Friday 27 August 2021

Playful Potato Sprouts

When coming back from my summer vacation I was surprised to find that the almond potatoes left in the refrigerator had grown beautiful purple sprouts while I was away - an opportunity that can't be missed! The sprouts gives the potatoes an interesting energy, and turn them into a perfect material for a contemporary ikebana arrangement.

Old almond potatoes with sprouts.
Ishu-ike free style mass arrangement with vegetables.
Ceramic vase by Sonja Gajic, at Veldreid keramikk.

Arranging fruit and vegetables in a morimono arrangement is an old Japanese tradition. In contemporary ikebana this traditional style has developed into a sculptural freestyle arrangement focusing on the shape, texture and color of the materials. Both in the traditional morimono and the contemporary freestyle, the fruits and vegetables can be combined with flowers to accentuate the character of the main materials.

The Sogetsu school teaches as an important principal not to use more flowers than what is needed to make a strong composition. Many flowers have a pretty look, that can confuse the presentation of a more sculptural material.

I made two variations of the arrangement, starting with an ishu-ike (using one material only) with the potatoes grouped into a mass on one side of the vase, and the sprouts stretching towards the other side, adding movement and creating interesting lines in the composition. 

Old almond potatoes with sprouts, Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

Although I like the idea of letting the potatoes manage on their own, focusing on the contrast between the two different qualities of the potatoes and the sprouts, I wanted to try to add a flower that could enhance the color of the sprouts. Normally I would go for just one or two single headed flowers, like purple Dahlias or  even orchids, that could work as an accent to the other materials. This time I wanted to try something a bit more naturalistic. My favorite balcony herb, an Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) plant with purple brushlike flowers, made a not too showy addition.


Friday 24 July 2020

Hanakubari Versus Sogetsu Ikebana

Dooryard dock (Rumex longifolius), Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) and Geranium (Pelargonium). 
Porcelain vase by Brigitte Schneider, Atelier Tokibana.

Any material can be used in contemporary ikebana. In this blog post I have used plant materials found by the roadside. Presenting everyday materials in unexpected ways, showing their inherent beauty, is central to the philosophy of ikebana. It gives you a refreshing experience of seeing the well known as though you see it for the first time.

Dooryard dock

The back side of a leave often has a rich texture. Looking closer at the Dooryard dock I also found that the  leaf edges has a beautiful curly finishing. This tiresome weed looks great when arranged to show it's best qualities. Showing the water surface in the arrangement has a cooling effect on hot summer days, and the green colour adds extra freshness.

Dooryard dock (Rumex longifolius), Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) and Geranium (Pelargonium). 
Porcelain vase by Brigitte Schneider, Atelier Tokibana.

The technique I have used in this arrangement is similar to hanakubari techniques, using plant materials as visible fixture as well as main materials in the arrangement. "Hanakubari" consists of two Japanese words meaning a flower holder. It's a popular category of contemporary Japanese flower arrangement, promoted by the Mami flower design school. In traditional ikebana the kubari is a twig used as fixture for the plant materials. The kubari fixture is not visible but keeps branches and flowers in their positions in the vase. In hanakubari flower arranging the fixture is an integrated and visible part of the design. The hanakubari kan be a twig, a leaf, or even a stone.

In Sogetsu ikebana the visible supporting materials would be considered a structure, that is not a fixture but rather a main feature of the arrangement. Although I'm not an expert in hanakubari technique I've made a hanakubari version of the same arrangement to explain the difference. In the hanakubari version the leaves are used as a fixture for the flowers (the materials). In the Sogetsu ikebana version the leaves are the main feature, kept in place by the knotweed stem. The red flowers works as an accent in a contrasting colour, hiding in-between the soft texture of the leaves. The flowers are used to accentuate the characteristics of the leaves.

Do you prefer the Sogetsu ikebana version or the hanakubari version? 

Hanakubari, Dooryard dock (Rumex longifolius), Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), Garden Parsnip (Pastinaca Sativa ssp. hortensis) and Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides).

Monday 15 June 2020

Fragrant Colour Study

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and double tulip. 
Early summer brings an abundance of flowering plants to enjoy. The joy and enthusiasm results in more luscious ikebana arrangements than in other seasons. One of my favorite early summer flower is the Lilac. With it's characteristic fragrance it is a classic garden tree. The Lilac grows wild in parts of Europe. As a garden tree it survives the winter even in the mountain areas of Sweden where I grew up.

