Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autumn Glory - Simple Elegance

original Autumn Glory arrangement
Let's get back to the Autumn Glory arrangement (see 11/8/2012 Post).  Usually, if diligent, you can refresh your arrangement within 2 or 3 days.  Grab the original arrangement, lift it out of the vase, make new cuts to each stem, and put the whole arrangement back in the vase with fresh water mixed with flower preservative (remember to clean your vase well).

But, if you are too lazy or too buy and let a few more days go by, some or most of your flowers would have faded.  At this point, don't try to keep the original arrangement.  It's utterly frustrating and disappointing because as the plants aged, their shapes changed, some flowers shed their petals, seed pods shriveled, and leaves drooped.  Start a new arrangement with what is still fresh and you will be rewarded.  Also, it feels great to create something pretty out of a sad mess.  

original arrangement in the kitchen sink
Let's place the whole arrangement in the kitchen sink (make sure it's clean) and throw out everything that looks even a little spent.  Don't save anything that will look sad in a day or two; you will regret it. 

Now, let's create a new arrangement.  

my new interest - bittersweet vine

I could cut some more fresh Chrysanthemum, but because they were such a major part of the original arrangement, the new one won't look new if I used Chrysanthemum again (even just a few stems) - so Chrysanthemum is out.  A new focal point can be something from the original arrangement or something new: unusual looking leaves? Moss? Ferns? Fruits?

I love the colors of the Bittersweet berries and the curves of the vine, so I decided to make Bittersweet my new focal point. Because of the way the vine reaches up and curves to one side, I will need something heavy and short to balance it.  Our farm has a few beautiful Bradford Pear trees.  These trees have stunning white flowers in the Spring and interesting clusters of little ornamental pears in the Fall.  Like the Bittersweet, Bradford Pears have a very long vase life.

I am going to share with you another rule in flower arrangement and photography (both visual arts): always use odd numbers in your arrangements and photographs.  Start out with three objects; more than that would be a little challenging because you risk cluttering your arrangements.  You are probably wondering why I advocate the “odd composition" rule when I stressed earlier in the Autumn Glory Post (11/8/2012) that balance is key to a harmonious arrangement.  I see this rule very clearly in arrangements and photographs that I like.  I think three is actually a “balance” number because there is an object in the middle to give balance to the entire group.  This “odd composition” rule will make sense to you when you see the new arrangement I have made for you.

My “Odd Composition” Rule

Now that I have the Bittersweet and the Bradford Pears, I need another main element to meet my odd composition rule.  Because both the Bittersweet and the Bradford are fruits, I need something different to soften the circular shapes of the fruits and the berries, but it also has to stay within the orange/yellow/brown color scheme and hues.  Broccoli flowers offer me exactly what I need.  They are light yellow, dainty and playful.  

Now that I have my perfect trio, I need some greenery to soften it and to add texture and coolness to my arrangement (both the Bittersweet and the Bradford Pears have shed their leaves for the season and the Broccoli flowers don't have leaves).  I chose Euonymous Japonica.  These evergreen branches are erect with simple shiny green leaves that grow symmetrically along the branches and they have a long vase life.  (Are you thinking what I am thinking? - this new arrangement is going to last awhile!).  To be consistent with my odd composition rule, I need another green item (the trio plus two greeneries make five) - what is better than the Broccoli flowers' own seed pods?  And voila, I am ready to start.  Now, I have to decide what style I want to try.  Ikebana comes to mind immediately.

