I met Anika on a delivery run last summer. I drove past her sneaky hidden driveway and had to double back. When I found my way, and rolled slowly down the long dirt drive, I saw a happy messy meadow on one side and garden beds all down the other. As I parked, a tribe of friendly ducks and chickens came out to greet me. I handed over the buckets of hop vines to Anika, and she generously gave me a quick tour of the flower patch out back too.
Though mostly a one woman operation, Bad Rabbit is a true farmer-florist, with an extensive set-up. When I came back late this summer to paint plein air, she told me a bit more about how her business evolved naturally — from falling in love with and tending to that piece of land, to setting up at farmers’ markets, to getting more and more wedding and event requests. Her creations are overflowing with flowers and remind me of the strength, abundance, and resiliency of well-grown flowers — as opposed to the delicacy which is often portrayed as first and foremost.
She made me two arrangements, both captivating my attention, and though different visually they carried the same wonderful smell of holy basil that lasted all week in the studio. The dahlias, zinnias, snapdragons, and basil leaves in the first arrangement called me to paint with cleanly outlined slices of gouache. The second so echoed the exuberance of her flower field that I worked right over one of my plein air sketches, blending the bouquet with the tree line. It was the last day of August, and if perfect days are possible, that was one.
Caitlin’s style comes across to me as loose and directly inspired by nature — each piece appears to be not just a composition, but a tiny ecosystem. Every stem relies on each other in a deeper sense. Woodland, meadow, shrubland — she conveys a sense of place.
I met Caitlin in 2013 when we both worked at the Portland Museum of Art. At the time, I believe she was still in school, studying photography. Now, she runs her own floral and garden design business called Runaway Bunny.
For my arrangement Caitlin made this beauty! With ‘Queen Lime Orange’ zinnias, green lisianthus, soft wheat celosia, echinacea seedheads, mountain mint, green physocarpus foliage, purple majesty millet, blades of grass, and a dried fern. The blend of grass and fern, flowers and shrubby foliage, told a story of the edge of the woods.
John Sundling’s little shop in Portland’s East End is a hub of creativity and inspiration. He offers a variety of interesting houseplants, with a wealth of knowledge to back up the wide selection. Houseplants are very trendy, and this has led many people to treat them as decorative objects rather than the living things that they are, but stores like John’s help guide in the right direction: plants are, of course, more beautiful when they’re in the right environment and well cared for.
I’ve met John only briefly, but am familiar with his floral design through ambitious projects like Art In Bloom at the Portland Museum of Art and from frequently packing his local flower orders while working at Snell Farm. He leans heavily into the seasonal shifts, going with whatever is the freshest and most beautiful at each particular moment. To read more in John’s own words and see his beautiful design offerings, visit plantoffice.net
For my project, he created an asymmetrical and airy arrangement. With bouncy rudbeckia triloba, floaty mauve lisianthus, frothy mountainmint, cloud-like viburnum, glowing yellow marigolds, sunny helichrysum, and crisp lime zinnias, it spoke plainly of summers in Maine. With my studio windows open it moved subtly in the breeze as I worked. I kept it around an unreasonably long time, as even when the flowers started to fade, it still looked beautiful.
I have been tracing seasonal shifts and changes through my bouquet subscription from Snell Farm. My pickup day falls at the end of each month, and Carolyn curates the batches of bouquets based on what is at its prime in that moment. I love the color stories she creates as well, and they pull me right into the studio.
In May, it was poppies, tulips, ranunculus, leucojum, and raspberry greens. The translucent orange ‘Brown Sugar’ tulips are central to the composition. I later layered in the view from my living room sofa, as something about the colors and shapes drew the two together for me.
The end of June brought peonies, campanula, phlox, winged everlasting, foxglove, bupleurum, russian statice, and stock. I layered in the landscape along the horizon-line of the table, but it felt a bit saccharine, so then I added the floating interior as well.
July was a colorful bouquet of rudbeckia, scabiosa, sweet william, delphinium, snapdragon, matricaria, daucus, yarrow, goldenrod buds, and a garlic scape. I got lost in the bright mix and multiple layers. Incorporating these other spaces with the bouquets is very much an experiment and I think I have a lot more investigation to do — to be continued in August, September, and October.
On July 9th, I went to Sarah Lapine’s farmhouse in Pownal to pick up flowers. She surprised me with two arrangements instead of one, and they were stunning — I really couldn’t wait to start painting as soon as I saw them. I was excited to work from them both separately and together.
I first met Sarah in 2015 when we did a pop-up together, but I had been following her work even before that. Her style is a beautiful balance of composed and naturalistic. Each flower appears carefully chosen for its color and form and how that will alchemically come together with the arrangement as a whole.
She created these with flowers from her own farm. The experience of painting flowers is different than just looking at them — I hadn’t quite realized before the way the curved back petals of black-eyed-susans actually form crooked angles, or the translucency of cosmos petals.
