Legato :: Flora Bowley
Legato :: in a manner that is smooth and connected
by Jenny Doh
The room lights up when she enters. A room where none of the eager fanbase suspect that she actually has butterflies every time she teaches. It's a fanbase that continues to grow authentically and deeply as she travels the world to teach her painting methods ... of making do with what is at hand, of making bold moves to push a painting to new places, and most importantly, of allowing the process to be gentle and forgiving ... making room for the canvas to transform and become again. It's a process where bravery flowers ... a process where you Bloom True.
JD :: I know that you are a yoga enthusiast. Tell me how you got into yoga ... and tell me about what yoga gives you.
FB :: I started practicing yoga in 1995 in a little mountain town in Colorado. My life was all about snowboarding and making art in those days and I was craving something “spiritual,” so yoga seemed like a good idea. My very first teacher ended up being a super rad lady who became a sort of mentor for me. She was the only person I knew back then who was really pushing personal transformation in a way that felt good to me, so I ended up following her classes around for years. My yoga practice eventually led me to a yoga teacher training program, followed by ten years of teaching yoga. I don’t teach anymore, but I blend a lot of my experience from the yoga world into my painting workshops. Personally, yoga gives me the much needed reminder that I am connected to something much greater than myself, so it keeps me centered and connected in that way. It also keeps my body feeling good, so that’s a bonus. It’s been my grounding force for many years.
JD :: You've been traveling a lot lately. Are you a good traveler? Calm, cool, collected, with all items neatly packed ... or are you a worrier wondering if you've forgotten this or that?
FB :: I’ve been traveling my whole life thanks to my globe trotting parents, and yes, lately, I’ve been traveling even more teaching workshops. I’m actually typing this as I fly over the Atlantic Ocean from Portugal to Portland, so this is a perfect question for the moment. Although my suitcase is definitely not always neatly packed, I’d say I’m a good traveler in the ways that I think are important. I’m good at adapting to whatever is going on in the moment, thriving in the unknown, making friends with strangers, and finding joy in small simple moments.
JD :: For different things in life, we either lead or follow. Tell me about times you've followed and what you think makes up a good follower. Tell me about times when you have lead. And tell me about what you think makes a good leader.
FB :: I did a lot of following in my teens and twenties when I was trying to discover who I really was and searching for this identity in all sorts of places. I still find myself following people who inspire me, and I’m sure this will never stop. I think it’s a good time to be a follower anytime you are moved by something and intuitively want to learn more about it. Following is inevitably a great way to learn what is truly yours.
The first time I really felt like a leader in my life was after I spent six months volunteering in Mississippi and New Orleans after Katrina. Through a sequence of wild events, I ended up being the volunteer coordinator for a pretty large-scale relief center. I had never done anything like that before, but it felt natural and the work was extremely rewarding. I think the biggest key to being a good leader is to whole-heartedly believe in what you are doing because people will always respond to passion and integrity in other people.
JD :: I've taken a painting class with you. And I would describe you as easy-going, with lots of confidence and inner peace. Has that always been the case with you or have you had times when confidence and peace were not so present in your life?
FB :: Thanks! Those are qualities I definitely hope to embody. I think I was born a pretty easy-going person, but I’ve worked hard on the confidence and inner peace aspects. I was a really shy kid and especially shy with my voice and speaking my mind in front of others. I felt like a wallflower for many years actually … too shy to speak up, just wanting to blend in. When I first started teaching yoga, I was terrified of being up in front of everyone. It was like facing my worst fear each class, but over the years I became more comfortable and at peace in myself. I still get really nervous before I teach my painting workshops, and I doubt that will ever go away. As far as I can tell, building confidence is a life long journey that happens as a result of bumping up against your own inner boundaries and moving right on through.
JD :: Tell me about the teaching process. How long have you been doing it? What has the journey been like? What have your students taught you in the process of your teaching them?
FB :: I started teaching what I call my “Bloom True” workshops last September. Elizabeth MacCrellish, who is the founder and director of Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire, invited me to teach after reading Anahata Katkin’s blog mention that I was “thinking about teaching workshops someday." Elizabeth’s invite felt like a sign from the universe which I’m always keen on following, so I said yes, and off I went into the great unknown. It’s hard for me to even sum up how amazing the experience of teaching has been. It’s really changed my whole life in so many ways. My schedule is now full of teaching gigs, and I’m traveling all over the world teaching what I love to do and meeting all kinds of amazing people. It feels kind of surreal, really. My students have taught me a lot. I’m especially inspired by the people who show up with no painting experience at all. Watching them dive into their paintings so enthusiastically inspires me to go out and do something I’ve never done before. My students have also given me a lot of perspective on my own work and why I do it. I understand more and more through watching my students go through all kinds of transformations, that my style of painting is really a huge metaphor for life. It teaches a lot about letting go, being bold, working with what’s working, following your intuition, and as one of my students recently said, “turning the canvas of your life.”
JD :: Have you ever disliked where your painting was going so much that you totally abandoned it and threw it in the trash?
FB :: I don’t think I’ve ever actually thrown a painting away, but I have been known to put a painting out on the curb knowing someone will take it home and give it some love. But, no, really my painting style is very forgiving because it’s all about working with layers of paint until something you like starts to happen. This can take a loooong time sometimes, but those paintings are often my best because they are rich with the process, the struggle, and the eventual breakthroughs.
