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Speaker Profile: Susan Mcleary - A Curious Creative

Susan Mcleary portrait and cover art for The Art of Wearable Flowers book

In March 2017, I wrote a 10-page profile of Susan Mcleary for Florists' Review magazine's "Creativity" issue. It's this article that inspired me to invite Sue to be our Keynote speaker at the 2020 Slow Flowers Summit.

Sue's personal story of seeking, claiming and boldly nurturing her creative process and practice as an artist will inspire and embolden everyone who hears her at the Summit.

I wanted to share the original article (see link to six-page PDF below) and I encourage you to take time to download and read it. You are likely to see yourself in Sue's story.

Be vulnerable. State your intent. Seek collaborations and partnerships to help you along the way. And join us at the Slow Flowers Summit where you and fellow attendees will be cloaked in a nurturing and supportive environment as creatives!

Here are some of the beautiful pages from our 2017 story:


SCHEDULE FOR CREATIVITY: "You have to be insanely curious and you have to keep your curiosity," she insists. Rather than waiting for the muse to miraculously appear, Susan is ever-attentive and observant, seeking inspiration from many sources. This practice is especially important in light of the myriad distractions that invade the creative process, she says.

"The life of a florist is very busy and there isn't a lot of free time. But my advice is to make creative time a priority. Schedule a day, or part of a day, each month, and try out new ideas. Create just for yourself. Make the things that you want to make and be sure to have them photographed. Make it a priority."

DESIGN WITHOUT BOUNDARIES: "Not all of these creative periods will produce successful designs, but I strongly believe that these play periods are essential for growth. They can stoke the creative fire," Susan says. She keeps a sketch book on hand and has multiple Pinterest boards for storing ideas. It is these collections of concepts to which Susan refers when seeking inspiration for a photo shoot or entering a design contest.

DOCUMENT EVERYTHING: "If you can put quality images of your work out into the world, images of things you would really like to be doing regularly, people will start to react." She speaks from experience. "I wasn't making things I wanted to make; I was filling orders for my business. But when I began blasting photographs of my work out into the universe, people started reacting to my work for the first time."

One way to achieve this goal is to piggyback the experimental design work on existing work, she advises. "I may say 'Yes' to a photo shoot that already has a number of requirements to meet, such as a theme and a mood. I fill those requirements but I also take the opportunity when I have extra flowers in the studio, and time to create, to make pieces that I want photographed, perhaps after the planned work is shot."

INVEST IN THE BEST: Photography should be the number one investment you make, Susan says. "So many florists make beautiful things, but they don't take the time and effort to get their work professionally photographed. I've been really lucky. I've had a lot of press, but I think it's because of the consistent, good-quality images I provide. I owe a lot to my photographers who have done this for me. I've paid people. I've traded, and now I have a Amanda Dumouchelle, who does a lot for me. She enjoys shooting things that are out of the box. We're in Ann Arbor where there aren't many opportunities to do editorial work, so I keep it interesting for her.

SAY YES TO OPPORTUNITIES: Susan says her penchant for experimentation (basically, her hands don't rest if flowers are within reach), has opened her up to surprising experiences. "Two years ago, after Francoise Weeks's headpiece tutorial at Florabundance Design Days, a few of the students and I were messing around, making little rings and things from the leftovers. The photographers covering the conference saw mine and said, 'We have a shoot coming up; would you send us some pieces?' I said 'Yes,' because you don't know when you're going to get those great opportunities. Another time, I went to Chapel Designers and I made a little succulent ring for Naomi de Manana, an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, which she posted on Instagram."

PROMOTE INTENTIONALLY: Susan thought her succulent jewelry pieces were cute, but she didn't expect the strong, positive reaction her style has engendered. "People reacted like crazy. My first succulent jewelry pieces were originally published in the photographers' 'Look Book.' Then (British designer) Joseph Massie reached out to me and said, 'I saw the succulent jewelry you've been making and I think it's genius' -- and I was shocked. He ended up interviewing me for an article in Fusion Flowers. Now, I'm the succulent lady," she laughs.

Armed with great photography of her succulent jewelry, Susan shared it further. She hired a pitch writer to help her craft language for a public relations-outreach effort. "I sent the images out to every editor and blogger who I thought might be interested. Not many people responded, but I feel like many shared those images because they are floating around in many places. Recently, the photographs have showed up in major blogs like Refinery 29, Bored Panda and Buzzfeed -- and that exposure directly led to sales via the Etsy Shop."

STAY FRESH: Feed the creative hunger inside yourself. "When I'm contacted for an article or a blog post, if I possibly can I try to produce new work and exceed expectations. I don't want to give the media a folder of old images that have already circulated. This attitude has paid me back every time when I've invested in new work and new photography."

The images seen here are ones Susan produced in late January, specifically for Florists Review. Photographed by Amanda Dumouchelle and featuring some of her favorite local models, this series features a new palette, new flowers, and new shapes. "I love wearables; I love bouquets; I love large installations. Some of these ideas are a couple of years old, but as I go along my path, I pick up new ones and they layer on top of each other and become new things."

SHARE KNOWLEDGE: "I love teaching a range of topics, from making a cascade bouquet without foam to large-scale installations. I obviously benefit from sharing information and since I'm a teacher, I get paid for it. But I love to help people, too. Francoise Weeks and I talk about this all the time, about keeping or sharing our intellectual property. It feels so much better when you let (your creativity) out into the world. I believe that if you do, more will return to you. If you hold it in, you're holding so tight that you can't absorb new information."

AVOID NEGATIVITY: "Sometimes I have to get off social media, just because I still compare myself so much," Susan confides. "I notice that my work isn't necessarily always on-trend. But it's what I like. I'm trying really hard not to listen to statements like 'flower crowns aren't cool.' I dislike that attitude. Or: 'succulents are out' -- how can a whole plant class be not cool anymore? They're beautiful. I try to listen for what I'm craving."

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