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These Paper Blooms Have Us Doing a Double Take

December 17, 2020

Floral artist Livia Cetti of The Green Vase transforms humble paper into gorgeous forever-flowers that capture the nuances of their real, live counterparts.

Do plants have personalities? It’s a question you’ll likely ask yourself while admiring Livia Cetti’s beautiful and beguiling paper flower creations. Her scalloped red-and-green-striped geranium leaves have the same jauntiness as the real thing. The tiny white bells of her lily of the valley capture the plant’s purity and refinement. And Livia’s dramatic hollyhocks—resplendent with bright orange stamens and glossy, dark maroon petals—boast the flower’s unapologetic “look at me” essence.

Cetti first started making the paper petals while working as a Style Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, where she played around with crepe paper until she’d colored and shaped it into vibrant blooms worthy of the magazine’s pages. Livia kept experimenting with faux poppies, camellias, and anemones until she had enough to present to John Derian, who bought the lot for his shop in Manhattan. It was the start of The Green Vase, which now sells its posies from Paris to Tokyo.

From her home studio in The Bronx, Cetti also works with interior designers to make custom arrangements, and creates floral bouquets and decor for weddings (an especially smart option for destination weddings, when local availability and shipping can be tricky.)

Stems of Wild Rose blooms in various shades of hot pink, salmon and sunset orange.

Some of the artist’s designs—like stems of her poppies and peonies, arranged in a vase—are lifelike enough that they could be mistaken for the real thing. Others, such as her potted pansies and branches of blooming alpine strawberries, are artful caricatures. For bespoke projects, Cetti can play around even more, enlarging the scale of diminutive snowdrops up to three feet, or inventing anemones in colors that don’t exist in nature. But wherever Cetti’s paper plants fall on the range of realism, she infuses every one with the same singular spirit of their live counterparts.

Remarkably, Cetti doesn’t use any models like live plants or botanical illustrations in the process of creating her “love letters to real flowers.” Instead, she spends time visualizing the components of a plant. Then she builds it by hand, painstakingly cutting each individual petal and leaf from paper she dyes herself. Wires allow each piece to be shaped, like leaves searching for the sun. Livia likely has her upbringing in Santa Barbara to thank for her uncanny knowledge of flowers: her two artist parents raised her sans TV so she’d have more time to help on their organic family farm, tromp around in the mountains, and study plants. “I’m not going for anatomical correctness,” says Cetti. “Everything I make is based on my love of a real flower. But more importantly, I’m trying to capture the gesture and feeling of it in a way that makes me happy.”

An exuberant floral arrangement by Livia Cetti for the Astier de Villate shop in Paris.

Cetti took a break from her paper creations to answer a few of our burning questions:

One tool you can’t live without: My most essential tool is the pair of KAI Japanese scissors I use to cut flowers and leaves for all my arrangements.

Favorite thing to look at: I love the intricate work and non-trend-based color choices of vintage textiles—especially from South America, India, Russia and the Middle East.

The most magical place on Earth: Any garden, any beach or anywhere in Japan.

The book currently on your nightstand: I’m re-reading Jane Eyre for the first time since I was a child. Well actually, I’m listening to the podcast…does that still count?

Best studio jams: An Ethiopian jazz musician named Mulatu Astatke.

Most prized possessions: I have so many! I tried Marie Kondo’s method for paring things down, but it wasn’t for me. I have a lot of possessions, but they’re all organized and loved. They all bring me joy!

Biggest pet peeve: Laziness.

The most sage advice you’ve received: I had a teacher who said that as artists, we only have a couple of really good “moves,” which we should collect and expand upon. So when you find something you do creatively that really works, you should work to cultivate it. You’ve got to make every one of those “moves” count.

Best spot to hang in your hometown: Santa Barbara Orchid Estate where I grew up. And in The Bronx, where I live now, Wave Hill.

Go-to flower: I can’t choose a favorite. It could be as simple as a daisy, or a dandelion in a crack of asphalt. As long as it has beautiful form, I can get into it.

Color Crush: I call it “India hot pink”…but I think I made that up! I like colors that were vibrant, but then faded. Like a little bit of dust or dirt was rubbed into a bright color to give it complexity.