Blooming all year long
Elissa Sweet paintings have beauty, meaning
Every flower she paints means something, from innocence to prosperity to fertility, and everything in between.
Elissa (Englund) Sweet, who grew up in Alpena, now creates watercolors from her home studio in Westerly, Rhode Island.
She’s been painting since she was about 5 years old, as her dad, Kevin Englund, is also an artist. He and Elissa’s mom, Mary Beth Englund, live in Alpena. Elissa, now 38, moved to Alpena in first grade and graduated from Alpena High School. She graduated from Michigan State University and practiced journalism for eight years in New York City, including a stint at
Time Magazine. In addition to being an artist, she is also a graphic designer and freelance editor.
“I moved here because my husband works as a nuclear engineer at the submarine base right near here,” she explained. “I ended up deciding to freelance and move up here.”
She and her husband Colin have a 1-year-old son, Jonathan. They have lived in Rhode Island for five-and-a-half years now.
She worked in an independent bookstore for a little while, and did some freelance editing, before she started getting back into painting.
“I’ve been painting my whole life, but I had, sort of, taken a break from it,” she said. “So, I started getting back into it when I was working at the bookstore.”
Her paintings are on display and for sale at Art in the Loft in “Winterview” from now until March 5.
“Right now I’m doing mostly watercolor and ink paintings,” she said. “I do a lot of nature paintings.”
She focuses mostly on flowers and birds.
“Flowers and birds are, kind of, my jam right now,” she said, adding that she got into bird watching during the pandemic.
Sweet is fascinated by flowers and their meanings.
“I love the language of flowers,” she said. “So, what I started doing, I started taking these classes online, in 2016 or 2017, watercolor classes, and I really loved some of the artists I was following, and I started to learn how to paint flowers, and I got really into the idea of the language of flowers.”
She said, especially during Victorian times, different flowers were known for different meanings, and, throughout history and across the globe, flowers have symbolized nearly everything, from beauty to loyalty and even death. The marigold represents remembrance and loss, for example. She has studied many floral meanings and owns reference books to use when clients request that she paint a bouquet for them with different flowers symbolizing emotions, virtues, and more.
“In a lot of different cultures, different flowers have special meanings,” Sweet said. “Like, in Victorian times, you would make a bouquet of flowers if someone died, and those flowers would represent resilience and memory and pain … Every flower had a special meaning. Not only was it beautiful, but it also … symbolized something.”
She explained how she decides which flowers to paint.
“I do them based on the meaning of the flowers,” Sweet said. “So, for someone’s marriage, I might make them a marriage blessing painting that had a peony for communication and love, and a flower for health and longevity, and a flower for money.”
She will also do commissioned work, painting a bride’s wedding bouquet as a keepsake, for example.
“I do a lot of ‘by request’ paintings,” she said. “I just really love flowers and botanical art.”
Her home in Westerly is about 10 minutes from the ocean, which she loves, but she misses Alpena, too. She visited earlier this month.
“We don’t get as much snow, which makes me sad, so when I came back to Alpena I was really excited for it to snow, but it only snowed the last day we were there,” Sweet said.
She said living near the ocean is similar to living near the Great Lakes, so it has a familiar feel to home.
Sweet finds painting therapeutic.
“One of the reasons I like to sell my paintings is, it’s so much about the process for me,” Sweet explained. “I have a very active brain. It never shuts off. I’m always thinking. And I’m not a good meditator, but when I’m painting, I do finally enter that meditative state, where my brain shuts off, and I’m just in the process, and I’m enjoying the flow.”
For Sweet, it’s all about the process.
“I don’t actually care that much about the final product,” Sweet said. “I’m happy when it turns out pretty, but, for me, it’s so much about doing it. It’s definitely my favorite thing. So, then, it’s easier for me to let go of the paintings and share them with other people, because I just want to keep doing more.”
For more information, and to download a free coloring book, visit elissasweet.com.