Lee Moore Crawford of Hana Lee Design
Creatives in Conversation: I believe that we can learn so much from each other and I am fascinated by the ways in which artists of all mediums move through the creative process. Each month I feature a different local artist as we discuss the challenges and joys that come from accessing and living with their creativity.
Lee Moore Crawford – floral design, artist, environmental educator. With a background in studio art, environmental education and landscaping for pollinators, Lee Moore Crawford of Hana Lee Designs celebrates the beauty of nature through dedication to sustainable practices and creations of bee friendly flowers and artisanal textiles created from locally foraged botanicals. Hana Lee Designs is available for full service weddings, special events and the workplace and provides floral arrangements for special clients such as Cocoa Cinnamon. Inspiration comes from beautiful NC seasons, pollinator friendly farms and protecting our watershed.
I really love your flower arrangements. When I saw them I truly felt like I was seeing flowers for the first time
I try to acknowledge the flowers as a living thing and I am always grateful for what they can give to us. When they are put in public places they actually interact with their environment. Maybe what you're seeing is the acknowledgement that these flowers are loved.
What does living a creative life mean to you?
It’s funny that you say that because I was just coming to terms with this question this year quite a bit. My neighbor who is an amazing Doctor of Psychiatry at the VA, who works very hard and studied to be a doctor for a good portion of her life sees me in the yard and constantly loading flowers into the car and she says “What is it that you do? You’re just working all the time, you’re always in the yard.” But I call it a moving meditation, my work with the flowers is a moving meditation, practicing art, being creative is a moving meditation.
When I was a middle school art teacher I did not sit down all day. So part of living creatively in my work is finding ways to be able to do the things I love that that make the world a better place and are creative while being able to stay moving and active. And when you’re a creative person throughout your life you will find that if you let yourself learn all your life then those opportunities to be creative will present themselves and they will happen in different ways.
When did you first discover that you had this creative talent for floral arranging and how did your business grow?
Since I moved out on my own I have always grown flowers. Having this beauty in abundance makes opportunities to create arrangements that make great gifts. Then when my friends started marrying they asked me to do their flowers. Then later I moved to Durham which is a great place to let your creative ideas happen. I started doing the art market which was at Motorco before the restaurant was there. They had a market that I participated in at least one Sunday a month and Cocoa Cinnamon had their coffee cart there. So I brought my art to sell at the market and I was also doing installation art that involved making recordings of birds. So I did this installation piece and I didn’t even intend for anyone to buy it, but it included flowers along with a soundscape and people reacted so well to the flowers! They were reacting more to the live flowers than my framed art. So I started to sell the flowers that were in the installation.
Cocoa Cinnamon said to me, “When we open our place, we’d love for you to do the flowers” and they let me apply things I was learning and gave me a lot of freedom. I had also been studying Japanese flower arranging, an art called Ikebana, a very meticulous step-by-step process, but it’s also a pathway to enlightenment. It's a moving meditation in itself. So I started applying the ikebana principles into my organic style of flower arranging and then I began to think about how I could make a living through my art.
It was then that the synthesis happened. People began to ask me to do more events and I eventually got more training. Taking classes and getting training is the primary way that I move my art forward because I am giving myself the time and the space to focus on my art and it gives me the opportunity to be around contemporaries.
Many people I have worked with in flower classes or trained with have gone on to have amazing design studios. It blows me away. It also has been daunting. But I always had this heart of being an artist and so in that way I didn’t have to worry. Because if you develop your creative self enough you just say “I do this because I love it and I want to be creative.”
… and so whatever comes from it, comes from it.
Yes, because if you find yourself going to a larger realm, outside your comfort zone and you’re pushing yourself … you just have to do it over and over again so that you’re always growing.
If you’re doing something for the art of it, the way you were doing, but then you are pushed to something outside your comfort zone, what advice would you give?
Well first you feel absolutely naked sometimes and like you want to cry if you’re a crier. It’s not a great feeling and you might say, “this is the wrong thing I’m doing, I’m going to run back to my comfort zone.” And then you just have to say, “Well, I’m outside here naked, how do I make some clothes for myself? How do I feel supported? Where’s my coffee and lunch?” Just as you would if you were dropped in the middle of the woods somewhere and you had to survive.
You find those touchstones and those structures that give you an anchor.
