Martha Starke, botanical art cards

Petal People — whimsical figures made from pressed flowers and leaves — are a recent creation for paper artist Martha Starke of Saratoga Springs, NY.

For more than 20 years, Martha’s primary art has been making handmade paper. She specialized in creating plantable paper (handmade paper with seeds embedded in it) for weddings. During this time, she was pressing flowers and adding them to the paper pulp.

“I began making Petal People after seeing a craft magazine that showed a rooster created from autumn leaves,” she says. “I was so enchanted that I started playing around with pressed flowers that I was using for weddings. I loved making human figures with the botanicals. I framed a few and they sold right away so I knew I was onto something.”

She didn’t sell her favorite ones, though, and soon gathered a collection of figures. She printed a few designs onto card stock. Petal People notecards were born. Now she carries more than 40 designs. She adds new ones every year and rotates some designs out or sells some in limited runs. 

“My studio is a crazy mess of boxes; there was one time when I had almost 12,000 cards and envelopes sitting in boxes,” she says. “Now that I wholesale my cards across the United States, I need to have a lot on hand, ready to ship.”

Martha never knows when an idea for a design is going to hit her. She carries a flower press with her in case she finds a new botanical to pluck for future designs. “I was in California last year and pressed some red flowers — please don’t tell the hotel in Culver City that I was pilfering their plants — that turned out to be some of my favorites. They are called Ixora and they look like little pinwheels when they are pressed.”

New ideas usually start with the botanicals. “I may see the shape of a flower that looks like a skirt in motion, or a leaf that resembles a torso with arms and legs. I usually don’t have any idea what I am going to make until I start arranging the pressed botanicals, and see where I end up.” She is thinking about making a little girl holding a pinwheel from the Ixora she picked in California.

Martha has recently introduced 10 new designs to VAM, including some featuring loose, scattered leaves and flowers in seasonal colors that she calls Garden Greetings. Find all of her lines at VAM, at various markets across the nation found on her website, and online in her Etsy store.