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Fleur Woods has devoted her life and heart to a career in stitched floral artwork.

It’s been a winding road to full-time art for Upper Moutere creative Fleur Woods. Leaving the sanctuary of her high school’s art room, she partially completed a fine arts degree then worked in the corporate world before becoming a parent and relocating to Nelson so she and her husband Cam could pursue more creative careers. Making “random bits of terrible art” in the weekend and while her young daughters napped led Fleur to join friends in running a stall at Nelson’s Saturday market, which in turn made her realise she wanted to create one-of-a-kind pieces. So she stepped away from the craft community she loved and set about becoming a working artist.

ABOVE Of her chosen hues, Fleur says, “I often notice that I have a base palette of favourites that I come back to; pinks, peaches, rusts, ochre, mustard, teal, sea blues, bush greens and variations on that are often my natural defaults. Sometimes a client will supply the palette for a particular interior, or a commission will have certain florals that to some extent dictate the palette. Interiors and seasonal trends definitely inspire me too — often subconsciously.”

So Fleur, how did you make art your nine-to-five? We moved from Nelson to Upper Moutere and with Lily and Saffron at preschool or with their grandparents, I had enough time to start making more art, so I embarked on the 100 Days Project, which was life-changing for me. Every day for 100 consecutive days, I listened to a song and made a little artwork in response. Most of the pieces were crap, but some were amazing, and it taught me that in order to make good art, you need to make lots of art.
We built a studio in the garden and for the first time I had my own space that wasn’t the kitchen table or spare room. It was liberating and I just played, and gradually a style of sorts evolved — and so began my love affair with mark-making via paint and stitch. From there it took quite a while for me to refine my process and I feel like I’ll always be doing that as I learn and grow. It’s been a learning curve like no other. I’m still pinching myself that I have the opportunity to make so much work and am constantly trying to evolve my process to meet demand while maintaining my love in every stitch.

TOP & ABOVE: These images photography by Armelle Habib; styling by Greenhouse Interiors and Lennox Rd Interiors.

How would you describe your work? I use embroidery alongside paint to make pictures I call ‘contemporary stitched paintings’. As a largely self-taught artist, I’ve developed my process through play and experimentation over years in the studio. I stitch as if I were painting the object from the mind of a painter. The embroidered elements of my pieces generate a lot of interest because it’s a different form of mark-making in the art world, but for me they’re
still simply marks communicating colour, form and detail, which has ultimately become my favourite way to describe flora.

How do your pieces evolve? Generally, if I’m making an original that isn’t a commission, I start with a blank piece of linen and absolutely no clue as to what colours or imagery will end up on it. I drag large drop cloths out into the garden and put out large pieces of linen, lots of water and a bunch of acrylic paint. Then with big brushes, I splosh about, painting the linen with whatever colours I’ve mixed up. Each piece then lies in the sun and dries, leaving lovely washy marks.
Once dry, I choose my favourite parts of the painted linen or use the entire piece and start bringing in figurative forms, generally flora. I hand-paint the imagery directly onto the linen using reference books or the real thing as my visual guide, and then I begin to stitch. It’s fun for me to respond to my painting with thread — I love the texture it adds.

Where do you find inspiration? Everywhere! Living in Upper Moutere, I’m surrounded by nature, so I find inspiration on the roadside, and in paddocks, gardens and the nearby national parks. I’m lucky to have my studio at the Old Post Office Store alongside the most beautiful plant shop, Bushbotanica, and I’m also influenced by floral textiles, folk craft, gardening books from op shops, Pinterest, Instagram, and floral artists like Flowers Vasette and Hattie Molloy.

Do you work on one or several pieces at a time? I usually work on three to five if I’m creating a body of work, so I feel like I can have a conversation across the different pieces to bind the overall story together. If I’m working on a commission, I’ll often work solely on that piece to meet the deadline.

ABOVE “If I ever feel like I’m stuck or getting stale with a piece, I immediately stop and start working on something else,” says Fleur. “It’s important to me that each piece has really good energy in it, and sometimes I need to put them aside for a day or two and come back with fresh eyes to find the best direction.”

What sort of shape do your days usually take? As a mum of two primary-school kids, studio time is pretty precious. After school drop-off, I start with coffee at the store, then hit the studio with podcasts at the ready. Workflow depends on what I’m working on and deadlines for commissions or exhibitions, so I mostly work on a priority basis and if painting’s involved,
I do that first so it can be drying while I stitch something else. You’ll usually find me in the armchair in my studio stitching and listening to podcasts, or in my armchair at home stitching and half-watching Netflix. Stitching is hugely time consuming — it takes up 70% of my time.

What tools would you not be without? Sharp needles — Bohin are my favourite — and I love beautiful hand-dyed threads and wools. To be honest, I don’t think I’d be even halfway sane without podcasts and Netflix!
I think I’ve finally come to realise that making art and talking about the beauty of flora is my purpose, and it’s this kind of weirdly blind faith that I have in what I’m doing that keeps me on the roller-coaster, so I guess I also wouldn’t be without that.

Do you have any special projects coming up? I’m excited to be teaching two creative floral stitching workshops at Auckland Art Gallery in February as part of their membership programme, and I’m currently in the process of scheduling a series of workshops in New Zealand and Australia. A new series of originals for Greenhouse Interiors is also in the works.
fleurwoodsart.com

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Rachael Brown