Thursday, 14 July 2016

Demo in Oslo Botanical Garden

Demonstrating naturally curved lines of Flowering onions, Allium.

Oslo botanical garden is one of the most beautiful parks of Oslo. I know the park quite well from guiding groups as a volunteer a few times every summer. The huge collection og plants collected from different parts of the world makes it an interesting place for a stroll. Changing with the seasons it is different every time I visit.

Some weeks ago I gave an ikebana demonstration in the park as part of the annual plant market day. The old maner house, which is probably the oldest still standing timber building of Oslo, gave the event a dignified historic setting.

Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata), paper fortune tellers, bamboo stick
Freestyle Nageire with ornamental flowers

One of the attractions of the garden this time of the year is the ornamental Handkerchief or Dove tree. This interesting tree with large white "flowers" hanging like handkerchiefs in the wind, was discovered in China by plant hunters in the late 1800s and brought to European parks as a fashionable novelty. I asked permission to cut a small branch at the back of the tree and decided to try it out in an abstract style nageire freestyle with paper fortune tellers as a complementing material. I've never seen Handkerchief tree in an ikebana arrangement, so it might be a first!

The theme of the demonstration was blooming tree branches and the joy of lavish spring flowers. In addition to fruit trees like Crab apple and Japanese quince, I also used other flowers with springtime connotations. Wisteria flowers always reminds me of the hair ornaments of the Maiko dancing the Miyako Odori spring dance, that I once saw in Kyoto. Wisteria is not very commonly grown in Norway, but they are to be seen in the Botanical garden. Peonies are often used to signalize spring in ikebana. They are also symbolizing spring season in Chinese and Japanese poetry and paintings. Peonies can be difficult to arrange since the flowers are usually big and heavy. Luckily I found a style of European peony with unusually small flowers that where a good size for a traditional slanting moribana arrangement.

European peony (Paeonia officinalis)

Wisteria sinensis

Monday, 13 June 2016

Stockholm: Bonsai & Ikebana - Living art of Japan

If you're in Stockholm this summer, don't miss out on the exhibition Bonsai and Ikebana - Living art of Japan, at Östasiatiska museet in Stockholm.

Get inspired by the growing power and aesthetics of living art from Japan. From June 17 encounter an evocative installation of ceramics, tools and the philosophy behind. From August 20, the exhibition is filled with Bonsai and Ikebana. See new arrangements emerge every Saturday at 13! Bonsai is the art of growing and shaping trees in containers. The art form arrived in Japan from China, where it is called penjing, meaning "potted scenery", or penzai, meaning "potted plant". Ikebana is the Japanese word for the art of arranging living flowers in different types of receptacles. Every part of the arrangement is significant. The emphasis on asymmetry and the void between the parts are fundamental.

In addition to the ikebana live sessions on Saturdays in August and September, there will also be ikebana demonstrations, an ikebana workshop for kids with teachers from the Sogetsu school, and an ikebana program for adults with the Ichiyo school.

The exhibition will run from 17 june to 2 October 2016. The ikebana related programs starts late August.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Back From the Tea Room

Todays chabana
Spirea, grass, Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus across), Oxeye (Leucanthemum vulgar)
Bamboo basket

It's been a year long break from blogging. Amongst other things I've been concentrating on tea ceremony studies. Now I'm finally back from the tea room with renewed inspiration.

Tea ceremony, Chanoyu, and ikebana have many things in common. Both are considered contemplative art forms with long traditions in the history of Japan. Both have been highly influenced by zen philosophy. Both are meditative practices, appreciated and enjoyed around the world.

A special style of flower arrangement called Chabana is used in the tea room to integrate nature and the seasons into the tea gathering. While tea practitioners tends to emphasize the differences between ikebana and chabana, ikebana practitioners usually considers chabana to be a special style or category of ikebana.

Chabana is truly an art of the moment. A chabana arrangement is spontaneous and natural. Ideally the flowers are harvested around the tea house right before the tea gathering. This gives the flowers a fresh and local quality. Delicate flowers that last only until the tea ceremony is over are preferred, at least in theory.

