All season magic
– with floral artist Anne van Midden
Back in the short, dark days of winter, I caught up with Dutch floral artist Anne van Midden. I’d discovered her work on Instagram when I was living in Amsterdam and considering changing career track to floristry. I was struck by her flower-filled world and intricate floral works of art. But our conversation wasn’t really about flowers, rather about taking notice of the world around you in a different way, the desire to stay grounded and open, and why working with nature helps Anne do that.
Sakura trees, bird song and budding flowers tell us Spring is (almost) here, and it felt like the fitting time to share this conversation.
A stylist by degree, Anne is completely self-taught in the art of floristry. She started working with flowers in 2014 when she couldn’t find any she liked for her wedding – and quickly forayed into creating floral works for friends and family, before eventually creating pieces for others’ weddings.
“Flowers called me, grabbed me, and didn’t let go. The minute I started working with them, it felt so natural to me. But not bouquets, they are really hard! I was drawn to creating more artistic pieces and installations.”
“So I call myself a floral artist, not a florist, because they really are two different things. But I had to work to give myself ‘permission’ to call myself an artist. For some reason, it’s hard to do, even though nobody questions it.”
The same way it feels weird to call myself a writer, as I literally write this. Anne and I discuss that there are many ways to ‘become’ something, and for that matter, to learn and gain experience. For some, it’s a straightforward path from school to a career you feel destined is yours. For others (most?) it’s a meandering sojourn with many paths, figuring it out as we go and ‘stumbling into’ passions and skillsets.
“Of course, I didn’t know all the tips and tricks of working with flowers when I started out. But gradually I explored online courses and learnt from others I looked up to in the industry. But I also always felt I knew how to translate what was in my mind into something tangible. And once I let go of styling, I never looked back.”
L-R: Canopy, Purple Flower Cloud and Macrame Flower Cloud, Anne van Midden.
There’s also often that element of alignment that seems to happen naturally – right place, right time experiences. When I was learning about working with flowers in Amsterdam, I was very curious about the flower auction system, pricing, buying, the names of all the flowers, and planning with the seasons – areas of the industry I hadn’t thought about until I started exploring it. Anne was lucky enough to have some foundations in this space.
“My mum is a botanical artist. She taught me a lot about nature. So I learnt all the names of flowers and have this very special part in my brain where I somehow still remember them all. I can’t remember to buy groceries or do laundry, but I can remember the scientific names of the flowers. I also have lots of vintage flower books and I snap through those.”
“But mostly I find really paying attention to my environment helps. Looking at the world around you, there is so much beauty to be seen, and you learn so much just by looking at it. Like learning what is in season. What’s around you in nature, that’s the best indication of what’s in season, not what you see in the florist stores.”
By Satellite June.
All season magic
That sentiment of paying attention is central to Anne’s work – whether she’s teaching a course and asking her students to be more mindful of what’s outside their front door, or tuning into her experiences to create an art piece that expresses an emotional wavelength.
“I have a mission to help people see the all season magic of nature. I think this is more important than ever, as people realise you can’t always fly anywhere you like. I want people to know that nature is everywhere and it can be beautiful or inspiring."
"You don’t have to fly to Bali or Mexico to see beauty, you can find it in your neighbour’s garden, or on the sidewalk. Through teaching others and my floral artworks, I think if I can make a few people see the world differently, then I feel I have succeeded.”
“And I know it’s super privileged to say follow your dreams, and that not everyone has a super strong passion, but I guess I think if more people can do beautiful things, investing in the simple beauties too, then the world will be a happier place.”
L-R: Spring, Summer and Autumn seasonal expressions, Anne van Midden.
Through her work, Anne also tries to open up conversations on topics that matter to her, like mental health. “I’ve struggled a lot with loneliness, comparison, and imposter syndrome. And you can feel very alone in it, even though it’s very common. But I realised that being open is my superpower, and that it’s not something everyone can do. I think it is part of life to have highs and lows. And I’ve been through my stuff and have had some low lows. So particularly through my art installations I aim to open a discussion up around those feelings, to show that they are also part of life. It isn’t all flowers and rainbows so to speak. That sounds ironic because I’m using flowers in my art. But there’s also the dark stuff.”
“Being down or sad is part of life, but society puts a lot of pressure on us to feel as though we can’t show those feelings, and that they mean failure or problems. So, we often don’t allow ourselves to feel the feelings – feel lonely, frustrated, whatever it might be. But saying out loud ‘I feel crap’ or ‘I’m lonely’ is helpful, I try to do that. Being vulnerable is important.”
Sharing our stories and experiences allows us to feel safer, more understood and more connected. Anne’s openness is palpable – from the moment we started talking her warmth put me at ease. We comment that it feels as though we’ve known each other longer – the comfortable flow of our conversation is not lost on either of us.
“We are never alone in what we are going through. And especially on social media, it has pros and cons for sure, I use it to share some of my feelings and my art, but I like to remind my followers, and myself, that Instagram truly is the highlights reel. Few people are sharing the moment when they are crying on the bathroom floor because they feel like an imposter.”
“I want other people to feel validated in their feelings, and feel less like an imposter. I had some people who helped me when I was struggling, and I guess I’m trying to pay it forward. What else can you do but try to be kind? I have been very negative in the past, and harsh, and I’m trying to change that, and be a more positive person”
Anne is on a path of kindness. Doing what she loves in a mindful way, connecting with and encouraging her community to slow down, not simply rush by the little moments of beauty or the rawer emotions we’re told to gloss over.
“Yeah, to see the lights change outside, see the pattern the drops on your car window are making…the more you tune in and pay attention, you don’t walk along and just see ‘green’ in the park. You see an oak tree, and a chestnut tree, they stand out."
"Being more mindful adds value and depth to your life!"
By Danique van Kesteren.
Works of feeling
Some of Anne's works that really stood out to me were created during the darker time she talks about. She's inspired by all kinds of experiences, but like just about anyone the last few years, the pandemic stirred up some feelings.
In 2020, in the midst of our "new normal" she created the cocoon. "I realised I could translate my emotions into my art, and that was actually new for me. I knew I could use colour and shape to express myself but when I made the cocoon I felt I translated a new level of depth I hadn't been able to before."
"I was reflecting on lockdown, how we were all locked in our homes and in our own bubbles. The globes represent other people, and there are vines between them and the cocoon – because we were alone but together, still connected in this experience. I wove branches and vines together to make them stronger, which has a symbolic meaning in terms of being stronger together."
Then in March 2021, she created the hurricane, a kind of sequel to the cocoon. "A year later, we were still going through Covid, and this piece reflected how I felt – everything was going around in my head and it was overwhelming. Lots of my friends were also struggling with their mental health, many artist and musician friends had lost work. This time didn't feel pretty or neat – there was still beauty, but it was also a mess, so I tried to let go and just show the chaos. I feel the piece is chaotic but at the same time complete. Perfectly imperfect."
There might be a part three in the works around in connection to the emotions she has brought to life in these pieces. But as with Anne's approach to any other work, it will emerge when the timing and season is right.
– thanks Anne x