Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Inspirations and Diversions:
Come on, baby,
do the slow motion

I was reading a blog I check regularly, The Year in Pictures, when I came upon this pre-Valentine's day post, with this video. Immediately after watching, I was compelled to share it with you. The tension--how it builds! I can still feel the tightness in my chest. As The Year in Pictures writes, please enjoy, but not too much.

I was introduced to The Year in Pictures via another blog I read: The Sartorialist. Scott Schuman, the writer and photographer behind The Sartorialist, and James Danziger, the gallerist behind Danziger Projects and The Year in Pictures, gave impetus to my starting a blog.

It's easy to be critical in a judgmental way, and I understand that the training of an artist and creative person often leans in that direction as a means of developing the creative voice. (I'm guilty of that already! And I haven't even reached 10 posts!) But both Schuman and Danziger write in such a casual, warm and unassuming tone (especially remarkable since The Satorialist was named one of Time Magazine's Top 100 Design Influencers). And both blogs, to me, reveal a canny intelligence and sophistication with respect to their chosen topics, tempered by genuine curiosity and an appreciation of their subjects and themselves within the greater world. It's like learning to bake cookies with my Mom for the first time—to read their blogs is to believe, Hey, I can do that too, be it fashion, photography, writing or whatever, and that's a rare gift to be able to give.

I admit, it's something of a wet dream of mine to be photographed and blogged about by The Satorialist. Maybe Aaron and I will run into him when we visit New York.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Some like it hot. Pink.

The colour saturation in the last post's tulips really stayed with me, inspiring me to dedicate this post to several pink arrangements I've done.

Above, is a deep, deep pink magnolia that recently came in. I love how the blush of the petals contrasts with the yellow and green of the stigma, the central part of the flower. It's not so evident in this picture, but that stigma has dark lavender shading to it that adds a lot of tonal depth, and the petals in have a really subtle deep tangerine flush towards the outer edges of the petals—it's really quite lovely.

Here is an arrangement I put together recently. The vase is a 10" tall martini glass. Simple and elegant, a vessel like this works with many compositions of floral arrangement, and is best suited to more contemporary or modern styles. For this composition, I chose magnolia, burgundy roses, calla lilies, spider orchids, a variety of grasses, curly willow, phalaenopsis leaves, agave cactus and sedum.

Sometimes when putting together an arrangement, I'll get asked, "Which flower/leaf/branch do you start with?" The short answer is: it depends. When I'm working on a floral, I like to focus my thoughts on what is most important to me, as the designer, for that particular floral. Maybe I've just discovered a seductive rose and I'd like to show it off. Or maybe I'd like to create a floral with a lot of movement. Perhaps I'd like to make something ikebana inspired, so the quality of line will be my focus. I go with my instinct and begin with what feels the coolest, most beautiful, most joyful to begin with. Sometimes the first flower I pick up is the one I start with. Other times, I'll hold a few different ones up to the vase to see which one speaks to me.

In this case, I wanted two things when I started:
  1. To create a sexy arrangement with a lot of vibrancy and movement.
  2. To show off a really beautiful magnolia flower that was, in fact, the genesis for the arrangement's colour scheme.
I began by placing the calla lilies and the spider orchids at angles, arching away from the central axis implied by the martini stem, to determine the lines of the arrangement and establish that sense of movement, like a burst of colour ready to explode. Then, I placed the magnolia (and on the other side, the agave) in a central position, but facing at an angle, so as not to feel "plopped" in the middle of the arrangement. The magnolia and agave also give the eye a place to rest as it travels across the arc of the spider orchids to the complementary arc of the calla lilies. The grasses and phalaenopsis leaves went in next, filling in the visual space between the two arcs with colour contrast and contributing to that sense of explosion. Then, the roses were placed amidst the grasses, magnolia and agave. They create a nice textural contrast to the spikiness of all the other floral elements in the arrangement, and add a sense of inner depth and even mystery. The curly willow was a last minute addition. The arrangement needed something more directly vertical to reestablish the line of the martini stem.

The hot pinks and deep burgundies contribute most explicitly to the sexy look I was after. But from the fine spikiness of the grasses to the heavier spikiness of the agave, and the velvety softness of the roses to the smooth curvature of the magnolia, the range of textural contrasts adds a very sensuous "touch me" aspect.

Here is a view from the rear, showing the agave cactus in the centre, the roses on the left and the spider orchids on the right.

And now, a few more pink arrangements to round out tonight's post:

This one, in a large glass hurricane, features peonies, tulips, heliconia, lilies, magnolia, roses, gladiola and a leaf branch whose name escapes me at this moment. To hide the stems, I placed a smaller cylindrical vase on a block of foam inside the hurricane and stuffed the space between the vase and the hurricane with sheet moss.

Ah, roses. I have a weakness for domes of roses. Such a simple design, and yet so stunning. It was surprisingly difficult to pack all those stems into the tall vase. I'd started it as a hand-tie, adding roses and resting the bouquet on my work table as I progressed, but it eventually got too big to hold in one hand, and I had to stick what I had into the vase and content myself with coaxing more roses into the gaps. Preston Bailey would've worked with a dome of foam (rhyme!) on a platform or dish resting on top of the vase, with some crytals dangling underneath. When doing temporary displays, however, it's just not feasible to cut the stems of all those flowers.

This is an arrangement I put together as a proposal for a wedding centrepiece. The couple was getting married in the winter and wanted lots of reds and browns in the colour scheme. I felt the Japanese maple branches added a delicate, even lyrical quality to the arrangement, and give it a sense of size without adding much cost, or potentially obstructing the views of the guests. The feathery stuff in the lower left is amaranthus, and in the centre is a pink peony.

Here is another view of the arrangement, showing a peach peony and some deep pink (almost red) ranunculi.

I got a call from my friend Ryan today. It's a singular pleasure talking to him. He works in speech pathology, but got an English degree in his undergrad and he employs a refreshing precision in his language that inspires me to read and express myself more eloquently! It's easy, designing alone in the studio, to fall out of practice at conversation. I find myself saying "thingy" and "stuff" a bit too much these days. Perhaps this blog will help change that.

Let's add another one to the blog roll and sign off. Who wouldn't want to be Habitually Chic?

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Bigger Picture:
Zen and the art of tulipomania

I have pictures of the finished arrangements for the Government House ladies and gents washrooms, and I admit I'm very tempted to show them to you. And while I think most people who know me know that I am not the most patient person, and that I have trouble keeping surprises a surprise and not giving away presents or talking about presents before Christmas or birthdays, I will wait until after the weekend, when I plan to drop by and take pictures of the arrangements in situ (I'm brushing up on my language skills). For once (maybe twice) in my life I will muster up some resolve and keep my mouth shut and my fingers on other topics.

Like tulipieres!
A tulipiere is an ornate flower-holder that is usually made of hand-crafted pottery. They are typically constructed to accommodate one single flower stem per spout with a larger water reservoir base.
Tulipiere, Wikipedia

I carry a certain prejudice against these things…tulipieres—perhaps because I've yet to see many compelling arrangements in them. Perhaps because the idea of flower stems poking out of pre-ordained vase holes takes much of the arranging out of flower arrangement (and, by extension, the Joy), running counter to my personal ideas of floral design and creativity.

As fate would have it, an ebullient customer happened to be gesticulating in the vicinity of a tulipiere (of course, the biggest and most expensive one) and accidentally knocked the top off of it. I found the wreckage strewn across a countertop. Oh, the tulipomanity.

I stuck the surviving tiers of the tulipiere on my workbench and forgot about it for the rest of the day. As with many things, changing one’s mind takes time, and if I was to make an arrangement in it, perhaps I should give myself a day to get around how unattractive I (used to) think tulipieres are. (Where is this malice coming from?) That was Wednesday.

Yesterday (Thursday), after a very satisfying morning tidying up floral, I had some time and decided I would make an arrangement in that tulipiere. Most of our tulips are in the whites and greens, so I went with that as the basis for my colour scheme and threw in some purples as an accent. Let me rephrase that a bit more accurately: most of my florals tend to be very painterly -– a lot of analagous colour schemes and variation in tones, as opposed to complementary contrasts. With this project, I wanted something different, so I started with the whites and greens and then told myself, “Let’s pick something ugly,” and picked the clashiest tulip we had, which happened to be a really deep, vibrant purple. The tulip itself is quite beautiful. Let’s see if I can find a picture...

