I once came across a description of ikebana, that it was “an art that can expand your appreciation of beauty”.
And as I started practising this Japanese art of floral arranging, I discovered that not only does it offer me a creative outlet with flowers, it is also a very calming process.
Here in this article I wish to share my personal experience and observations so you in turn might also decide to experience the wonderful benefits of ikebana as a creative hobby.
IKEBANA AS A CREATIVE HOBBY
What is Ikebana?
Ikebana (sounds like ee-kay-baa-nuh) is a Japanese word translated to mean bringing life to flowers.
Ikebana goes beyond the act of simply placing flowers in a vase. Floral materials such as blossoms, branches, leaves and stems are arranged with thoughtful consideration and as an expression of individual creativity.
Line and form of plant materials are closely studied by the ikebanist in order to bring out the best qualities of the materials as he or she makes the arrangement.
The use of space is also given much thought and emphasis – both the space in which the arrangement will be placed as well as the space between different elements within an arrangement. This often results in flower arrangements that look rather minimalist.
Ikebana designs can range in size and composition; this could be a single flower being showcased in the most beautiful manner or a large striking structural composition of branches, blooms and foliage.
The end result can be deeply meaningful because one is “working with nature in an individual and imaginative form” – Sogetsu Ikebana NSW.
How Did Ikebana Start?
It is widely believed that ikebana started as simple flower offerings at altars when Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China as early as the 700s.
And interestingly it was the men who first made and displayed these arrangements. It wasn’t until 1831 that women participated in this art form. (Source)
In the beginning, the ikebana arrangements were stiff, formal and highly decorative. Later styles became freer, simpler and more natural.
The Different Schools of Ikebana
When I started looking into the possibility of learning ikebana, I hadn’t realised there are actually many different ikebana schools.
However I did observe that the arrangement styles would look quite varied without understanding why. And sometimes the designs I saw came across as difficult to learn or understand on my own. A bit like modern art appreciation lol!
It then all started to make sense when I found out there are in fact more than 3000 ikebana schools today! The largest and most popular include Ikenobo, Ohara, Sogetsu and Chiho.
And it was by chance that I stumbled on a Sogetsu Ikebana NSW brochure at the Annual Collectors Plant Fair held in Sydney. Upon a closer look I decided I really liked the arrangements pictured in the leaflet and was intrigued by the Sogetsu philosophy.
Hence my journey with Sogetsu Ikebana began when I started lessons with Sandy Marker in 2018.
Comparing Western Floristry and Ikebana
I had already completed my Certificate IV in Floristry at TAFE several years back when I first began my Sogetsu lessons.
Similarly in both curriculums, you begin by learning designs or patterns. For instance as a Western floristry student, you’d learn how to make spiral bouquets, posies, sheaths, base medium arrangements like symmetrical line arrangements, wreath designs and so on.
In Sogetsu Ikebana, we learn patterns of different styles. These patterns usually combine three main stems into different lengths and angles to create a variety of compositions.
I found these patterns to be extremely helpful as inspiration triggers especially on days when I get a creative mental block. Also the patterns are something I can always fall back on when I’m out of ideas.
When making ikebana we also tend to use less plant materials because of the focus on minimalism, yet still achieving visual impact. This has to do with the use of negative or “empty” space (I discuss this topic in greater detail in another post here).
So the Japanese style of flower arranging is great when we’re short on flowers or plant materials but still wanting to create with flowers.
This approach contrasts with the general Western style of arranging flowers where masses of flowers are used to create visual impact. And that space is to be filled up with a variety of flowers.
(You can also read more about the differences between Western and Japanese floral arrangements in this post.)
Another thing I discovered to my surprise was that some of the ikebana techniques practised in Sogetsu are almost on par with what I learned in my Cert IV year. On hindsight I feel my ikebana knowledge would have greatly helped me with my floristry studies, particularly in floral design work.
At a personal level, I find practising Sogetsu Ikebana gives me a sense of satisfaction and challenge. I’m able to apply my Western floristry knowledge and skills and have the additional opportunity to further my technical skills and expand my creativity through ikebana.
Perhaps in a sense this is what people mean when they say ikebana is deceptively simple. After all it’s been said it takes years for the Japanese to master their ikebana craft.
Nonetheless, you don’t need to be highly skilled to practise ikebana. I know many individuals without any formal floristry training who are able to create beautiful stylish ikebana arrangements.
“Sogetsu Ikebana can be created anytime, anywhere, by anyone in any part of the world, and with any kind of material.”
Ikebana as a Creative Hobby which Calms Your Mind as You Connect with Nature
But I think the most significant impact ikebana has had on me is that when I’m creating ikebana arrangements, I experience a calming of the mind.
When arranging flowers the Japanese way, it is a time to appreciate and connect with nature. When we as ikebanists study our plant material to see how best we can showcase its beauty, the practice leads us to become more calm and accepting of imperfections in nature and in life.
Where as a TAFE floristry student I’d always have to carefully observe and discard any bruised or bug-eaten flowers or leaves, in ikebana imperfections are tolerated and considered to be part of natural life. As one who is inclined toward perfectionism, I find this to be extremely liberating.