Yes, but sometimes they aren’t the anchors you have used in the past that were always there for you. Because it might not be the woods that you know. So you have to look around and say “What sorts of berries can I eat in these woods? What sorts of predators are here? What’s the weather? Do I have to stay warm?” So you must stop and look and listen in this new place. And that’s something that’s really hard to do in our society where we constantly have a screen, we are constantly in a state of stimulus.
When you make a commodity out of your creativity it’s basically like saying “here’s my heart on a slab.” But you’ve just got to keep doing that and then you become more confident in your craft. And there’s a point in that creative process when you just have to let it go. If you don't let it go there’s no room for new things to come in.
Tell me more about your process and how you have grown as an artist.
I’ve studied with several different people and in several different schools or philosophies of flower arrangement. Each designer has key mechanics and methods of structure, composition and design to share. I worked with Amy Osaba [of Amy Osaba Event Floral Designs] in Atlanta and she was awesome to work with because her approach was once you have the right base and materials then “just do it, just get in there, and make sure it has really great angles.” She was one of the first people to do that natural, organic flower style as a mainstream wedding event. She gave me permission to really let go.
Then you have Ikebana, which is so strict, like, “this has to be at forty degrees and this has to be at ninety degrees and there’s only three items in here.” Then Erin Benzakein [of Floret Flowers in Washington State] was like, “cut all of these beautiful dahlias, here’s my amazing farm that doesn't use any pesticides, and I am sharing with you all that I have learned to create something.” I’ve taken each of these philosophies and blended them, or I’ve tried.
I don’t keep up with the trends because they are changing all the time and they leave as quickly as they arrive. It’s obvious when you’re true to your heart in whatever creative medium you’re working with and if there’s truth there, it’s timeless.
Yes, and people will respond to it. What has been your biggest creative challenge and how did you move through it?
Sometimes your greatest challenges are some of the greatest creators. Some of my greatest challenges in the past ten years have been health. I had a lot of trouble in my early life and creativity was always an outlet. I remember I was trying to be a writer and I didn’t have the tools or the experience and I turned to photography as a medium because it reached people and they responded. As I got older, because of those health challenges I had to redirect my attention again.
For instance, I had to be on bed rest for six months during my pregnancy and that's when I did my recording of birds at dawn that ended up making way for my flower arranging. Like, when else would I get up at dawn every day and record birds? I started to paint the sky. Just paintings of the sky. I had not looked at the sky for a long time. When is the last time you really looked at the sky? I think that was a real turning point. When you have that core of creativity you always have a place to go inside your heart and your mind. You just need to make sure you don't fill it with screen time.
It’s also a challenge justifying spending time on your art when you have a family and a partner. Other things suffer, like how clean your house is or how much you’re contributing to the household.
Do you have any creative resources, favorite books you’ve read, movies you’ve watched?
The Ten Virtues of Ikebana, a classic Ikebana text, is a really great map for my life. They were written in 1688 by a Japanese Buddhist Monk, Rikka-Imayo-Sugata. This text is well known for its first usage of the term, Kado, the way of the flower. I discovered them because a mentor of mine Shoso Shimbo translated them to english.
One of the virtues is that when you face flowers you can't have bad thoughts. I think that’s one of the reasons I chose the flowers. When someone commissions you to do an event it’s an opportunity to do something bigger and better. And the show must go on.
In the creative life you’ve got to move forward and when you get the opportunity to share it and you have a show or class or publication you need to get to that point of saying “this is what the show ended up being.” And you can’t beat yourself up after that. Because if you do then you won’t have anything left.
There are certain books that find you in certain times of your life and you have to be open to that. I believe in synchronicity. The first time that happened was in high school with Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. In art school it was The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, a wonderful read for art and architecture and made me think about the ways in which western society has constructed these rooms around itself. When I was at my lowest, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings On Love was instructional about forgiveness and coping with anger and deaths in the family.
I didn’t get enough science education when I was young and I have a lot of catching up to do. I think I might have been a scientist if I’d been more encouraged. Rachel Carson – everything she wrote – and the writing about her life and the things she did to change the world. I also recently enjoyed The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey.
One last question -- What advice would you give someone who wanted to be more creative in his or her day-to-day life.
Being in the moment is so important and it’s really hard to do. Make time for moving meditation – mine has to do with the garden, getting into nature – try to walk and be outside without thinking of all you have to do. Listen to what’s around you without any headphones. I really believe in the muses and that they speak to you when you are in the moment. That happens when you’re outside the realm of your intellect and in the realm of your heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed