Creativity – In the Studio with Sarah Swinson Shell

Mar 3 2015

by Whitney Long

In this series on The Southern C, I like to introduce our readers to some of the great Southern creative minds we run across on our social network and at The Southern C Summits.  These individuals are the artists, designers, makers and doers that are shaping our landscape with their vision and ingenuity.  Go behind the scenes to get a glimpse into their studio, read what they are working on, discover the path that led them to this moment and find out what motivates and inspires their work and lives.

The subjects and their niche may vary but many share the paradoxical traits of creative individuals – they daydream, observe, ask big questions, people watch, seek new experiences, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, take risks and bounce back all while following their true passions.  We hope you will be inspired as we spotlight the creativity that abounds in our region.  According to Einstein, “Creativity is contagious” and this is one thing we are happy to spread.

This week we meet  the ever so talented Sarah Swinson Shell owner of Fern Studio in Columbia, SC.   At her floral and event design studio, Sarah creates custom designs with her nature-inspired garden flowers and seasonal blooms.  Much like an artist, her hands are her paintbrush as she works and manipulates the flowers combining colors, patterns, and sizes to create a visually stunning arrangement.   Featured in multiple national magazines, as well as recently being named as one of the nation’s top florists by Martha Stewart Weddings,  Sarah’s creative and unique work is bringing a new focus to the beauty of natural elements in flower arranging.   Sounds like a Southern creative to me!


Sarah Swinson Shell of Fern Studio

Describe your business and how you got started:
My company, Fern Studio, is a boutique floral design studio specializing in custom flowers for weddings and emphasizing nature-inspired, seasonal blooms. While I am based in Columbia, SC, I love to travel and have flowered weddings from California to D.C. I got started in flowers while living in Savannah, actually as an uninspired attorney. My office was in one of the most beautiful squares downtown and I would stare out the window and wish I could be outside.
My background is actually in studio art, so I knew I needed to get back to my roots. With lots of encouragement from a gardening-loving mama and a very supportive husband, I took a leap of faith, quit my job and signed up for a floral design class in New York. When I got back, I did some freelance work for a florist to get some experience. A few months later, a family friend convinced me to do the flowers for her wedding, giving me the confidence to go out on my own.

My Studio

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
The best part of my job is that nearly every day is different: visiting a venue with a bride, making a portrait bouquet, creating inspiration boards and proposals. When we have a wedding, things are a little more typical. Flowers usually arrive 2-3 days beforehand and that day is spent processing and getting every stem in water. The next day or two is for arranging centerpieces and bouquets, and then on the wedding day, it’s all set-up, building custom installations on site, and styling.

Michelle  John BMs

What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
I always gravitated towards creative fields, which is why it was a bit of a detour when I went to law school. When I was a senior art major and unsure of what I was going to do with my life, law school seemed like a responsible and direct path to success. It was an important few years of growing up for me, so while I don’t regret going, if I could give my younger self some advice, I would say not to be so afraid of not knowing the answer to this very question.

bridesmaids bouquets

How has your background influenced your work?
My art degree of course directly applies to floral design – composition, colors, design, everything. And the law degree? Well I can write my own contracts, so that’s a plus!


Where do you find inspiration and what motivates you?
These days I feel like it’s so easy to get overloaded with the visuals on social media that I find I have the clearest head when I close my computer and just step outside. The style of my flowers is nature-inspired so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Loving what I do and the feeling I get when I hand a bride her bouquet is the biggest motivation. Also, having Fern recently selected as one of the nation’s top florists by Martha Stewart Weddings is a huge honor and more than that: validation that I’ve found my calling.

Michelle  John

The rare day off – what do you do to unwind and leave it all behind?
My favorite thing to do is to spend time with my husband and two small children. They are my biggest fans and help me to recharge especially when I have a full plate.

cake and chandy

Favorite biz tool, app or resource?
I have a love-hate relationship with it, but Pinterest is probably the one I use the most. It’s of course a fantastic visual tool that can offer insight into a bride’s vision and style, but then it can give her unrealistic ideas (i.e. champagne taste on a beer budget).

Bridal Bouquet

Best business advice you ever received:
From day one, work hard to curate your brand’s image to appeal to your ideal client and it will attract them.

For more of Whitney’s Southern Creatives Q&A’s click the names below:

Barbara Cobb 

Andrea Gray Harper

Emily Bargeron

Katherine Mullins McDonald

Erin Gregory

Harrison Blackford

Amy Kinslow

Twine & Twig

Meredith Anne Sutton

 Whitney Wise Long, co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit, loves to connect with Southern entrepreneurs and learn more about their creative endeavors. This series – “In the Studio With” – offers her the perfect opportunity to do so!


Whitney Long View More Blog Posts from this Author

Whitney Long is co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit. Mama x 4, wife x 1. Entrepreneur, thinker, doer, writer, researcher, believer. Enjoys working alongside creative entrepreneurs to build community while supporting established and upcoming brands. Hobbies include travel, reading, bike rides and clever craft cocktails.

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