Building an Outfit like a Floral Arrangement with Susannah Rose Woods
For a time, I listened to blogger podcasts. I’m entirely lacking in any sort of natural inclination toward self-promotion, but would like it if people read this blog, so I was hopeful that these shows with their “be an influencer” bent might help.
They didn’t help. If anything, they thoroughly stressed me out. Most of their tips were entirely incongruent to me, and what I write, and what I like, and made me want to yell a little. (A lot.)
A few things, however, did stick in my brain from my hours of listening. First, can we retire the term “girlboss”? Can’t a female-identifying person just be, simply, a boss? And if, for some inane reason, my gender must be included, can’t I least be alluded to as a damn adult? I’m a woman, not a girl.
Second, many of the guests on these podcasts would refer to themselves as “multi-hyphenates.” (If you are unfamiliar with this term, it means they identify with more than one profession. For example, one might be a blogger-photographer-life coach-freelance chicken farmer.) These multi-hyphenates always seemed endlessly pleased with themselves, like by having their paws in multiple pots they were the first of their kind.
Clearly, they’d never met Susannah Rose Woods.
Susannah Rose Woods was a multi-hyphenate (and a boss!) before it was cool, and she’s still going strong. She can do practically everything, and if she can’t, she still likely knows an awful lot about it.
She is a director, a best-selling writer, a creator of theater companies, and a floral designer who creates stunning arrangements. (She did the flowers for our wedding, and they were so much better than anything I could have dreamt up.)
Today, Susannah Rose has shared her floral creative process, and it’s a treat. As someone who’s expanding my artistic horizons, it was enlightening for me to see how her experience telling stories as a director and writer shapes her floral design, too.
If this is your first How They Build It, here’s how this all shakes out:
First, you’ll see Susannah Rose’s creative process for floral design. Following that, you’ll see my take. For each How They Build It, I follow our guest’s creative process to build an outfit, because clothes are art, too (though we so often forget!).
From the Studio of Susannah Rose Woods
Storytelling with flowers...
My creative process in floral design is interesting as I come from a theatrical and literary background and I think I approach my design work with the same intensity as I do when writing or directing.
With flowers, it is a collaboration. The flowers will often do what they want (not unlike actors on stage or characters in a story). They don’t always go exactly where I want them, but they usually end up where they are meant to be. I think of shape and architecture, the space or staging, color, lighting, what (or who) I’m working with, who is it for, emotional and/or dramatic impact, and ultimately, what the client wants, or, in other words, what story am I telling here for this event. This is especially true for the larger installations, weddings, and even funerals. There is always a story. With smaller bouquets, for anniversaries, new babies, sympathy, the “just because,” the five year old’s ballet recital, the “I’m sorry” ... the list of reasons people give flowers is endless from before birth to after death and every conceivable possibility in between. I give as much thought to the elderly gentleman who buys a single rose for his wife’s grave every month as I do for a large wedding. There are love stories in both of these scenarios. The joy for me comes with connecting with something essential with a client.
And then I do my homework: What flowers will be in season, what colors are requested, what will work together and what won’t, what foliage and botanicals could I forage...? And then, the flowers themselves have personality, shape, whimsy... As I am writing this, it seems monumental, but all of this happens in a relatively short period of practiced time.
Okay, for my arrangements, I start with a container. Glass or ceramic, small or large, wide or narrow, tall or short... Once determined, I choose the flowers based on the client’s request and I ask questions to get as much information as I can, (a favorite flower or color, any definite NOs, a special meaning, where is it going to be, what are the circumstances...?). From there, I usually build with the greens and foliage first, mixing a variety of greens to create a shape and a backdrop for the blossoms. I like my designs to have texture and movement. As crazy as this sounds, the flowers tell me where to start, but usually the stronger, sturdier, or fluffier flowers first. I use the more precious and fragile blossoms next and that often creates the height and drama and movement. I like to finish with a surprise, an unexpected pop of something, color or texture. Perhaps a bright bloom or a dried mushroom, a vine of clematis or jasmine, or curly willow or just something a bit out of the ordinary. I am also not afraid to edit, to take out something that isn’t working, or add something if there seems to be a spot that feels empty. Editing is important and the flowers appreciate it as they often seem to have a mind of their own. I don’t want the final piece to feel cluttered, though I do lean towards a more lush and organic feel. Finally, I step away, even momentarily, and then return to take a look, often from different angles. I will also hold it up in front of a mirror or take a photo to just get a different perspective. I’ll do final edits, if needed, and then if I’m satisfied, I’m done and I let it go. The letting go is important too, to let them speak for themselves for whoever is receiving them.