I found the flowers for todays chabana outside the tea room of my teacher Marius Frøisland. Some of the buttercups didn't soak water too well and started hanging their heads as the class came to an end. Quite ideal from a chabana point of view.

Marius is an experienced tea practitioner and runs the blog Chado - Musing in the pine and the podcast Tea life audio. The podcast also has a Facebook page.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Curved Lines, Dried Materials

Nageire, curved lines, dried and fresh materials.
Midelino sticks, jute fibre textile, Carnations.

I'm following up my last blog post, about arrangements to be viewed from all angels, with a somewhat similar design using dried materials instead of fresh branches.

This is a smaller sized arrangement with a more abstract Sogetsu ikebana look. My teacher suggested trying out working with Midelino sticks and pieces of fibre textile in a design with curved lines, and this was the result.

Midelino sticks is a flower design product made from rattan. It is without glaze and is very flexible, so it can be bent into many different shapes. If you cut the end pointed and use a sharp object to make a small hole somewhere on the stick you can fix the end of the stick quite firmly in this hole.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Four Faces

Linden tree, Hyacinth and Statice.
To be viewed from all angles.

Every flower has a face. One of the surprising things I discovered when starting doing ikebana is how much differens it makes if you make the mistake of placing a flower so that it is looking down instead of letting it face the sun. It you hold a flower diagonally in your hand and turn the stem with your fingers you will see what I mean. It may look symmetrical and even, but it is not - it has a face.

Traditionally, ikebana arrangements that are placed in the tokonoma alcove, are designed to face the viewer sitting in front of it. Contemporary ikebana can often be seen from all angles and can be placed in the middle of a room.

Making an arrangement so that it can be seen from all angles is an important exercise in Sogetsu ikebana. When walking around the arrangment the shape will change more than you expect. The asymmetric design makes it look very different depending on the angle you're watching from. But there should always be some material facing you no matter where you stand. That's why these arrangements are sometimes named arrangements with four faces.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Veggie Revolt

Freestyle with vegetables.
Rhubarb, dudhi gourd, turnip, potatoes.

Freestyle arrangements with fruit and vegetables is a popular style of Sogetsu ikebana. The idea is to make use of the shape, colour and texture of the fruit, when composing a modern, sculptural arrangement. It can be an arrangement with fruits only, or a combination of fruits, leaves and flowers.

This freestyle arrangement is a further development of the more traditional morimono style, which in the Sogetsu school is a basic style arrangement on a tray, with fruits or vegetables, roots and flowers, representing the shin, soe and hikae elements.

While fruit offerings have a long history, both in traditional Japanese culture and in Buddhism, the first morimono style ikebana appeared in the mid 18th century, as part of the litterati or bunjin movement. Japanese literati style was inspired by the Chinese, but since Japan was cut of from the outside world in this time, the influences were sparse and the Japanese bunjin came to develop a style of their own.

 Yanagisawa Kien, Images of January, May and September.
Hanging scrolls, 1750s.

The bunjin movement was a revolt against orthodoxy, with its increasing focus on techniques and details. Idealizing the sensibilities of Chinese scholars and painters, the intellectuals preferred a more informal, personal expression. The intellectual, or literati, should ideally be a master of all the core traditional arts - painting, calligraphy, and poetry. Mastering flower arrangement was also in their portfolio. Seeing themselves as renewers of Japanese culture, they developed a category of new freestyle arrangements that are known as bunjin-ike or bujinbana.

Being an informal style, bunjinbana is similar to nageire and to some extent to chabana, but it has a stronger focus on the beauty of the plant materials and a freer approach to form and combination of flowers and vase. While chabana breathes the austerity of the tea house, the bunjinbana expresses the taste of bunjin, the man of literature. It is characterized by personal expression, unorthodoxy, a casual character, and a new richness of color and literary nuance adopted from the Chinese art. Today the Ohara school is the strongest exponent of bunjin style ikebana.