In the Lilac arrangements in this blog post I have worked with colour compositions, combining different shades of pale purple Lilac with deeper purple in the glass containers. In the first arrangement I have also added a very flamboyant double tulip, bringing more nuances of red into the composition. Using a broader section of the colour wheel gives a more complex arrangement. The red also contrasts well with the green Lilac leaves since red and green are complentary colours (on opposite sides of the colour wheel). The use of complementary colours enhances the red even more and gives the arrangement a vibrant energy.

In this second arrangement I have used some left over branches for a more simplified and calming arrangement, using a more reduced section of the colour wheel and leaving out the contrast of complimentary colours.  This arrangement instead makes use of water surface to deepen the sense of colour and add freshness.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) 
Swedish glass bowl

The season for Lilac is short when the warm weather is exploding. It's already over for this time. Flowering trees truly is a joy of the moment, helping us stop up and enjoy life.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Mother and Child

Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spiraea arguta)
Vintage ikebana vase

The vase or container is always an important and integrated part of an ikebana arrangement. Almost anything can be used as a container, but some vases are especially designed for ikebana use. In the 1950s and 1960s the modern ikebana schools started designing freestyle containers with striking shapes. Today these containers are appreciated again as they go very well with midcentury modern designs.

Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu school of ikebana was inspired by the new contemporary art movement in Europe after WWII. This biomorph vase designed by Sofu was named "Komochi" (子持) meaning Mother with Child. A soft egg shaped form is repeated in a smaller offshoot with identical shape, forming an organic vessel with two openings. The glaze is a pale grayish blue. I've also seen this vase with a black glaze, and also with two twin offshoots from the larger egg shape making it a vase with three openings.

"Kosodate Kannon", Kanon and child.
Image credit The Walters Art Museum.
Mother and child is an iconic motive with strong connotations to religious art. Kannon, the Japanese bodhisattva of love and compassion, is sometimes depicted with a baby boy either in her arms or beside her. She also appeares as a goddess delivering babies to women praying for a child. The Madonna with child is very prevalent in Christian iconography, divided into many traditional subtypes. A medieval sculpture in a church from my home region in Sweden made a strong impact on me as a child. The sculpture depicts St. Anna with her daughter Virgin Mary on her lap, holding the child Jesus. The mother and child motive has relevance to us all on a personal level. We are never done with the love and tension between generations.

"Anna själv tredje", Mattmar church, Sweden.
Image credit: Lennart Karlsson/Historiska Museet. 

In my ikebana arrangement mother and child are covered in a cloud of white Spirea flowers, reflecting the floating moment when the foliage starts to beak in spring. I made this ikebana for Mothers day but haven't had time to post it until now.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Peaceful Joy - Hanami series 2

Sour cherry (Prunus cerasus), bamboo vase
Naturalistic freestyle

Traditional ikebana often combines one "tree material" and one "grass material". Tree materials are mostly branches, while grass materials are flowers and other plants growing from the ground. Combining the two kinds of plant material brings out their character since they are contrasting each other. As an exception to this rule blossoming branches are often arranged on their own as a single material arrangement, ishu-ike in Japanese.

This sour cherry has small white single flowers reflecting the light. Seeing blossoming trees always fills me with peaceful joy. The flowers are delicate and full of energy at the same time. Naked branches with gentle slanting movements.

To stay with the character of these branches I decided to arrange them in a naturalistic freestyle based on the basic slanting style. This is a style that invites us to experience that heaven is not only over us, but also all around us.

When you feel a peaceful joy, that's when you are near truth.


Saturday 11 April 2020

The Energy of Spring - Hanami series 1

European beech (Fagus sylvatica), Flowering cherry (Prunus ’Accolade’)
Bamboo shaped porcelain vase
Freestyle Nageire Sakura theme

Each season has its own energy. When buds on trees and flowers open a vigorous force is released. It is a time for inspired action. This is beautifully expressed in a quote by the Irish poet John O'Donohue: When one flower blooms, spring awakens everywhere. In contemporary ikebana the energy of spring is often expressed by the use of curved lines.

In this ikebana arrangement in a tall nageire vase, spring winds are allowed free expression in a composition of beech branches with buds. These curved lines are combined with a branch of Accolade flowering cherry, representing the calm epicenter of circular winds. What I wanted to catch in this design is the overwhelming experience of being in the here and now of a unique moment, expressed in the Japanese saying "Ichigo-Ichie" - an encounter that happens only once in a lifetime.

What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.

Kobayashi Issa

There are many kinds of cherry trees. The one used in this ikebana is Accolade cherry, a dreamy hybrid cherry with semi-double pink flowers that open from darker buds. It's one of the first cherries in bloom in the springtime.

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.

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