Welcome to the Inward series. Over the next week and a half, I’ll be taking the time to look back on 2021, and what it’s taught me. I will be blogging daily, taking two days to look at each season and highlight one body of work. I hope this series will be insightful and inspiring for us both. At the end of each post, there will be a few questions for your own reflection in hopes that we can journey inward together.
Even before I tried cyanotype, back when it was simply a beautiful idea, I dreamt of creating them with flowers I grew in my garden. I can still vividly remember this moment. It was back when I was in the throes of full-time wedding photography and feeling very tired and hallow. I sat with a cup of tea and my journal, in my “garden”, an alleyway made for storing trashcans where I stuffed as many ferns and succulents as possible, and, somehow, a little bistro table as well. There I dreamt how things could be different.
Two years, a major career shift, and two international moves later, my husband and I are just settling into our new apartment back in southern California. And at the same time, my dream was just starting to take shape. I walk outside, a cup of tea in hand, and into a small and rather bare garden. Before tending to my chores, I take a bit of time to meander around and discover any new growth. At first, there’s only dirt, and then the tiniest of sprouts emerge, but soon my raised beds are bursting with life and flowers. It is winter now and the magic of being able to garden year-round is not lost on me. I was still working as an associate wedding photographer, but most of my days were spent in my studio creating cyantoypes.
But the winter season does not come without its challenges in regard to cyanotype. The hours of sunlight are much shorter giving me less time with which to work. And the sun itself is so angled that the normal method of exposure, is no longer an option. But once I adapted to the shorter window and the slanted light, I was ready to get in the groove.
However, I did have to overcome one other challenge – working with fresh flowers. Before this point, I had almost entirely worked with blooms that I had pressed. Pressed flowers and foliage are awfully convenient as you can use the same plant more than once. The dried and stiff nature of pressed flowers also made composing each piece much less difficult and exposure a sinch.
So why even use fresh flowers if pressed ones are so easy to work with? For me, it came down to two things – capturing the detail and making the pieces more precious. I’ll start with the latter, and simply say that I loved the idea that working with fresh flowers makes each piece utterly unique. There is only one flower just like it in all of existence. Even if I created another 8×10 original with a lavender-colored viola, I could never recreate “In Every Human Soul”. I think that this is magical and worth the extra time and attention.
The next reason I chose to work with fresh flowers, is that in my practice, I am obsessed with capturing detail. I rarely create compositions that are simply silhouettes and seek instead to try and capture the beauty within the petals and leaves. Pressing flowers properly, without obscuring their details by wrinkling, browning, or creasing, is really difficult and an art form all on its own. So I decided to prioritize the details of the flowers by working with fresh ones, even though it made the process more difficult. Though, it took me a while to develop a technique that gave me the detail I was after. There were many challenges to overcome like the moisture in the plant itself (moisture is the enemy of clarity for cyanotype) or figuring out how to get the flowers to lay close enough to the paper so their details will be recorded, and thats just to name two! But the effort was worth it, and I was able to overcome these challenges.
Now that my garden, flowers, and cyanotype are a part of everyday life, and I’m fully retired from wedding photography, it’s easy to forget that these things are quite literally, a dream come true. It’s easy to get caught up in the worries of the present or the never-ending to-do list and miss the magic of today. It’s easy to forget the trashcan alleyway garden and miss all the goodness right in front of me. I want to always be deeply grateful for the good I have now, but also for things that aren’t great. I want to always be the kind of person who makes the most of what I have and create beauty where there is none.
What is one thing you have today that your younger self would be delighted by?
What’s one area of your life where you can turn a trashcan alleyway into a garden?
With these things in mind, what can you do about it today?
My next right this is to take my lunch outside in the garden sit in the sun, and listen to the bird song. I’m also going to light a candle and take some extra time to tidy my studio.
How to Collect the Artwork
Most of the 21 pieces of the Winter Garden Collection have been collected. However, there are a few originals left as well as a few framed prints created from this collection. I’ve linked to them below.
I really enjoyed diving into the background and challenges of winter 2021 in the studio. Tomorrow I’ll be reflecting more on the collection itself and what I learned from it. And I’ll have a few more questions to help you dive inward along with me. Below is a quick reference guide to all the posts in this series.