TTT – You have been sharing photos of your tree creations since 2009 when you began blogging and working on your book, The Decorated Tree: Celebrating the Seasons. How many trees have you created since then? Which are your favorites?
DARRYL – I have created 99 posts for my blog since the beginning—not all are trees, but the majority of them are. The idea for the book came many years earlier (possibly in the late nineties). I didn’t quite know how to approach a publisher with my ideas, so the blog was born. The book is a completely original creation including my writing, my decoration collection and styling. Most of it is photographed by me with the exception of about eight of the trees that professional photographer friends shot for me. My top six favorites (if I have to choose) are at the following links:
Select an image to enlarge and then step through each in sequence.
Tree of Light
This tree is a purist’s interpretation of what might have been one of the first decorated trees. It was photographed around Christmas of 2005 after both of my parents had died earlier that year. The tree is lit by small candles, which is an appropriate remembrance of them. That I even could muster decorating a tree that holiday season is a testament to the joy a tree can bring to your home. The short-lived illumination of the tree because of the danger the candles and fir branches pose together was possible only a few times that season. That made me realize what wonder Martin Luther’s children may have experienced when they saw that first tree lit by candlelight. He was inspired by the starry night sky. This was a truly magical tree and I will never forget the warmth it brought to my heart that Christmas season.
This tree encompasses a certain reverence to nature that I try to include in all my trees. It is simple and wintry in color scheme, and pays homage to the animals of the world. The post speaks out against the over-the-top consumerist spectacle that evolves around the holiday season these days. Holiday décor becomes gaudier and cheaper with every year that passes. This simple tree voiced an antithesis to that.
I think of all the trees on my blog, this is my absolute favorite. I got so much pleasure out of creating a tree that looked as if it was frozen over with icy winter magic. This tree informed the shape of the Alpine Feather Tree that I designed for Home Traditions, which is for sale this holiday season. I love the long trunk one version of this tree has and the “alpine shape” of both of them. For me, this tree is a celebration of the winter solstice.
Tree of Dreams
This tree was inspired by an actual dream I had about my mother only a few months after she had died. It’s an interpretation of a pink and silver brooch I gave to her as a gift in the dream. Although this gift giving was after her death and never happened, except in the dream, I was able to find a brooch similar to what I saw in my dream which became the reference point for the color scheme and sparkle of this tree. I had a friend say that this tree was like an altar (highest compliment indeed! This is the mindset I have in creating all of my trees. I combine meaningful decorations to speak to an event in my life. Truly, I think this process is divinely-inspired when I’m able to channel it. I am just the messenger of the dream. When decorating a tree such as this, it always seems as if I’m in my creative zone where time and space just disappear—a true meditative approach.
This Easter Tree is simple and sculptural using a live blooming redbud branch. The symbolism of the egg and a tree branch that blooms even before forming leaves is a really great metaphor for birth and rebirth. And this post involves photographs of a few other tableaus aside from the tree, to create the feeling of springtime.
This tree evolved from fall of 2012 to summer of 2013, an especially trying time for me emotionally and professionally. But it finally came together and helped me relate this idea in a visually tangential way. From my post: “Recalling and projecting in my mind’s eye the flickering Super 8 movies my father made of our summer vacations, I can ponder the limitless possibilities in life and death. In my dreams, summer never really ends.”
TTT – For each tree you share very intimate details about the inspiration and emotions that surround the design. Most artists allow their art to make the statement wile guarding their private lives. Was it a conscious decision on your part to present both yourself and your art simultaneously?
DARRYL – Yes, it was always my intent to bring this sort of immediacy and resonance to what I create. It connects my story to what I see visually and gives a narrative to the images. The Decorated Tree (of Life) becomes a visceral written and visual expression of my life, which was the intent from the beginning. That parenthetical (of Life) has since been mostly dropped from the name of my blog. The only way I can create something raw and immediate is through the emotional processing of what I feel. The creation of my trees become a sort of self-therapy. Sharing this intimacy might be uncomfortable for some people, but it’s the only way I know to get the whole point of my blog across, which is creating beauty out of the good times, the chaotic times and the bad times—incongruous as they can be sometimes. It is truly a meditation in visual form. I had never really written formally before I started blogging, but throughout the process, I have become a much better writer. When I started pulling posts together for my book The Decorated Tree: A Modern Ritual (available online at Blurb), I realized I had created an amazingly cohesive visual metaphor for my life. The pieces of the puzzle came together as if I had planned it all out. Maybe within my chaotic process, there was order all along.
TTT – All the trees in your book and on your blog are tabletop trees. I know from reading your book you have had larger trees. What is your approach to decorating larger trees? What is your most memorable “full-size” tree?
