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The Farmer & the {Florist} Interview: Susan McLeary

Posted by celsiaflorist on May 17th, 2020

Susan is one of the most talented, innovative, generous designers I’ve ever met. It’s been our honor to have her teach at many of our Seasonal Floral Design Workshops, and student feedback was overwhelming each time. If you ever have a chance to take a class with Susan, don’t pass it up. Her positivity and creativity are infectious, and she has inspired so many designers to think outside the box and try new things. Susan has a big year ahead of her, with teaching opportunities across the world and the release of her spectacular new book, The Art of Wearable Flowers, so I’m thrilled to have the chance to talk with her about her journey.

Susan McLeary design work

Erin: Susan, thanks so much for taking time to share your story with Floret readers. For those not familiar with your work, can you share an overview of your story?

Susan: Thank you for having me! I found this work more than 15 years ago when a friend asked me to do her wedding flowers. I had a hobby making jewelry at the time, and my friend had initially asked me to make jewelry for herself and her bridal party. I added on the floral challenge but honestly felt pretty neutral about it. I had no idea that I’d connect with it so immediately and strongly. It was a real time-stopping moment—I realized quite viscerally during the work that I was meant to be a florist. I’d always been vaguely artistic but had never felt very good at any one discipline. I decided to listen to this feeling and became obsessed. I began to gather as much information as I could. I read every book at the library, took classes at my local community college, earned certifications through the Michigan Floral Association and AIFD [American Institute of Floral Designers], freelanced for event florists, and ultimately got a job at a bustling full-service floral shop.

Those experiences taught me so much, but at a point, I realized there had to be more to this work. The design opportunities I was exposed to were limited and pretty one-note. I had connected with many inspiring people and had gathered skills, but I was really having trouble envisioning my place in this field. My curiosity and frustration led to much Internet surfing, where I finally started to find other florists out in the world creating dynamic, artful, expansive work—each with a distinct point of view.

Susan McLeary installation

At the time, the prevailing look in the U.S. was dense, rounded, and quite formal. I did not connect with this, but unfortunately, this was what I was making each weekend! It was when I encountered Francoise Weeks’s work that it finally clicked that floral design is an art, and each designer can—and should—express their own viewpoint through it. This discovery led to others, and I expanded my circle of influence. I attended design workshops and met many more influential people—Francoise of course, but also Joseph Massie, Holly Chapple, and you, Erin! I felt encouraged to make the leap to open my own studio and make the things I wanted to see.

I enjoyed nearly 10 years producing weddings and events under my studio name, Passionflower. About 3 years ago, my curious nature tugged once more, and I began sharing my passion for flowers, the art of floristry, and the profession as a teacher and writer instead of a studio florist. I occasionally design for a wedding or event, but my real jam is working to identify common design challenges, break them down, and develop processes to ease them a bit. I’m driven to add my voice to the conversation—ideas on sustainable, updated, fashion-forward floral design. Vancouver flower delivery have allowed me to transition into this role, and I’m so grateful.

Readmore: The Farmer & the {Florist} Interview: Christin Geall

Also See: Floral Design, Years Ago, Seasonal Floral, Most Talented, My, Her, Floral

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