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.

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!

Thursday 30 April 2015

Two Groups in Two Ways

Goat Willow (Salix caprea), Eustoma, Spirea.
Kabuwake freestyle.

Did you ever notice that branches of Goat Willow can have a quite strong colour? I was so surprised by the shiny yellow and red branches coming up from the base of an old tree, that had been taken down. The shape of these young branches varies from straight to slightly bent and elegantly curved.

I used these branches together with some other spring materials to illustrate the difference between the basic style Variation no. 5 and Free style kabuwake. The word kabuwake, meaning 'separated groups', is used for Variation no. 5 as well. In both styles the materials are divided into to distinct groups. These kind of arrangements build on the traditions from very old Rikka arrangements, that were splitt in the middle with two shin (main) lines, or just two groups allowing water two flow in between them as a fish path.

Variation no. 5 moribana kabuwake is a basic style with fixed rules for the lengths and placements of the branches. The two groups represents an arrangement that have been taken apart and divided into two parts, that are incomplete without each other. The open water surface between the two groups is the most important feature of this arrangement. The kabuwake freestyle is a freestyle arrangement that has been developed from Variation no. 5. The expression is freer and the arrangement more vertical. The open space on the water surface continues up between the branches, and creates a powerful open space full of energy.

Goat Willow (Salix caprea), Eustoma, Spirea.
Variation no. 5, moribana.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Girl Power

Forsythia and Calla lily 'Flamingo'.
Without kenzan.

The typical flowers for Girl's day, or Hinamatsuri on March 3rd., are pink Peach blossoms and yellow Rape flowers (Brassica napus). Pretty and humble, they are symbolizing youthful beauty and fertility. This festival is also called Momo no sekku, the Peach festival. In less traditional arrangements any pink and yellow flowers are acceptable.

In this contemporary ikebana arrangement without kenzan, I wanted to move away from the expectation of being pretty and humble and rather focus on girl power. At the flower market I found a bunch of  unusual pink flamingo Calla lilies with powerful vertical lines - perfect for what I was aiming at.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Curved Lines in Basic Styles

Alder branches, Tulips, pine.
Variation no. 2, slanting moribana.

It's fun to play with curved lines in freestyle arrangements, but the energetic curves of springtime can also be expressed in basic styles, meaning styles with rules for how to place the branches in relation to each other and the vase.

In these two examples I've used the same branches and flowers as in one of the freestyle arrangements in my last blog post. Alder branches have naturally strong curves and also a nice variation in the texture of the material.

Alder branches, Tulips, pine.
Variation no. 8, combination arrangement.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Lines of Springtime

Curved lines.
Linden branches, Muscari grass, Hellebore.

In the Spring season it is still so much easier to see the  lines of tree branches, than when the leaves have sprung and the tree crowns turns into a mass of green. Emphasizing straight and curved lines is important in Sogetsu school freestyle arrangements. Curved lines in the Spring are showing the increasing energy in nature, starting with a discreet bend and erupting with full power as it is getting warmer. When straight and curved lines are combined they are arranged so that they accentuate each other.

Straight and curved lines.
Alder branches, Salix branches, Tulips, paper bag.

Friday 10 April 2015

The 49th Spring

Birch, Hydrangea, bamboo vases.

first spring morning
my 49th year
of blossoms

Haiku by Issa, 1811

Sunday 5 April 2015

Holiday Cinema - Revealing the Full Potential of Flowers

I found a really nice ikebana video that I want to share with you. If you can spare 30 minutes of your time, it well spent in my holiday cinema.

This video takes us to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan where traditions are handed down from generation to generation. You'll meet a nice mixture of people, all related to ikebana. At the Ikenobo school of ikebana you're welcomed by Yuki Ikenobo, headmaster designate, get a glimpse of the Ikenobo Research Institute and the remake of a huge Rikka arrangement made after a 400 years old description. You'll also meet a Kyoto pottery specializing in ikebana vases, an experienced  florist visiting a client to create ikebana at a tea house, a blacksmith making ikebana scissors, and finally Ryuho Sasaoka, the young third generation headmaster of Misho-Ryu Sasaoka.


Friday 3 April 2015

Happy Easter

Linden branches, Daffodil, Hellebore, Thuja.
Variation no.3 (fan style) slanting moribana.

Easter gives hope for tomorrow, as after the winter comes spring.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Guests for Easter

Japanese Fantail Willow, mini Gerbera, Blue Thuja.
Ukibana, floating arrangement.

Easter is a big holiday here in Scandinavia. It marks the beginning of spring after the long winter and is a very happy occasion. Traditionally, since it is also the end of a religious fasting period, Easter is associated with an abundance of food and a cheerfully decorated table. Yellow Daffodils and Birch branches with fresh spring leaves spreads joy and new energy.

Although Easter has nothing to do with ikebana, making Easter ikebana makes sense in this special context. I've made two Sogetsu style table top arrangements designed to welcome guests to the house. In this season anything yellow will be recognized as bearers of Happy Easter greetings.

Japanese Fantail Willow, mini Gerbera, Taxus.
Shikibana, spreading arrangement.

Tuesday 31 March 2015

Camille Henrot - ‘Is it possible to be revolutionary and like flowers?’

Have you also heard the statement "Ikebana is art!", and wondered what it really means?

From the advent of contemporary ikebana, and especially after World war 2, the discussion on ikebana has been influenced by a western understanding of art. From being a contemplative and highly regulated art form, ruled by tradition, it is now often understood as a means of self expression and individual creativity.

