Arts

Colette Stubbings fights her anxiety by making surreal armour out of flowers

For the Vancouver artist, an unusual self-care strategy became a new way of making art.

For the Vancouver artist, an unusual self-care strategy became a new way of making art

Plucked from obscurity? Instagram featured a photo by Colette Stubbings on their official account last month. As a result, her "petal armour" now has an international audience. Initially, Stubbings never intended to share works like this one with the world. (Colette Stubbings)

Colette Stubbings was living at home again, and for whatever reason, life was feeling particularly overwhelming. She was stressed out, anxious. But being back at her dad's house, she could at least indulge in a few childhood comforts — habits she'd set before "forest bathing" was a buzzword.

"I've always spent a lot of time in my dad's backyard," says the 27-year-old artist. "As a kid, I'd wander around and pick up whatever I found." And it was the same story that day in the garden.

"He has a couple of rose bushes," she says, "and I was picking up some fallen petals." Wrapping the wilted blooms around her fingers, she repeated the motion over and over, trying to focus on the soft, fragrant sensation to mute the noise inside her brain.

"Initially, it was a nice way for me to calm down. It was a sort of meditative thing for me." But then she saw what she had made. Her fingertips were transformed, capped with fairy thimbles. "It kind of sparked a curiosity," she says. "How far could I take it?"

That was 2017. And to see where Stubbings has gone with the idea, the answer is all over her Instagram accounts (@hallofstars and @heavenallows). When she finds the free time, she says she's consumed with creating — and photographing — gloves made of flowers and string. 



"Armour" is probably the better way to describe them. It's what they look like, for one. Layers of daisy petals or anemones — or whatever flowers she's store-bought or foraged — mimic the same segmented construction. Stubbings fastens everything to her hand with thread, leaving the ends to dangle like wispy alien roots, and she's leaned into a battle-ready aesthetic. 

It hints at the project's backstory, she explains. "The idea of armour, in general, can be seen as symbolic," she says. "It protects you, and I'm making them to cope with anxiety."

"I haven't been diagnosed with anything — it's just the general feeling of anxiety," she clarifies. "But I feel protected while wearing them."

"For a long time, it was like the act of binding these things to my hand — symbolically, they were like armour for me."

"I'll spend the whole day wrapping my hand and making these gloves," she says, though every piece is technically a "race against time." Petals can wither and brown before a design is complete, and if she's working on her own hand instead of a model's, a single piece can take six hours. Still, she says, "it's been a personal, therapeutic practice for me in a lot of ways" — one that's suddenly finding an unintended audience.

Last month, Instagram featured one of Stubbings's photos on their official account, and she's still processing the newfound exposure.


Since finishing her BFA at Emily Carr University in 2014, she says she'd found herself spending less and less time drawing, which was her major in school.

"I never considered [the armour] to be part of my personal art practice," she says. "And I haven't shown my work in so long. I've forgotten what it's like to receive all this feedback, and on a much larger scale than what I'm used to online."

"These gloves have been an outlet for me, and a way to get back into making things. Now, they're sort of what I do," she says, and she has no intention of stopping.

"Each time I wrap my hand or bind a new petal to my hand, it's like something is being released. I'm plotting an intention or a thought. That's the best way I can put it into words."

Take a look.

Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)
Colette Stubbings. Untitled (Armoury). (Colette Stubbings)

Find more of Colette Stubbings's work on Instagram (@hallofstars and @heavenallows).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.

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