With her palette of fresh flowers and other natural elements, Floral Designer Teressa Johnson builds artful compositions that are beautiful no matter how you look at them. Optimizing shadows, contrasts and the play of light reflects her admiration of Wyeth, Rembrandt and Caravaggio’s paintings, translating that sensibility into three dimensions with materials that change with the passing of time.
How did you get started designing with flowers? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I have no idea. I’ve always had my hands in making things. It started with conventional kid crafting and quickly turned into resourceful creating.
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I used to take recycled trash boxes and convert them into mini ovens and refrigerators, draw my own food, and set up sweet little vignettes. My grandma told me in no uncertain terms that intelligent girls don’t get bored and I took it to heart. So, on the hot days of summer and the dreary, rainy days the rest of the year (PNW native speaking), I was always making something.
This imaginative streak transfers to all disciplines I believe, so it wasn’t a far stretch when I realized I could bring joy and beauty with flowers. As a high schooler, I spent a few years in flower shops and gleaned the unglamorous lessons before I ever touched a flower. While frustrating at the time, I am grateful I learned the less attractive aspects of the flower business and could draw from those experiences to grow a business that best reflected me.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Inspiration comes from the seasons and my surroundings outside. Whatever is peak season is the most alluring to me, though not at all excluding that which is often overlooked as on its way out or dead. Often, that is where the most piquant beauty lies. Since my work seems nuanced with what appears to be an effortless grace, but still a bit wild, it only makes sense that I’m moved by what already exists in creation.
Conversely, I am really arrested by chiaroscuro style painting; great contrasts and very moody in feeling, so I sometimes thumb through artists’ work to gain insight into how colors and shadows relate to each other. Among my favorites are Wyeth, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio.
Tell us about a challenging project. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I have a love/hate relationship with challenging projects. I usually get really excited about restrictive boundaries or requests that push me outside my bandwidth, but then I get really afraid of them. Common inner dialogue looks something like this, “How in the world is that going to work? Why did you say yes? I wish I could back out.” But then I bring it to my husband and together we work on making over the top and gravity-defying projects work out. In the end I’ve always been deeply impressed by the feat.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I pay attention to how things grow in nature. I appreciate the perfection of taking a snapshot of something or someone caught in the act of living or being as they were intended. For example, a photo of little boys outside with dirty clothes and muddy faces is so much truer than a photo with little boys all dressed up in stuffy suitcoats. I say that because I like to gather flowers and arrange them in a way that respects their natural growing habits.
I essentially distill what happens out in a garden (or out in the wild) and gather it up in a vessel. It sounds a little nutty, but I sort of listen to the stems of the flowers too, and try to let them do what they are doing to do instead of forcing them. This becomes a dance between us… it reminds me of how Michelangelo used to describe his chiseling marble.
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”Michelangelo
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes… well, sort of. Currently, it’s a humble basement with 6.5’ ceilings, no daylight, and two flights of stairs, one up and one down. It’s very complicated since we live in a hundred year old home. Once downstairs, I dodge a water heater, washer and dryer, household goods. There is no direct heat and running down the middle of the floor are pillars holding up the house. It is far from ideal. However, I’ve always figured if there’s a will, there’s a way, and this is much better than other situations I’ve had to create in the past. (Kitchens, clients’ living rooms, parking lots, sheds in the height of summer, so on.) Also, later this year, maybe in the spring, I will have my very own dedicated studio space. Stay tuned for those photos because they will be breathtaking.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I sketch when proposing ideas to clients. I have a few examples of sketch-to-finished product and I’m always pleased with how similar they end up. This gives me confidence when communicating as it lessens the opportunity for surprises. It also helps keep me organized when I have multiple projects going on at once.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Normally it’s whatever I can listen to but not have to interact with or think too much. I am an extrovert with a side of introvert and I love to have the feeling of others around, but still need some space to myself when creating. For me, this means I have the Office or Parks and Rec on repeat. After watching through the entire shows more times than I can count, I have the ability to tune out when I need and also enjoy the humor when I can. I also really enjoy listening to Tim Keller sermons. Just depends on what kind of work I’m doing. If it’s mindless, it’s sermons. If it’s something where I need to concentrate or create, it’s the aforementioned shows.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
Begin with a pour of coffee from the kitchen. Always a good dose of time with the kids. Always a show or podcast. Then I start playing with my materials. Sometimes, depending on the season, I will also go for walks around my garden and around my neighborhood.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I want people to get to know me and hear my voice. My website is a platform that holds more words than I can convey on Instagram. I want my desire for relationship, my “Why,” to be clear. I also want to share my very favorite photos that make me stop and soak in the beauty of the flowers. Not necessarily because of anything I did to them, but just because God is so cool and he conveys his love through his work. Oh, and of course I want people to sign up for subscriptions, because who doesn’t want monthly fresh flowers in their home?
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I cook. I spend my personal creative time in the kitchen. My travel focuses on food. The souvenirs and gifts I find are always pantry goodies. I can’t resist a farmer’s market. You get the idea. Food is my number one hobby. Probably because I can eat food and serve my family. I cannot eat flowers and my family doesn’t care about them as much as food so it’s worth it to me to devote myself to a multi-purpose hobby.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Defining success and discerning what it looks like when and if it comes. Also putting parameters about when enough is enough and how much am I willing to pursue, because the strive always costs something. Additionally, success is definitely an affront on identity, as my tendency is to confuse my output with my worth. This is a constant area where I need to check in and make sure that enticing beliefs that just are not true do not sweep me away.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think there’s no such thing as an uncreative person. Is a great lie, I believe, that creativity is only reserved for some. I also believe we were made by a creative God, and we carry his image. Therefore creativity shows up in all arenas of life and it bears defining the word. Creative means relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas. This could show up in science, in mechanics, in math, in tech, in language… in any sort of problem solving realm. I feel passionately that we sell ourselves short by claiming that some of us are and some of us aren’t creative. I think it’s mostly a convenient shadow in which to hide because: fear. How does it go, perfection is the enemy of progress? As humans, I see that we buy a great deal of lies and those lies keep us from trying many things.
Interview posted February 2021
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