5 Questions for Lindsey Taylor, Author of “Art in Flower”

For nearly a decade, designer Lindsey Taylor wrote a monthly column for the Wall Street Journal called Flower School in which she helped readers find a personal connection to flower arranging. Asking readers to find inspiration through a work of art, she helped demystify the process. Her new book, Art in Flower (Monacelli), is both a chronicle of her WSJ pieces and an exploration of her personal ethos.

In researching for her column, Lindsey discovered an exhibition called Art in Bloom, held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1976. It, too, linked flowers and visual arts, displaying arrangements made by local professional florists and garden club members. It was repeated annually, and later expanding to other museums including the Minneapolis Institute of Art and many others around the country.

Left: Renoir-inspired flower arrangement from Art in Flower. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson. Right: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919). Path Leading through Tall Grass, ca. 1875. Oil on canvas, 23 3/5 × 29 1/10 in. (60 × 74 cm). © 2023 The Art Archive/Alfredo Dagli Orti/ Art Resource, New York.

Stephen Treffinger: Where did your inspiration for the book come from?

Lindsey Taylor: I first came up with it as a way to help people find inspiration to make their own arrangements. I would often be asked, “How do you know what flowers to use and put together?” I suggest to beginners that working in a monochromatic way is fun place to start—one color in many types of flowers. But talking a favorite work of art as your shopping guide also pushes you creatively.

Two oil paintings of bright colors sit side by side, the one on the left filled with flowers and the one on the right swirled colors.

Left: Willem de Kooning (American, born the Netherlands, 1904–1997). LaGuardia in a Paper Hat, 1972. Oil on canvas, 55 3/4 × 48 in. (141.6 × 121.9 cm). Private collection, courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Paris, St. Moritz. © 2023 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: De Kooning-inspired floral arrangement by Lindsey Taylor. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson.

ST: How did you make the process of using artworks an inspiration different?

LT: In the past, people would copy, for example, a Dutch master. Usually a painting with a floral arrangement in it. My point was no not make it a copy. and not to choose a work that’s about flowers—but to use it for inspiration and make it your own. Connect with your garden, connect with what’s happening year-round. The seasons are really important. 

Two oil painting sit together, the one on the left of flowers in a dark vase and the one on the right of families playing in the shade of trees.

Left: Gaugin-inspired floral arrangement by Lindsey Taylor. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson. Right: Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903). The Siesta, ca. 1892–94. Oil on canvas, 35 × 45 3/4 in. (88.9 × 116.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ST: What are some basic guidelines?

LT: There are no rules—its a helpful way to shake off the dust, warm up the creative juices, and get confidence. That said, leaning into a few basic floral techniques is useful. But don’t let the rules constrict your designs and ideas—after all, it is just a flower arrangement. I find them very useful ways to have nature in your home and to study it up close. To me these are like gesture drawings, quick moments of mediative pondering on nature’s wonders and beauty. Never throw out your flowers too quickly. Let them fade and change. There is much beauty in that.

Two oil paintings from Art in Flowers sit side by side one on the left of a Japanese woman with a flower and one on the right of flowers in a vase.

Left: Itō Shinsui (Japanese, 1898–1972). Rain While the Sun is Shining, 1917. Woodblock print, ink and color on paper, 17 3/8 × 12 in. (44.1 × 30.5 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Left: Shinsui-inspired floral arrangement by Lindsey Taylor. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson. 

ST: Talk us through the process.

LT: Each art work leads to different results. But always consider the vessel. Vessels matter and the arrangement and vessel should be a happy marriage—almost become one. Many household items can become a vessel: a pitcher is great, a favorite ceramic bowl, a tea cup. You don’t need a giant collection like mine. If it holds water, great. Even if it doesn’t hold water, you can put something inside that does. 

An oil painting from Art in Flowers sits to the right of a bouquet of flowers based on the image.

Left: Shechet-inspired floral arrangement by Lindsey Taylor. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson. Right: Arlene Shechet (American, born 1951). Touching Summer, 2020. Glazed ceramic and painted hardwood, 70 × 27 × 31 in. (177.8 × 68.6 × 78.7 cm). © Arlene Shechet, courtesy Pace Gallery; photo Phoebe d’Heurle.

ST: What about keeping your arrangements around longer?

LT: One rule that is a must: change your water regularly and trim the stems when you do. Keeping the water fresh and the stems clean and healthy means a longer-lasting arrangement—and no stinky water. 

Story by Stephen Treffinger 

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