Trust the Process: Artist Emily Roy

The Plymouth State University junior discusses the sustainable wonder of her mushroom-shaped terrariums

The cross-section between art and nature is endlessly absorbing: The way tree bark creates an intricately textured pattern, the variegated architecture of so many species of insects, the blazing yellows and reds and purples of spring flowers. Emily Roy can’t get enough of it. “I’m just someone who sees mushrooms in everything,” Roy says. “That’s what I do with my art.”

Vegetation and fungi figure prominently into Roy’s creative process. As a junior art and psychology double-major at Plymouth State University, Roy dabbles in a variety of mediums — from oil painting and printmaking to sculpture and welding — but discovered a passion for vendable crafts in the last two years. As president of Plymouth State’s Student Art Collective, and hoping to get a master’s degree in art therapy, Roy is driven by the arts’ ability to foster community and connection. In her own work, she strives to capture the spontaneous joy of nature. The beauty of mushrooms — and the creativity in their diversity — tremendously inspire her. “Every mushroom I make is a different color combination or shape or size,” she says, “and what’s so cool about mycology is that there’s so many different types of mushrooms — tons. I hope people look at my stuff and smile.”

For Trust the Process, Roy discussed one of her most popular vendable pieces, her mushroom-shaped terrariums. They can be purchased at Baba Yaga in Littleton, TrulyMindful Wellness Shop in Gilford or directly through Roy at a craft fair. The following conversation has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

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Emily Roy’s mushroom terrariums

New Hampshire Magazine: When’d you first start making your mushroom terrariums? What’s the process like?
Emily Roy: I made my first mushroom terrarium probably less than two years ago. I try my best to use secondhand glassware, so I thrift most of the components of my terrariums. The bottom section of the mushroom — that bulbous section that has the plant inside of it — is a specific type of vase that’s usually used for bulb flowers, so that the bulb doesn’t sit in the water and the roots go into the vase part. People give them as a gift at Christmas and then use it once and give it to the thrift store because it’s a weird shape. I tend to have very good luck whenever I go secondhand shopping and I’ll find tons of those. And then the tops are just glass or crystal bowls. Glass bowls come in all different patterns and sizes and textures, so no two of my terrariums are the same — and if they are the same, I paint the inside of the glass bowl with acrylic paint. I flip the bowl upside-down and put it on top of the vase and that’s what makes the mushroom shape. So that’s what the actual terrarium is made out of: It’s a vase and a bowl. And then I customize the bowl by painting the inside of it. I also hand-insert small stones and moss and dirt and succulents — and I try to switch them up, I do all different types of succulents and different terrariums. And then I put the little cover back on and it’s a self-sustaining organism, basically, because the water evaporates and goes to the top of the bowl and comes back down, so you pretty much never have to water them. It’s fun to combine people’s love for plants with mushrooms, because it’s not like you can have a mushroom as a plant, so it’s fun to have a terrarium in the shape of a mushroom.

A lot of people think that I blow the glass or something — no (laughs). It’s all pretty much a recycled project. It’s basically a thrift flip if you think about it: I take already-existing items and turn them into something new, which is sustainable in multiple ways, because I’m reusing glassware and I’m also making a home for a plant. I almost feel like it makes it less impressive but that’s okay (laughs). I definitely like how sustainable the process is.

NHM: How long would you say it takes you to make a terrarium, all in all, from start to finish?
ER: Taking thrifting into consideration — because sometimes that’s the hardest part, just finding the components — maybe a couple of hours. Nothing too long. You have to paint the inside and let it dry and then put the stuff in and it’s done. I tend to be able to crank them out pretty quick. When I make one I usually make six, so I’ll do them in big groups so that I can get them out to wherever they’re being sold.

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Emily holding one of her terrariums mid-assembly

NHM: Do you go into the woods and look for different mosses you want to put in each terrarium?
ER: Yeah, I just use moss that grows in the forest, but I’m buying succulents from the store and putting them in there. And same with the stones, depending on what I want; I’ve done ones with crystal and stuff. Sometimes I buy the rock, sometimes I collect them. Depends.

NHM: What inspired you to make the terrariums? Where’d the idea come from?
ER: I think I was at the thrift store and I had a bowl and a vase and I was like, “Ha-ha, it’s a mushroom shape.” Like, I didn’t even buy them or anything — I’m just someone who sees mushrooms in everything because that’s what I do with my art. Later on I was thinking about it and I was like, “Huh, I wonder if I could put something in there and make a sculpture or something.” I also made this really large-scale sculpture of mushrooms that I welded and silicone-glued a bunch of the crystal bowls as the tops of the mushrooms and I was like, “Oh, that’s cool!” After that I started making smaller-scale ones that people could buy and that’s kind of how the terrariums came to be — because having an empty one is boring.

NHM: So you were like, “Let me fill it with some plant life.”
ER: “Figure out what I want to do with it.” Yeah. And I’m someone who loves plants, so that was fun.

NHM: What interests you about mushrooms and mycology and plants? Looking at your other work, it seems like mushrooms always play a big role in your art.
ER: In the same way that art raised me, I grew up being in the woods all the time. I just spent a lot of time in nature as a child — and I’m an only child, so even more so because I didn’t have anyone to play with. It was just me making fun out of nothing. I made a lot of fairy houses and whimsical little forts and stuff in the forest, so I’ve always felt like, just in general, nature things are very me. Then when I started making art, it was always lots of plants. The mushrooms…I’ve loved mushrooms forever; I’ve always thought mycology was so cool. I have pictures of myself at age 3 sitting on a shelf fungus on the side of a tree. Mushrooms are so cool.

ImageNHM: I know you mentioned you wanted to go into art therapy. Can you talk about the therapeutic quality of art and what that means to you?
ER: Art therapy uses art as a way to express emotions or even just to get your mind off of things. We use art to open up an opportunity to talk about one’s feelings or trauma or just to have a conversation. And with younger kids or certain people with disabilities, we use art to understand what they’re communicating to further be able to help them.

NHM: A lot of artists talk about how certain pieces are more about the process. It’s interesting the way the process is a huge part of a piece and the way it can calm your mind and clear your thoughts — the actual process of making something.
ER: There’s nothing I love more than just being alone in the studio and painting or printmaking by myself, just grinding out a big session. It’s therapeutic; you feel excited about what you’re doing, it’s very experimental. The process is almost more important than the product. For me, that depends, but there are definitely processes I appreciate so much for my own happiness and mental health.

NHM: What consistent themes do you think run through your art? What do you hope people take away from it?
ER: I think a lot of my art is very uplifting. I would say I’m a happy, positive person, so I feel like a lot of my art reflects that. I hope people look at my stuff and smile. I also think my art’s imperfect in a way because I don’t paint very meticulously; I tend to scribble a lot in my drawings. It’s a little bit messy and I think that’s what’s so fun about it. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

NHM: It seems like your process making the terrariums — each of them being one-of-a-kind — reflects those same ideals.
ER: I’ve definitely never made a terrarium that looks the same as another. It’s just fun. I could say the same about my mushroom earrings; every mushroom I make is a different color combination or shape or size, and what’s so cool about mycology is that there’s so many different types of mushrooms. Tons. Like thousands and thousands of species of mushrooms.

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Roy’s terrariums make use of acrylic-painted crystal bowls and thrifted flower vases.

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