While physically we can’t be together, SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center remains dedicated to working with and celebrating artists whose works reflect the American experience. So, we’ve launched a Virtual Beyond the Studio Workshop series to continue to highlight local artists and provide more space to share meaningful experiences centered by craft, making, and American art.
For our first virtual workshop in March, we reconnected with Alicia Mazzara and Cielo Contreras, the co-founders of Rock Paper Plant, to kick-off the series with a needle-felting workshop where we heard how their business got its roots. In April, we’ve teamed up with Emily Paluska of Revery Paper Flora to bring on the spring with hand-crafted, realistic crêpe paper cherry blossoms.
In this time of renewal, we asked Emily about her efforts to stay creative during the pandemic as well as her experiences as a botanical artist, educator, and business owner.
Emily, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your business, and how you got your start as a botanical artist and educator?
In addition to being the botanical artist behind Revery Paper Flora, I’m a transracial adoptee from South Korea. I grew up in a tiny town in the Midwest and have lived most of my adult life on the West Coast in San Francisco, or between Philadelphia and here in DC.
I started making flowers after my son was born. I was experiencing deep postpartum depression and I was looking for an outlet to quiet my mind, just for myself once the baby was asleep. I chose paper flowers on a whim and ended up making one every single day for a year. It became a meditative practice for me, a way to check in on myself when I felt very lost. There’s something amazing about making something with your hands, especially now. Being able to viscerally touch something, helped me stay more grounded mentally and emotionally to the present.
I was asked to teach my first workshop back in the fall of 2018. I've always had a deep fear of public speaking (and I'm not sure how I made it through), but since then, I've taught almost 100 workshops and absolutely love it. As someone who only has one creative niche, I found art to be very intimidating. I try to show students that art isn’t a ‘members only’ club, that it doesn’t have to be exclusive. I really believe it’s for everyone if you make the time for it and are dedicated to learning. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than when someone who walked into my class swearing there’s no way they can make a flower, walks out afterward, marveling at what they were able to create.
Is there a story behind your business name: Revery Paper Flora?
I chose revery because of my favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, To make a prairie (1779):
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
I loved that revery, by definition, is a fanciful daydream that you can get lost in.
I often feel this way when I’m creating or surrounded by flowers and plants and thought others may feel the same way too.
Your website says you’re a one woman show. What’s it been like to develop and run your own business? And what’s your experience in the DC creative community been like?
Starting your own business is not for the faint of heart. I rarely take days off, sleep a few hours a night, and I’ve been doing this schedule for the last few years. Even though I’ve sacrificed a lot, there’s nothing more gratifying than building something out of nothing. My business has opened up an entire world that I could have never dreamed of before. I really couldn’t have asked for a better experience in DC. I’ve only been made to feel welcome here, and I count myself extremely lucky for all the friends that I’ve made in the artist community.
Between pivoting to a digital-only format, hosting countless virtual workshops, designing with Heurich House Museum market and Brightest Young Things, keeping up with commissions, and launching a Skillshare Originals course—to name only a few projects—you’ve had a very busy year, with no signs of losing momentum.
In quarantine, have you found yourself creating more work or less? How have you been adjusting to the “new normal”?
I think that I’m busier than ever, mostly in teaching and commission formats. I haven’t had a lot of time to create things just for myself, but I hope to carve out some time for a series that’s been living in my head since last year.
In a lot of ways, my life didn’t change that much workwise. I work out of my home studio and am used to spending many hours alone caught up in work. The biggest adjustment has been trying to balance my workload with being a mother to two young children, one of whom has been doing distance learning. I didn’t have childcare for almost an entire year which was… something.
You speak honestly and often about the importance of mental health. How do you maintain a balance between life, work, making, and creating space for yourself?
I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to getting the balance just right. I’m not sure there’s a perfect formula but I’ve learned what works for me. I hold myself to a pretty rigid work schedule, but it helps keep me organized. I’m still guilty of feeling like an inept mother when I’m working too much, and then only thinking about all the work I’m behind on when I spend time with my children. I try to be kind to myself and have my own self-care practices that I don’t skip, no matter how busy I am. I’ve learned that I’m a better human, artist, mother, and friend when I don’t let my self-care lapse.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a creative career, or just get in the habit of making more often?
Go for it! Whenever I feel scared about something, I ask myself, “Why not me?” So in this case, “why not you?” I think the last year has taught many of us how fragile life can be. If you’re scared to try something new, I think that’s a good thing. I always try to do things that scare me because pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone will only expand your world. The worst thing that can happen is that you find out that wasn’t the right thing for you, but I believe figuring out what’s not good for you is just as valuable as finding out what’s perfect for you.
Be it paper or plant, what’s your favorite flower?
My favorite flower is a Himalayan Blue Poppy, or really just poppies in general. The Himalayan Blue Poppy looks like it belongs on the pages of a fantasy book. My love for poppies runs so deep that I named my daughter after them!
Sans paper, do you have a green thumb?
Absolutely not. I feel bad for any seed or plant I buy. I stick to paper.
For more information about Emily, check out Revery Paper Flora's website or follow her on Instagram at @reverypaperflora. Don't miss our upcoming Beyond the Studio Virtual Workshops in May and June, as we continue to highlight local artists.