For the first collaboration, I commissioned an arrangement from Carolyn Snell — an incredible local flower grower and designer. I had the pleasure of working with Carolyn last season, and she brings so much inspiration, energy, kindness, and generosity to our local flower community. I had worked in flower shops for several years and it was truly eye-opening — in the best way — to work at a local farm. Carolyn often describes her style as ‘floral chaos’ because she loves combining colors and textures. I love it. To see more of her work, visit https://www.snellfamilyfarm.com/flowers & https://www.instagram.com/carolyn.snell/
I picked up this arrangement from her on June 10th and was blown over when I saw it. It was wonderful company in the studio. And I will admit to moving it around the house with me throughout the week as well. The abundance of poppies, lupines, alliums, ranunculus, and tree peonies tell the story of a particular moment in the season. The contrasting yellows and purples and sweeping shape speak to Carolyn’s training as a painter and inherent knowledge of plants.
I created one piece on a large piece of paper, that proved itself not large enough, so I added on more. I started with gouache and pencil, and added acrylic in later layers. This took several full days, during which time the flowers did shift and change, but I enjoyed that as part of the process. I also did two smaller paintings on canvas. One was very quick and unfinished, and I intend to layer back into. The other is more fleshed out, but still feels like it needs something — sometimes that feeling leads me to collage or incorporate another point-of-view — so we’ll see what happens.
I’m not sure exactly when it first occurred to me, but the idea for this project has been in the back of my mind for some time now, and I do have a clearer memory of the places and people who shaped it.
My first flower shop job, in 2016, was at Fleurant in Kennebunk, ME. Melissa gave me the job with no prior experience, apart from my art school degree — she herself had studied sculpture at MECA and trained me in her own intuitive approach.
I began bringing flowers home to paint, often. And curiously studied the way other designers use flowers like brushstrokes, so that their hand and eye are present in the arrangement as a whole. When I moved to Brooklyn, I worked at a few shops including Opalia where I gathered more technical knowledge and saw how even in the city you can get local flowers from nearby Long Island and Hudson Valley farms.
Back in Maine, I began growing my own flowers. Sometimes the mass-produced flowers from the market were so uniform that, though beautiful, they became less interesting to me. Then last summer, I had the opportunity to work for Carolyn Snell, a local flower grower and designer. Flower farming is both more intricate and imprecise than I imagined. Some crops, like dahlias, need rigorous attention while others, like amaranth, are quite happy to outcompete weeds. Ultimately, flowers want to grow. And Carolyn grows them spectacularly, with such joy.
While working there I thought about the parallels between painting and floral design and the creative work that goes into farming. It was while harvesting in the fields that I continued to turn over this idea in my mind, and solidify a daydream into a real plan. I had been painting my own arrangements, and certainly absorbing others’ stylistic influences. I love the way Maine flower growers and designers lift each other up more than they compete. I feel compelled to explore further, trying to translate their design work into my own paintings, and learning more through this visual conversation.
In the fall I bought tulip and daffodil bulbs from Carolyn Snell — special varieties for cutting such as billowy ‘Apricot Parrot’ tulips and blousy ‘British Gamble’ daffs.
Bulbs are these little gifts for your future self, carefully tucked in at the end of the fall, to surprise you with the arrival of spring. I watched these beauties grow right outside my front door, until a sunny day when I sat down on the edge of the porch to paint them, and cut more to bring into the studio.
Even white daffodils have a tinge of yellow when they first open, brightening to a truer white with time. Tulip petals are like paint chips –even subtle or pastel colors appear highly saturated.
None of these paintings are quite finished, and I’m not sure where they’ll end up. I want to work back into them a little more, like this last one, layering landscapes and everyday spaces. Tulips and daffodils signal spring, the start of the growing season, and the beginning of my project.
Inflorescence is a project that collaborates across mediums to celebrate our thriving local flower community here in Maine. It is a series of paintings, based on floral arrangements created by a handful of innovative designers, across the course of this growing season. I hope to expand the project in the future, but here is where I’m starting from.
The word inflorescence refers to the pattern and process in which a flower takes shape. There is a growing movement in floral design away from rigidly imposed ideals, towards emphasizing nature’s role and the influence of seasonality, temporality, and imperfection. Similarly, we need to reassess the way we consume and value flowers — too often they’re relegated strictly to special occasions, but they can bring a bit of nature and temporary resilience to our daily lives. Flowers play vital ecological roles, and should be considered not extra, but essential.
The global floral market has a huge ecological footprint, with flowers sometimes boarding planes more than once before reaching consumers, compared to the beautifully sustainable option of locally grown. Local designers and growers move mountains for these stems, and yet the environmental impact is nothing so drastic — things return to the earth not far from where they began, with minimal chemicals, primarily irrigated by rainwater. My paintings, created in conversation with these floral designers, will attempt to convey what makes locally grown flowers special.
I want to blur the lines between fine art, design, and the creative work that goes into farming. I hope to present an optimistic look at the future of making local, sustainable, and creative choices for our lives and our shifting relationship to the natural world. I hope you’ll follow along as I delve more deeply into the process of creating these paintings.
This project is funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.