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Seed Story: Velvet Queen Sunflower

Velvet Queen Sunflower by Pack Artist Lisa Perrin

One of the ways we're celebrating our 10 year anniversary is by asking Lisa Perrin to revisit her art for Velvet Queen Sunflower. The old pack, which featured a sunflower head in queen's garb, was Lisa's first paying gig right out of college. She's grown, we've grown, and we wanted her new art to reflect this shared growth and shine a light on the story of sunflowers.

"Women's history and the history of fashion are among my favorite subjects. Both the original and new pack speak to those interests. Queen Elizabeth is a favorite historical figure for me. She represents a powerful and successful woman leader. I fawn over the classically painted portraits of her, and admire how she used clothing to make herself look larger to have more presence and gravitas. Women are so often made to feel like they need to be smaller, so I love that she wanted to take up more space in the world! Velvet Queen Sunflower is also probably the classiest seed variety name in town. It just sounds decadent. " Lisa Perrin

One of the other reflective moments in Lisa's new art is the framed portrait on the wall. Recognize it? That's her original pack art from 2010. There are many new elements as well. Each is something you would find in a traditional historic royal portrait and something that relates to the story of sunflowers.

The Globe: Seen in many royal portraits to represent Queen Elizabeth’s far reaching power, in this case the globe represents that same power embodied in seeds. Sunflowers started as native to Mexico, were developed as a high protein food source by indigenous peoples of the Northeast Americas, then traveled to Russia and were further developed for their oil properties, and eventually made their way across the globe and back to North America.

The Birds: As on of the main ingredients in bird seed, we all know birds love them. The cage and the free birds tells the fraught story of sunflower seed producers' relationships to birds. Here on our farm we want birds to be free, but sometimes wish we could cage them up when the seed crop is maturing!

The Sieve: There are many interpretations of the presence of the sieve in multiple portraits of the Queen. In one portrait there’s an inscription on the sieve which reads “To earth the good, bad remains.” Some suggest that this refers to the queen's power of discernment implying she is skilled at separating the "good" from the "bad"and that her rule ensures only good things for her people. To us the sieve is an implement of winnowing- separating the good seed from the bad and ensuring that only the good seed reaches the hands of farmers and gardeners.

The Vase: Nothing too heavily symbolic here- just that Velvet Queen Sunflowers make gorgeous cut flowers!

Lisa and I talked about her art and the process of creating work for the Hudson Valley Seed Co.

Tell me about where you were at in your life when you got the first commission.

I was in limbo! I had just graduated from college, and didn't know what was next. I was planning to return home to Long Island for an awkward year while I figured it out. I had always wanted to be an illustrator, but my school didn't have an illustration program. I had no idea how to even get started in the field. That summer really stands out in my memory. I was working in the art museum on the SUNY New Paltz campus and exploring the Hudson River Valley with friends the rest of the time.

How did you feel about receiving the commission?

I was delighted! It was one of my very first real illustration jobs. I was also panicked because I was concerned my inexperience would show. At the time I did not know how to use Adobe programs or the computer for art in any way. I was confused by the template for the seed packet.

What did you think when we asked about having you update your original pack? How did you feel about your old art when you were working on the new one?

It was a gift! How many times in your life do you get a chance to redo something from your past, knowing what you know now? Seven or eight years makes a world of difference! Today I work full-time as an in-house illustrator for American Greetings card company. I am also an active freelance illustrator with an agent. I put art on templates all the time! For me, looking at my older artwork is a cringeworthy experience. I tend to focus on the things I don't like. I can tell I used a silver gel pen for details on the wall paper, and metallics don't scan very well! However, I still like the concept of the design and appreciate how wacky and creative it is! I still see 'me' in it. And it's kind of amazing that you let me draw a weird, royal, buxom anthropomorphic sunflower in the first place!!

What are your favorite elements of the new art? What are you hoping it says about you as an artist and the variety?

Women's history and the history of fashion are among my favorite subjects. Both the original and new pack speak to those interests. Queen Elizabeth is a favorite historical figure for me. She represents a powerful and successful woman leader. I fawn over the classically painted portraits of her, and admire how she used clothing to make herself look larger to have more presence and gravitas. Women are so often made to feel like they need to be smaller, so I love that she wanted to take up more space in the world! Velvet Queen Sunflower is also probably the classiest seed variety name in town. It just sounds decadent.

Any thoughts on the relationship between art and seeds/plants/gardening?

I think it makes sense that people who enjoy gardening enjoy art. Both are about putting beauty in the world and appreciating it. The thing I love about being an illustrator is making beautiful things that people use and interact with every day. These seed packets are a great application of form and function. I have enjoyed working with the Hudson Valley Seed Company so much that I have encouraged several of my artistic pals to create art for them as well!

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