The morimono style of the bunjin consisted of vegetables, flowers, fruits, sometimes roots, especially from Lotus plants, or rocks, placed on a plate, a basket, or even specially made dishes formed as banana leaves. The bunjinga painter Yanagisawa Kien (1703-1758) is especially well known for his paintings of arrangements with fruits, that has served as models for morimono.

Yanagisawa Kien, Orchid and Pears.
Hanging scroll, painted silk, H. 57.6 cm, W. 37.9 cm.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Masses - Naturalistic and Abstract

Mass, moribana, abstract freestyle.
Roses, Carnations, Pine.

Grouping materials together to form masses is one of the most commonly used design elements in contemporary ikebana. Masses can work as a contrast to lines and to open spaces. They also add weight to an arrangement, and works as a focus point that makes the over all impression peaceful.

When masses are used in abstract arrangements, it is crucial to arrange the materials in a distinct form. In Sogetsu ikebana masses are kept in geometrical forms, like circles, ovals or squares. This gives a contemporary look, and if you are successful a rather dramatic effect.

Mass and line, nageire, naturalistic freestyle.
Apple branch, Roses, Carnations.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sakura Poetry

Sweet cherry, Statice, Pine.
Variation no. 1, upright nageire.

go the wooden clogs...
cherry blossoms!

kara-kara to geta wo narashite sakura kana

Haiku by Issa 1811
(Translation by David G. Lanoue,

Sweet cherry, Hyacinth, Plastic, Pine.
Freestyle Kabuwake with unconventional materials.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Hanakubari Workshop

The last weekend Ikebana International Oslo Chapter organized a two days workshop on Hanakubari techniques. We were lucky to have Yasuko Oki to teach us, and the workshop was quickly filled up with 21 participants from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Yasuko worked for several years as a teacher, designer and manager at Mami flower design school while she still lived in Japan. Now she is a florist based in Oslo and runs her own courses.

Every ikebana practitioner knows what a kubari is - the sticks we put in vases to fix branches and flowers in position. The kubari sometimes peeks out over the rim of the vase, but it is always carefully hidden with plant materials.

Hanakubari is contemporary flower design techniques, pioneered by the Japanese flower artist Keita Kawasaki. The idea is to let the kubari out of the darkness of the vase, and give it a more prominent place as a visible structure to support flowers. The Mami flower design school has developed innovative techniques for using branches, twigs, leaves, fruits and stones for this purpose.

Photo: Yasuko Oki
We all had a great time trying out different techniques at the workshop. These are some of the arrangements I made using twigs, branches and leaves.

Using branches as kubari.
Sorbus branches, Trachelium and Fritillaria.

Clipping technique.
Bird cherry (Prunus padus), Bellflower and Larkspur..

Wreath technique.
Phormium leaves, twigs, Hypericum berries, Allium and Chrysanthemum.

Using leaves as kubari.
Branch, Massed Salal leaves, Trachelium and Veronica.

Floating technique.
Horsetail (Equisetum) and Larkspur..

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Last Sweet Cherry

Sweet cherry and Carnations.
Variation no. 4, slanting moribana.

There are many kinds of cherry trees. The Japanese count well over 300 different kinds of Sakura including wild ones and cultivars.

The cherry blossoms are said to remind us about the realities of human life. It can be beautiful in the moment, but it lasts for a short time only. That's why Sakura blossoming is associated with both beauty and melancholy. The tradition of gathering for parties under the cherry trees, in it's deepest  sense is about enjoying life while it lasts.

The sweet cherry grows wild in some parts of Scandinavia. It is also a sturdy garden tree. It blossoms a bit later than its more fancy and delicate sisters. Sweet cherry plays the leading part in these two ikebana arrangements. The first is evoking the abundance of blossoms on a tree at its peek, the second one alludes the melancholy of Sakura. This last arrangement is an exercise in disassembling the material as rearranging it so as to highlight the beauty of every part of the branches.

Sweet cherry.
Ishu-ike, Disassembling and rearranging materials.

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