Friday 27 February 2015


Paper made from Mulberry bark, branch with moss, Hydrangea.

Handmade paper, Washi, has a long an proud history in Japan. Today fewer and fewer know the traditional craft of paper making. The paper is usually made from the inner bark of Paper mulberry (counted as a masculine element) or Oriental paperbush also known as Misumata (the female element). While paper made from Misumata has a shiny delicate quality, the paper made from Paper mulberry has a texture reminding of textile.

Paper is also used in ikebana arrangements, in traditional arrangements usually folded as origami. In contemporary ikebana the paper is treated as a material in its own right, emphasizing the special qualities and texture of the paper.

In the first arrangement in this posting I've used paper made from Mulberry bark. A shape is created by intertwining paper with different colours. This kind of paper is easy to shape and goes well with sculptural arrangements.

The second and third arrangement uses a machine made square paper with the center cut into stripes. The same paper is used first in a nageire vase and then in a modern moribana arrangement placed directly on a board.

Paper with cut stripes, Hydrangea, Ornithogalum, Aspidistra leaf.

Paper with cut stripes, Hydrangea, Aspidistra leaf.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Straight Lines - Naturalistic and Abstract

Salix and Eustoma.
Naturalistic freestyle, straight lines.

Ikebana materials are traditionally arranged in a naturalistic way, showing branches and flowers the way they are naturally growing. The lines of the materials is the most important aspect, determining how to arrange them.

The philosophy of ikebana distinguishes between the nature or outer appearance of plants, and their inner character. This inner character, shussho, of each plant is what the ikebana artist is trying to express. This is true in any style of ikebana. Therefore, bringing out the lines of a material is not only about showing its outer nature, but also and even more so, to express the inner character inherited in the lines.

The Sogetsu school is known for a more abstract style, introduced by the founder Sofu Teshigahara. This approach to ikebana is not based on the natural growth of the materials, but rather on the  abstract shapes and qualities of them, often analysed as geometric shapes. From a Sogetsu point of view, it can be argued that the abstract approach, seeing behind the nature of the plant, is a more effective way of expressing the shussho or inner character. That's also why Sogetsu students always start with the basic styles and naturalistic arranging, before moving on to creating abstract freestyle.

Lilac branch, Salix, Mimosa.
Abstract freestyle, straight lines.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

The In-Between

Life can be pretty crowded. To bring som clearness, enough space must be cleaned up to give room for the lines.

Lines are an important element in ikebana designs, from the oldest traditional styles to the contemporary. What is often forgotten is that it is equally important to put work into shaping the space in-between the lines. Open spaces are not empty but an element full of tension and energy.

Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu school once said:
"Ikebana is the art of space - the space between branches, the space between flowers and leaves and the space between masses. In other words, the space between the branches and flowers comes alive. This space is a plentiful void projecting tension and power."
Sibirian Dogwood, Amaryllis.
Showing lines at the base.

The arrangements in this blog post illustrates two lessons in the Sogetsu curriculum. The first exercise is showing lines at the base by allowing for a lot of open space and highlighting some lines that you find interesting. The space in-between the base and the top of the arrangement showcases the character of the material.

In the second arrangement, a quite simple design, the space between the containers is the most important aspect. By letting the space continue also between the materials the design keeps a strong energy.

Sibirian Dogwood, Ornamental Kale (Brassica), Bouvardia.
More than one container. Line and mass.

Monday 16 February 2015

Reaching for the Skies

Ornithogalum, Bear grass, Ornamental kale, Chrysanthemum.
Vertical arrangement. Naturalistic freestyle.

Ikebana arrangements are traditionally divided into two main categories: Arrangements with a strong upright growing form, and arrangements with a slanting more windswept design. These two groups are embodying different energies in plants as well as different ways of relating to the circumstances surrounding us.

The two categories of energy can also be expressed in freestyle ikebana. These two arrangements are examples of naturalistic designs stretching upwards, reaching for the skies.

Grass, Ornithogalum, Chrysanthemum, Bergenia leaf.
Vertical arrangement. Naturalistic freestyle.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Stay Green

Macedonian pine, Japanese ambrella pine, Scots pine, Juniper, Tuja and Taxus.
Moribana, naturalistic freestyle, only branch materials, mass and line.

Evergreen trees have traditionally had a strong position in ikebana. Their sturdy character and the fact that they stay green even in the hardest winter brings a message of hope and stamina. Working with evergreen materials, you'll find that you're capable of making a full ikebana arrangement with local materials even in the winter time. You'll probably also be surprised by the calming effect of green materials and the confidence they inspire. 

