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Variation #4 and Freestyle: Ikebana Lesson VII

Ikebana can be done anywhere by anyone. There are no national or ethnic boundaries. Like flowing water or drifting clouds, Ikebana spreads throughout the world… -Sofu Teshigahara

Teshigahara (1900-1977) was the first grand master, or Iemoto, of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. As discussed in earlier lessons, the Sogetsu school is considered by many to be the “most beautiful” style. Personal opinions aside, it is certainly the freest, most unrestricted style of Ikebana. The school was started in 1927 by Teshigahara in response to his desire to make Ikebana a vehicle for personal artistic expression. He was afraid traditional Ikebana would die out if it wasn’t adapted to modern times. Other schools are very very rigid, but the personal touch is allowed and celebrated in Sogetsu. Artistic expression evolves over generations. So, too, should Ikebana, if it is to be appreciated as an art. He said, “Just as musicians express themselves through the language of music, Ikebana artists must use the language of flowers… the spirit under which the Sogetsu School was born was to create Ikebana that matches actual life and to create something that deserves the name art.”

My own Sensei tells a story of how her older sister studies a more traditional style. She (Sensei) would watch every week as her sister’s teacher would come to the house and have her practice the exact same arrangement, with the exact same plants, in the exact same vessels, week after week after week for years. Growing up, my Sensei thought Ikebana was the most boring thing in the world! I can’t imagine what would have become of her had she not studied Sogetsu.

Ikebana is much more than just flower arranging, despite that being the literal translation of the word. It is art. As such it has to always be fresh, vital, dynamic. To me, the biggest part of its freshness and dynamic quality is in choosing my materials from the world around me. We have a fantastic source for cut flowers here in SF – the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart – which is a unique part of our city. It’s a wholesale block, a whole district unto itself, devoted to wholesale floristry operations. As students at CCSF we get a pass to the Flower Mart, but I actually have yet to take advantage of that. As I advance to the next book of study that may change, but so far I have had no desire or need to use imported materials in my arrangements. There is so much to choose from all around me! The few flowers I’ve incorporated that don’t grow around here have been selected from the “leftovers” deposited by classes earlier in the day. I much prefer to use what I can cut myself.

Diagram of Basic Upright, both front view and overhead view.

Diagram of Basic Upright, both front view and overhead view.

On with the lessons. In my last post I did a Cliff’s Notes review of the basics, but above is again the diagram for a basic upright arrangement. Variation #4 differs from basic in that Shin and Hikae are left in their original positions, but Soe is eliminated altogether. You could simply make a basic arrangement and pluck out the Soe, but really it’s a matter of the materials choosing the arrangement. In going with Variation #4, you’re assuming your Shin and Hikae have enough “oomph” to make Soe a distraction from the beauty of the overall.

My Upright Moribana Variation #4 used leaves and flowers from a yellow kangaroo paw with the branch of an acacia.

My Upright Moribana Variation #4 used leaves and flowers from a yellow kangaroo paw with the branch of an acacia.

For my Upright Nageire Variation #4 I used a mix of foxtail fern with purple statice and

For my Upright Nageire Variation #4 I used a mix of foxtail fern with purple statice and white yarrow.

In basic slanting, Shin and Soe trade places. So, again in Variation #4 we remove the Soe component, leaving Shin in the 45° spot and Hikae in its basic spot at 75°.

Slanting Moribana Variation #4 with yarrow and statice.

Slanting Moribana Variation #4 with yarrow and statice.

Slanting Nageire Variation #4. This is a bright green Leucadendron 'Safari Goldstrike' with a dracaena hybrid houseplant whose name I can't remember. The bulky plant materials meant I really needed to balance with a chunky container.

Slanting Nageire Variation #4. This is a bright green Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ with a dracaena hybrid houseplant whose name I can’t remember. The bulky plant materials meant I really needed to balance with a chunky container.

One step beyond the usual four arrangements this time was Hanging Nageire Variation #4. We hadn’t had a hanging style to practice yet, so this was completely new to me. Like in the previous #4 variations, there is no Soe. What makes it hanging, though is that Shin is moved from the 45° above the horizon position used in slanting style to 45° below the horizon. Naturally, this only works in Nageire. The dish used in Moribana is too low for Shin to hang down…

Hanging Nageire Variation #4. The brushy plant is a restio, and the flowers are pink dahlias highlighted with some touches of pink jasmine.

Hanging Nageire Variation #4. The brushy plant is a restio, and the flowers are pink dahlias highlighted with some touches of pink jasmine.

Then we got to get all freestyle! This was fun. Freestyle meant we could ignore the basic positions, but the arrangements are still inherently informed by our earlier lessons. Despite not having a clear Shin, Soe, and Hikae, the arrangement still has a balance. This was where we got to incorporate some real personal artistry to the practice, and show our own style. I am SO thrilled with how mine came out!

Freestyle! I went for big and bold form by creating a plane of leaves using Melianthus major. (It's a cool plant. The leaves smell of peanut butter when rubbed.) The pink touches come in from another favorite of mine, the Australian Silky Net Bush (Calothamnus villosus).

Freestyle! I went for big and bold form by creating a plane of leaves using Melianthus major. (It’s a cool prehistoric-looking plant. The leaves smell of peanut butter when rubbed.) The pink touches come in from another favorite of mine, the Australian Silky Net Bush (Calothamnus villosus).

Part of the lesson, too, is sketching your arrangement, but I’ll spare you the eyesore. We don’t get graded on quality of sketching, fortunately. I’m great at technical drawing, but less so at freeform. We have to sketch all of our midterm and finals arrangements, but I have yet to do anything that I’d consider presentable. 🙂

The next post will be on Variation #5. I only did two of the four before the semester ended, so I’ll revisit the Ikebana series later in January when I’ve done the next two lessons!

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