JD :: Finish this sentence: "When I'm not painting, I'm usually ...
FB :: ... spending time with my crew of creative friends in Portland, OR, decorating my house, riding my bike, doing yoga, dancing, or traveling to far-away places.
JD :: Which do you prefer ... being at a party with lots of people or being by yourself or with one other person enjoying quiet?
FB :: If I had to choose, I would say being at a party with lots of people. I tend to get a lot of energy and inspiration from having great people around me, and well, I love a good party. But, alone time or one-on-one time is also like gold to me. It’s all about finding a healthy balance, so I can enjoy both worlds.
JD :: You use bold colors. How do you feel about pastels?
FB :: I actually love using bold colors next to pastels or more earthy colors. It’s this juxtaposition that I find really interesting. For example, I love bright orange and pink alongside mossy green and cream with just a little bit of black. But, don’t get me wrong, I can definitely appreciate a completely pastel painting, I just prefer to mix it up in my own work.
JD :: You occasionally attend wedding ceremonies to do live-and-in-person paintings. Tell us about that process. What's it like to create art in that manner?
FB :: It’s kind of a rush, like a performance of sorts. It’s also really exposing in a way that always makes me a little bit uncomfortable in the beginning. My first layers of paint are really wild and all over the place, and I always imagine people watching are saying to themselves, “Well, I could do that …” which is true! After I’m deeper into a painting, I’m pretty good at getting in my own personal flow, and I often forget that there is a crowd of people watching me until I turn around. It’s fun though. It’s a unique experience for people to see an artist working live, and I think it’s important for people to see the process behind the finished piece. The wedding paintings are extra unique because the couple ends up with a painting totally inspired by their wedding day with snippets from their vows and images and colors from the day. I also paint live at music festivals, and that’s just pure fun. I’d love to do more of that.
JD :: Tell us about your journey. Was it from crayon to paintbrush as you grew up or did you explore other mediums? Tell us also about your upbringing and your family ... about the degree of support you've had in terms of your creative pursuits from your family.
FB :: I’ve been really lucky to have super supportive parents my whole life. They always encouraged my sister and I to do whatever we loved regardless of what it was. There were always plenty of art supplies around the house and creativity was encouraged in all sorts of ways. My dad painted big abstract paintings before I was born, so I also grew up with those hanging all around the house. I remember staring at them often and getting lost in their colors and lines … probably much more than your average kid would tend to do. So, yeah, art has been a part of my life and also the thing I was “good at” since I can remember. I went to college thinking I would study graphic design or art education since I didn’t think I could actually make a living as an artists at that point. But after my first show at a little coffee shop when I was 19, I sold a few paintings and got it into my head that I could make a living this way (this probably did freak my parents out for a few years), but from that point on, I painted, showed, and sold my work as much as I could. I supplemented my income for many years by waitressing, teaching yoga and doing massage therapy, and slowly but surely, I became a full-time painter by the time I was 30.
JD :: Cats or Dogs?
FB :: Dogs … love em. Sadly, I’m allergic to cats.
JD :: Chocolate Chip or Peanut Butter?
FB :: Love them together, but if I had to choose…chocolate chip.
JD :: Matte or Glossy?
FB :: Glossy for paintings. Matte for photography.
JD :: Finish this sentence: "Not very many people know that ...
FB :: … I can do back flips on a tampoline and spin fire… but not at the same time!
JD :: Some say "less is more." Others say "more is more." What do you say?
FB :: In terms of my own artwork, I actually try to find the balance between the two. I love a rich complex painting with a lot of variety of marks and color, but I can tend to go overboard, so I’m constantly watching myself with that. My paintings end up being a real back and forth process between adding complexity and simplifying down. It’s similar to my life actually.
JD :: You have a book coming out. Can you talk to us about it?
FB :: Sure. I haven’t publicly talked about it much yet partly because I still can’t believe it’s real, and I don’t want to jinx it! But, yes, it is real. The title of the book is, “Brave Intuitive Painting: Let Go. Be Bold. Unfold.” The subtitle is, “Techniques for uncovering your own unique style of painting.” t’s kind of a long title, but it definitely speaks to what the book is all about. I’ve been working on it for the past six months as I’ve been traveling around the world, and the process of writing has been really interesting. It’s like writing a huge artist statement, so I’m being forced to get really clear on what I do and why I do it. My dear friend, Tara Morris, took all the photographs, and I must say they are really gorgeous, so it’s definitely going to be lovely to look at. It’s due to be released by Quarry Books in the spring of 2012, so stay tuned.
JD :: Think fast and say the first word (or two) when I say this:
Cvita (my best friend who incorporates ink into her paintings in the most beautiful ways)
JD :: 10-20 years from now ... you'll be happy if ...
FB :: Globally, I’ll be happy if the planet and all its creatures are living in a healthier, more sustainable way. Personally, I’ll be happy if I’m surrounded by people I love, feeling inspired and working on projects that I can’t even imagine now … and feeling healthy … gotta stay healthy.
The images of Flora's artwork are provided courtesy of Stephen Funk. Learn about Stephen's photography here: http://www.stephenfunkphotography.com/
The images of Flora in the studio are provided courtesy of Tara Morris. Learn about Tara's photography here: http://tspoonphotography.com/
Many thanks to Flora Bowley for an incredible interview. To learn more about her work, visit her Web site here: http://www.florasbowley.com/