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.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Crossing the Water

Forsythia, Cymbidium orchid and stones.
Focus on water, 'bridge arrangement'.

Water is essential for life and is also a very important element in ikebana. Water is life giving, refreshing and cooling, but also calming and creates a peaceful atmosphere.

There are many ways of emphasizing water in ikebana. The most important thing is to never add to much plant materials, and the use the flowers to point to the transparent character of the water. Transparency is a very important quality in Japanese aesthetics.

Arrangements that form a bridge over the water are ment to evoke a poetic notion of crossing into a different world.

To go with this bridge arrangement, I found two photos from a trip to the historic Japanese garden at The Huntington, Pasadena, a year ago. Enjoy!

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