When did you first come across paper flowers?
I first saw roses and other cardstock flowers available as SVG files for my Silhouette Cameo cutting machine. I played around with them for a few years before seeing some crepe paper bouquets on Pinterest. It was several months before my daughters’ wedding, and when I showed them to her she didn’t hesitate to give me full creative license in making the wedding bouquets. She had faith in me that I could do it and not embarrass her, LOL.
Did you find that it was an easy transition to paper considering your crafty background?
Not at all. The crepe paper was a learning curve, and still is. But I think as a creative you know your skills well enough that jumping into a new medium is natural at some points along your journey. Plus, I don’t give up easily. I love learning new things!
What is your favorite type of paper to work with and why?
I stayed away from fine crepe for a long time, thinking that it was so delicate and would be difficult to work with. So at first I used only 180 gram Italian crepe. Then I found doublet, then 60gram Italian. Recently I tried Lia Griffith fine crepe and was hooked. To be honest, I didn’t want to like it! I held off ordering it for a long time, only because I already had so much Italian paper. But once you use Lia’s paper, you are hooked. It’s just a soft buttery texture and much more stretch than its Italian counterpart. I feel like it’s more forgiving and malleable than any other paper. I really hope she plans on selling single color rolls though.
If you could walk us in to your studio right now, what three words would best describe the space?
Bright, Peaceful, Messy today, clean tomorrow, messy the next day….
How long did you make paper flowers before you tried to sell your first one?
Probably about 6 months.
Do you prefer to be botanically correct with your flowers or give them a special artistic twist?
It depends. I certainly am not as botanically correct as a Tiffany Turner flower, but I like them to look somewhat realistic. I especially like the colors to be close to natural.
I usually describe them as fine art with a bit of whimsy at times.
Where do you live and what is your favorite part about it?
I live in a town that is literally named Littlestown Pennsylvania. I usually tell people Gettysburg, because that is more recognizable and very close. I’m only about a mile from Maryland, which is where I grew up. I love the countryside that is all around us. It’s beautiful with lots of barns, historic houses, horse farms, rolling hills, and Civil War history.
When you are in an artistic rut, how do you recharge yourself to get creativity flowing again?
I take a break. Sometimes it’s just a day, other times a week. I am not a gardener so I scour Pinterest and Intagram for pictures of flowers for inspiration. Usually after a few days I miss creating so much, I get back in the groove.
Do you have a memorable client that you will never forget? Can you tell us about them? Honestly, I haven’t been promoting my business enough to have had many clients. Social media is a double edged sword for me. Mostly my sales have been to friends of friends and a few FB customers here and there.
What do you do while you make flowers? Watch tv, listen to music or podcasts? Do tell all the details!
I love a good documentary. I just finished watching (listening mostly) to “The Staircase”, a true life murder mystery. Before that I watched “Wild, Wild, Country” about a cult in rural Oregon in the 1980’s. And I must admit to tuning into Days of Our Lives on occasion. My Pandora playlist is an odd mix of Motown and Country music.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice while first starting your paper flower journey, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. I certainly wish I had found other paper flower friends sooner. It was all trial and error at first, with no one really to give me honest feedback. I guess I would try to not compare myself to other artists, and to keep reminding myself the process of learning is sometimes the best part.
What are you most grateful for in your life right now?
I’m most grateful for my faith. It carries me through anything that comes my way, and is what keeps me grounded in this crazy world. Next is my family. They are so supportive and have always recognized that I need a creative outlet. I have known my husband since 7th grade, and we still like and love each other after 36 years of marriage. He encourages me no matter what I’m making, and my daughters are awesome cheerleaders. I’m blessed beyond measure!
Find more about Sheila here:
When was the first time you came across paper flowers and was it love at first sight?
I've always been creative and was looking for a something special and handmade I could make for one of my best friends 40th. I wanted to do a large initial (the letter K) I made the letter out of paper mache but it looked dull, plain, boring. Pinterest was my go to (isn't it all of ours!) I came across cardstock flowers and thought "perfect!" It only took the first one and yes, I was totally in love. Lia Griffith was my initial Flower Yoda! I became a member and then saw crepe paper...I purchased some from Cartotecnica Rossi and never looked back! My love affair for creating beautiful flowers and foliage out of crepe paper continues and develops...daily!
How long have you been making flowers before you decided to sell them?
I started with the very first cardstock flowers in February 2016. I experimented, played with different weights of crepe, techniques, colouring etc and stalked (!!) other Floral Artists and Florists until July 2017 when i took the plunge and joined Instagram and Facebook as Petals & Paper.
What are your absolute favorite tools?
My tacky glue and an old dowel from my husbands tool box! Oh and a good crime (fiction or non fiction) series/documentary on the TV!
