Photographs by John Rizzo
Walking into the Whole Foods Market in Port Chester, shoppers are immediately greeted by a burst of blooms. The floral department never fails to catch the eye.
A step beyond, though, the garden seems to continue.
For here, on a display rack, the flowers — sometimes boldly vivid, sometimes delicately quiet — bloom forever on a selection of art cards by Carol Pessin.
Choose from dozens of options and know you are not only selecting cards adorned with a rose here or bunch of tulips there, offering birthday greetings or congratulations.
Also know they are made just a few miles away, each one individually hand-painted by the White Plains artist who wants to share her work with as many people as possible.
“I figured everyone should be able to buy a piece of art,” she says of an attitude that has carried her through nearly three decades of creating her art cards.
CULTIVATING A CAREER
Pessin’s skylit studio tops her airy home in a quiet neighborhood. Throughout, paintings dot the walls. Some chairs, and even a few hardwood floors, are also artfully covered in flowers.
It’s not at all where Pessin saw herself back when she was a young girl, born in the Bronx, who would go on to live in Florida and Westchester.
While she always had an interest in — and affinity for — art, she never really pursued its creation. Long influenced by her uncle, the late New York-based artist Sidney Klein, Pessin began creating art later in life.
“It never came to me as a kid,” she says, though adding, “As a little kid, I couldn’t wait to be in a museum.”
And she did have an artistic flair.
“I would put on plaids and stripes and flowers and my mother said, ‘Take it off. It doesn’t go.’ I kept going back,” she says with a laugh.
It was no surprise Pessin gravitated toward fashion and went to the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising College in Manhattan with plans to become a buyer.
In time, she realized, however, it wasn’t for her. Rather than go with trends and current styles, she liked what she liked.
“I guess I was a hippie, and I didn’t know it. Now, I consider myself a ‘glitzy hippie,’” she says.
She would go on to marry and have two children, with that desire to create finally taking hold, so she began “stenciling, fabric painting, ‘Jackson Pollock-ing,’ it.”
“I had to find my medium. I took pastels. I took oils. I took drawing because I wanted to be an artist. …I wanted to create.”
Then, some 30 years ago, Pessin and her family were walking through SoHo and she felt pulled into a gallery.
“There was this Asian woman, and I said to her, ‘What is this?’ She said ‘Sumi-e,’” Pessin says.
“‘What is that?’” she wanted to know.
That was her introduction to the art of Japanese brush painting.
“Sumi-e is very dramatic and it’s exciting,” she says.
Its immediacy captivated her.
“When you do a stroke, you do not go back over it. You are one with the brush.”
TENDING HER WORK
Pessin has now long studied this art form, and it has affected her work and approach. One moment she’ll paint a bamboo scene, black, white and filled with nuance; the next moment, she’s back to another in her never-ending garden of flowers.
She found her medium.
“People are breathing, and I’m painting,” she says. “I have that need. It’s like breathing.”
Today, her cards are created using watercolors, acrylics or Sumi ink on recycled linen paper. She also does calligraphy and Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, a practice she says taught her all about composition. Her floral work also includes fabrics and totes, gift bags and custom work.
But when it comes to the cards, it’s a fast-paced creation that’s simply amazing to observe.
The designs, she says, are “in my head.”
“I’ll start using a color,” and it goes from there. “What colors do I feel like working with today?”
Within moments, she will bring a blank card to life, a bloom created in motions that seem like a film on fast forward.
On one card, she wonders if she should add a gold flourish to a flower before doing just that.
“We’re American. More is more, right?”
Her mind, she says, is always on her work.
“I get my inspiration from everything,” she says. “I’ll just pick it up.”
THE BUSINESS OF ART
“I started this business 27 years ago and I, you know, started doing everything on my own,” she says.
It was 14 years ago that her husband, Jeré D. Pessin — “a real entrepreneur” whose background included IBM, PepsiCo and the Air Force — joined her in the business and took over the sales and marketing, helping her create a widespread distribution network that continues today.
“Jeré and I used to call this our third child,” she says.
His support, she says, was both invaluable and there from the start.
“He said, ‘You love it. Do it. Everything will work out,’” she says. “He always believed in me.”
She began selling at flea markets, sharing the news every time she made a sale.
While she has had countless exhibitions of her paintings — showing and selling work at events and shows run by the National Audubon Society, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and The New York Botanical Garden over the years — Pessin finds the greeting cards her most steady outlet, and today her cards can be found in shops and boutiques throughout the region and beyond.
Of late, there is a somewhat bittersweet note to Pessin’s days. While her business continues to thrive, the success is mingled with a profound sense of loss of her husband, who died less than a year ago.
But, she says, his spirit remains with her and she feels his touch in all she does.
“I get gifts every single day from life.”
These days, she says her children help her with the business, as needed, another sign that she’s on the right path.
“I believe the universe will bring everything to you,” she says.
And that keeps Pessin going strong, as she fills her days and nights painting her cards, upward of 30,000 each year, one by one.
“I paint every single one. Nobody else does it.”
“Because I love it. I’m not doing this to be famous. I’m doing it because I’m loving it.”
For more, visit carolpessinartcards.com, call 914-328-0544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.