For our October Teafluencer, what began as a hobby has blossomed into an international business. Chantal Larocque transforms paper into stunning flowers, from miniature to wall-sized, and she does it for some pretty impressive clients, too.
Like the real flowers her art beautifully imitates, Chantal opened up to us about what inspires her, what challenges her and why she loves doing what she does. This French-speaking Canadian also taught us a lovely new phrase: “it’s another pair of pants.” Definitely working that into our vocabulary!
Grab a cup of tea (spoiler alert: Earl Grey Supreme is Chantal’s fave) and read about Chantal’s amazing paper flower art.
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational background, where you live, family, etc.
Chantal: I’m from Montréal, Québec, and I grew up in a French-speaking family. My parents were very hospitable-- I learned very early the joy of hosting dinners and small parties. I’m married to a wonderful guy who is my #1 fan and the best supportive husband ever!
Before I started my paper flower venture, I was the proud owner of a little café outside of Montréal. Cooking is one of my favourite art forms where I love to express myself creatively. I’m addicted to styling gorgeous table settings, and gourmet food is my speciality. I now live in Moncton, New-Brunswick, the most wonderful town in the Maritimes where the artist community and the women entrepreneurs are so supported.
Harney: How did you get interested in paper art?
Chantal: When my father passed away in 2005, I felt compelled to create beautiful photo albums to remember and celebrate all the happy moments we shared. This led me to discover the wonderful world of scrapbooking and eventually to the art of making paper flowers. My little paper patch grew into an oversized garden and eventually to a magnificent realm.
Harney: You got your start on Etsy selling handmade cards. Tell us how you rather accidentally discovered the craft that really launched your business.
Chantal: Working on my scrapbooking albums, I ended up with lots of paper left over. I decided to make my own greeting and thank-you cards-- even today in this digital world, I still hold tight to the traditional way of communicating little messages through mail. I received many compliments on my cards and was encouraged to sell them, so I opened my Etsy shop in 2010. Unfortunately, unlike the success my cards had with friends and family, the online market at the time was over-saturated with handmade cards. I decided then to sell the mini flowers I was making to embellish my cards and albums-- let’s just say the mini flowers were a success overnight, selling like hotcakes all over the world!
Harney: What makes paper flowers special?
Chantal: They last forever! They also make the perfect alternative for people who suffer from allergies and when visiting loved ones at the hospital. Because of their uniqueness, they are also a conversation starter: ”…are these made of paper?” And for those who follow tradition, I often make a replica of their wedding bouquet as a first anniversary gift.
Harney: It seems you make flowers for everything, from single stems to floral arrangements, bridal bouquets, your signature peonies and more, including those amazing, stunning flower walls (which we’ll talk about next). Nature is an obvious source of inspiration, but how else is your art influenced?
Chantal: My art is highly influenced by my wonderful clients. Over the years I have received many requests for custom art projects that made me step out of my comfort zone in a big way. Because of constantly being challenged, I grew/blossomed as an artist. Also to stand out from the ever-growing paper flower artist community, I developed my own signature floral style that is now recognized worldwide.
Harney: Ok, let’s talk about those fabulous walls. Where did that idea come from? How long does it take to create one?
Chantal: The CHANEL Couture Runway 2009 was certainly a trigger for the giant paper flower wall trend. Back then, event planners and brides-to-be asked me if I could make large flowers like that. I was very intimidated by the scale of such a project, but I finally entered the world of fantastic oversized paper flowers in Spring 2013 when a design agency asked me to make giant paper flowers to cover not one but three 8’x8’ surfaces! That was my first-ever paper flower wall project, which opened the door to so many awesome collaborations with amazing companies!
Because I was making more and more flower walls and all the petals were cut with scissors, my husband found a way to cut hundreds of petals in minutes with his power tools-- he is my official paper petal cutter! Thanks to hubby’s ingenious hacks, I now can make an 8’x8’ wall in a couple of days; before, it would take me well over a week.
Harney: You’ve had some other really interesting side projects. Tell us about two of them: The Brain Project and the Canadian postage stamp.
Chantal: I was one of 100 artists selected to participate in “The Brain Project,” a thought-provoking public exhibition in downtown Toronto of brain sculptures that were sold to sponsoring organizations or collectors worldwide. Proceeds supported Baycrest Health Sciences, a world leader in brain health and aging.
The Brain Project was also a project that had deeper meaning for me. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s-- I remember as a young teenager being profoundly troubled when Grandma wouldn’t recognize me-- there was no explanation other than it was caused by brain disease. In recent years, dear friends have become caregivers to parents who suffer from brain diseases - not an easy task, very demanding physically and emotionally. That’s the reason I dedicated my brain sculpture called “Forget-Me-Not” to all the caregivers of the world:
“Dear caregivers…this art piece is for you…It is to remind you that you are beautiful and you are loved.
As an artist, I am sensitive to the emotions of others. I sympathize with the distress of both the person who manifests symptoms of brain diseases and those who experience them-- the caregiver and the family members.
The black-and-white photos represent all of our memories, which can be shadowed by life’s circumstances …We need to remember that in time even the most barren soil can be renewed and bloom again.
