A health scare pushed Tiffanie Turner to explore burlesque. In one act, for an art history themed show, she choreographed a piece as Frida Kahlo. That meant planning each part of her outfit, down to the paper flower crown. When Turner couldn’t find a good tutorial on how to make one, she decided to just make up the process as she went.
“I got hooked,” Turner tells Creators. “And the rest is history.”
Turner’s blooms are no ordinary crepe paper flowers, the ones you’d find in craft stores. They’re often large-scale and extremely detailed; one piece can take her anywhere from 250 to 400 hours to complete.
“It is exhausting,” says Turner. “In general, there is a trancelike state I need to be in to stay focused on something that takes so long. But it is sometimes as frustrating as it is meditative.”
Yet as deliberate and particular as her process can be, Turner leaves room for experimentation. Between the vision for each flower and its execution, Turner always get a few surprises.
“I study my floral specimens and source images obsessively, cutting and shaping each petal individually, and I usually feel like I didn’t get that petal shaped and placed correctly, but the next one I will,” says Turner. “And before you know it, I’ve added 200 petals that weren’t quite right but look beautiful together. And I guess there is a lesson in that!”
She hopes to encourage others to do the same by experimenting with their own paper flowers. Her upcoming book, The Fine Art of Paper Flowers, includes tips and tricks for making intricate pieces, including a detailed tutorial on how to make her signature large peony.
“I taught myself a lot of things in a short period of time when I starting making paper flowers, and people were always asking what my secrets and techniques were, so I knew there was a niche that needed to be filled,” says Turner. “I could tell the interest was growing… The book contains every life-sized flower I can do justice to, and every single technique I use.”
She remains transparent about that process, explaining that she “likes to keep [her] work very realistic, but not so realistic that the flowers border on ‘chintzy.'” Achieving that means “coloring the paper” before making each petal, “in order to let the chips fall where they may as far as patterns and colors.”
Turner recently completed a residency at the de Young Museum and has signed on with Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco, where she will soon display new work.
“Because much of my work draws from the paintings of 17th century Dutch masters, I will be studying flowers from several seasons, in several states of bloom and decay,” says Turner. “I will focus on garden roses and other blossoms in a deeply feminine way. I will continue to study current environmental effects and distress to plant life, and the patterns and rhythms found in nature, along with the missteps and irregularities in botany, caused by decay, rot, wilt, dormancy, death, and genetic and viral mutations like phyllody, petalody, and fasciation.”