When we first came across Megan Carty’s artwork, it was her abstract paintings that initially caught our eye. Radiating with color and energy, they stand out, even on the most candy colored of Instagram feeds. We soon noticed that Megan also paints flowers. Further investigation led us to discover that many of Megan’s floral paintings are actually bridal bouquets. Needless to say, we were obsessed and immediately reached out to Megan, inviting her to participate in our Women Paving the Aisle Interview series.
Megan lives in Pepperell, Massachusetts with her husband and three children. Her journey to becoming a full-time artist wasn’t linear. “I had to kiss a lot of frogs to realize what I didn’t like while discovering what I did like to do,” she says. Never losing sight of her artistic aspirations, she currently works from her home studio and lists Anthropologie, Minted, and Loom & Kiln as clients.
Despite what Megan’s beautifully curated website and Instagram suggest, life behind the scenes isn’t always coming up roses in cheerful color palettes. As a mental health advocate, Megan uses her platform to destigmatize mental illness, sharing her own experiences with depression and anxiety in order to help others who are struggling as well as their families.
We spoke to Megan on an afternoon in early July when she had finally found a break between painting and running after the littlest members of her family. Here, she talks about her background, finding her artistic voice, what she loves most about painting wedding bouquets, and the artists and vignettes of historic New England that inspire her.
We always like to start from the beginning. What are your first memories of making art?
When I was around 5 years old, I spent a lot of time during the week at my babysitter’s house. She had boys so the only toys to play with were He-Man and G.I. Joe figures. To pass the time when we were stuck inside, I started drawing all the objects in her house. She had a lot of bird figurines and I spent hours observing and trying to copy them. She still has all those drawings to this day! She said because I worked so hard and made so many, she just never had the heart to get rid of them.
This was when I first fell in love with drawing. Admittedly, I’m a bit of people pleaser. As I got better, people would say that I was doing a good job. The validation motivated me to keep at it and improve my skills. I’ve known that I wanted to be an artist since I was 5 or 6 years old.
Can you tell us about your background and training?
I went to Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. I intended to study illustration but was intimated by the talent around me. I switched my concentration to advertising design focusing on concept creation, writing, and ideas for commercials and print ads. While I was interested in the commercial and marketing side of art and design, I was dissuaded how this translated in the real world. At the time, the New York City scene required you to work 80 plus hour weeks for barely livable pay – I just couldn’t agree with the ethics. I wanted to work to live, not live to work. I eventually carved a path as a graphic designer, working for Brookstone designing packaging and in-store signage. As I took on more freelance jobs, I pivoted toward letterpress, designing luxury stationery such as wedding invitations and birth announcements. I loved my work, but after having my children, I just didn’t have the time for it anymore. Becoming a mom opened up other opportunities however, allowing me to get back into doing art full-time. I could manage my day-to-day schedule in a way that created space for my artistic practice.
Can you tell us about making the decision to be a full-time artist?
In the beginning, making art was more about having a creative outlet. As a new mom, I needed a way to express myself and manage my anxiety and some internal struggles I was dealing with at the time.
Before, my internal dialogue was always telling me that I wasn’t good enough. Perhaps it just had to do with getting older, but I began to let go of what others thought about what I made. The desire to impress and seek approval was no longer there. One day, I just realized that these thoughts of intimidation and fear were holding me back from becoming a full-time artist. Needing to take action, I started a ‘30 Paintings for 30 Days’ series. The project was just what I needed to commit to a regular practice and deliver a body of work. I made a new painting every day, often with a baby in a carrier attached to me. Some paintings were large scale, while others were small works on paper. But every day, I showed up, proving to myself that I could be an artist, and nothing was going to hold me back.
Were there any defining experiences early in your career that shaped you as both an artist and businesswomen? Looking back on those early years, is there anything that you would have done differently?