Flowers are universally loved. Their simple presence can beautify any room and cheer any person…their blossoms cover over memories and give us hope. The sweet little Forget-Me-Not blooms are to remember those whom we love, even if they’re still with us right now. We need to create vivid memories that will last!”
One other project I’m very proud of is the Canadian post stamps. For the 2019 Flower Series, I designed lovely crepe paper gardenias. The two-stamp collection includes a single bloom and multiple blooms and buds. It’s actually quite an honour for me as an artist to see my artwork recognized in such a beautiful way-- not just my little blooms but the worldwide art of paper flower making!
The gardenia stamps are not only one of Canadian post’s bestsellers, it won Gold in the Print Materials at the Summit International Awards - “Other” category! This is an international competition, and this year they had over 4,500 submissions from 27 countries! Only 11% of submissions earned recognition.
Harney: You also have an exciting client roster that includes Kara Ross NYC, Malibu Island Spiced Rum, celebrity events and a chance to participate in the 2017 Golden Globes celebrity gift suite. As a self-admitted lover of expensive champagne, you have to be over the moon about your partnership with Perrier-Jouët. How did these partnerships come about, and do you get free champagne?
Chantal: No free bottle of champagne yet, although I was promised a few times… but I did receive a beautiful gift from CHANEL Canada when I worked on a special project for their recently launched perfume GABRIELLE. Over the years, I have built awesome work relationships with marketing agencies, and when they need paper flowers for special events hosted by clients such as Champagne Perrier-Jouët or Malibu Rum, I’m their go-to artist!
Harney: In 2017, you published Bold & Beautiful Paper Flowers, a best-selling DIY book that has been sold around the world. You said it took a year to write and an incredible amount of energy. Tell us about the process and what you learned about yourself when it was all said and done.
Chantal: I poured my whole heart into this project. I worked over 12 months on the book-- all by myself-- no help in making and photographing each project, each step, writing texts, doing research, editing photos, taking more photos, redoing projects, writing... When I finally submitted the manuscript, I was relieved but felt extremely tired and emotionally drained. When you get that tired, the feeling of insecurity starts to set in. I was thrilled with how the book turned out -- the team at Page Street Publishing Co. was so awesome to work with, and they laid out all my materials so beautifully-- I mean the book is a gem! Yet, when the big day arrived, The Book Release Day, I was still low in self-confidence and feeling extremely vulnerable. During that time I had difficulty facing the public and promoting my book, too. Despite these feelings and my lack of presence on social media, the book turned out to be a success, and crafters worldwide keep sending me notes and photos of the beautiful paper flowers they made with the help of my tutorials. This month I’m celebrating the book’s second anniversary! I can’t believe it’s been two years already since its launch!
Harney: You’ve had wonderful successes, but you’ve also been open about your professional struggles as well. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about yourself as an artist and a business owner, and how do those two sides of your identity work together?
Chantal: In this online world, everyone is shouting their successes from the rooftops and no one is really talking about the failures or mistakes. It wouldn’t be right for me to just talk about what went well, but to admit that...it's another pair of pants!
I realized the successes I’d enjoyed started to blinded me, and I started comparing myself to everyone else. During that period I lost precious time not doing what I excel in and enjoy the most, which is creating and designing. I also lost my creative juice doing so.
The process of being honest with myself and to assume my mistakes was a very humbling experience… humility keeps you grounded and more focused.
You know, the job of paper florist-- the creative side of it is very solitary. You swim in the land of solitude everyday. Writing about my professional struggles opened the door to great communication between paper flower artists. The blossoming paper florist community is wonderful and very supportive. I realized that I do work alone, but I’m not feeling lonely anymore. We even now have a special day: May 14 was chosen as the International Paper Flower day!
Business-wise, to keep focus, I need projects with deadlines. I’m the artist who creates her best work under pressure. I’m climbing back to the top one project at a time.
Harney: Most important question of all: how many paper cuts do you think you’ve had during your career?
Chantal: Believe it or not, if I had five paper cuts in the last ten years I wouldn’t be exaggerating, but burn scars on my left hand and wrist are witnesses to my trade! Hot glue burns mark you for life…
Harney: Let’s talk tea: what role does tea play in your life? Do you have a favorite tea? Tea ritual?
Chantal: If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know I love and need my cup of coffee in the morning. But I’m a tea-in-the-afternoon kind of girl! During the day I often lose myself in my creative bubble-- I don’t have a specific hour for tea, but for me it’s a time when I come back to reality and savour the moment. I enjoy my Harney & Sons Earl Grey Supreme with or without milk depending on my mood, or I make my own Masala Chai tea concoction by boiling together two cups of milk, two bags of Earl Grey Supreme, one teaspoon of sugar and a generous tablespoon of my homemade mix of spices: cardamom, star anise, fennel seeds and cloves.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea (or anything you’ve been wanting to try)?
Chantal: I love the taste and fragrance of rich spices, so it’s no surprise to say I also enjoy your Cinnamon Sunset Tea. Turmeric is another flavour of choice, and your Wakaya Turmeric & Ginger Tea is on my list to try!
Get ready to be amazed by what Chantal can do with paper. Check out her beautiful paper flower art on her Paper and Peony website, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Ready to try your hand at her craft as well? She’s made it easy with her bestselling book. We appreciate Chantal’s time and willingness to tell us her story. All photography has been provided by Chantal.