Ever wish you could keep your bridal bouquet as beautiful as the day you walked down the aisle? Working directly from a photograph, Pittsburgh-based artist Ashley Cecil will illustrate a gorgeous replica of your bouquet. We caught up with Ashley about how she got into bouquet illustration, creating a family keepsake, and her love of poppies and peonies.
How did you get the idea to begin illustrating bridal bouquets?
During the summer of 2015, I did a “DIY artist residency” that involved painting bird, bug and botany specimens at several museums here in Pittsburgh and three local high-end florists. Friendships were forged with the florists who hosted me to paint their arrangements, including Stephanie at The Blue Daisy Floral Designs. We kept in touch, and at some point it dawned on me that florists such as Stephanie have a highly engaged audience of individuals who are in love with their wedding bouquets and want to savor them for a lifetime. I floated the idea of the bouquet paintings to Stephanie and two other florists and got an overwhelmingly warm response. That was the beginning of it.
I feel that flowers are so powerful in part because they’re so temporary – immortalizing a bouquet makes such an amazing keepsake for the family of the bride and groom. Do you ever think about how your paintings will be passed down for generations?
Yes, my own great-grandmother did a painting of roses that my family is still clamoring over to this day. So I’m certain these paintings can be family keepsakes treasured for years to come. Art is a unique and powerful means of commemorating individuals and an occasion, which is why it’s an honor to work with couples (or their family or friends giving the painting as a gift) to preserve memories from their wedding. The best commissions are of bouquets with a story of their own – when a particular flower included in the bouquet was the first flower a husband gave a wife, or the same flower included in a mother’s or grandmother’s bouquet. There’s no better way to pass these stories on than in a custom painting.
What are some challenges of painting flowers? What is the best thing about using flowers as subjects?
The hardest part of painting flowers can be the quality of reference materials available since I rely exclusively on professional photographs. Most of the time clients provide fantastic photos to my specifications (a straight-on shot with the entire bouquet in the frame and in focus), but sometimes I have to get creative when that exact photo isn’t available. Conversely, the best part of painting flowers is, well, painting flowers. I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying botany and nature in general, which has deepened my appreciation for the magical things flowers are capable of – saturated color, exotic patterns, sensitivity to their environments (it’s astounding when a plant “knows” the temperature, the number of hours of sunlight in a day, etc.). I can hardly think of a more ideal day in my studio than closely studying and painting flowers.
Do you have a favorite flower or plant to paint? Maybe a line or curve that’s especially thrilling?
Oh yes, I’m over the moon for peonies and poppies. Peonies are almost too stunning for their own good – as if they have a masochistic want for dense blooms of fragrant loveliness so big that they can’t support their own weight. You’ve got to love such commitment to being beautiful. Poppies have the quirkiest stems – I love their twists and turns, and their fuzz. Then out of all that gritty, sci-fi-inspired support come these massive buds that explode into enormous petals of color. When I personify flowers in my head, poppies say, “Think I’m strange and hairy, huh? Just wait…Boom! How’s that for elegance?” They’ve got flower attitude. These two flowers are also my go-to for doodling in my sketchbook and my DIY artful gift wrapping.