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Artist Interview With Mel Cowley

It is approaching wedding and party season. Instead of paying above and beyond for flowers that will last up to a month, why not consider paper flowers that will last a lifetime?

Mel Cowley aka, The Little Paper Flower Shop, has created a beautiful array of paper flower bouquets for any occasion. She creates paper flowers using traditional origami techniques to fold the paper into daisies, roses and lilies which are then mounted on wire stems and arranged into beautiful gift bouquets, which she then posts out across the UK.

We interviewed Mel, asking all the burning questions about her paper-based crafts.

How Long Have You Been A Practising Origami Artist?

I folded my first origami model 10 years ago in 2014, it was a Kusudama daisy which has 5 individual petals, each petal folded separately. After that, I was simply hooked and wanted to carry on and learn more folds and create more flowers.

What Inspired You To Start Creating Flower Bouquets?

I had seen some other origami artists’ flower creations and they just looked so beautiful I was just so inspired to try and create one myself. I started off with one flower type and then moved on to folding different flowers. Some of them were incredibly tricky to fold and I had to practice repeatedly until I’d mastered all the folding techniques – there were a lot of screwed-up balls of paper to begin with! I finally ended up with 100’s of individual paper flowers and decided to make them into bouquets and try to sell them. For a few years I made origami wedding bouquets for brides and bridesmaids and lots of buttonholes but making them for entire wedding parties was quite labour-intensive and stressful and it took weeks of hard work. So now I prefer to make individual bridal bouquets which I think are so much more unique and individual. I also make lots of bouquets for special birthdays and anniversaries. I always have some ready-made bouquets in my shop but also make custom orders too. The joy of paper flower bouquets is they don’t need any looking after, they travel well, last forever, and anyone with hayfever can enjoy them too – just pop straight into a favourite vase, no water required. I still get customers from 10 years ago messaging me with photos of their wedding bouquets which still look as fresh as the day I created them – you don’t get that with fresh flowers!

What Originally Drew You To Origami?

I’ve always been intrigued by the art of origami and the fact that you can create a beautiful piece of 3D art from just a simple flat sheet of paper. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around 10 years ago, about the same time I first noticed origami flowers on the internet, and as origami is a good practice for mindfulness, I find it very therapeutic to sit and fold paper to calm anxiety. I even carry a small pad of patterned paper in my handbag and sometimes I can be out for coffee or a meal with friends feeling a little anxious and I’ve been known to get my paper out and start folding paper cranes at the table – of course, then everybody wants to join in and learn how to fold cranes and we often leave a table full of cranes as a thank you to the waiting staff. My favourite thing to do is to fold cranes from a paper menu so everyone has a little memento of our time together enjoying a meal. So, it can be an enjoyable and inclusive hobby too.

Mel Cowley

Was It Easy To Learn And How Long Did It Take For You To Hone Your Craft?

The first flower I folded, the Kusudama daisy, was easy to learn, as are origami cranes. Lilies and roses are the hardest and when I progressed to a 5-petal lily it took me almost 2 weeks of practice to perfect that. Origami stars were also a little tricky. You do have to keep folding and practising. There always seems to be that one-fold that’s the stumbling block for most origami models, but once you perfect it then it’s quite an achievement and of course once learnt you never forget, a bit like riding a bike.

What Other Works Of Art Do You Create Alongside Your Bouquets?

I make 100’s of origami greeting cards and origami star garlands for Christmas decorations. I’ve recently been making and posting out lots of paper cranes with a message of Hope. The humble paper crane is so embedded into Japanese history and folklore. It’s said that the person who folds 1000 paper cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. It’s a practice in Japan to fold 1000 paper cranes and string them together to  form a ‘Senbazuru’ – they symbolise good fortune and happiness and are often used as wedding decorations or given to people during times of hardship and illness.

The paper crane became a symbol of hope and peace through the story of a little Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was caught in the Hiroshima bomb blast. There’s a monument of her in Hiroshima Peace Park and one of her surviving little paper cranes was given to the 911 museum by her brother and displayed as a symbol of peace. Anyone ordering or receiving a bouquet from me always has a little paper crane added to their packaging for good luck.