Recently this discussion has taken a new turn in western art, as ikebana works have been incorporated in concept art installations. Camille Henrot, a French artist based in New York, is maybe the most profiled exponent for this phenomenon. In the two year span of 2011-2013 she worked on the project "Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?", that was first exhibited in Paris. Last summer her work were on display at the New Museum in New York.

Following the idea that ikebana and books are related as bearers of language but also in their function to “console the soul”, Henrot created more than 100 arrangements in tribute to the books that make up her personal library. Some of the ikebana creations were then exhibited and photographed. In this process the books are subjected to "becoming flowers".

Henrot is a trained ikebana practitioner and have studied with the Sogetsu school of ikebana. Each of her ikebana is created to represent a literary work, following a principle of reinventing the coded language that decides the shape of the arrangement and the use of flowers in traditional ikebana. Reassigning traditional ikebana codes Henrot uses the Latin and common names of the flowers, the names designed for their commercial exploitation, their pharmacological power and sometimes even the history of their travels. For example, in the ikebana piece that pays homage to the book Caractère fétiche de la merchandise (The fetishistic nature of consumer goods) she uses a rose named “freedom” and three carnations.

The coded language in Henrot's work reminds me of the allegoric messages in old European paintings, where objects and flowers are added to the composition to tell a coded story. Even though flowers are used as message bearers in ikebana, this language in my experience is often more concerned with what is understood as the inner character of the plants, than of a direct representation of an idea that can be associated with a specific flower.

Seen separately, the ikebana works have clear references to contemporary ikebana and to iconic works by Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu school. Put together as an exhibition or a "library", the works must also be seen in relation to installation art and assemblages of natural materials and found objects.

So what happens to ikebana when it is no longer an artform in it self, but is incorporated in an installation? There are similarities between ikebana and installation art. For example, ikebana is always site-specific, or at least site-sensitive. But there are also differences. Concept art is preoccupied with an idea, a concept, whereas ikebana is much more starting with the materials themselves, working towards a conceptual expression.

Henrot's installations have been categorized as "ikebana inspired sculptures". Discussing them herself, she calls them "heterodox ikebana", deliberately based on certain naiveties and even misinterpretations of the fundamentals of ikebana: "I like to remove segments of culture in partial and unfinished manners in order to grow them in the fertilizer of my work".

The ikebana works by Camille Henrot are being recognized as art. But are they also still ikebana? If so, with their reassigned language code and close dependence on the concept of litteratur and libraries, they certainly offer a different answer to the question what ikebana can be today.

PS: If you wonder about the title "Is it possible to be revolutionary and like flowers?", it is borrowed from Leninism under Lenin, written by Marcel Liebman in 1973, and refers to flowers as being seductive: “You start by loving flowers and soon you want to live like a landowner, who, stretched out lazily in a hammock, in the midst of his magnificent garden, reads French novels and is waited on by obsequious footmen.”

Photo courtesy: © Camille Henrot / Photo. Fabrice Seixas Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Contrasting Branches

Apple branches, Macedonian pine, Forsythia.
Using branches only.

Sometimes things becomes clearer when you see them in relation to their opposite. The differences helps define what I'm not and who I am.

Putting together branches with different appearance and opposite characters helps making a stronger impression. Each of the branches stick out when contrasted with each other. They are not all the same. At this time of the year some are bare, some are evergreen and some are richly blossoming.

colorful birds
set free in the trees...

Issa, 1788

Tuesday 24 March 2015

An Unexpected Meeting

Flexible metal pipe, jute fibre, polyester rope, Calla lily 'Green Goddess'.

"I see trees differently after I started studying ikebana" - the words were my class mate's when we sat on the bus on the way to our ikebana teacher and watched the bare branches of the trees passing by outside the window. Our ikebana practice is full of unexpected meetings with all kinds of plant materials.

Studying with the Sogetsu school, we are also encouraged to see manmade materials with new eyes, integrating them in the ikebana creations. It makes me think about the differences between natural and manmade materials. I've come to the conclusion that everything we do, is reorganizing materials that surrounds us. We are ourselves part of nature, and all the things we make are basically, in one way or another made from nature. Therefore there isn't much difference between arranging living plant materials and plastic or metal.

Lead sheet, bast yarn, Calla lily 'Green Goddess', Sibirian dogwood.

When we arrived at our teachers studio, I was met by a big box filled with all kinds of odd objects and materials. I had brought a bunch of interesting Calla lilies named 'Green Goddess', perfect for a sculptural contemporary arrangement. My exercise that day was to approach the stuff in the box as if viewed for the first time. These three ikebana arrangements is what I came up with. Let the unexpected meeting inspire your creativity!

Felted wool, Calla lily 'Green Goddess', Sibirian dogwood, coloured jute, pine.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Of Mice and Flowers

Plastic building material, Aspidistra, Pincushion flower.
Curved, straight and radiating lines.

With the introduction of abstract freestyle ikebana came a strong trend, in the postwar period, of experimenting with different manmade materials in the compositions. The Sogetsu school and its founder Sofu Teshigahara were leading this development, focusing on the sculptural form and the shape and character of the materials.

In this kind of ikebana arrangement the manmade material plays the leading role. Adding too much naturalistic looking plant materials will only confuse the design. The material is used in a surprising way making it look unknown and different. This helps seeing things as if you have never seen them before.

If I am not mistaken the plastic material used in these two arrangements is a product preventing mice from getting inn behind the exterior wall cladding of houses.

Plastic building material, Aspidistra, Pincushion flower.
Curved lines. Two containers.

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