You become wiser with time. I always felt that I had no clue what I was doing, that I was just fumbling through life for those ten years after college. Not really knowing what I wanted to make, I was always trying to satisfy the tastes and expectations of others. I was constantly asking myself, “What can I make that is going to sell?” or “What can I make to get my work known?” and “How am I going to get people’s attention?” These are the wrong questions to be asking. I spent a lot of years doing work that wasn’t true to me. When I let go of the notion of needing to make money a certain way, I finally relaxed and discovered what makes me happy. Looking back, I would have ignored the outside noise and listened to my artistic intuition and impulses sooner. It’s kind of like letting your ‘freak flag’ fly. And when I started making abstract and floral paintings, I finally felt like my art was unfiltered and coming from a place within.
You are known for your abstract art and flower paintings, which pulsate with color and energy. Can you tell us about the journey toward finding your artistic voice? Can you walk us through your creative process?
It took ten years of experimentation and trial and error to find my artistic voice. Of course, there were setbacks. But with each new discovery, I was fueled to move forward and test new waters. When I first started painting flowers, I was worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously. I really love color and flowers as a subject offer endless possibility for explorative interpretation. I don’t try to paint flowers as I see them. Rather, I set out to capture the myriad of colors and interplay of light and shadow between the petals and leaves. It’s more about capturing the gesture of a bouquet or arrangement, expressing a mood, and conveying energy and movement within the painting’s composition.
It goes without saying, we absolutely love your bridal bouquet paintings. What made you want to paint wedding bouquets? How does it feel knowing you are creating art that memorializes one of the most important days in a woman’s life?
At first, it was more of a business decision where I asked the question “How can I paint flowers for people?” I began thinking about how brides are always looking for ways to preserve their bouquet. Of course, you have photographs, but a painting, in my mind, felt really special. When a couple gets married, they are making a home together. Often, they are looking for décor. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a custom work of art made that is sentimental, but is also artistic, sophisticated and modern?”
Couples have a bouquet painting made to commemorate their anniversary. Grooms contact me around their wedding to start planning a first anniversary gift for their future wife. Bridesmaids also pull together to surprise the bride with a bouquet painting. As an heirloom, the painting can be handed down to their own children. And that is what I want most – for my art to connect with people. We connect with flowers and a bridal bouquet represents one of the happiest days in a person’s life.
What can a bride expect when she commissions a wedding bouquet painting from you?
We begin by discussing the price, size, orientation (vertical or horizontal canvas) and space in which the bouquet painting will be displayed. I then ask that they send several photos of the bouquet at various angles. After we have determined these initial specifications, they send a 50% deposit. I then get to work, taking pictures as I go. Once the painting is in a place where I feel good about it, I will send images to the client. If they want any changes or edits made, this is when I will do it. Once the client is happy with the painting and gives full approval, they pay the remaining balance and I ship the artwork out to them.
You have collaborated on art projects with Anthropologie, Minted, and Loom & Kiln. Are there any collaborations that you are particularly proud of?
Anthropologie was my dream. In fact, earlier that year, I had put working with Anthropologie on my vision board. A month later, I received an email from an Anthropologie buyer asking if I would make a painting for them to turn into a wall tapestry. I guess they had found me on Instagram and really liked my florals. I about died! They gave me total creative freedom with the project, and I completed the painting within a few days. I sent photos of the final work and they loved it. To see my painting transformed into an 8 x 7 ft tapestry being sold on Anthropologie’s website was a dream come true.
On a serious note, you are an advocate for mental health, sharing your own experience with anxiety and depression to bring awareness and help others who are struggling. Can you tell us about your decision to open up on this very important issue?
There is nothing like the pain, fear, and loneliness of having suicidal thoughts. After going through this during and after my pregnancies, I realized mental health issues are not talked about enough. People are just struggling to survive. I decided to not only speak out about my experiences, but also how I got through it and continue to manage my mental health. Because when you are in the thick of it, you don’t realize that life can get better, that this is not permanent. You can move through the hardest parts – there are mindset tricks you can learn to make negative thoughts quieter and less of a burden to live with. You can thrive and be happy. And when a flare up happens, you know it’s not ‘forever’ and will pass.