Can You Tell Us About Your Creative Process, What Are Your Biggest Artistic Influences?

To create an origami bouquet, first I start with selecting the patterned paper – the colours in that paper are the starting point for me to then add in other papers in plain colours to compliment it. All the paper then must be cut very precisely into different-sized squares (all origami models start with a square or oblong piece of paper) – if the cutting is slightly out, it means the origami folds will be slightly out too and the flower model just won’t work, so everything must be done with precision. 5 small squares to form each of the 5 petals for the daisies, 1 larger square for the roses and the lilies. I use an origami folding tool to create neat and precise folds. I then use thin florists wire to wire some pearl beads to form the stamens for each lily. Each individual flower is then mounted onto a florist’s wire which is bound in florist’s green tape. I’ll then start to bring all the flowers together to arrange the bouquet which is then tied together with a ribbon. Finally, I’ll add pretty beads or embellishments to the centre of each daisy.

I guess my biggest artistic influences are very definitely all my fellow origami artists. We all admire each other’s work and there’s a wonderful community of ‘origami-sts’ on Instagram.

Do You Have A Preferred Type Of Paper That You Like To Work With?

The paper must be a certain quality and weight. It’s impossible to fold flimsy paper or very thick paper as it just won’t hold a fold. Likewise, if it’s a shiny paper, it seems to crack and easily split the more folds you add. The ideal paper would be around 90 to 220 gsm. I also like to use something called pearlized paper which has a lovely pearl-like sheen and holds the folds well – I use this mainly for my lilies and roses. You would think that you could obtain any colour of paper you desire, but there are only a certain number of colours for plain paper available. A good quality matt wrapping paper is also perfect for folding. There is of course origami paper available, but this tends to be rather thin and probably only suitable for folding cranes and smaller models.

What Is Your Favourite Piece That You Have Created So Far And Why?

I don’t have one favourite piece. Usually, the most recent bouquet I’ve completed will become my current favourite. For the larger bouquets, it’s rare that I’ll create the same bouquet twice, so they’re all unique one-offs.

Do You Come From A Creative Background?

I’ve always been creative, and my mum taught me to embroider to a decent level when I was in my teens. She was quite a creative person and could turn her hand to most things and made most of her own clothes and knitted too, but I think that was a standard thing to do for women back in the 1960s.

Mum’s brother was the most skilled in our family, he was a hand engraver and worked in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham after serving a long apprenticeship there. In later years he was a self-employed hand engraver and went on to engrave guns for some quite exclusive customers all over the world. It’s an art form in itself and a dying trade now as most engraving is done by machine. He was also a pretty good artist, oil paintings mainly.

Do You Have Any Advice For Anyone Looking To Pick Up Origami As A Hobby?

I’d just say pick up a square of paper and give it a go! The crane is probably the most satisfying model to fold and even children can fold them! I’d look for video tutorials rather than trying to learn from a book – it’s so much easier watching someone folding than trying to work out tricky folding diagrams from books. Practice makes perfect! It’s a great hobby to do for mindfulness or just general mental health really, and you can take paper with you and fold it pretty much anywhere.

Do You Have Any Advice For Budding Artists Wanting To Turn Their Hobby Into A Career?

Practice your skill until you’ve got it pretty much perfect. I mainly sell on Etsy as it’s a worldwide platform to showcase my origami but also have a Shop at The British Craft House which is a UK handmade artisans’ platform which is really going places, so that’s one to watch. If you love doing something as a hobby, then you’ll love doing it for a business – doing what you love every day is pretty much a key to happiness.

What Is The Best Thing About Working With Paper?

Just taking that simple sheet of paper, even an A4 white sheet of copy paper, and making folds in it to create something so beautiful, it’s just incredible and so rewarding – just as simple as that!

If you liked reading about how an artist uses paper in their art practice, then you might enjoy Love Paper’s interview with paper-quilling artist Sena Runa. This paper-based craft consists of carefully rolled and shaped strips of paper that are constructed on a flat surface and glued in place to resemble patterns or objects.

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Paper is one of the most sustainable and recycled materials in the world!

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