Benny Sanders takes on Flowers

Artist Benny Sanders is a staple in the local arts community. Whether perfecting his plein air techniques with fellow artists around Central Indiana, taking long road trips capture the mountains and valleys of the wild West, or slinging coffee creations at Milktooth, Sanders is one talented dude. Recently, photos of gorgeous flower arrangements were spotted on his instagram feed, and I had to know more.

Polina Osherov: I kept seeing these amazing photos of flowers in your Insta feed, and I just had to know what was happening. (Laughs) This is a departure from your usual artistic fare of plein air landscapes and moody portraits. What’s going on?

Benny Sanders: I’ve been learning how to arrange flowers, and all about them: how long they last, properties of each one, what flowers are local to us. 

PO: Okay, so the art is in the arranging of the flowers, and then taking a photo of the arrangement. You’re not actually painting them.

BS: Right. I don’t have enough time to arrange all day and then paint. Right now I’m painting a lot of commission work. I’d like to maybe do some nights where I arrange flowers, then have people over to paint them, and then I can paint too.

PO: Is it fair to say that you’re almost using a different part of your creative brain when arranging versus the painting. 

BS: Maybe? There are a lot of similarities for sure. Learning about flowers is a lot like learning about your medium and the tools that you’re using. With flowers you need to know things like how long they last, what you need to do to keep them alive longer, and what’s available? In a lot of ways, flower arranging is like painting, and it’s just a lot more time-sensitive. You can’t really put it down and then come back the next day and keep going. Well with some flowers you can, but in general you only have so much time.

PO: What inspired you to get into flower arranging?

BS: I had worked a few weddings with my friend Meg Connolly over the past couple of years, just cleaning buckets and moving things back and forth, not really arranging, but I got to see the inside of the flower world and it sparked an interest. I started following a lot of florists on Instagram, and getting ideas, so I asked a friend of mine, Jade Leetz, who’s a photographer and a ceramicist, about using some of her ceramics for some of the floral arrangements I was doing, and she was like, ‘I’m really into flowers right now too!’ She turned me onto Ikebana, which is an old Japanese style of flower arranging. It’s more art-based than event-based floral stuff. So I got really into that. The Ikebana mentality is that you use things that are around you. 

PO: Where do you get all the supplies and the beautiful flowers?

BS: I started out just grabbing things like tree branches and daffodils from around the neighborhood and buying stuff at the grocery store. Now I have a few wholesale accounts so I can get things that are a little more specialty rather than grocery store stuff, but I really love to utilize elements from both. There’s something special about taking an artistic approach to day-to-day items.

PO: Who is someone who really inspired you and was helpful in your journey of figuring out how to do flower arranging?

BS: There’s a woman on Instagram by the name of Sue McLeary, (@passionflowersue) And she basically shares everything she knows about arranging, all of her tips and tricks, and she does a lot of art-based stuff. 

PO: Is it a little bit like a meditation on putting these arrangements together, or does it feel more labor intensive?

BS: The bigger, more complex arrangements that I’ve been commissioned to do, those aren’t as meditative, because there’s a lot more thought and planning that goes into them. But, the smaller, simpler, more artistic arrangements, I guess those are more meditative. I just chill out for a minute and really lay everything out and examine everything, and then I let everything come together intuitively rather than planning and preconceiving a design. With Ikebana, there are some rules that you have to follow, but a lot of it is intuitive like if you have a branch that leads a certain way, you let it do its thing and you just arrange around it. Let the flowers speak and lead the way rather than trying to control them.

PO: Are you still painting?

BS: Yeah, I’m still painting a lot. I’m just doing commission work. I was traveling for a while and spent a lot of money, and I wasn’t able to get unemployment benefits like so many others, so it’s just been a hustle for me. Luckily, Milktooth opened up, so I’ve been able to work here on the weekends, and painting commissions during the week. Painting people’s dogs, and kids…

PO: You love to travel, and go on the road a lot, so I have to ask. What keeps you coming back to Indianapolis?

BS: Whenever I’m driving back, I’m just as excited to come back here as I am going anywhere else. That fades a little bit (laughs) and then I get homesick for the road again, but this is home. 

PO: What’s your next trip?

BS: I think I’m gonna go out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in June, and then I’ll be back out traveling in the fall.

PO: Awesome! Can’t wait to see what you bring back from out West!

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