I love Instagram. I am on there all day, checking in on friends, posting images of my life and discovering great talent. One of which is Brighton based Philippa Stanton. As soon as I saw her feed I fell in love. Table top images of flowers, and daily ephemera. And it seems most IG like it too with over 303,000 followers
So, what better person to interview about her still life images and her love of flowers for #natureinthehome? Over to you Philiippa…
Please can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?
I am Philippa Stanton, and I am an artist… I mostly use synaesthesia to create abstract paintings of the visual textures, colours and shapes I experience when either listening to music, people talking, or simply taste or smell. ( I also paint sea with boats, and snow with huts.)
When I was younger I used to watch Roy Castle on Record Breakers and think he was amazing because he did so many different things: Amongst other things; tap dancing ( he held a record for the most taps in a minute at one point, I think ), playing the trumpet, singing, acting, presenting…and generally being a nice man. I thought all his talents were amazing and highly enviable… But one day mum said to me: “Roy Castle should have been a big star worldwide, but he’s just too good at too many things” I was shocked that being good at lots of things could be a problem!! There was SO much I wanted to do, and which I knew I’d be good at, but my mum saying that about Roy Castle kind of worried me…
At school I was always torn between art and drama, but I wasn’t naturally good at drawing, and acting came very easily. So after 6th form, I briefly decided that I’d combine both art and theatre, and study History of Design, as I knew that the social history behind design would be very useful background for being in plays. I arrived at Manchester Poly and almost instantly knew I had made the wrong decision, even though I loved the subject. So, to cut a long story short, I left early and went on to train at RADA. …
Another long story later, and also cut short, is that after a lot of theatre work, I had a child, moved to Brighton, had a long period of unemployment, and then an awful divorce… I started to paint again…it was an expression of me without having to talk about anything. I painted what was going on inside my head, and painting therefore anchored a large part of my creative self.
Subsequently, what has gone on over the last 9 years has been a journey of creativity born out of sheer necessity, and a creative journey that is still evolving and developing… I have realised that creating, making and documenting is just who I am, and where I’m at my best, although I am still in the process of trying to make that all into a more sustainable way of life. Everything I do, be it making lampshades from vintage maps, taking photographs (or even still acting occasionally), has become a way of trying to make a self-employed living from being able to do lots of things. Obviously I’m in no way on Roy Castle’s level, (although there’s still time for me to catch up!), and there’s a trumpet on top of my wardrobe still waiting to be played!
Where does your love of flowers come from?
My love of flowers comes from my love of detail, I think. Ever since I can remember, I loved being in the garden looking at every element of a plant. I remember endlessly taking apart the buds of Hebe’s, just to find out what was in the centre, and being amazed at the colours and beautiful prettiness in the petals of London Pride, which from a distance looked like nothing much at all, and which had strangely disproportionate leaves. I remember a school project where I had to collect and name wild flowers, which I loved, and one Christmas being given a giant flower press.
My mum always sent me out to pick a bunch of flowers ( probably just to get me out from under her feet ), but I always loved it and she always told me the names of what I’d picked. I remember picking laburnum once, and being fascinated by the individual yellow flowers which made up the drooping shape, and then being terrified when my mum told me that it was poisonous. I wouldn’t walk under the yew tree in case a berry accidentally fell into my mouth… (she’d read out a newspaper article about a child who had been poisoned by yew!).
I think poisonous plants scared me because I was naturally inclined to investigate plants and flowers…picking them apart so that I could see every part of them, and then to think that they could kill me was terrifying to a 7 year old, so I became even more interested in them; looking them up and reading about them, and my Granny had no end of books and also the most amazing garden ever. I would bring things in and she would tell me their names. She would send me out to look for things ( often for her flower arrangements ) and I was very proud once when I brought her in a perfect skeleton holly leaf, as she said that to get one that perfect was rare! I could never get over, and still can’t, the incredible amounts of plants that we have around us…it is a constant lesson, and once I learn about a plant it sort of becomes a member of my family!
So my love for flowers comes from being lucky enough to be surrounded by them as a child, and having my mum and Granny able to tell me lots about them and also share their own love of them.
Your tabletop images on Instagram have a huge following, could you tell us about your daily vignettes?
They weren’t a planned project…they were just borne out of gardening, sitting, drinking tea and wanting to bring some of my garden inside. I’ve had the Table for years and it’s had a few different positions in the room, but where it is now, with the combination of light and texture, it seems to magically capture a quiet moment. The arrangements are a daily meditation: a visual poem or haiku. They make me stop, simplify and really concentrate on the beauty of small things, and this seems to resonate with a lot of people.
I love how each day the same table has a different view, how do you decide what to photograph?
I’m always led by the light and the flowers themselves. Often I start the day with picking a small bunch of flowers, arranging them and then sitting, having a cup of tea, and just looking. Flowers and plants are such a good focus for an easy, everyday sort of meditation. ( as is washing up too…I don’t have a dishwasher! ) Being with flowers; looking at them, and in greater detail than you think you have time for, is the best way I have to give them my respect and admiration, and I think this also may be a reason I seem to be able to capture them in photography. Colour is also important, but I never plan it…it’s just how I feel that day, as are the objects on the table which are there as a sort of balance, and usually have some sort of history attached to them.
What is your favourite season?
My favorite season is probably Spring as it’s always such a relief and also always so exciting, but I also like the calm of Winter and the challenge of making dead plants and leaves work on the Table too.
What tips can you give my readers on floral display, arrangement and photography?
Always spend time looking at the flowers in detail…know and appreciate each stem and never overlook what they want to do. Go with their natural line, even if it’s trying to do something you don’t want it to. Let go of any big ideas you have for the flowers or the arrangement itself, and see what they want to do. Leaves, buds and seed heads are as important as flowers.
Always think of how they are in nature, how they have grown, even if they are bought flowers. If you notice something slightly out of place in the photo, around the flowers, which slightly shakes the balance; adjust it. If you think that will do, the photo will never be as satisfying and calming as the arrangement you see in front of you. Still life photography is an art…not just a snapshot, and as such you need to give it time and also combine it with unthinking intuition.
What is your favourite flower?
A very hard question…but a tulip, in bud, is a thing of amazingly simple beauty.
Finally, I understand you will be running workshops next year, could you tell us about those?
I’m still forming the workshop idea, but I will be putting together flower arranging and still life workshops along the lines of what I’ve talked about here. They will be small workshops (a maximum of 10 people) which will encourage people to look for longer before ‘doing’, take in a whole atmosphere, and also help them look at composition and structure as well as simple mobile phone photography tips.
Encouraging people to see in a different way; and in their own way, is very important and discovering your own view helps unlock masses of creativity. So hopefully there will be more solid plans coming together during the summer, and people should e-mail me if they want to be put on a list of those who will hear first about them.
Thank you Philippa. I absolutely adore your work. Such a brilliant interview too, I’d totally forgotten about the Trumpet playing, world record achieving Roy Castle! Legend!!
Philippa is kindly giving away two mounted & wrapped prints to two lucky Littlegreenshed readers (the prints are the last two images – Bread & Pond Life).
More of Philippa’s work can be found here:
To enter please complete the little rafflecopter thingy below… Good luck
Edit: The winners are:
Bethany – Pond Life
Catching Sundust – Bread