a perfect trio supported by two green elements -
bittersweet, bradford pears, broccoli flowers, broccoli seed pods, and euonymous  japonica

simple elegance

I love the simplicity and asymmetry in the Japanese art of Ikebana flower arrangement.  I have read a little about the Ikebana rules and techniques and love the philosophy behind the art, and I think the concepts are brilliant.  I try to incorporate those concepts and philosophy in my arrangements, although a true Ikebana artist would frown on my arrangements if I classified them as such.  At best, I think I can only claim that my arrangements are Ikebana-inspired.  If you are interested in learning more about this art, Ikebana International would be an excellent start.   Go to:

the "odd composition" rule again
Interestingly, the odd composition rule applies in Ikebana flower arrangement as well.  Here, the three important elements are Heaven, man, and earth.  The three balance one another and keep life harmonious.
the concept of space
If you notice, Japanese gardens and Ikebana arrangements appear to have a lot of space built in.  That is because empty spaces are very important.  We usually think of space as emptiness, but it also has shapes because it is defined by the elements around it, which give it a boundary and, therefore, shape.  Space also allows each element to stand out and reveals its own unique characteristics.  By doing that, space helps our eyes see similarities and contrasts among the surrounding elements more clearly, making it easier for us to see the harmony and balance in the asymmetrical arrangement.  Lack of space might lead to clutter and disharmony.
quiet contemplation
When you work on your Ikebana-inspired arrangement, you will notice that Ikebana requires total focus and silence.  It is not possible to make an Ikebana arrangement while chatting on the phone.  Attention to each individual flower, leaf, fruit, berry, and branch is needed to determine how and where to place them such that they balance one another.  This quiet contemplation is important to one's inner well-being. 
the vase
In an Ikebana arrangement, the vase plays a major role.  Before I begin my Ikebana-inspired arrangement, I have to decide whether the vase will be part of the arrangement and what role it will play.  Because I love the Bittersweet, the Bradford Pears and the Broccoli flowers, I decided to keep the vase neutral and unnoticeable.
balancing act
Remember, balance is key to a harmonious arrangement.  One easy way to "balance" your arrangement (particularly one that has an exaggerated branch reaching out to one side like the Bittersweet vine that I am using) is to actually balance it physically first.  Arrange your creation (remember the Ikebana odd composition rule and spacial concept) using a floral frog (I will explain what this is in the BTW section at the end of the blog), and if it doesn't tip over, you know you have a physically balanced arrangement.  Now, step back and focus on adjusting the balance to your visual satisfaction.  You might have to move things around or even remove or shorten them in order to add space and create balance.

adding space and visual balance dramatically enhances an arrangement

cluttered and off balanced

The colors and composition of this arrangement are nice, but the arrangement itself is too cluttered and visually off balanced!

In the arrangement above, the Bittersweet vine is too long and hangs too far off to the side.  Visually, this arrangement caused me to lean in the opposite direction.  Not good!  In addition, I over-did it with the pretty Broccoli flowers, the leaves and the seed pods.  I needed to open up space.  I shortened the Bittersweet, removed the clutter and added space.

after making room for space, the arrangement suddenly opens up, 
adding life and harmony
Autumn Glory - Ikebana-inspired

try it! 
let your creativity and sense of balance guide you
trust your judgment
you'll be pleased!


1) Always inspect and clean things you bring in from outside, including your garden, but especially from the woods; you don't want to bring bugs into your house.  Because I try to minimize the use of insecticide and pesticide (including organic), some flying insects find my Broccoli to be a hospitable home.  Before I bring the Broccoli stems into my house, I gently shake and spray the flowers with water and carefully inspect the stems for bugs.  Shaking the flowers also helps me get rid of petals that are dead or are on the verge of shedding.  This makes it easier for me to select the freshest stems for my arrangement.  Remember to put your cut flora in water mixed with flower preservative as soon as you can to prolong their lives.  The best time to cut flowers is in the early morning.

2) Flower frogs are devices that sit at the bottom of your vase to help keep flowers in place while you make your arrangement.  They are made of numerous materials, such as metal, pottery, and glass.  They come in many shapes and sizes.  Ikebana artists use very elaborate and beautiful flower frogs, usually with metal prongs or spikes.  Flower frogs are particularly important in arrangements that use shallow vases or dishes.  Flower frogs are widely available online and in craft stores.  Grab yourself a few.  You will love them because they are like having ten extra hands!

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