Life in the Studio: Frances Palmer

To-die-for gorgeous florals fill the pages of a new book by the ceramics artist, gardener, and photographer who inspires us to find the creative within
An arrangement used to discuss contrast in photography in LIFE IN THE STUDIO by Frances Palmer (Artisan, 2020)
An arrangement used to discuss contrast in photography in LIFE IN THE STUDIO by Frances Palmer (Artisan, 2020)

Frances Palmer knows how to create magic at her potter’s wheel, but she applies that same passion to her cutting gardens (especially dahlias), floral arrangements, and photography. Her new book Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity (Artisan, 2020) left us breathless with delight. It is instructional, gorgeous, and generous—Frances shares her very personal journey with us, giving a true understanding of her craft and process and happily embracing the unpredictability of her chosen pursuits.

Frances Palmer working at her potters wheel. (Right) Book cover for LIfe in the Studio, featuring a collection of floral arrangements on a stool against a blue background. (Right) book cover for Frances Palmer: :Life in the the Studio
(Left) The artist in her happy place doing what she loves. (Right) LIFE IN THE STUDIO is available wherever books are sold.

Her goal is to “encourage others to follow their own artistic paths.” Frances readily admits that her approach is not the only way: “It is my hope that in distilling strategies developed over nearly three decades of creative pursuits, I will be able to offer insight anyone can adapt for their own imaginative adventures.” She accomplishes this in spades and in prose as graceful as her pottery and lifestyle. With some favorite recipes and beekeeping tips thrown in for good measure, Life in the Studio is indeed a treasure.

Scenes from the Book

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A white footed compote overflows with dahlias, purple grapes, pomegranates, figs (still attached to their leafy branches), small heirloom tomatoes, and berried vines in a still life photo by Frances Palmer
From the chapter "Ten Lessons in Arranging," Frances demonstrates how to “branch out from flowers” with a compote of dahlias embellished with grapes, pomegranates, tomatoes, berried vines, and figs still attached to their leafy branches.
An assortment of 6 ceramic vases with organic shapes filled with bright yellow blooms such as poppies, roses, and tulips. Several lemons nestle along the bottom of the vases.
But don't underestimate the statement you can make when you choose to "keep it simple"—another of her floral design tenets.
Frances Palmer's studio features large mullioned windows, exposed rafters, and a vaulted ceiling. A long rustic wooden table is filled with rows of the ceramics artist's vases in all shapes and sizes, from jugs to tulipieres.

“On the morning of a recent open studio, the second floor of the barn was filled with new pots. Customers were happy to see the work firsthand, and because there are often multiple versions of the same shape, it allowed them to understand the one-of-a-kind nature of each pot,” Frances Palmer writes in the chapter about opening her studio to her clientele.

A trio of blooming amaryllis (one red, one pink, and the other spidery in petal shape) are placed in and around a footed bowl with open sides, revealing the bulbs to which the stems are still attached

Holiday-favorite amaryllis flowers, including a showy “spider” variety, show off their bulbs in an open-sided, footed terra-cotta bowl, which appears in an informative chapter for aspiring ceramicists, "Building a Pot, Step-by-Step."

Overhead view of flower blooms of various forms and colors pressed into clay, leaving their shape behind once removed

The artist presses blooms of various forms into wet plaster to make molds.

A footed bowl adorned with flowers in relief holds yellow and green tomatoes. The still life composition also includes an orange pumpkin and a winter squash (with a wedge removed to reveal its seeds and yellow-orange flesh).
One of her compotes, styled here with tomatoes and winter squash, bears the fruits of her flower molds.
A white footed vase by Frances Palmer holds an artful arrangement of dramatic dahlias in violets, orangey reds, and peach hues. The vase perches on a stack of two books titled “Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery” and Mrs. Delany and Her Circle.” Pears, green tomatoes, and wild-looking foliage are tucked in the arrangement and around the base.

Beneath a vase of Frances’s beloved dahlias, we catch a glimpse of two titles from her personal library: Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery (2017) and Mrs. Delany & Her Circle by Mark Laird (2009), both from Yale University Press. The latter is about the late-blooming and prolific artist Mary Delany who, at the age of 72, began creating exquisite hand-cut botanical collages in 18th-century England and Ireland.

By Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Frances Palmer

Signed copies of Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity (Artisan, 2020) are available at

This story originally appeared in the Scene column of Flower magazine’s Nov/Dec 2020 issue. Subscribe to the magazine or sign up for our free e-newsletter.

dahlias puzzle by Frances Palmer

Bonus: Dahlias Puzzle

Puzzles have helped us while away many a socially distanced hour during Covid-19, and we could not be more excited to begin piecing this one together.

Commemorating the Fall 2020 publication of Frances’s book, Artisan released a 750-piece puzzle featuring one of her vibrantly lush dahlia photographs. Dahlias Puzzle ($30), available at