What type of flower do you love making the most?
Whatever I'm making at the time! Seriously it's a problem! ha ha! I think I have a favourite, make something new and it's ALWAYS my new favourite. I'm also a complete sucker for foliage too...cant get enough of it.
If you could describe your studio in three words, what would they be?
My, dining, table! I long for a super organized, I can put my hands on anything and everything I need studio!! The current reality is materials, tools, objects and items for staging photos are splayed in 5 different locations around my house (basically wherever there is room!)
How is it working from home with a toddler?
Any tips for new parents trying to make an in home business work with a little one? Do it when you can! my son is 4 and starting school in September. Sometimes he happily "allows" me to tinker around during the day when he is not at Nursery, sometimes he doesn't! It really is hit and miss with day time creating, evenings after bed time is often when you get a chance to work. Nap times are a thing of the past!
What is the best part about where you live?
Everything! I'm a born and bred hometown girl, never lived anywhere else and wouldn't want to. I live in one of the most Southern parts of England in County called Dorset. We have some of the most breathtaking coastal lines! (Google Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Jurrasic Coast!) I can drive 15 minutes in any direction and I'm in forest, town, seaside, heathland or farmland. I'm only a 2-3 hour drive from London.
Is there anything that gets you recharged if you fall into a creative rut?
Music, music feeds my heart and soul! Also the acceptance that sometimes you need some down time. As creatives we feel we should have those creative juices flowing allll the time! Life doesn't always pan out that way. The important thing is to not let it linger, feel what you are feeling at that time but don't allow yourself to stagnate!
Where do you tend to find most of your inspiration?
My surroundings, my garden, friends and families gardens, strangers gardens (Yes we have all clambered, with respect into compromising positions to study those flowers!), flowers growing in the wild, botanical gardens and one of my favourites, National Trust gardens! As always other artists and florists. I'm so inspired by the work they create and the hard work that makes them so great! We really do have a great Community.
If you could go back in time and look over the shoulder of Gemma just starting out with paper flowers, what one bit of advice would you give her?
Just do do do. Don't overthink, just do. Do a mind dumping exercise. Write down everything you think you might want to explore with your business, short and long term goals, until your brain is empty, then focus on key areas. I learnt this further down the line and wish i had completed the exercise sooner as it really provided clarification for me!
Do you prefer to create a more realistic botanical rendition or do you like to add a bit of whimsy? My style is a complete mixture of both. I adore colour, any and all shades. I refer to myself as a colour fiend! I strive to create realism in the presentation of my flowers but with that little twist on nature, a pop of something you wouldn't expect to see.
What is it that you are super excited about in your life right now?
Its a mixture of super excited and apprehension! My son starting school means I will have 2 whole days to myself to concentrate on developing Petals & Paper! Whilst I feel amazing about this I am also so very sad that "Mummy and Leo days" are coming to an end. Its a new chapter for us both! I'm also working on my website which means I can better reach my ideal clients and have an avenue to refer customers to. It means that I will be able to connect with so many more people, connecting with others always makes me super excited!
Find more from Gemma Here:
When did you first stumble upon paper flowers?
When did I first stumble onto paper flowers… It all hinged around the place I/we were in as a family due to a decline in Andrew's (our son's) condition, (Autism). He had been in a progression neurological decline and behaviorally was not himself. We had a barn behind our house that we didn't use. At the suggestion of a behavioral specialist we took him "to the barn" one day just to eat lunch and offer him a change of scenery. She felt that that might help lift him up from the place he was in emotionally. In order to have "something to do" I bought some stamp pads and some paper. Initially, I looked at a magazine and found simple flowers with pipe cleaner stems. We started there. Very simple flowers. He stamped the paper and helped with the creation, and for the first time in a very long time, he began to smile and seem to look forward to going there. So, our paper flower journey had begun. This was in approximately 2010.
Did you realize right away that your son Andrew would benefit mentally from this paper flower business?
I knew within the first week or so that there seemed to be a light back in his eyes, and at one point my husband and I looked at each other and mouthed the words silently. "He's smiling." We were afraid to say it out loud. It had been six months or more since he had smiled or appeared interested in anything.
How has your business changed to better suit what makes Andrew and yourself content?
The business always evolves. I don't have any hard and fast rules. If it is something he cannot participate in making in some way or some part of the project, I just don't do it or make it. The whole purpose of the shop was to involve him in the activities. I do add items that I think he might like to try to give him some chance to try new things and also to expose him to different tasks. That is how the ribbons were born. He has a natural tendency toward finding pleasure in shredding things. Putting that natural tendency to work seemed to make sense and so we tried ribbons. He liked it. He actively participates in the shredding, and cutting and tag making. So ribbons became a staple of the shop along with flowers.
