A few years ago I started interviewing creative women I admire in a series inspired by Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’m thrilled to announce that our Becoming Series is back up and running!
I interviewed Tricia Paoluccio, who you might recognize from her appearance on Law and Order, among other credits, or whose work on Taylor Swift’s show-stopping 2021 Floral Folklore Grammys dress was the talk of the fashion world. Look for more of Tricia’s work on her website and read up on her life and her process below!
Meet Pressed Flower Artist Tricia Paoluccio
Tricia Paoluccio grew up on an almond farm in Modesto, California where she learned the art of flower pressing as a child. After moving to New York City to pursue her acting career, Tricia made unique one of a kind cards and botanical collages on handmade paper, selling the orginals in boutiques and on the street.
Tricia continued honing her skills and making art even after she became a professional actor, working full time on Broadway, on television, and in film. Tricia has been commissioned by luminaries in the fashion, publishing and music industries to create botanical designs, and has been doing original art commissions for many interior designers around the country. Her first gallery, featuring fine art prints, a wall mural and a botanically wrapped Steinway Grand Piano at the High Line Nine in Chelsea, NYC was extended three times due to its popularity.
While in quarantine during the pandemic, Tricia began teaching Zoom classes on the art of pressing flowers and is thrilled her classes seem to attract such interest from people around the world. Her goal is to elevate this art form, which has been around for centuries, and to celebrate the resilience and beauty of wildflowers.
Here’s our interview of Tricia Paoluccio!
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?
As a kid I used to say, “I want to grow up to be an archeologist, anthropologist, marine biologist, actress, singer, dancer, baton twirler and a judge.” In reality I became a professional actor who has sung and dance on Broadway and I have played a judge on tv!
What sparked your interest in floral art? What attracted you to this field?
My mom gifted me a beautiful little book in the 1990s by a woman named Penny Black. She inspired me to make pressed flower cards by hand. I began pressing flowers with a press my brother made for me (I still have it to this day). I sold my cards to family members for the holidays. When I moved to NYC in the 90s to pursue an acting career I brought this flower press and handmade papers and used to make collages and cards and I sold them on the street and to boutiques. It was a simpler time—so long before social media. I would walk into stores with a batch of handmade cards and ask if they wanted to sell them in their stores and sometimes they would say yes and that’s what I did to make a little extra money when I was first starting out.
You were born and raised in Modesto, California. How has your childhood influenced what you have become?
I would say being born and raised in Modesto is one of the most important influences of my life. I LOVE my hometown and I love my parent’s farm where I grew up. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs with sidewalks. I was a country kid. Our closest friends and neighbors were/are all farmers…living around these people shaped me so much – my love of working outdoors doing farm chores, raising chickens, gardening, canning, the sunshine and beautiful California weather and the abundance of natural beauty everywhere……so much of what I love comes from growing up in this environment around people who this was their way of life.
What is one skill you wished you learned when you were younger?
I don’t know. Learning how to drive more confidently? I’ve never owned a car so I have never driven by myself.
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from?
Well I think I am very good at failure. It doesn’t get me down. My dad is an inventor and his entire career is made up of trying and building and making and experimenting and so often it doesn’t work out. But his job is in the getting there. And I think having a dad who is so incredibly resilient and optimistic – literally nothing can get him down – was so so helpful to me as I embarked upon a career as an actor. I audition for things ALL THE TIME that I don’t get and I literally have amnesia about it. I think I could get every job I audition for and in reality I get just a few jobs a year! It’s the actors’ life to be in the business of auditioning, and you have to be very sensitive in your soul, but very thick skinned about rejection. And I possess that blend of sensitivity and toughness (I guess some people might call it TOTAL STUPIDITY), but I kind of like it. I am able to fully invest and then fully let go on a day-to-day basis and I don’t dwell on jobs I don’t get. I totally forget them.
Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?
My mother influenced me greatly in her love of beauty. I think she was one of the first people to fall in love with Martha Stewart and she had those big Entertaining books around our house. She would teach me how to set the table and pick the flowers and make things look pretty. She is funny bc she would say, “I don’t care how it tastes—I just need it to be pretty.” Now, truthfully, I need it to taste good too! But, her love of beauty definitely influenced me greatly.
