How many of us have made crepe paper garlands as a child, or even as an adult, for Christmas or party decorations? Probably most of us. But how many have fallen in love with the material and gone on to make delicately beautiful flowers with it? Sydney-based Jennifer Tran is one such person. She has turned the craft of making paper flowers into an art and calls herself a ‘flowersmith’.
Fake flowers have not always had good press, being of the plastic and unrealistic variety but with a strong love of nature, Jennifer strives for realism and a decent dose of colour in her pieces. After seeing her work on Instagram, I not only got in touch to see if she’d be up for an interview, but bought one of her flowers for a vase that was begging for attention. This is what arrived in the post …
I love that you call yourself a ‘flowersmith’! Tell us about yourself and your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today? Why paper; why flowers?
I’ve had formal training in art and design (BFA Hons, UNSW Australia), but never considered myself an artist or designer. I’m more drawn to crafty things that do not necessarily hold any conceptual meaning. I simply admire what Mother Nature has already created and enjoy replicating her creations in paper. I take great pride in my craftsmanship and always strive to improve my technical skills. I think the term ‘flowersmith’ reflects my focus on the technical aspect of flower making.
I owe my career to Rebecca Thuss, whose book ‘Paper to Petal’ (co-author Patrick Farrell) taught me everything I know about flower making. Even the name Papetal was derived from the title of this book.
Tell us about your creative process – how much research do you do into different types of flowers, how much is created imaginatively, how hard is it working with crepe paper?
My creative process is rather spontaneous and usually starts with an urge to make a specific bloom. I often select a colour palette first before deciding on the structure of each piece. I then hand cut stamens, petals, and leaves. I don’t use any templates because I like the petals to be unique. During assembly, I usually start with the flower centre, then work my way out to petals, calyx and then attachments like leaves and buds.
Crepe paper comes in different thicknesses. My preference is Italian 180GSM. I like it for its durability and sculptural qualities. It’s incredibly easy to cut, shape and manipulate. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with German 2 ply and Italian 60GSM. They are finer than my preferred paper and the results are very realistic.
Who or what inspires you?
I take inspiration from botanical illustration and floral photography. I love observing the different ways in which artists and photographers see flowers. My favourite photographer is joSon. His book ‘joSon: Intimate Portrait of Nature’ provides an endless source of inspiration.
How do you like to work best – what are your ideal working conditions and environment?
I work best in an organised and uncluttered space. My studio is more like an office rather than a creative space; everything is neatly packed and labelled. This allows me to easily find things when I need them, which saves time and minimises disruptions to my creative process.
What has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up your business? Explain.
The hardest part is time management. I am still working full-time to ease the financial pressure on Papetal. This means that I need to be really organised, have clear focus, and yet still be able to respond quickly to any jobs that arise. I need to always be on top of my finance and administration. Luckily, I have the support of my husband and an incredible assistant, who continually keep me on track.
What’s some advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
Build and maintain good relationships with the creative community; respect the people who have helped you to be where you are, and be kind to everyone else.
What would be your dream project? Explain.
My dream project is one that will allow me to work collaboratively with the people whom I admire – the crafters, designers, stylists and photographers who have been critical influences on my work.
It’s not very cool, but I really like…
I overspend on paper and often make impulsive purchases when it comes to craft materials. I have so much paper in my studio that it would probably be enough for the next few years. I think it’s about time I stop spending.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
All the time! I love small discoveries especially when they later lead to great things.
Thanks so much for letting us in on your creative life, Jennifer!