My name is Kari Herer, and I’m a photographer based in Yarmouth, Maine.
I was trained in ceramics, and for a while I made pots and did a lot of sculpture, creating porcelain bird bones and decorating the crevices with flower decals. I started taking pictures of flowers after my daughter was born. Back then, I was living in a house in Kennebunk, Maine, that had a peony garden. One afternoon when I was playing around with old woodcuts of bugs, I started putting flowers on top of them, and noticed that the shapes in the flowers were just like the shapes in the bugs. I found that parallel really interesting, and kept going from there.
My parents and my childhood are important sources of inspiration. My mom was a really great illustrator and my dad was a seventh-grade science teacher. I grew up with all kinds of animals in the house: We raised ducks and watched monarch butterflies hatch from their chrysalises under the kitchen table. My dad kept hissing cockroaches in cages in the basement, and he did taxidermy as well, so sometimes we’d find dead animals in the freezer. This exposure to animals and to life and death got me interested in nature at an early age.
I get ideas for what to sketch from my daily life. For example, when my daughter Colette was asking for a pet hamster, a hamster ended up in my sketchbook. Or my recent woodpecker print, which I created after days of hearing a woodpecker pecking on our window. My process is to draw on my computer, print the image, and then arrange flowers on top of the image; the final step is photographing them both together. I mainly use flowers from my garden and yard, but sometimes I also source blooms from the Boston Flower Exchange. Arranging the flowers is a tedious process that involves toothpicks, tweezers, and a lot of micro movements. All of the pictures are made in my studio, which is basically just a garage with a heater. I used to rely on natural light, but now I work mostly at night when my kids are asleep.
I believe that sticking with a project is really important. I started making these photographs in 2007, and I’m still working at it. Every day I’m learning and pushing myself to get better, whether by positioning the flowers differently, lighting them differently, or waiting until just the right moment to photograph them. The differences between the images I make today and the ones I made several years ago are subtle, but very important. If you stick with something for a long time, you can really refine it; you do it until it’s tired and overdone, and then you do it some more. I wouldn’t put my work on a gallery wall — it’s not ready yet — but that’s where I want to see it go in the future. In the meantime, getting a mention in Martha Stewart Living or a contract with Anthropologie — rewards like that keep me going. People in the Etsy community have kept me going along the way, too.
Without Etsy, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. Etsy has allowed me to show my work to strangers all over the world — strangers who are kind enough to send me supportive messages and pictures of my prints in their homes. I love being able to give an Etsy customer something that is of unexpectedly high quality. I makes me feel good to surprise them with fast shipping, great paper, beautiful packaging, or a note to show my appreciation. I have a satisfaction-guaranteed policy kind of like L.L.Bean’s: I want my customers to know that if something happens to their print, it will be replaced. And it goes both ways: Over the years I’ve learned that I can also trust Etsy customers, and that they’re on the same team as me.
Maker photo by Mathew Robbins, all others by Kari Herer.