Macedonian pine, Norwegian Spruce cones.
Mass and line, focus on cones, horizontal arrangement.

One of the most important things to learn in ikebana is to study the materials well and identify the different shapes and expressions in plants. Since contemporary ikebana often have a more abstract expression there are many possibilities to show these inherent qualities in the materials by contrasting them with each other. For example this is often done by contrasting mass and lines in the composition.

Needle trees, like Pine, also goes well with dried branches and makes a very poetic contrast when used together with fresh flowers. The tender quality of flowers that attracts our minds today and are gone tomorrow, is totally different from the long-lasting energy of the Pine. Together they make an even stronger expression.

Painted driftwood, Freesia and Macedonian pine.
Mass and lines, dried and fresh materials.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Winter Tabletop Arrangement

Thuja and Freesia.
Moribana Horisontal style 6.
Front view.

Winter arrangements brings a certain atmosphere of peace and tranquility into the home. Flowers in pale, chilly colours and evergreen branch materials makes a nice understated contrast. When placed on a table the arrangement works best when it is not to high, so that it doesn't get in the way for a light conversation. I have made a horizontal arrangement where all the branches are placed at a low angel. In the Sogetsu curriculum this style is named Moribana horizontal style variation number 6.

Moribana Horisontal style 6.
Back view.

This kind of arrangement is meant to be seen from any position around the table. So it has to look good and have something interesting to it from all the angels. It mustn't be symmetrical or too pretty though. There needs to be a variation in the material so that every angel gives a different look at the landscape.

Moribana Horisontal style 6.
Side view.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Ikebana Installation - Imaginary Gardens

In my last blog post I shared some photos from Love Enqvist's solo exhibition Imaginary Gardens: Weeding and Watering in Varbergs Konsthall, Sweden.

One of the works is an ikebana installation where you're invited to sit down on a tatami mat for a moment of reflection or just enjoying the flowers. I've made two of the ikebana arrangements and assisted the artist on the rest of the work as an expert.

Ikebana installation, Love Enqvist with assistance from Lennart Persson.
Varbergs Konsthall January - April 2015.

Since the exhibition runs for almost three months I've used dried materials combined with a few long lasting Cymbidium orchids that can be easily exchanged when needed (probably no more than a couple of times during the exhibition). The arrangements builds on the dream of the ideal garden as something that is part of the actual gardening experience - a layer that lies behind as a longing.

Ikebana by Lennart Persson for Imaginary Gardens.
Dead wood, black painted Eucalyptus, dried Protea,
bleached Mitsumata, Cymbidium, bleached Fern.

Ikebana by Lennart Persson for Imaginary Gardens.
Lilac branch, Macedonian pine, Cymbidium.

In Love Enqvist's three arrangements the main focus is on his self made vases of different shapes and materials. The structure of the arrangements are based on the lines of branches and the  fleeting quality of blossoms.

Vased with painted plastic tube.
Willow and dried Hortensia.

Vase with old lamp glass and metal stand. Magnolia and Kris plant leaves.
Vase with coloured plastic and glass on concrete block. Quince, Wich hazel and Macedonian pine.

Photo: Svein G Josefsen

Monday 2 February 2015

Opening Photos - Imaginary Gardens

Love Enqvist's solo exhibition Imaginary Gardens: Weeding and Watering opened in Varbergs Konsthall, Sweden, this weekend. The exhibition is curated by Frida Cornell and will run until April 26th.

The exhibition consists of works built on the concept of the garden. The garden is seen as an actual place or room, but also as a more spiritual, alternativ escape or playground for the self. Enqvist draws on inspiration from many sources, the Swedish scientist and mystic Swedenborg, Japanese ikebana techniques and political activism were gardening becomes an active act of protest.

If you visit the exhibition you can make your own seed bomb, a lump of clay and soil with a seed inside, to through around the city as an act of guerrilla gardening.

One wall is filled with the slogan Resistiance is fertile, another has a mixed media work with pages from Swedenborg's diary from 1752. Another mixed media collage work resembles a Persian rug with a garden of paradise motive. In another part of the room you're invited to sit down on a tatami mat and enjoy an ikebana installation. Since this is the part of the exhibition that I have contributed to, I'll show you more pictures from this installation in my next blog post.

Foto: Svein G. Josefsen
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