“We don’t “get out in nature” we don’t “experience” nature, we don’t go see “nature’ or have a day in nature. We ARE NATURE. And any separation we perceive or experience from nature is a sad illusion. You are nature, you are the sky and the stars and the hills above the sea and the Bay Trees covering those hills. “
QL: Louise is a California based artist who has created floral installations for Vivienne Westwood, John Baldesarri, Todd Selby, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, as well as for Vogue and House Beautiful.
Sarah is a design editor, writer and a co-founder of the inspirational home site Remodelista. She grew up in the UK and lived in Tokyo for almost a decade before moving to Northern California.
QL: Hello ladies, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. As you can see from my intro, I’m very much in love with your book. I’d love to know how you connected with each other and decided to collaborate on this project?
Louesa: Well, first of all, thank you for your incredible enthusiasm for Foraged Flora. It’s wonderful to see it reaching new eyes every day still and we are just coming up on our one year release: publication anniversary.
The SF Bay Area is an extremely small, tight-knit creative community and whether you are working and traversing in food, design, craft, fashion or the visual arts, over a period of 10-20 years we all end up knowing each other. I think Sarah and I had several points of intersection over those years. We started collaborating on little, fairly organic and loose little pieces for Remodelista. Jay Carroll shot the first one( at his very cool apartment on the Filbert steps, we set up on the roof) and Sarah played around with early iPhone video. I brought huge floppy Magnolia Campbellii which were glorious and pink!
Sarah and I just casually conversed while I worked and it felt fun and easy and was a hit I guess.
Sarah: I have known Louesa off and on ever since I moved to the Bay Area when she worked in retail. I reconnected with her when I was looking for someone to decorate a Remodelista event several years ago. When she arrived with truckloads of fennel and bay, their scent infusing the air, she transformed the space and I felt that this was really something new and special, particularly the way she worked with scale. After that, I started writing about her work regularly and creating a book together felt like a natural evolution.
QL: What was the process like working on the book together? Had you collaborated on anything before or did you just jump in and start this together?
Louesa: I had been doing the work (Foraged Flora) “professionally” since about 2005…. In truth I’ve always been doing it but when I owned my shop August in Oakland and Mill Valley I had a proper stage for the installations. It really picked up plenty of attention @2010/2011 due to a few factors. Sarah and I did a series of Remodelista posts, I was extremely active in the series of celebrations around the Chez Panisse 40th birthday events which Todd Selby documented, and I had a cute tiny atelier in Hayes Valley where I was able to articulate the work and garner some nice attention… pre-Instagram, can you imagine?!?!?!?!?
Ten Speed and Jenny Wapner, our editor, and spoken to me a few times about documenting the work in book form and I respected Jenny a great deal and loved the idea of a local publisher who makes beautiful books. When Sarah and I revisited the idea the timing seemed right to us both. Collaboration is always more fruitful.
We had a few “AB FAB” moments each shoot
Sarah: When I started to feature Louesa’s work on Remodelista in 2012, her work felt completely original at the time and ahead of the curve and I loved the spontaneity of the way she worked. The materials really dictated everything. She was not imposing herself on the flora, rather she observed what was happening in nature and took that as her lead. The book was a natural progression and a bigger manifestation of what we had slowly been doing beforehand.
QL: (Ab Fab—ha!!!). My compliments to your publisher and your incredible photographer Laurie Frankel. They really conveyed the seasonality, sensuality and for lack of a better word “earthy-ness” of this work. The book just begs for readers to explore, and seek out the natural beauty of their place and time. What was the process of making this book? Did the ideas come first or did the writing organically follow the images?
Louesa: Thank you! Laurie did a beautiful job indeed capturing so much of the essence of what we all wanted to communicate. Laurie and I had worked on a very unusual extremely creative 3-day shoot at my Stinson home and Hayes Valley shop and we were stoked to go deeper. We are beyond thankful to Ten Speed for understanding the vision and letting us go deep also. I think when the essence is “earthy, sensual, seasonal, intuitive” and hyper-local too, rooted in place, that comes across. One thing I learned at Chez Panisse is work as hard as possible to master your craft, and then quietly get out of the way. I don’t want to see the much human hand in my work, just enough I hope!
Sarah: Thank you! Seasonality, sensuality, and earthiness were very much what we were looking for and Laurie did an incredible job of capturing this. We had mapped out the whole year before we began shooting, pairing locations with a list of materials that were in season. The materials always dictated the location and the ensuing narrative.
QL: It’s funny, I’m a Brooklyn based girl but crave nature and relish every moment I spend in the park or on trips out of the city. I think we’re stuck here for life but if I had to choose anywhere else to live it would likely be California. You both started elsewhere and found your home in that amazing state. How did you choose it and what do you love about it?
