The Dried Flower Project

Dried Cockscomb, Rose and Carnation | Photo by Anita Anand

I want to write about a new project which I am enjoying a great deal. I call it the dried flower project. Let me start with how I came to this project.

Around the year 2000 I started painting with water colours. I painted landscapes, flowers, trees, still life scenarios. As a novice and self-taught painter, I had next to no knowledge of paints, brushes, paper etc. I just put watercolour on paper and painted. I experimented with various weights of paper, different brushes and had fun. Till today, I cannot honestly say I know much about any of these things — paper, paint, technique etc. I just like to paint.

Gradually, as I became aware of the different mediums of paint, I was curious to try my hand at acrylic, gouache and charcoal. But, with great trepidation. I felt I was being unfaithful to watercolours and a bit daunted by the newness of acrylic and gouache — but began to see the virtue of both as mediums that dried fast, unlike my first love, watercolours. With charcoal, it was blackness that attracted me. I’d not used charcoal till about two years ago, when I ordered a set online and started using them. It’s still a slightly alien medium to me. But I am getting to love it.

I have not been particularly attracted to painting with oils, although two years ago, I ordered them, with a view to broaden my art palette. But I hadn’t touched them. They lay in their box, sad forlorn, untouched tubes. Now and then I opened the box and looked at them. But they didn’t do anything for me.

It was only when Saleem, my Afghan artist friend, came over to store his paintings as he was leaving for Kabul, that the oil paints rejoiced.

Saleem said: Let’s do an oil painting Anita jaan. I couldn’t refuse. On the first floor of my home, next to my easel, looking out of the floor to wall glass sliding doors, he asked: what should we paint? I pointed to my favourite view — the large neem tree that loomed into the first floor terrace, the wrought iron stands with plants and the railing. Oh, he said. I’ve only done abstracts. I know, I laughed. And I’ve only done landscapes.

He started the artwork on an 8” x 10” canvas board and I pitched in, not really enjoying it. We did the scene in front of our first floor terrace — trees, flowers, and plants. That was two years ago.

So far, nature has been my inspiration for my artwork. But I wanted something new, different. My thought was: what can I do differently with what I have in my garden?

When the lockdown was announced at the end of March 2020, I had more time to explore what I could do differently and creatively. Being home bound — and with the gardener not coming — I took over the management of the garden, paying more attention to the plants — planting seeds, turning the soil, weeding, watering, picking off the dead leaves for the compost pile and talking to them. I started watching how the plants and flowers in my various terraces grew, faded, and then faded further.

The idea for the dried flowers came about quite accidentally when a hibiscus fell to the ground. I picked it up and really looked at it for the first time. It was beautiful. I put in on my desk and watched it dry for a couple of days. It got more beautiful with each day, changing hues and shape, and curling and twisting into unrecognisable shapes. It reminded me of crinkled silk, soft to the touch and gossamer like.

I started collecting the hibiscus and other blossoms and drying them. Not having done it before I started reading about it. I put them in a basket and learned that I should use hair spray to prevent discolouration. Soon, I had a sizable collection. It was time to bottle them. I had, in my mind, the kind of bottles that would compliment the dried flowers. I went online and ordered some.

Deciding what to put in a particular bottle was tricky. I began to experiment and enjoyed it greatly. I debated if I should use only one kind of flower or mix them up. In some ways, the size of the bottle dictated what I could put where.

Other than that, I had a fair amount of artistic licence. I have filed several bottles with the dried flowers, leaves, seeds and presented them to friends. I add a touch of essential oil to the bottle and tie a ribbon or coloured thread around them, as a bit of a personal touch.

We get a fair number of monkeys in our area, and they like the vegetation on our terraces too. So, it’s not surprising that in a week several plants have been damaged, and the flowers are hanging by the stalks.

One day I got an idea to clip them and dry them. I had dried herbs in my sister’s hill home years ago. So, I bunched some together, put a rubber band around them and hung them upside down in the door of my son’s closet, where it’s dark and dry. They’re drying beautifully.

It’s an exciting direction for me. I am closer to the plants in my garden and now have a new relationship with them. I watch their growth very carefully, which I didn’t before. I wait till they are ready to be plucked or fall to the ground to retrieve them and begin the drying process. Picking out the bottles, filling them with the dried flowers is a creative exercise for me.

The best part? Gifting them to friends.

I read, write, paint, take photographs, bake and cook and enjoy thinking and good conversation.