Episode 11: Uncommon Paper Flowers with Kate Alarcon
Most of you know Kate Alarcon’s work through her IG account, @cobralilyshop, and her unique paper flower tutorials on Design*Sponge. This week, we are sitting with our friend to discuss her art and her forthcoming paper flower book, Uncommon Paper Flowers: Extraordinary Botanicals and How to Create Them, now available for purchase and to be released October 15, 2019.
Listen to Kate as she talks with Quynh, Jessie, and Priscilla, about her paper flower art and her book.
Let’s get to know Kate a little bit first:
1. Who is Kate Alarcon?
I'm a paper artist, plant geek, and mom/dog mom.
2. What are some of the challenges you've faced during your paper florist career?
Besides some intense health stuff in the last few years, the challenges for me are probably the challenges we all face. On the business side of things, it's tough not knowing what's coming down the pike: what opportunities will arise that I feel I can't turn down but will require me to drop everything so I can do an impossible amount of work for outcomes I can't fully predict in advance? (I bet most of us have had the experience of turning our lives upside down to do a project that falls through or barely gets promoted.)
How much money is coming in this month (how many pieces will sell? how full will the workshop be?) What's my forecast for the next year? The next five years? Will the paper flower trend eventually start to wane, and what will I do then?
On the creative side of things, Instagram is a blessing and a curse. I love the way it connects us and has allowed us to build a community of paper flower artists. It’s been the single biggest factor in helping me establish myself as a flower maker. And I find the process of posting work and getting immediate, measurable feedback very motivating, but at the same time, it's hard not to work specifically toward numbers of likes and comments.
I think doing that makes it harder to develop a very specific voice and easier to get discouraged when something doesn't "hit." More than once, I've felt excited to explore a new idea, posted a pic of my progress, got crickets, and then (unwisely) scrapped the idea. But honestly, that stuff pales in comparison to the pressure of seeing so much unbelievable work just pour out of my phone every single time I check Instagram.
Sometimes it feels like all the ideas have been taken, everyone's better than me, and there just isn't room for or need for my work. I can tell myself all day long that every artist has something unique to offer and I shouldn't compare myself to others, but that pressure and anxiety is real, and it can be really hard to shake.
3. How have you made your paper flower voice stand out in the crowd?
I think the things that made me stand out initially were topic (unusual plants) and range - I did cacti, succulents, mushrooms, carnivorous plants, fish, etc. I also have a kind of in-betweeny style that is realistic-ish but also stylized. My flowers are a little bit stripped down to the main idea rather than hyper-realistic.
4. How would you define your customer base?
I'd say they're women from their twenties to their sixties who are serious about doing something lovely for themselves. It gives me so much joy to be a part of that. One of my favorite types of customers is the retiree who has spent her whole life juggling stuff and taking care of everyone, and now it's her turn to enjoy the interests and passions that have been on the back burner.
That lady deserves an awesome workshop. There are so many pressures on women not to take time for themselves. To teach someone who has broken through all that (whether we’re talking about childcare or eldercare responsibilities, work crunches, social anxiety, etc, etc.) is an honor. I take that very seriously.
5. What advice would you give to a paper florist that is starting out today?
Enjoy the beginning! Hitting my first hundred followers was every bit if not more exciting than hitting 10k. Getting a like from a flower maker I looked up to. Getting my first repost, getting my first order. Don't wait to feel like a serious, established flower maker before you can be proud of yourself and savor what you've accomplished. In the beginning, there’s a lot more freedom to make whatever you want, and that is precious and will likely diminish over time as you start needing to make specific flowers for specific jobs.
6. And one that is about to give up?
I feel really strongly about this: it's ok to quit! Making the decision to quit can be harder and braver than hanging in there when something is not working. It's ok to walk away and try something brand new - maybe paper flowers have helped you build skills and self-knowledge that will set you up for your next big adventure. But there can also be different levels of quitting - do you need to quit wholesaling?
Teaching in person? Posting to Instagram? Trying to rely on your business for a full-time income? Trying to make money at this at all? Are there parts you still like? Is there a way to nurture that without hanging on to every part of running a paper florist business? What if you took a break and just sort of sat with the question?
Let's be real, trying to do any kind of handmade business involves some serious downsides - working alone a lot of the time, not knowing what your income is going to be, having projects and supplies and equipment all over your living space, worrying about hurting your hands, often terrible hours, the kind of feast and famine thing that happens with creative businesses that makes work/life balance tough, a broader cultural attitude that we should happily work for free for "exposure," not having employer-provided health insurance or retirement plan, not having a clear path to advancement. I wish we could talk about that stuff more honestly rather than squelching it with "don't quit your daydreams"-style boosterism.
But sometimes the desire to quit can be a passing mood that’s tied up with insecurity and discouragement. When I feel like the world does not need my art, and I should just stop because it isn't a good fit any more blah blah blah, I try to ask myself whether I would be feeling all this if I had a REALLY good day on Instagram. You know those days where everyone gets what you were trying to do right away and is blown away and happy for you and the likes just keep rolling in? Usually, the answer is, if I had a day like that, I’d be in a completely different headspace. I’d feel happy with my work and confident as an artist. That helps me see the bigger picture a little better.
7. Do you have any paper flower making tips to share with our listeners?
If you use a bone folder and a ruler to score crepe across the grain and then fold along that score line, you get a nice crisp fold. I discovered that while making a cactus, and it has served me well!
8. Do you have a favorite tool you use on a daily basis?
I love my awl!
Kate’s book, Uncommon Paper Flowers: Extraordinary Botanicals and How to Craft Them, is now on sale!