Start with a container…
That’s me! I’m the container.
what are the circumstances?
Lately, I’ve been a bit of a recluse. (In Friday’s post, I called it a “cocoon phase.”)
On this day, in this outfit, I just wanted an outfit for me. I didn’t want it to have to accomplish anything or break a specific fashion rule. I wanted to go back to the basics of this experiment and wear what I wanted to wear.
I also wanted to include some Joan fire colors. (Confused about my constant mention of fire colors? This post about Joan of Arc and her effect on my wardrobe explains it all. Like Clarissa.)
Build With the Greens and Foliage First…
In reading this bit, I figured there were two ways I could interpret it. Susannah says greens, “create a shape and backdrop.” So, I could say, clothing-wise, shape and backdrop are created by either underwear or basics (a la a plain white T or a pair of jeans).
Instead, I went literal. I started with actual green. I pulled on an oversize, green, linen button-up that has texture and movement and shape. Then I spilled tomato sauce down it…
So, I started with a plain white T.
Stronger, Sturdier, Fluffier…
Like Susannah’s flowers, for this step I knew exactly where to start.
In lieu of my original green linen top, I turned to different green linen: A pleated maxi skirt, covered in giant, bright (fire colored) blossoms. Though linen, it’s stronger, sturdier, and fluffier than my original top, and certainly more of a statement than my white T-shirt.
(Though, can I say, since this post where I made 5 outfits with a white T and jeans, I’m really loving white tees.)
Next, Precious and Fragile for Height, Drama, Movement…
I interpreted precious and fragile blooms as petite and smaller, and so, in turn, translated this step as accessories. To pull everything together, I added a thin brown belt and a purse in complimenting colors (it also has a dog on it, which is a major plus). Finally, for shoes, I chose woven brown mules. The combination of the mules and the skirt made me feel like a basket of flowers come to life, and I particularly enjoyed that.
Finish with a surprise!
I’d been anticipating this step. I love surprises! What surprise could I add? I considered my options:
My surprise could be a bold lip, or bright eyeshadow. But… it was (finally, finally) a little bit sunny, and I just wasn’t in the mood to worry about my makeup melting and swirling about my face.
My surprise could be another layer. A jacket, perhaps? But, again, it was (finally, finally) sunny and that didn’t seem comfortable, either.
I played with jewelry. A big, costume-y necklace felt like it was battling for attention with the skirt. A pair of hoop earrings matched well, but were lacking in surprise.
Then, in a flash, I knew what my surprise would be. I unearthed a pair of dangly earrings made of three bright jewels. They were far, far more formal than the rest of the ensemble. For me, that said, “SURPRISE!”. It also said, “HIGH LOW,” and you know I love a good high-low outfit.
I didn’t edit. I did check the outfit from multiple angles (as you do), but was so happy with my end result that I didn’t want to take anything away from it.
I felt like a Mary Englebreit card come to life! I felt ready for an adventure, I felt entirely like myself, and, importantly, I felt comfy, too.
Thank you, thank you, to Susannah for sharing her creative process with us today! Below is a gallery of some of her floral masterpieces. If you’d like to follow her, and see her designs in real time, she can be found @in.the.company.of.flowers on Instagram.
Before we go, are you a creator or artist or maker of some kind? Want to collaborate with me, share you creative process, and be featured in a How They Build It post? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s work together!
I’ll return on Wednesday with another blog post, but tomorrow I’ll be sending out the next issue of The Rule Breakers Review. Should you enjoy a curated list of links about kickass rule breakers as much as I do, sign up and I’ll email you every Monday!
Happy Sunday, friends! I hope it’s sunny and bright!