Culture

The Fine Art of Paper Flowers and the Meditative Nature of Crafting

Editor's Note:

Tiffanie Turner is an instructor in the art of paper flower making in the United States and beyond, and her first book, The Fine Art of Paper Flowers,  is an elevated art and craft guide that features complete step-by-step instructions for over 30 of Tiffanie Turner’s widely admired, unique, lifelike paper flowers and their foliage.

I am a fine artist working in botanical sculpture at both realistic and giant scales, in paper. I create flowers, which can be made up of thousands of petals, and can take from six hours to six weeks of devoted time to complete, depending on their complexity and size. With this type of time commitment for each piece, I end up with a large backlog of ideas: specimens, techniques, textures, colors, and experiments that sit in my head or stare at me from my studio walls, unattended and waiting to be attempted. This creates a low-grade creative anxiety for me, which is equal parts motivating and frustrating. The cure for this anxiety, of course, is creating the work.

Paper Flowers

Due to the sheer volume of time it takes for me to create one sculpture, large or small, I seek out long swaths of time where I can “become one with the flower”. It is not always possible to do this. But for me, the only way to create a seemingly unending flower with thousands of petals is to enter into a type of trancelike state, in order to remain focused. I might take a petal, look up at my specimen, look down and then up again, all the while shaping the petal in some sort of blind contour exercise. And then I will repeat that over and over again, always seeking to get that shape just right. The repetitive cutting and shaping of the petals, the use of my hands, the familiar feel of the paper in my hands, all of the process this work entails lends itself to plenty of space in the mind to “space out”. To think of and mediate on the flower itself, and about whatever affliction I might be bestowing on the flower to make it both irregular and regular, and about if I am getting it right or not. I spend considerable time while creating my work thinking about the artwork’s future owner, whether I know who it will be or not. In all of this contemplative time, one thing I do not do is allow the outside to creep in. Touching the paper I sculpt with and staring at the textures I am creating allows me to stay in the moment with my work. It allows me to think about only what I am doing, and it quiets my mind. And before you know it, I’ve created or placed a few hundred petals on the flower without knowing where the day went.

Paper Flowers

From pointillism to poetry, to beading and weaving, there are hundreds of fields in art and craft that employ smaller, repeating elements to create single works of art. A quilter may use hundreds of small pieces of fabric, carefully joined together with thread. A painter uses thousands of brush strokes to complete a painting. My work with paper flowers is no different. Although my work endeavors to capture the irregularities and imperfections in nature, it is based on the repeating layers of sometimes-similar petals on the heads of flowers. I suspect I am not the only one who finds meditative qualities in creating these types of art. The dedication and focus on one’s work allows us to step into a bubble outside of our daily lives, releasing oneself temporarily from any other obligations. The similarity and regularity in creating and using repetitive elements is therapeutic, giving moments of order to what in the end may be a complex work. It is in these parts of the process that I find time to stop the seeking and the searching, and to meditate and focus. And just like with any meditation, if my mind wanders too far, or my cortisol levels rise, I just bring it back to the flower, and in that moment, I’m good.

Images reprinted with permission from The Fine Art of Paper Flowers: A Guide to Making Beautiful and Lifelike Botanicals, by Tiffanie Turner, copyright © 2017, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of PenguinRandom House LLC.