Louesa: California changes everything! If you are paying attention and tuned in. I feel incredibly lucky every day. And unlike Sarah I felt at home in 5 days.
Sarah: I have to confess that it took me a while to fall in love with California. I was completely at home in Japan and moved only after meeting my soon-to-be husband. I had really relished the way that the Japanese embraced the seasons across their whole culture, and I had become culturally attuned to the small details and ritual seasonal cues of everyday life. It took me a while to move from the micro vision of Japan to embrace the larger landscapes of California — to see the bigger picture, so to speak. That said, arriving in San Francisco I was particularly taken with the farmers’ markets – there was nothing like that in Japan at the time.
QL: Has California changed the way you think and work? I mean the access to nature and culture is pretty remarkable, right?
Louesa: I want people to shift this understanding of “access”
We don’t “get out in nature” we don’t “experience” nature, we don’t go see “nature’ or have a day in nature. We ARE NATURE. And any separation we perceive or experience from nature is a sad illusion. You are nature, you are the sky and the stars and the hills above the sea and the Bay Trees covering those hills.
May sound woo woo but that’s what I believe.
That being said, yes we spend as much time outside in California as our work: travel schedules allow and when we are in NYC I miss having a more constant awareness and relationship to the sky and the moon and the stars.
But there are moments of Foraged Flora beauty all around us in every environment, just waiting to be seen and felt.
Sarah: The access to the outdoors, the coast, and the temperate climate makes it a pretty idyllic place to live and the ability to grow your own food and eat outdoors most of the year is something I really value.
I feel that California is always on the forefront of change and right now, having endured the
recent Napa fires, addressing climate change becomes an even more compelling issue. I hope that people see beyond the beauty of the book and start treating flowers the way they do organic food. Why buy pesticide-laden flowers flown in from all corners of the world when you can buy something seasonal from the farmer’s market or better still forage.
QL: Let’s go back in time a bit, what were your main interests as kids? Did you have any books around your house about flowers, gardening, art, and design? What were some of your favorite stories?
Louesa: Oh the “what were you like as a kid question” The same lol…. But in Ohio.
Sarah: My father was an architect so I would spend a lot of time sitting at his drawing board designing square one-story houses (he was a modernist) and would leaf through his architectural magazines. As for books, my mother was a librarian and any good books retired from the library often ended up on our shelves, especially well-illustrated children’s books – Edward Ardizzone was a particular favorite. Books on flowers were also popular and a couple of years ago my mother sent me my childhood copy of The Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers. I was an avid flower presser.
QL: When did you each decide to dedicate your careers to aesthetics? Do you have any favorite books that you go to for inspiration again and again?
Louesa: You guys have a great post on your IG. Carly Simon reading and a quote from Haruki Murakami “if you only read books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”
I LOVE that and should be a mantra for creatives sourcing inspiration.
I like dark allegories, magical realism, pantheistic myths, outside art, anything with the animal: human: plant communication makes me happy.
Lately, I’ve been reading: Bruno Munari, Leonora Carrington, Ursula LeGuin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen, Vendava Shiva, Ralph Steadman, The Ohlone Way (Malcolm Margolin). I’ve been reading the Clan of the Cave Bear series for fun (Jean M. Auel). One thing that was super encouraging to us recently.
We were in NYC working and the most exciting retail landscape we witnessed was taking place in the bookstores!!! Bricks and mortar bookshops were packed and had great energy! And full of all ages. I stumbled into Alabaster Books in Manhattan and it was packed, and people were buying. I spent $400 on beautiful rare books and I witnessed others doing the same.
I just want people to love books again and I see that happening.
We cant get the same things from that little screen., thank god.
Sarah: I think it was a slow evolution. I studied French and took off to travel the world, ending up working for a Japanese production company where I assisted on commercials and television programs. I loved working with a team of people to create visually compelling stories. Having spent the past decade writing about interiors, I particularly admire the observations of Ilse Crawford. For the past couple of years, Liza Dalby’s book East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir through the Seasons has sat by my bed. It is based on a Chinese almanac that influenced the Japanese and divides the year into seventy-two separate periods of five days each. Dalby, an anthropologist specializing in Japan and an avid gardener, lives in the Bay Area and so her writings are a poetic and detailed view of the passing of the seasons. It’s a wonderful bridge between California and Japan and gives a quick snapshot of what’s happening here in nature.
QL: What are some of your favorite genres to read today? Can you please share some favorite books?
Louesa: See above.
Sarah: I am fascinated by cross-cultural stories, no doubt because I have spent most of my time on the outside looking in. I am about to dive into Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer.
QL: What’s next for you?
Louesa: There is always something germinating. We will see what sprouts up soon I think…
Sarah: I have a couple of ideas for another book… I am fascinated by people’s relationship to the spaces they live in and what creates the essence of a home.
Thank you for chatting with us about your lives and your beautiful book!