I'm kicking off the feature with the talented Karen Casey-Smith, who is a member of Photographers of Etsy (POE). What drew me to Karen's shop was her incredible flower mandalas. As a nature photographer myself, I was mesmerized with the way Karen was able to take her flower photographs and transform them into another work of art.
But I'll let Karen take it from here.
Jen: How did you begin photographing flowers and nature?
Karen: I've always loved flowers and plants, and am a bit of a gardener. It was really because of my flower mandalas that I became serious about photography. Once I'd made a few of them, I wanted more photos for material to create more mandalas. After my first day shooting at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I was in love with photography. Flowers are so incredible and inspiring.
Originally the images I photographed were only taken with the thought of being material to make mandalas, not for stand alone images. Once I got them into my computer, I thought many were beautiful photos in their own right. I think they turned out well because I was in love with everything I photographed. :)
Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, speaks so elegantly of flowers:
"Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature. The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to that recognition. Without fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless."
Isn't that wonderful? That expresses my feeling for flowers better than I could have said it myself.
Jen: Is photography your "day" job or something you do on the side?
Karen: Right now photography is a huge part of my creative endeavors, and that is my day job. I have to say I could not do this without my husband's support. I'm really lucky. The business side of things is still pretty new to me, so I'm in the process of building this into a financial success. I'm learning as I go and study an incredible amount! There's much to learn about business and marketing, continuing to develop my photography skills, color management, and the incredibly deep Photoshop.
I've always enjoyed making art and working in different mediums including drawing, watercolor, ink, calligraphy, colored pencils, Photoshop, Illustrator and photography. The dream is not something I hold out as a goal but try to experience as a reality. I don't know if it's the same for other artists as it is for me, but time seems to stop when I'm creating new work.
Karen: Since I first read Judith Cornell's book Mandala in 1995, my work has primarily been in the mandala form, first in colored pencils and now with flower photographs. Mandalas combine my two great interests, that of creating art and healing. Mandalas are used as a healing and transforming art in cultures around the world. It is always an amazing experience, and a delightful surprise to see the patterns that emerge while making the flower mandalas.
For many years now, I've been involved in energy healing and balancing, using Tai Chi, Reiki, Acupressure, plus other systems. All of these things influence and infuse my work. Each mandala carries its own vibrational frequency, and assists in bringing balance and more of that energy into your life. They bring in healing energy where they are displayed and to whoever wears or views them.
Whatever you choose to surround yourself with affects you on multiple levels.
Karen: When I first saw flower mandalas, I felt compelled to try making one myself! To begin with, I simply cut out interesting sections of a picture I'd taken of a hollyhock growing in the front yard, and started pasting them together in Photoshop. The blue mandala called Communion (seen at left), was my first flower mandala. It has well over fifty layers. That's the only one made in that way! After that, I did a Google search and found that others were using templates to help create them, so I made a set of my own. I work intuitively when deciding which flowers to use and how to place them. I use Photoshop masking most often to create the interesting outside edges.
Jen: How did you discover Etsy?
Karen: One of my very best friends, the extremely talented L. Michelle Johnson, e-mailed me the link. She said she had found this website (Etsy) and thought of me. She's also the person who first made me aware of flower mandalas!
Jen: Do you have any advice for other photographers or Etsians?
Karen: It's well worth the time to learn about the printmaking process and color management, from calibrating your monitor and devices to using color profiles, to insure that you have quality prints that match your vision.
Do your work with a feeling of gratitude, and keep touch with why you love it, and why you chose it. This way it will always be an adventure, alway be fresh.
Check out more of Karen's work here: