Creating Mindful Art With Flowers

Through her work with petal pigments, artist Linda Stillman reminds us of the connection between flowers and our mind, body, and spirit.

“The Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every day artist Linda Stillman paints the sky. She likens her daily practice to yoga or meditation in that it provides her with a moment to be fully present and grateful for what’s around her. “Every day for over 10 years I have painted a small portion of the sky,” she says. “It’s a chance to stop, to look up at the fast-changing colors of the sky and clouds, to record them, and to appreciate a moment in time.”

Yet all too often as a society we neither look up at the sky nor down at the flowers. In our haste we can lose touch with our own beauty and joy that is reflected to us through nature. For Linda, art is her tool to remind us of this. She utilizes nature in her practice, using fallen flower petals, an unlikely art source, to create unique flower-stained artwork.

In spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth he highlights the role of flowers in the evolution of humanity—that flowers were most likely the first things that we humans came to value that had no link to our survival.

Flowers have provided inspiration to poets, artists, and philosophers. They awaken us to the beauty that is part of our innermost being, and our true nature. And the joy and love they bring us is connected to that recognition. “Without our fully realizing it, flowers [have] become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves,” Eckhart writes. More delicate, more ethereal, more fleeting than plants, he says they are like “messengers from another realm.”

“You can see the joy that flowers bring people—and they are nearly always buying them for someone else” – Linda Stillman

Linda is one such inspired artist. She fell in love with flowers as a young girl, gathering rose petals in her skirt. She is a firm believer in the connection between flowers and humanity.

Linda was both a gardener and artist before combining her two passions, using various media to explore that relationship. In her current venture Linda is capturing people buying flowers with her camera. “You can see the joy that flowers bring people—and they are nearly always buying them for someone else. There’s a communication through flowers. And an appreciation of both the flowers, and of the person receiving them,” she says.

The Pigments in Petals

Much of Linda’s work is like a diary or documentation of the passage of time. One project entailed planting a garden divided into the days of the month—with each calendar day in the garden containing a different plant. She then took aerial photos of the “calendar” garden over several seasons, documenting their change, decay, and rebirth.

"Wave Hill Diary" Photo courtesy Linda Stillman
“Wave Hill Diary” Photo courtesy Linda Stillman

Linda’s latest body of work has taken a different direction. She collects the pigments from fallen flower petals as a way of documenting moments in time. During her residency at Wave Hill, a famous public garden in Bronx, New York, Linda rubbed the petals of every flowering plant in the greenhouse onto paper, and put together an exhibit of the papers stained with their coloring. At Central Park this spring she is displaying her latest flower-stained artwork using petals collected from New York City parks and gardens.

“At Wave Hill I first went to the Conservatory simply to enjoy the plants, but I started to notice blossoms that had recently dropped,” says Linda. And so she began collecting them and bringing them back to the studio. Her initial plan was to use the collection to record the colors of the plants in the conservatory as a reference for her drawings, and in order to capture their color quickly she used the flower-stain technique. Those stains became art—her “Wave Hill Diary.”

“I liked the idea that I was giving these discarded blooms a new life in my art,” says Linda. At Wave Hill the gardener in the tropical house would save fallen or pruned blooms for her, and in Central Park Linda joined the weed crew to gather the “deadheaded” flowers they had trimmed or petals from the ground.

It’s not always obvious what pigments each flower will produce. Some flowers create more vibrant colors than others, Linda observes. “Pansies, verbena, petunias, geraniums are reliable. Blue hydrangeas, however, oxidize to produce a brown pigment.,” she says. It also depends on whether the petal is wet or dry in its nature as to the quality of pigment it produces.

“It seems quite brutal to take apart a beautiful flower, but by doing so one can discover its structure, learn and marvel at its brilliant engineering. The more I can learn about flowers, the more I appreciate them,” shares Linda.

The contemplation of flowers has often been viewed as a spiritual practice. Sufi poet Rumi poses that to understand the heart, we need only see a flower opening. In the Bible, Jesus is quoted as teaching: “Consider how the wildflowers grow.” And Buddha is said to have given a silent sermon once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. That sermon, legends says, was only understood by one monk—Mahakasyapa—who handed the realization down providing the origin of Zen.

Reconnecting to Nature

Linda says her work is not only driven by her fascination and joy of flowers, but also by a sense of agency to be a steward of the land—to encourage others to see the beauty around them.

She believes contact with nature is essential to our wellbeing.

"Central Park Colored" (detail). Photo by Linda Stillman
“Central Park Colored” (detail) Photo by Linda Stillman

So shocked she was by the lack of flowers and green spaces on a university campus in New York that she used the shapes of the many parking lots as the outline for her work on paper—filling them in with flower pigment from the few nearby plants.

We need greater interaction with flowers, and it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, says Linda. “To grow a plant on a windowsill, or to treat oneself occasionally to buying flowers—we will feel the benefits to our physical health and psychological health.”

Flowers are healing for mind, body, and spirit, and, as such, they may be more closely linked to our survival than early humans first realized. Perhaps this Earth Day you’ll take a moment to appreciate the colors of nature and the art that Mother Nature presents in the form of flowers.

Linda Stillman is a multimedia artist living in New York. Find out more about her upcoming shows and artwork here


Helen Avery is a senior writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.