Earlier this fall during my annual cleanup of the gardens, I began putting some of the colorful leaves, blossoms, and berries into a basket. Their shapes and textures were so beautiful that I decided I needed to do something more memorable than just plunking them into a mason jar to keep on the windowsill for a few days.
Using a worn old tablecloth as my makeshift backdrop, I arranged torn petals from marigolds, nasturtiums, and hydrangeas into simple medallion shapes on my picnic table. I combined them with tiny pinecones and whatever else I could find in the yard, and then I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a few shots of the various arrangements.
I had to work quickly, as it was a chilly afternoon, and my fingers were growing numb, but I found that the more fanciful I got with the arrangements, the more I was loving them. Later that evening, safely inside with a cup of Earl Grey, I processed the photos on my laptop and then shared a few of them in a post here on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.
I was quite surprised and touched by people's reactions. Some folks even emailed to say that they thought I should turn the images into greeting cards. I've been making and photographing more of the arrangements since then, and I had some prints done on Shutterfly. I'm on the hunt now for some vintage gilded frames so I can hang the prints in our guest bedroom.
Today, as I worked on the latest in my "Autumn Gatherings" series, I took photos of the steps as I went along so I could share the process with you. This isn't really a tutorial, since anyone can arrange flowers in beautiful patterns, but I have discovered a few tips along the way that really work for me, and I hope they may be helpful for someone else trying this.
First, the background is key. If you want your arrangement to have a sort of vintage, nostalgic look, it's helpful to begin with a vintage background. Today I used this wrinkled, worn, and faded piece of Irish linen that I've had for years. The colors of the flowers printed on it are just right as a backdrop to autumn leaves and branches. (In fact, I used this same fabric as the background for my Artful Blogging post.)
Next, I gathered from our yard whatever flowers, berries, twigs, leaves, cones, and seed pods struck my fancy. If your backyard happens to be more of a wooded forest, be careful, as some plants can be poisonous.
Here in Maine, we're deep into autumn, but I still have a few hardy flowers blooming in my garden beds and in the pots on my front porch, so these were musts for me, plus some scarlet runner beans left on my arbor, and the last of the husk cherries in their lovely paper-lantern shells. Various shrubs and woody perennials provided lots of great material, too. The most important thing is to find an interesting range of textures, shapes, and sizes. The colors this time of year tend to be fairly easy to harmonize.
Now that it's getting really chilly out, it's easier to work inside, so once I'd gathered my materials and placed any tender stems in water to stay fresh while I was working, I stationed myself on a large table on my sun porch, which was ideal, as it gets flooded with a particularly lovely warm, golden late afternoon sunlight this time of year.
I began by playing with colors and shapes. I tend to lean toward ovals and circles for my designs, but other shapes would, of course, be beautiful, too. What I love about making medallion shapes is that you can have a beautiful, useable shot at almost any point in the assembly process. If you want something as simple as the above mini pumpkin surrounded by geranium leaves, this would be nice as is. You could move right on to cropping and processing the photo from here.
I found myself smitten with this sweet little robin's nest that had fallen from one of the mock oranges bordering our yard. I would never steal a nest from birds, but I do collect the windfall nests that I find on our property every autumn--or you could fashion a little nest yourself from twigs and moss. This one just seemed like a perfect centerpiece for my medallion.
I love varying textures, shapes and colors, and then repeating certain ones for effect. Once I had placed the yellow flower (the last one of the year from my porch planter) in the center of the nest, I knew that I would want to pick up on that yellow and accentuate it. So, I simply played with possibilities.
Lamb's ears are particularly wonderful because of their silver-green color, their spear shape, and their fuzzy texture. I love them contrasted with the azalea leaves that I've laid on top of them; the azalea's leathery texture and its burgundy color contrast beautifully with the lamb's ears, but both plants are the same basic shape, so there's some repetition, too, which is always pleasing to the eye. The dark purple leaves radiating out from beneath the geranium leaves are from one of my many forsythias. They repeat the same shape, but offer yet another color. Plus, as yellow's complementary color, purple is a great back layer.
As with any creative process, a huge part of it is trial and error for me. I tried adding bits of pink begonia blossoms along with the purple and pink scarlet runner beans, but then the whole thing started feeling just a wee bit Easter-y, so I scrapped that idea and continued on. This time I used much more autumnal petals of orange marigolds and red nasturtiums.
In the photo above I felt I was nearly finished, but I wanted one more layer to give it a sense of blooming out almost beyond the borders of the frame.
My final step was to add some lavender leaves to the outer tips of the forsythias. They pick up on the silver of the lamb's ears, and they also repeat the shapes of the central flower blossom petals. I love that not all the leaves in the image are exactly the same size, and I never fuss over making things exactly symmetrical. Perfectly imperfect suits my eye and temperament much more.
Finally, when it comes to processing the photos, I tend to play with lightening the exposure just a little bit. I also sometimes blur the edges of the image, as I've done in the photo above. Many of you are incredible photographers and much more brilliant than I at photo processing. If you're newer to it, you don't even need to be a Photoshop expert. Try using a simple online photo processor. Most of them have loads of ways to give your photos a vintage look. Or, simply snap away on your phone and use a processing app to get wonderful results. If you want to see live examples of how others process their photos, YouTube is always a great teaching tool. The version below is finished off with a final texture layered over the top of the image. The texture is a photograph of another piece of old linen, which, once processed, gives an even more vintage look to the image.
Before I have Shutterfly print up my next round of photos (and my first batch of "Autumn Gatherings" greeting cards), I'll likely play with each image a little more, tweaking it until I'm satisfied with the results. For me, the most important aspect of making this series is how much fun it is to create beautiful patterns from the bits and pieces I've gathered from my own backyard. Now I can hardly wait to make the "Winter Gatherings" series. I'm already imagining the dreamy Christmas cards. Holly, pine, and arborvitae, here I come!