I have several missions. By talking so openly and honestly, I want to destigmatize illnesses related to mental health. I also want to educate family members of the people who are suffering. Many times, people suffer quietly, and their loved ones don’t know how to offer help and support. By sharing my experience, I want to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, so their families understand what they are dealing with. And for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, I want to provide my perspective during those very dark periods. When someone is gone, people are left with layers of guilt, shame, and blame. I don’t them to feel that way and carry these unnecessary feelings around. By telling my story – what I was feeling and thinking at my sickest point, I try to provide clarity so families can accept that what happened is not their fault.
What inspires you artistically? Do you have any favorite artists?
I love art that comes from an intuitive, soulful place. Spontaneous and abstract artwork tends to be my favorite – it just looks like magic to me. Hellen Frankenthaler has always been a favorite. I get a lot of inspiration from contemporary artists such as Heather Day and Carolina Grunér, an artist from Finland who makes very beautiful, ethereal art that almost glows – imaging an angel as a painting. The Danish artist Trine Panum makes energetic, vibrantly colored paintings. Annie Everingham, an artist from Australia uses bright, optimistic floral colors, but in a very abstract way.
What must you have in your studio at all times when working?
My vice is Coca-Cola – it’s so bad for you, but I love it! I am always listening to podcasts while I work, usually artist interviews and discussions between artists. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard is another podcast that I listen to regularly.
If you could paint the wedding bouquet of any bride throughout all of history, who would it be?
For me, it’s not so much ‘who,’ but what do the flowers look like?! As the iconic classic bride, I would pick Jacqueline Kennedy. The modern-day brides I choose are Chrissy Teigen and Karlie Kloss.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
I love going to museums like the MoMA and MET in New York City and looking at the modern art collections. Here in the Boston area, we have the Peabody Essex Museum. I enjoy walking though historic neighborhoods in Newport, RI and Portsmouth, NH. I get so much out of observing the old charm of the architecture, houses, and cobblestone streets. I also spend a lot of time on Pinterest and looking at fashion. I’m particularly obsessed with the fantastic color combinations that Gucci uses. Flipping through fashion magazines like Vogue, I’ll see a color palette used and an editorial or advertisement, tear it out, and use it for my next painting.
What advice do you have for our readers who are thinking about starting their own business?
I think you have to really love the ‘thing’ that you want to turn into a business. You have to be passionate and take on an ‘all in’ mindset so you never want to quit even during the hard times. The motivation and drive have to be more than about just making money. By this I mean, there needs to be a deeper purpose, which fulfills personal enrichment and satisfaction.
Being flexible and willing to learn new things as you go is also very important. I have invested so much time and money into online learning – photography, marketing, web design, and social media. I couldn’t just say, “Hey, I want to paint” and leave it at that. I needed to become an expert in so many other areas of running a business in order for it to be a success. You have to be willing to do the work.
You finally have the day off. How do you spend it?
I like to be alone. First, I will settle into a long and relaxing lunch by myself at a restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory. Then I will browse the local stores. I especially love stationery shops and bookstores and can spend hours just flipping through magazines and art & design books and admiring beautiful paper goods. This will be followed by a late afternoon hot chocolate enjoyed in a café while people-watching. I always have a journal or notebook with me and will spend some moments jotting down thoughts and brainstorming ideas. If there’s time, I will walk around a nearby botanical garden or historic neighborhood and just take in the scenery.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
Just as the coronavirus hit, I was getting ready for an upcoming exhibition at the clothing store Madewell in Boston for Boston Art Week. Unfortunately, the event has been canceled. I am taking this time to work on my own projects starting with the launch of a new collection of fine art prints based on my abstract paintings. I am also really excited to paint BIG again and will be starting a series of large-scale abstract works on canvas this summer. Looking forward to the holidays, I am planning to make small floral pieces around 11 x 14 inches, which will be more affordable and great for gifts.
If you are someone you know is in emotional distress, help and support is available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)