In my last article, I discussed my first artistic style – pointillism, what I consider to be the seeds of my artistic garden. Over the years these pointillism seeds blossomed into my next style: floralism. Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, as part of discussing floralism, I will dig into one of the ways that my floralism style in particular has been instrumental to my mental health.
Germinating Seeds into Blossoms
Like a wildflower, floralism grew out of my previous work in a moment of organic inspiration. One day, I looked at my larger heavy textured pointillism dots and thought, “You know, I wonder if those could be flower petals,” and right then and there decided to try rolling some by hand. Little did I know about “hand quilling,” an art form that involves using strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs.
My first time quilling acrylic paint was in March of 2019. I started with rolls that look more like traditional paper quilling rather than flowers. They’re thicker and heavier looking than the flowers, with tighter, straighter rolls of paint. Within a month, I began applying the paint to look more like petals and I struck artistic gold. By mid-April of 2019, I had developed a rosette that I really enjoyed the look of and floralism took off from there.
Unlike with my heavy textured pointillism, my floralism work doesn’t have art design series. They’re largely organic gardens comprised of colors that I think are stunning together or they follow the designs in my heavy textured pointillism series. The closest I have to a floralism series would be my white-on-white rose design, where the piece is entirely comprised of snow white roses. The work almost appears to be a marble sculpture or porcelain, so it’s a type of contemporary artistic creation that defies people’s expectations with a deliciously classic look.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
People are often baffled by my floralism work and get wonderfully confused about what it’s made of. People ask me all the time, “Is it metal? Is it glass? Is it paper? Is it clay? Is it mosaic tile? It is buttons? Wood? Porcelain?” While it can be hard at times for a neurodivergent introvert like me to answer the same questions on repeat at a live art show, I love people’s curiosity. Getting to see them make discoveries about my art is exciting. This answer is it’s none of those things! Floralism is made entirely of thickened acrylic paint!
One of my favorite things is how my floralism fundamentally defies expectations because people don’t believe that you can make acrylic paint stand up like I do. I’ve even had people not believe me when I explain I don’t use molds or any kind of skeleton/internal framework to hold up the petals.
Simply put, I used big squeeze bottles to create my petals by squeezing their shapes one by one. When they’re through the curing process, I then curl them petal by petal with my fingers to create each flower. When I’ve created a large enough bouquet, it’s time for me to adhere them to the canvas and voila a new painting is born! I also have three tall baker’s shelving units filled with flowers and buds of various colors.
While I usually have a sense of the design and flow of a piece, I have no way of knowing exactly which flower will go where until I start fitting them together next to one another. That’s a wonderful part of the organic nature of the creation of floralism gardens. It might take me a few times to try and find the right flower to go in the right spot, but when I do, it’s like playing a perfect game of tetris or finishing a huge puzzle with a found missing piece – oh so soothing and satisfying!
Floralism and Mental Health
From beginning to end, floralism is a way for me to find soothing moments of light and beauty in difficult times. There’s a lot of personal joy for me in the very process of creating my flowers because I find quilling to be so deliciously satisfying. I talked briefly about stimming in How Sara O'Connor Began Painting, but as a reminder, stimming is repetitive or unusual movements or noises, often used by neurodivergent people (e.g., folks with autism, ADHD, or OCD) to manage emotions or cope with overwhelming situations.
As a stimming activity, I find the repetitive process of twirling petals made out of paint with my thumb and first two fingers to be incredibly soothing. And when I’m quilling, I’m almost always watching tv, usually a period piece because I find the costuming, music, and landscapes to be so gorgeous. I have also been known to dive deeply into trash tv so I can completely zone out. Like with stimming itself, I find great comfort in rewatching something I’ve already seen and have watched some shows or movies an embarrassing amount of times.
From a personal standpoint, floralism provides a unique way for me to engage with my own mental health in a calming, creative, and healthy way. It takes so much patience and steadiness for a repetitive task that many folks might not enjoy. I think that if I weren’t neurodivergent, my mind would be too busy and restless for quilling. Being able to physically release anxiety and calm down and find a meditative stance while creating something that people covet and treasure is truly a blessing. It sometimes feels like a superpower, to be honest. It’s funny to think that if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, I don’t think I’d be able to create the artwork I do due to the apparent tie between bipolar disorder and creativity.
Another aspect of how my mental health relates to floralism has to do with one of the shows I’ve repeatedly watched while quilling: Game of Thrones. My favorite family happens to be House Tyrell, whose house words are “Growing Strong” and whose sigil is a golden rose on a green background. Floralism reminds me of the importance of growing strong even in tough times. My floralism art really took off in the past three years, a time when art shows has been shut down due to COIVD. In a sense, my art has been growing in the darkness of the past three years, like seeds having survived winter, and I’m finally ready to till soil again. To, like House Tyrell, grow strong in the face of challenging odds.
As with real life, there can be darkness in my gardens because they grow out of great loss and struggle. A physical manifestation of that in my artwork is when I use my signature dark, phthalo blue background (versus, for example, the white background of the 12x12 floralism pieces). Like how seeds are born in the darkness of the soil and blossom into something beautiful, the flowers together make something beautiful that stands out even more brightly against the dark background.
We don’t need to be scared of darkness, darkness is where things grow. In that way, what my floralism represents personally also resonates with what we’re seeing in the world right now, especially with the war in Ukraine or COVID. Even in times of darkness and war, beauty can be found. In order for us to grow stronger, we can’t look away from the darkness or pretend it isn’t there. But we also can’t let it constrain us, we have to reach upward, like flowers reaching for the sun.
If you’re seen my work live, you know I don’t sign the front of my pieces. I don’t want the vanity of my name to distract from the beauty I’m trying to create. Moreover, if I may be so bold, my work makes such a distinct impression that it acts as the signature itself. Recently a collector who is a content creator on TikTok had my art in the background of one of her videos. One of her followers noticed and asked if it was one of my pieces. Eventually and wonderfully the content creator did a whole TikTok about the artwork! It wasn’t until after this happened I was looped in to my joy and surprise. To me, that’s a large part of what art is. I like that my art can speak for itself, with or without me present. Like Margaery Tyrell, I don’t just want to be a artist, I want to be the artist.
This piece was written in conversation with Gretchen Jones.
If you’re interested in reading the other parts to this series, you can find them here:
· Strips – coming soon!