What are three words to describe your style?
Wild and structured, yet free.
What is your educational background and how has it shaped or changed your current career?
I went to a liberal arts college and was a theatre major. I believe being an actor helps me in how I work as an artist. The most inspired performances are unselfconscious and totally free, but you can only do this if you have a craft. It’s very hard to do 8 shows a week without that. And so, as an artist, I feel like it’s the same. I don’t struggle or plan. It is not effortful. When I work I am hardly even thinking—I let it be instinctive—and it flows pretty quickly. And that is blended with a strict attention to craft—how I press my flowers and how I glue. I feel like I should write a book called The Zen Art of Gluing. 🙂 So all great art I think is a blend of inspiration and letting go, in combination with having a disciplined craft.
What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?
I think I am especially proud of the Steinway Piano I designed. It was such a wild request and so difficult to envision how would it turn out. And I’m just so pleased with the collaboration with Steinway and the company who printed and wrapped the piano. They’re total experts in their field. That piano brought a lot of joy to my gallery space. I was able to produce a music video on it with the incredible Chloe Flower and NYC dancers. I feel very proud of that music video we created with choreography by James Alonzo and I also felt proud to produce a music video like that safely during a pandemic.
Where do you find inspiration for new creations?
I find inspiration after I’ve pressed all my flowers and they are fully dry and ready to go, when I organize them and lay them out. I’m inspired by the shape and color of the botanicals I press and all compositions stem from just looking and feeling these pieces directly. I really don’t have outside inspiration. I get it from looking at the ingredients I have.
What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?
Well, Penny Black—the British pressed flower artist who wrote that book 30 years ago—was really ahead of her time I think! I have tried to find her because I would love to thank her for inspiring me! But aside from visual artists my biggest artistic inspiration is Dolly Parton. She’s a national treasure and I love her and her music.
What books, movies, shows, or music is making you excited these days?
Oooooh I am way behind on my reading. I’m working my way through The Crown, I loved Schitt’s Creek, and I loved The Queen’s Gambit, but any free time I have for tv goes to Forensic Files. Sorry. And Shark Tank! I’m currently in a cabin in the remote foothills of CA though, so I don’t have a tv, but we play nightly Monopoly!
What are some stereotypes of your job that you wish to break?
Ah. Well, I guess there is a world belief that if you are an artist you are bound to be poor— the suffering artist stereotype. But I feel grateful I have made a living as an artist my whole adult life. And that’s through so many different ways. I also feel like some of my best work has come out of suffering or sad times, and I feel that artists are really lucky when they know how to do that. I know its so individual and every career path is different but I guess I believe—well, I’ve seen—so many actors and artists make their own way. Whether by writing their own films, or webseries, or creating their own things, I think its really wonderful to have a job where there’s always potential to be successful or potential to make money. Suffering becomes fuel for making great things.
How do you deal with negativity, stress, and/or anxiety?
I turn to my spiritual practice. I have a strong faith that all my good comes from God. Not a person or a job or a circumstance. No accidents.
Is there anything more you would like to “become?”
I would love to be a forensic scientist. Or at least play one on TV. I’d also love to do more work in the prisons. I volunteered for many years at a prison Chaplain in NYC and it was incredibly rewarding work. I really loved serving there.
What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?
I hope to create a new brand using my pressed flower designs in a variety of ways. I’ve been working on this goal very seriously for the past two years and am about to launch this new business with incredible partners. To be announced soon!
What is your workspace like? Has it changed at all since the beginning of the pandemic last year?
Ah, well, in NYC I don’t have a workspace. I have my dining room table and my floor. In California on my parent’s farm I turned the upstairs of their tank house into my art studio and I LOVE HAVING THIS SPACE. I also have a large empty room above the garage at their cabin which I use. I’m VERY messy. A total slob. I can clean it up to make it look stylish and cute but my reality is total mess. I don’t care, I like it. My dream space and my only requirement as an artist is having a space I don’t have to clean up or keep neat or put my supplies away.
