Flora Bowley is an internationally celebrated painter, workshop facilitator and author of Brave Intuitive Painting. Combining twenty years of professional painting experience with her background as a yoga instructor, massage therapist and lifelong truth seeker, Flora’s unique and holistic approach to the creative process has inspired thousands of people worldwide to “let go, be bold and unfold.” Flora lives among a vibrant community of artists in Portland, OR.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Flora, please describe your art to our community.
Thank you! Happy to be here. I refer to my painting process as Brave Intuitive Painting, and this is also the title of my first book.
I create large-scale acrylic paintings using a spontaneous and soulful process that relies heavily on intuitive mark making, layering, trusting and feeling more than thinking. I’m constantly reminding myself (and my students) to let go of pre-conceived outcomes in order to invite a sense of play, wonder and possibility back into the creative process. In the end, my paintings tend to be rather colorful, organic and dream-like, and for the most part, they are really fun to create.
Carrie: When did you first realize the arts were an important part of your life?
I’ve been an art geek since I was a little girl. It was always the thing that came most naturally to me, and thankfully I had parents who encouraged me to follow my heart. By the time I was in high school, it was really clear that art was my thing, although it took a few more years to decide I could possible BE an artist…like as a professional gig.
Carrie: How did you discover your artistic style?
Interestingly, I found my style as a direct result of not getting into the graduate schools I applied for. I learned a lot of art school basics in my undergraduate BFA program but nobody was teaching intuitive painting at my school. When I was rejected from all the MFA programs I hoped to attend, I decided to set up my easel in my bedroom, wait tables, become a yoga teacher and massage therapist and paint as much as I could.
I started painting in colorful organic layers because it felt free and interesting and allowed me to change my mind as much as I wanted along the way. I also loved the challenge of creating something without a plan — like figuring out a good puzzle.
Carrie: Can you describe your artistic process to readers? For example, do you follow the same pattern and track when you develop an artwork from idea to product?
Like I said, I don’t go in with a plan. I’m pretty adamant about this because having a plan takes away the freedom for me. Plans also tend to set me up for failure as my “plans” often don’t turn out the way I want them to. Instead, I start by listening to music, stretching my body, lighting a candle and getting into a space that feels open and receptive.
Then I start by making spontaneous marks with colors that simply feel good. I find the simple act of dragging my fingers or a brush across the canvas with a beautiful color is super sensual and invigorating, and I love this part of the process — everything feels possible.
Eventually the layers of marks, shapes and images evolve into compositions that start to mesh, but not without many twists and turns along the way. I love to turn my canvas upside down as it’s trying to figure out where it wants to go, and my colors often change radically along the way.
Every painting is a really different experience from start to finish. Sometimes they come together really quickly and sometimes the painting feels much more elusive. This is where patience and trust come in really handy.
Carrie: What do you wish you knew that you now know about your creative process?
OK, I just sat here for about ten minutes thinking about that question, and I have to say there is nothing I wish I had known any sooner than I did, except maybe that I should have documented all my early work professionally. Word to the wise.
But really, my creative process is the direct result of taking many many baby steps toward whatever felt interesting to me in the moment. I was always driven by passion and curiosity, and I never had any grand plan about where it would all end up — really similar to the way I paint.
I guess I’ve always just loved the mystery of the creative process, and I don’t believe in rushing this kind of learning — this unfolding. While it’s wonderful to find a great teacher who inspires you to explore a new direction, I really believe the most powerful learning happens when we simply show up and do the work over and over again with an open mind and a great sense of adventure.
I’m really grateful that I have always blazed my own trail even when what I was doing felt really uncertain or out of the box. To me, this is where the magic happens.
Carrie: You also teach your process to others: you’ve published a book, teach in-person and online workshops, etc. Tell us more!
Haha, yes I do it all!
It’s funny, for so many years I thought being a full-time painter was my super ultimate dream job, but after I had that dream job for a few years, I actually felt pretty lonely. I craved people, and I wanted to make a more of a tangible difference in the world. Looking back, I see how natural it is to hit these kind of plateaus that leave us craving the next challenge or evolution. They can feel really scary when they are happening, but they’re actually so important.
My personal evolution took the form of teaching, and I fell for it instantly. I taught my first workshop at Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire and this experience opened up so many doors for me. I was asked to write my book a week after that first workshop and I started traveling all over the world teaching.
For about three years, I taught week-long painting retreats in places like Bali, Mexico, Australia, Europe and all over the States. Early on, I started blending a lot of yoga, meditation and adventure into my retreats, and they started to have a pretty transformational effect on people. I loved experimenting with blending all my passions into one unique offering and seeing the results was so satisfying— I found my actual dream job!
Eventually, I got pretty burned out on so much travel, so I set up a really beautiful studio in my hometown of Portland, OR, where I now offer about eight workshops per year. It ends up I really love bringing people together to create; it definitely feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.
As you mentioned, I also have a five-week online e-course called Bloom True. I’ve had over 4000 people from all over the world participate in the course! This online forum has been a surprisingly powerful venue for sharing my process and so much wonderful creative community has sprung up around the process.
My latest online offering is called Studio Diaries, and it’s all about claiming your creativity and lighting a fire of inspiration. Each Diary consists of a set of videos, including painting sessions in my studio, creative exercises, yoga, meditation, guest teachers, interviews and more. There is a Sample Diary on my website if anyone wants to check it out. I’m pretty excited about it!
I’m also writing my second book right now. It’s called Creative Revolution: Painting with the Body, Mind and Spirit, and it will be published out in 2016.
So yea, lots going on!
Carrie: Can you please share one story of positive outcome from one of your workshops?
Oh my gosh, there are so many, but there is a general theme that often emerges, and it goes like this:
A woman who used to love to paint and draw and generally express herself creatively has been estranged from this part of herself for many years. The urge to create is there but lack of time, support, resources and/or confidence have been MIA since having kids, the career … you name it. This woman feels drawn to my workshop, manages to get herself there and has a major breakdown —> breakthrough where she realizes how vital and healing it is to express this part of herself again. It can be a really emotional experience, like having a beautiful reunion with your creative self, and often it’s pretty life changing.
I’m so grateful to guide people on their creative journey, because I know deep in my bones that every human has infinite wells of creativity just waiting to be discovered and explored. However, I also know how easy it is to lose track of these parts of ourselves. We are taught early on that very few people are actually artists and that commonly held belief system really strips people of so much possibility and confidence. What my painting process does (I hope!) is open the door to what is possible and ultimately make it fun again.
Carrie: When you process an image, how do you know when it is “finished?”
Knowing when a painting is finished is such a personal experience. For me, I tend to step back — way back — more and more as the painting starts to come together. In the first few layers I hardly step back at all because I’m so “in it,” but towards the end, I find myself on the far side of my studio just looking a lot more.
I try to notice what is calling me into action on an intuitive level, but also from a personal aesthetic perspective. I want to feel a sense of balance and harmony, and I also want to feel moved and excited by the painting. I notice what wants to shift, go away or be added to, and eventually I feel a sense of peace when I step back, like everything has found a happy resting place.
Carrie: How do you navigate the feelings of vulnerability that show up during the creative process?
I think most professional artists who have been creating for a long time would agree that the vulnerability inherent in the creative process never really goes away. What does shift and get easier is our ability to trust that it will all work out eventually — because it has so many times before.
I often tell my students who are struggling to go paint 100 paintings and see how they feel after that. There is just nothing that can take the place of experience. Until then, we need to be gentle with ourselves, avoid comparing our work to others and remember to be grateful for the opportunity to create in the first place. It’s really such a gift.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I’m not sure if this is what you might consider a creative resource, but the natural world has always been my deepest place of inspiration.
And foam brushes from the hardware store — I’m pretty into those as well.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
The people who inspire me the most are the ones that follow their own hearts no matter what. They are the ones who stand out from a crowd because they are listening IN rather than looking outward for permission or approval. There is always a certain frequency about these people.
As for what inspires me, I’ll go with color, graffiti, weather, shamanism, the creative process, world travel, plants, textiles, community, music and my dog … to name just a few.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creating something out of nothing by staying open, receptive and awake.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: I love Flora’s advice of painting 100 paintings to work through and understand our vulnerability. Can you commit to 100 artworks in your medium of choice? What can you learn from the experience?
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