So I take joy in the process of making the arrangement as much as the end result.
Ikebana truly makes an excellent calming and relaxing activity.
How Do You Make Sogetsu Ikebana Arrangements?
The Foundation of All Sogetsu Style Variations
Two styles, Basic Upright and Basic Slanting, are the foundation of all variations. In most cases both these styles can be arranged in Moribana and Nageire.
Moribana is a style of arrangement where the materials are fixed into place using a kenzan, a heavy metal needle point holder in a low container.
Nageire arrangements are usually made in tall vases (without the use of kenzan).
Composition of an Ikebana Arrangement
The composition of an ikebana arrangement is generally framed by three main stems of various lengths placed at different angles.
Supporting stems add fullness to the arrangement as well as aid to discreetly hide the kenzan in a moribana arrangement from the viewer’s line of sight.
The lengths of stems are determined by the size of the container. I discuss this in greater detail in my FREE IKEBANA GUIDE where I help you get started on your first ikebana arrangement. Get it here.
Compared to Western style floral arrangements, ikebana arrangements are usually asymmetrical in visual balance.
There is also a preference to use an odd number of flowers which is considered to be lucky.
Line and form are accentuated in ikebana arrangements. Therefore parts of plant materials like leaves or plant offshoots are sometimes removed to showcase say the beauty of a flower or the line of a branch.
My favourite tip on floral placement:
Observe nature and see how plants grow in their natural environment. For instance, look at how the flowers of plants bloom – are they flowering upright, to the side of the plant, etc? I believe when you let nature inspire you, your flower arrangements will appear more natural and less contrived.
One more thing, in ikebana it’s also important to give the feeling of energy through the tips of your plant materials. One of the ways you can achieve this is by ensuring your plant material points upward rather than downward towards the tip.
What Tools Do You Need for Ikebana
As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, “Sogetsu Ikebana can be created anytime, anywhere, by anyone in any part of the world, and with any kind of material”.
The main tool you’ll need is a pair of sharp flower scissors (pruning scissors) or secateurs. There is of course the Japanese style ikebana scissors called hasami. While it’s nice to own a pair, you can still make your ikebana arrangement without them.
If you plan on purchasing a kenzan, I recommend getting the ‘sun-and-moon’ kenzan for its versatility. It can be used either as a single kenzan, or pulled apart and used separately. You can find kenzans for sale on Amazon and Etsy.
Otherwise a round kenzan (around 7 to 8 cm, or about 3 inches in diameter) would be a handy size to have in your tool kit.
PRO TIP: Get kenzans that are heavy in weight and preferably with their metal pins closer together.
As for vases or containers, you can use whatever vessels you have on hand as long as it’s not glass if you’re planning to use a kenzan. (The kenzan can shatter the glass. Plus an exposed kenzan is not a good look!)
You could even use a ceramic pie dish or cereal bowl for your ikebana arrangement – just as long as it has a flat surface to place the kenzan.
Where Can You Buy Vases for Ikebana?
There are many options when it comes to the types of vases or containers you can use for Sogetsu Ikebana.
But this can be pretty pricey when you’re just starting ikebana as a creative hobby. As such you could also use vases from home decor stores.
By the way, IKEA is one of my favourite places to hunt for vessels. Or you could even visit your local op shop! In particular look for vessels in interesting or unique shapes. (Note: some vases are for decorative purposes only and cannot hold water. So check the label if there’s one.)
How long do ikebana arrangements last?
Ikebana arrangements can last up to a week or more – it depends very much on the plant materials used.
Like all flower arrangements, you need to maintain freshness of the water in the vase or container. For example, try and replace the water every few days.
As much as possible, keep your ikebana arrangements from direct sunlight, heat sources or draughts.
You can also replace any “tired-looking” plant materials with fresh ones.
Could ikebana be your new creative hobby?
If you’re looking for a creative indoor activity that can help you calm the mind and relax, I would highly recommend ikebana.
While arranging flowers the ikebana way may need a little getting used to in the beginning as it is with learning any new skills, you’ll gradually build confidence and improve the more you practise.
Plus you end up with a stylish looking arrangement that beautifies your space each time you practise. You might even impress your family and friends with your unique ikebana.
Sogetsu Ikebana is about personal experience and expression. It’s about experiencing the beauty of plants and the joy of expressing ourselves creatively through our arrangements.
So, are you ready for ikebana as a creative hobby?
Why not start with my FREE IKEBANA GUIDE? I share my best tips, plus a basic ikebana pattern to get you going on your first Japanese style arrangement.
IKEBANA AS A CREATIVE HOBBY
TIME TO DE-STRESS WITH IKEBANA
Studies have shown that arranging with flowers can help you relax and reduce stressful feelings. Ikebana is a great way for you to get in touch with nature while being creative with flowers. No prior training required – just A LOVE OF FLOWERS!
In my FREE GUIDE I share EASY PRACTICAL STEPS (including visuals) to help you GET STARTED.
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