How do your surroundings influence your work?
Well, I need space to spread out. In NYC I don’t have that which is why I like to spend time in California where I can really work. When I do work on projects in NYC I make my family eat on the ground on a picnic blanket so I can keep the table full of flowers!
Describe some habits that keep you motivated and productive.
I like to sing, or listen to music sometimes, but I’m actually very quiet. I can’t have a TV on or that kind of distraction. I like quiet. I love being alone.
What is a typical day like for you?
Oh my goodness that is so hard. In what city? At what time of the year? My days are totally different day to day depending on If I have an audition or if I’m working on art or just doing house chores or helping my kids!
How has social media influenced your work?
This is interesting. I created a web series which made fun of social media, specifically spoofing the world of mommy bloggers. I created a character named Addie who had four boys living in NYC. She forces her husband to quit his job to devote himself full time to their family culture and the making of her blog. She has 17 followers, but delusions of grandeur—that she is going to inspire other mamas with her parenting advice and crafts…. I thought it was so funny. It got optioned and we were pitching it to to networks, but then the pandemic hit and I’ve kind of let it go. But each episode was Addie and Jared’s attempt at making a little video for their 17 followers and the episode shows what really happened…the reality vs. the illusion. It’s at www.mommybloggerseries.
I have so many different social media accounts: my personal one, and one for the webseries (@mommybloggerseries) and then my art one (@modernpressedflower). I feel like in order to be sane I have to keep all these world separate. My art account is purely flower/art focused and it doesn’t feel personal to me. It has been so helpful when I want to share information about something I’m making and selling, or like when I teach a class…now people can know about it! Growing your social media account as an artist is huge and so even though I knocked it and made fun of that in my webseries, I’m grateful for the power of it to help me sell my art and be discovered!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?
Practice. A lot. Don’t worry about if its good. Just make art. Keep doing it. A lot. Every day make something. Don’t judge it. Learn Patience. Fall in love with having a craft.
How do you make social connections in the creative realm?
I love following artists and makers and chefs and florists and people who make unique and beautiful things. I love to promote others and have been so grateful for the support I’ve felt as an artist on Instagram.
Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?
I do have a secret talent. I can channel Dolly Parton. And during the pandemic we got a grant to write a two person show. We wrote a fantasy friendship between a fan and Dolly Parton, and I get to play Dolly and sing all her music. And the show was sent to Dolly and she loves it! In fact, just recently Dolly signed the official contract which gave us the world-wide rights to her music, and to do this show with her likeness! And she approves of me! This is the craziest thing, to imagine she saw me and heard me channel her and she loved it. It’s truly the biggest accomplishment of my life. It’s a lifelong dream come true and all of this is to be announced for real at some point, but if you are at all interested in following this journey, then follow my personal IG (@triciapaoluccio) bc thats where I will announce news of this show. We think there will be a national tour before coming off Broadway in NYC and then going to the UK. It is crazy to be typing this. Honestly my cup runneth over a million times over because this is a dream come true.
Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?
During the pandemic I decided to start teaching classes on how to press flowers over zoom. I’ve been so grateful for how this income has enabled me to run my business and pay all the different people who help me run my business. I think that I underestimated how much it actually costs to make art because I would just focus on materials—how much did it cost me to make—but I wouldn’t take into account my time, and all the things you need to pay for when you create a business: a website, graphic designers, photographers, printers, copyright licenses, lawyers, supplies, technology etc etc. It pains me to see artists on instagram charge so little for their work. I know how much time it takes to press flowers well. I wish that we could all meet somehow on zoom and talk about how hard it is to make this art, how time consuming it is and agree collectively to not undersell ourselves!!! I understand the risk in charging more than the next person. But I think we all need to be realistic about what it actually entails and lift each other more so that makers can actually make a living.
Make sure you check out Tricia Paoluccio’s website, and keep an eye out for her floral pressing workshops!
If you’d like to read more Becoming interviews about floral artists, you can find Ann Wood’s, Julie Marabelle’s, Lynne Millar’s, and Tiffanie Turner’s by clicking on their names here, or find the whole Becoming set of interviews here!