Picture book maker and artist Stephish Liu calmed herself down during the pandemic with the help of aroma meditations. And in her latest series of illustrations, she wants viewers to feel the same calming and restorative effect offered by plants and fragrances.
We all turned to various means of escapism to keep ourselves sane during the pandemic, with baking banana bread and recording sea shanties barely scratching the surface of self-help survival strategies. But for Taiwanese illustrator Stephish Liu, it was the world of plants that helped to keep her worries at bay.
Now based in New York City, Stephish's childhood was spent with her mum, who owned a flower shop in Taipei, so perhaps it's no surprise that flora and fauna have come to dominate her work. And nowhere else is this influence more apparent than in Arogmagical, a series of illustrations she created during lockdown based on her experiences of meditating with the help of aromatic fragrances.
"I hope these illustrations can drive away people's loneliness, stress, and anxiety as it drove away mine," she tells Creative Boom. "By telling fantasy stories through my art, I want to share the healing methods and positive energies of aromatherapy which have helped me to understand my own mental states and adjust my emotions."
To achieve this goal, Stephish turns these healing powers into delightful little vignettes where flowers host a tiny garden party for bugs and fairies (complete with a miniature piano), a ballerina in a jewellery box gets lavished with lemon balm, and a troop of small snowmen carry away a cosy wooden hut on a chilly winter's evening.
As well as being pleasant to look at, Stephish has clearly done her homework and knows her stuff when it comes to plants. Each image is loaded with backstory, meaning that her plants and flowers are not used idly. Take In the Atrium of the Mountain, for example, where a rocky outcrop happily beams away. "This one is inspired by the combined essence of frankincense and pine," she explains.
"This is actually my favourite combo! As we breathe in a lungful of frankincense, we can smell the vast desert, the wadis, and the mild sunshine. Frankincense can easily make us feel grounded and calm. With the piney sparkles, we will feel so refreshing, and it will naturally straighten our back! I use it when I want to give my mind a deep clean. It's also helpful when I need inspiration."
Then there's Symphony of Metamorphosis, inspired by a vision Stephish had during a meditation session where she used jasmine essential oil. "There was a meadow in a white blooming flower," she reveals. "A pair of butterfly wings appear on the girl, giving her the courage to fly into the musical party. The red piano sitting inside was already waiting for her to play."
Meanwhile, the illustration where a group of girls dances in the woods took its lead from the essence of neroli and peppermint. "It has fresh, airy, grassy, lavender, and floral notes," she adds. "Mixed with a little mint, it creates an airy green space. It's great for the treatment of anxiety and depression."
The entire series can be seen on the Aromagical section of Stephish's website. She adds, "I believe that fragrances are a power from mother nature and can instantly change our moods. I decided to share this "aroma magic" with people by creating this series of illustrations."
When she's not creating personal projects like Aromagic and enjoying a spot of aromatic meditation, Stephish creates work that has been listed in the World Illustration Awards, Communication Awards, and 3x3 Illustration Annual.
"I have published a poetry picture book, Comma, and illustrated two Taiwanese children's books, Dream of Melody and Rooting," she adds. "On my off days, you can find me experimenting with new recipes, hiking, or doodling in different cafés."