Surrounded by Nicolette Owen’s roses, poppies, and ranunculus, Helen Dealtry works on a watercolor.
photography by GEMMA + ANDREW INGALLS
written by SARAH COFFEY
In the Brooklyn studio of Nicolette Owen and Helen Dealtry, we found a watercolor wonderland filled with flowers.
Dealtry’s Monna Scarf hangs above cylinder vases full of daffodils, poppies, ranunculus, and sweet peas.
Florist Nicolette Owen and textile designer Helen Dealtry have rented studio space in the same Brooklyn building for years. Owen describes their workspace as “a little collective—it feels like you’re not in New York when you’re here.” A communal courtyard full of fig trees and worktables brimming with blooms make it ideal for an artist. “Nicolette will come back from the flower market with tons of stuff I want to paint,” says Dealtry. “We share ideas, sometimes we forage upstate,” adds Owen. “And we’ve recently started teaching flower arranging and painting together.”
HELEN DEALTRY ON MASTERING MATERIALS
- Get a go-to brush that you can use to make many different marks. Mine is a 1-inch Filbert. I have a quite loose, brushy hand, so I use it to paint poppies, peonies, and irises.
- Use watercolor washes since they go a long way and give you a lot of control. They’re very fluid—I don’t use acrylics because I love working with the water element.
- Play with paper of all types, from paper towels to heavyweight watercolor sheets. Experiment to find what you like. There’s no right or wrong type of paper to use.
“I love to layer color in,” says Owen. “Like adding a poppy with a yellow center.”
“I think about color obsessively,” says Owen. “When I’m arranging flowers, I start with a neutral backdrop of greens or branches—the muted tones allow me to stretch the palette. Then I add big blooms like peonies or roses, and finally some wispy, wilder gestures, like a cosmos with a pop of yellow at its center.” Likewise, Dealtry paints by laying down the lightest neutral tones first, then adding focal flowers such as dahlias, and finishing with something “slightly off,” like an unexpected splash of coral. “We’re lucky that what we do best is what we’re most inspired by,” Dealtry says. “Flowers and color.”
Owen’s quince and poppies trail in front of a rose and ranunculus painting by Dealtry.
NICOLETTE OWEN ONTHE ART OF ARRANGING
- Establish the base using greens or big branches. To hold them in place, crisscross the top of your vase with floral tape, or place a floral frog in the bottom.
- Add focal flowers and big, showy blooms, like roses, poppies, or peonies. Make a secondary webbing by crisscrossing the stems with your greenery.
- Layer in wild, wispy gestures, like cosmos or even herbs and vines that aren’t necessarily flowers. A loose bit at the end makes it feel like it’s still growing.