How has this paper flower adventure changed your lives?
The paper flower adventure trail has led me to Instagram, which in turn led me to meet other flower makers from around the world, which for me is quite a treat to see other flower makers share their craft from wherever they might live. I have met some very nice people along the way that encourage me to try new things and keep growing and learning.
What roles do you and Andrew play in your flower business?
Andrew participates in whatever part of a project that I can give to him that he can handle and enjoys doing. For instance, when I need wires for the flower assembly. He, with guidance as to length, cuts all of the wires independently. He also cuts with the use of paper punches simple, colorful paper flowers. He uses a paper cutter to cut craft papers into the correct lengths and widths for punching. He labels all of our boxes and envelopes. He sorts ribbons, shreds ribbons and creates the square tags that we use to label the ribbons. He also hand stamps gift tags in various designs. My job is to create the final product, i.e. assembly of the flowers, though he does partially help with putting flowers on wire, he cannot use the hot glue gun safely. I glue as well as paint and assemble all of the crepe paper flowers. I hand dye all of the ribbons after he has prepared them for me.
Do you have any advice for families looking for work and life balance in a society that struggles to accept everyone where they are?
For families living with sons or daughters with disabilities, especially severe disabilities, there is a huge disconnect between what society accepts and fosters versus the needs of adults with disabilities to be engaged. Paid work for adults with disabilities is rare, and engaging, creative work is almost nonexistent. For parents, if they have the will and the desire, I would encourage them to look at current models of employment and engagement and begin to channel their energy into creating a purpose for their child before they graduate from high school. Have something in place to be able to engage this individual after their school careers end. Team up with something that is already in place, but also don't be afraid to create your own pathway to success.
Is there any music, tv or podcasts that you and Andrew like to indulge in while working on orders?
Well, as far as "favorite" music or You tube I would say Andrew monopolizes that area with his own choices on his IPAD. He tends toward Disney themed music, and cartoons, and when the spirit moves him he is more than happy to play Christmas music in July.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice while first starting your paper flower journey, what would it be?
If I could give myself one piece of advice as I began this flower journey it would be to be kinder to myself. I put an awful lot of pressure on myself to not let Andrew down, and it meant sometimes taking orders that put me under a lot of stress getting them done in not an adequate amount of time. I never said "No" and I paid for that with late nights getting orders finished when customers did not allow enough time. I wanted to please at the expense of my own health and sanity to get it done. Now, I say "No thank you" to some orders that are not in my wheelhouse or if the customer has not allowed enough time and wants a rush order.
I've learned just to move along at a pace that is reasonable and that it's okay to say "no" sometimes when the customer wants something you are not comfortable making or don't have the time to do it.
When you are having an off day artistically, what is it that gets you back in to a creative flow?
Generally, when I have a "block" just cannot get anything done the way I want it, or I am not happy with the way it looks I walk away from it, and I start perusing books, you tube, Pinterest, Etsy, you name it, just to get some general ideas or to spark some color combinations that I hadn't thought of. I never copy an idea, but its good just to be stimulated by someone else's work. Creativity in isolation is a dead end. You have to have either a real live person to collaborate with from time to time, or for me I need to hit Barnes & Noble and look through floral books, floral arranging or anything that gets the spark back.
What is the best part about where you live?
What is the best part of where I live? Hmmm that's a tough one. I find the area where I live very artistically challenged, i.e. there is not much to join or take part in artistically, so I find that frustrating. No art classes or community offerings that might make sense for expanding my flower skills. However, the area has a lot of nice open spaces and I find myself driving to just get out into the country and be rejuvenated by the sky, and the clouds and nature.
Do you have any advice for parents that are concerned about their autistic children's future in the adult world?
My best advice to anyone who lives with and loves an individual with a disability is to look forward. Look at what your community offers to adults with disabilities. Tour the facilities or day programs and decide early on if this is the route you wish to take for your son or daughter. If in your heart it is not what you want or hope for your loved one, make a decision then to start something new in your community if at all possible, create opportunities through networking early on so that when school is finished permanently you are not left dangling over a cliff without any opportunities or options.
What is it that you are most excited about in your life right now?
I'm excited about learning new flower techniques, from dyeing papers to trying new shapes, and sizes. I have a few new flower books that I would like to find the time to dig into and expand my repertoire of flowers. I am also excited about fabric dyeing ribbons that can accompany my flowers and dyed to match bouquets. I am excited about going to my little cabin in Vermont as I feel most creative there and would like to set up an area to work on new projects there as well.
We all have something in common, our love for paper floristry. Let's get to know each other a bit more, meet artists from all over the world in every walk of life!