Floral design a fleeting, challenging art form

It is a three-dimensional creative art form that comes in many colors, shapes , and forms which, once used, can never be duplicated. In fact, the very transient nature of the medium is where the challenge lies.

Call it fresh floral dsigning or simply flower arranging.

To a knowledgeable, creative individual, it is the ability to use a fresh horticultural material as a means to interpret an abstract idea, a mood, or a feeling that tells a story.

Further, the creation may last for only a speck of time and enjoyed by the artist alone. But to put that talent and training to the ultimate test, the display is entered in a flower show where it will be judged.

If possible, it will be a standard show that is put on by an organization affiliated with the National Council of State Garden Clubs Inc. The judging is by people who have had long periods of education offered by the National Council of Flower Show Schools. They might also be supported by local artists or horticultural society experts at the discretion of the judges' chairman for the show.

The fact that only one person on each panel of three judges can be nonaccredited assures conformity to very high standards throughout every show in the US and many countries abroad -- wherever there are standard shows.

The coveted top awards allowed by the national council are the dreams of those who go beyond a bunch of flowers on the dining-room table.

Like any creative art form, flower arranging begins with basics, such as the dedicated study of the principles and elements of design as set forth by artists , both past and present, and which are adapted to floral design.

A study of the heritage that came to the US from the Orient, England, and France is important to the interpretation of those times. Martha Washington began the formal art of arranging flowers when she was first lady of the United States. The first garden clubs began in the Southeast and were concerned with horticulture as well as the gracious quality of life which was provided by the products of their magnificent gardens.

Leonardo da Vinci said: "The execution of an art is never as difficult as the devising." I don't think he ever tried to use living plant material as a medium.

I prefer Esther Hamel's quotation: "Creativity is the imagination made visible." She is a woman dedicated to the quality of flower shows and is the author of "Encylopedia of Judging and Exhibiting Floraculture and Flora-Artistry ," a book used for study and reference by many judges.

A psychological communication can be achieved by a choice of material. For instance, an iris leaf can be used vertically to indicate height and dignity; a zigzag twig may indicate restlessness. Spirals can indicate growth while horizontal lines might show man at rest.

Shapes also help tiwth the story. A squat, squarish grouping can be used to show weight. Circles or round forms, such as zinnias, are used to indicate unity or completion. Rectangular lines are masculine while curves are feminine.

As you can see, much of this is good common sense.

Communication through the use of color is known and used by every artist. Warm colors -- the yellows through the oranges and reds -- are advancing. They come right out to you and indicate joy and gaiety. At the other side of the color wheel, the greens and blues are restful and receding.

The low-key chromas and dark values indicate mystery and gloom. Tints are feminine; full chroma is masculine.

In any creative art the ultimate achievement is distinction. Esther Hamel says it is "aesthetic cimpatibility," such as crystal and silver. The opposite would be weathered wood and crystal in which there is no aesthetic compatibility.

Distinction is very important in any art form. Even the placement of furniture in a room, plants in a window, and the arrangement of pictures on a wall can be done with distinction.

Craftsmanship also must play its part in the floral design which is bent on achieving distinction. Knowing how to use the mechanics available makes the difference between a structurally sound, well-balanced design and one which chooses to fall apart just as the judging is about to begin. A judge makes his decision on what is seen and not what was or might have been.

The old saying about "tricks of the trade" is nothing more than a high level of achievement in handling the tools designed for the purpose; simply, keeping each piece of material in its proper place in the design.

The goal is always distinction, a creation of beauty, harmony, expression, simplicity, and order.

Give the floral designer credit when it is due. Also, give a critical eye to the floral piece delivered by your local florist. If the job is well done, say: "Thank you for a beautiful design."

If you can't accept it as a beautiful design, then take it apart and use the forms to make a floral design of your own.

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