DARRYL – When I first moved to Atlanta, my partner and I rented an awesome apartment in what used to be a grand old high school. Our apartment was one of the largest in the building and had 15-foot ceilings. We actually lived in a large converted classroom. Most every year we were there, we had a 15-foot live tree that took almost a week to decorate. These trees were fully lit and decorated like more traditional trees. Those trees were quite a spectacle for our neighbors in the building and our friends, but after doing a tree that size for at least 7 years, the more manageable tabletop tree became much more appealing. I don’t think I could ever decorate trees commercially. To me, trees should be an entirely personal reflection of whomever decorates them. I just happen to be one of the crazy ones that take it to a meditative and artistic level. But I also think that is what makes my trees unique.
TTT – Other than tree decorating, do you have any other artistic hobbies?
DARRYL – My blog and what has grown to surround it has become my only hobby. I used to paint a little, but outside of my regular job, my blog and book have become a full-time occupation. Each year another layer is added. Last year I was published in Holiday with Matthew Mead (an 8-page story), FOLK magazine (a 2-page book excerpt). This year I was published in Cooking with Paula Deen (before her racism scandal) and my first heirloom Alpine Feather Tree (sold at Home Traditions) is decorated in the pages of Matthew Mead Holiday All Through The House, available at newsstands everywhere and on Amazon.com.
TTT – Did you go to college specifically for any one type of artistic pursuit or career?
DARRYL – I started my college career in architecture, but quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for such a disciplined and exacting endeavor. A visit to a career counselor turned me in the direction of a degree in Visual Design at Auburn University, and I’ve never looked back. Creative direction, art direction, graphic design and photo styling have become a way of life for me. Hopefully soon I will be working full time in the publishing industry again so I can get back “in my element” at work.
DARRYL – Ann Pummel, who runs the site at www.hometraditions.com contacted me after seeing my blog and we became Facebook friends. Before long we were discussing designing a new tree for them. Working with her and Dennis has been a complete delight. Dennis is a true craftsman and brought an amazing elegance to the finished tree. I had only drawn out a section and plan for with some pretty exacting dimensions (the architect in me?). My idea for white-tipped branches and longer-than-usual trunk make it unique in the feather tree category. There are two versions of the tree offered on the site. The decorated tree that is in Matthew Mead’s publications out now might be quite a surprise to feather tree aficionados. I’ve taken a totally modern approach to an old tradition—there are only wry references to the usual Victorian tradition for the tree included in his magazine. But the bright color scheme of the ornaments is something unique and fresh to the genre.
TTT – How long does it usually take to create a tree design? How long does it take you to write about the inspiration behind each tree?
DARRYL – That’s impossible to say. Some trees form in my head over many months, some come together quite quickly. I’m always looking around for unique decorations and delight in finding colors and textures that work together compositionally. It’s always important to have a good range of sizes of ornaments. I use the rule of three in size and composition a lot. A friend from high school that has been reading my blog (you’d be surprised at how many people don’t read it, but just look at the pictures) told me just the other night, that my best posts are developed when I am the most emotional. I guess she’s right—good writing usually comes from trying and painful experiences. The trees I decorate for my blog are my catharsis in times like this. I can only hope that those who read my blog find the resonance.
TTT – You decorate trees for every season and seemingly every occasion. What is your favorite season/occasion?
DARRYL – Well that goes without saying. Christmas. That’s the granddaddy season for the very existence of a decorated tree!
TTT – What happens to the trees after they are completed?
DARRYL – I carefully photograph them with natural light and reflectors. I don’t have fancy photography equipment, so most of them are photographed with a very good Canon pocket digital camera. Some have been photographed by professional photographer friends of mine though. My blog is usually very topically close to the holiday it celebrates, so I live with the tree during the season for which it was created. That will have to change if this ever becomes a more commercial venture. I have a large storage space to store all of my decorations. But I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m going to have to sell or otherwise get rid of a lot of stuff soon. I have run out of room!
TTT – How do people react when they hear you design decorative trees?
DARRYL – I don’t think most people get what I’m doing until they actually see my blog. Then I think they are surprised at how much effort I put into it. But it is truly is a labor of love for me.
TTT – What artists do you identify with/look up to?
DARRYL – I can’t say I identify with one particular artist. Frida Kahlo is a favorite. I love a lot of photography. I guess you can say I see the artist behind everything— and I’m inspired by everything I see.
TTT – What question(s) would you ask other tree decorators or tree décor designers?
DARRYL – Have you seen my blog? LOL
Images courtesy of The Decorated Tree.
- The Decorated Tree Blog
- The Decorated Tree on Facebook
- The Decorated Tree on Pinterest
- The Decorated Tree on Twitter
- The Decorated Tree Book
- The Decorated Tree Alpine Feather Tree
Feather Christmas trees were first created in Germany in the late 1800s and are regarded as one of the first types of artificial Christmas trees. Germans were concerned with deforestation due to the harvest of Christmas trees.