Tucker Nichols Explores the Language of Empathy in “Flowers for Things I Don’t Know How to Say”

Have you ever been in a moment when you wanted to share an offering of sympathy, support, solidarity, or utter joy with someone but couldn’t find the right words? Unfortunately, Hallmark can’t make a card for every situation humans find themselves in. Artist Tucker Nichols helps us fill that gap with a unique and heartfelt approach to expressing what we don’t know how to say.

Nichols’ latest book, Flowers for Things I Don’t Know How to Say, is a poignant exploration of human connection and empathy in times of struggle. Drawing from personal experiences and a desire to offer solace to those facing hardship, Nichols embarked on a heartfelt journey culminating in a collection of flower paintings paired with words for the often small, sometimes overlooked moments that accompany hardship and grief. Things like the nurses who so graciously tell us what’s happening as a loved one lay on a hospital bed (one of our favorites).

Tucker shared that “putting work out into the world is never straightforward. To go from making something for myself to sharing it with the public (via the postal service, on Instagram, or in a book) can be tricky, but it’s also deeply satisfying in its own way. At the end of the day, I make things for myself and then try to find how they might land for someone else. The images with captions work when they resonate with someone else’s reality. I fundamentally believe that our sense of separateness is a myth, that we all have fears and hopes and frustrations and joys that overlap more than they don’t.”

In this book, an underlying idea is that even when life reveals what feels like an isolating experience almost beyond words, we might find some comfort in knowing that others have been here before.

Tucker Nichols

I make things for myself and then try to find how they might land for someone else. The images with captions work when they resonate with someone else’s reality.

Tucker Nichols

The inspiration for the project stemmed from Nichols’ own battle with illness and the realization that sometimes, despite our best intentions, words fail to convey the depth of our emotions. Reflecting on his journey to remission, Nichols found solace in the support of a close-knit group of loved ones, underscoring the importance of genuine connection during times of adversity.

Initially starting as a small gesture of kindness, Nichols began sending flower paintings to sick individuals on behalf of their loved ones. The project gained momentum when it was featured on national television, prompting requests from people around the world grappling with various challenges, from illness to grief to everyday struggles.

“I make flower paintings throughout the day—over breakfast, at my studio, at the dentist’s office. Drawing and painting regularly—some might say constantly—is how I stay sane, and I can get grumpy if I don’t make some art every day. I usually make the flower paintings without an idea of what text might accompany them unless there’s a news event that I want to speak to, like someone dying or another mass shooting. They find their way into piles in my studio, and when it’s time to make captions, I spread out a few and see what comes to mind.”

—Tucker Nichols

In Flowers for Things I Don’t Know How to Say, Nichols invites readers to contemplate the shared experiences that bind us together as human beings. Through his art, he reminds us that despite the complexities of life, we are never truly alone in our struggles. Each painting and accompanying caption serve as a reminder of humanity’s interconnectedness and the power of empathy to bridge the gaps between us.

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