Western vs Japanese Style Arrangements – Exploring 3 Key Differences

Ever wondered how one floral arrangement could be visually so different from another? Particularly, when you compare Western vs Japanese style arrangements, you’ll notice some differences. What makes these arrangements different?

3 key differences between Western and Japanese style flower arrangements are:

  • the visual appearance Western style arrangements are usually symmetrical whereas Japanese style arrangements asymmetrical
  • the emphasis the floral designer places on certain elements of floral design, notably line and space
  • the process of making the flower arrangement, particularly for Japanese style arrangements (also known as ikebana).
Western vs Japanese Style Arrangements

In May 2018, I started my personal journey as a Sogetsu ikebana student. Previously I had received two years of formal training in Western style floristry. But I was then looking to explore other design styles. And I found while there are similarities between Western and Japanese style (ikebana) arrangements, the approach towards designing and creating is different.

In this post, I will discuss:

  • 5 elements of floral design which are applied to both arrangement styles in varying degrees, and
  • 3 key differences between designing Western vs  Japanese style flower arrangements.

ELEMENTS OF FLORAL DESIGN

Regardless of arranging styles, floral designers generally consider the elements of floral design when designing. These elements of floral design are:

  • Line
  • Form
  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Space

Line

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Ikebana Style Arrangement
Western Style Arrangement
Western Style Arrangement

Firstly, line in floral design guides the eye through the flower arrangement. A line can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal for instance. So, one can place a floral stem in the direction that forms a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line.

There are also static or dynamic lines. For example branches or stems can be curved due to the natural make-up of the plant (like twisted willow or contorted hazel). Or the line direction can be a result of how the plant grows towards the direction of the sun.

Secondly line in floral design establishes the structural framework of the design. For instance, an arrangement can be horizontal (wide) and vertical (tall). Symmetrical or asymmetrical.

When deciding on either a horizontal or vertical arrangement, consider the space your arrangement will occupy as well as the impact you wish to achieve with the arrangement. For example a tall arrangement tends to create a grander visual impact compared to a horizontal one.

Form

Form in floral design relates to the contour of individual components as well as the overall arrangement. For example, a dahlia has a round form. Form can also refer to the width, height and depth of an arrangement.

Colour

Colour relates to how the eye responds to light waves. In floral design, it’s an element that can inspire different emotions in a viewer. For instance warm colours such as red, orange and yellow tend to look more forward, more dynamic. On the other hand, cool colours like blue, violet and green appear more receding. Cool colours create a more calm, relaxed feel.

For more on colours, you might be interested in our other post here.

Texture

Texture in floral design relates to the visual as well as actual feel of the materials. For example textures can be smooth like a rose petal or even velvety like dusty miller foliage.

You can also use textures to express different floral styles. For example smoother flowers and foliage like tulips, calla lilies, and philodendron leaves are great for modern, contemporary styles. Whereas textured flowers like dahlias, amaranths and delphiniums evoke a romantic feel.

Space

The fifth element of floral design is space

  • Solid space (positive space) – space occupied by the floral components, 
  • Negative space – space between components in an arrangement, and
  • The space in which the arrangement occupies.

Western vs Japanese style arrangements - Key Differences

As mentioned earlier there are some notable key differences when designing Western vs Japanese style arrangements. These include:

  • the visual aesthetics of the arrangements

Western style arrangements usually appear symmetrical whereas Japanese style arrangements asymmetrical.

  • the emphasis placed by the floral designer on certain elements of floral design, notably line and space

In Sogetsu ikebana the key elements are line, mass and colour. In most instances, it’s the focus on line that makes an arrangement appear distinctively Japanese-style.

Often in ikebana, the natural characteristics of the materials the artist uses guide the design of the flower arrangement. Therefore he or she closely observes the line and form of the materials before deciding how to incorporate them in the arrangement.

  • the process the designer goes through while creating the ikebana arrangement

In ikebana, the process of creation is as important (perhaps even more so for some) as the creation itself. Because while creating ikebana arrangements, we tune into harmony with nature and enter into a special state of being present in the moment. While the starting and ending points may be similar for both arranging styles, the process of reaching the final outcome is quite different.

Line in Western vs Japanese Style Arrangements

In western style arrangements, the designer often creates rhythm or movement using line. The floral designer does this by how he or she places the materials to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the design. The line may not be as pronounced compared to Japanese style arrangements.

In ikebana, line is a key element the artist pays close attention to.

Lines in an ikebana arrangement can be the natural line of branches or floral stems. Sometimes branches or stems are bent or “massaged” to manipulate the line direction.

Furthermore, excessive leaves are removed or branch off-shoots trimmed off to reveal the beauty of a line. It is a case where less is more

Also in ikebana, the artist uses the line of the container to accentuate the line of the arrangement. For example in some arrangements, the ikebana artist manipulates the stems of floral materials to replicate the line formed by the container. 

Space in Western vs Japanese Style Arrangements

Western and Japanese Style Arrangements
Negative Space between Floral Materials

The designer for western arrangements hand usually considers the amount of flowers used. He or she places floral materials closely together. The focus is more on filling spaces.

On the other hand the ikebana artist intentionally creates space by placing floral materials at various positions and angles. This is done so the viewer can appreciate the beauty of each material which has been thoughtfully placed in the arrangement.

Western and Japanese style arrangements
Still Waters that Create a Sense of Calmness

Such an arrangement can also create a sense of calmness. This is particularly effective when the arrangement is in a suiban (shallow container) where you can see the reflection or shadows of floral materials on the water.

In addition, one key feature of ikebana arrangements is the asymmetrical composition. This creates interest and tension within an arrangement. The intention is to create just enough empty space between the materials to still suggest connection.

Comparing Western and Japanese Style Arrangements

In contrast, most western arrangements are symmetrical in visual balance.

Western and Japanese style arrangements
Symmetry and Positive Space in Western Style Arrangement

Colour

Colour in western arrangement usually pertains to the colours of the florals used. In contrast, in ikebana, the colour of container is also carefully considered.

It can feature in the arrangement either as contrasting or monochromatic or in a single tonal range to the colour of the flowers.

Ikebana Arrangement emphasising colours
Contrasting Colours in an Ikebana Style Arrangement

So is there an arrangement style you prefer, and why? Let me know in the comments below.

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