen, cut stems and leaves, and the flower wilting. Moisture can compromise clarity and also leave discoloration on the piece itself. Some cyanotype artists embrace these imperfections and they can be beautiful, but I felt these blemishes would detract from the piece rather than add to is. So I then developed a technique that would overcome the challenge and allow me to have that clean blue and white with delicious details.
These challenges took much longer to solve using fresh flowers because they are not reusable. With pressed flowers, I could test over and over and over again with the same subject. This is not possible with fresh flowers. These limitations and challenges are part of what makes these pieces so unique and special.
No two flowers are the same, making each piece the only one like it in all of history. How incredibly beautiful us that?
The collection itself consists of twenty-one cyanotype originals. The sizes vary from 4×6 to 11×14. Flowers blooming in my winter garden were pansies, violas, snowflakes, cilantro, and other foliage. Each piece highlights a single flower at a time. Some stems have multiple blooms and others just one. The majority of the pieces are small, but this reflects the season and is, in my opinion, beautifully fitting.
These twenty-one pieces are unified in their simple elegance. Each one made with the aim of representing its natural form and capturing its unhurried grace. The cyanotype was made for the flower, not the flower for the cyanotype. The flowers rest and bend naturally and their essence captured honestly. This involved much care and necessitated the development of new techniques. But this extra intentionality, allowed the subject to shine without distraction.
The Winter Garden Collection represents the idea that beauty reminds us of our humanness. And that when we encounter something beautiful we are compelled to sow its seeds of hope and connection. My garden is the place I’ve learned most about connecting with my humanness. And so in creating this collection I hope to scatter my artwork into the world like seeds and that they will cultivate hope within homes and connect people with their own humanity.
I can’t wait for the release on March 17th at 10 am pst! Email Insiders get early access to the collection. So if you aren’t on my email list you should sign up! I promise I only send really lovely emails! No spam, just beautiful emails with cool things!