Sometimes deciding to make something ugly at the outset of a project can be enormously freeing creatively, because it gets you to re-examine your personal creative tastes and tendencies. At the same time, there’s no getting away from oneself, because I then introduced some painterly and chose a spray of tulips with blooms in pale lavender, cream and, to keep it ugly, a colour between pastel bile and chartreuse.

While I was working on the arrangement, it occurred to me that the design of a tulipiere would lend itself perfectly to showing off a flower collection, should I ever want one, and I smiled. Neat! And then I realised what it was – the source of my prejudice!
While fairly uncommon in modernity, during the Renaissance tulipieres were common pieces of decorative art that could often be found in the houses of European elite. After the advent of large-scale global trade in the 1600s, numerous flowers from Asia such as the tulip, crocus, and hyacinth became luxury items in Europe and these cut flowers remained an exotic novelty until the end of the 17th century. Large pyramid-shaped tulipieres were particularly ornate and were used as a status symbol to indicate the owner's wealth.
Tulipiere, Wikipedia

As a young entrepreneur, growing an event design business, I’ve been struggling with questions of success lately. How do I build my business? How big do I want it to grow? What kind of income do I hope to earn? How do I balance the long hours and hard work of starting a new business with a desire to relax and have fun with the people I love?

I think this tulipiere prejudice has something to do with wanting success. If I want success, then there must be some measure of envy of those who I perceive successful, as quantified by their ownership of or ready-and-willingness-to-acquire fast cars, big houses, hot women…and tulipieres. And if I want success, then I must also want the trappings of success, i.e. fast cars, big houses, hot women and tulipieres. But, and here’s the rub, to want something is akin to either not having it, perceiving oneself as separate from it, or both. And sometimes, when something is seen as not part of you, it’s also seen as bad -– if I can’t have it, it musn’t be good. Hence, the prejudice.

I was pricing the arrangement, when a customer walked up to inquire about it. We got to talking about tulipieres, and I showed her the selection we had in stock, commenting that we’ve had such an interest in tulipieres this Spring, and she mentioned that the Edmonton Journal had just run a piece on tulipieres (read Fast forward to Spring).

I suspect this current fascination with tulipieres and other luxury goods has something to do with the Recession. All the trade mags talk about how recession-minded consumers are looking for products with either a clear actual value (i.e. needs, bargains, and discount/thrift retailers like Value Village) or a strong perceived value (i.e. wants, luxury goods and boutique retailers like Louis Vuitton), whittling out middle road merch (explaining the closure of so many big box retailers). This might also explain the current trend for all things purple. In my inbox today, I received an email from MAC for the Viva Glam IV campaign, with lavender-lovely Fergie entreating prospective customers “to enter a new kind of dreamscape, to feel the ‘Yes, we can!’ of tomorrow...” It looks like purple is the new orange, in terms of colours symbolic of optimism.

Here is the arrangement in the tulipiere. I worked a little mojo in a photo editor so you can see it more clearly.

And here James, enjoying a pretend cup of tea at table with the tulipiere. He's so sweet. I'm working with him as my model for an upcoming series of paintings based on the work of John Singer Sargent.

I have to smile at recognising the evolution of my thinking over the course of this project. I’d started with a vase I hated and picked colours I didn’t like together, but because my objective was to create something beautiful and appealing, I had no choice but to change my mind about the vase and colour relationships. And in changing my mind, I learned something about myself and the way I see the world.

Never stop. Tulips.

Further reading:

Click here to find out how to handle a blossom worth 12 sheep and here for the other Dutch phenomenon (hint: it isn’t windmills).

Click here for an excerpt on tulipomania from Charles Mackay’s book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Memoir: A remembrance of birds
and mushrooms past

Not much time to write today, but I thought I'd share this photo that I took about 6 years ago.

For a really long time after I started making art and thinking about it as a career path, I chose not to hang my paintings drawings photographs whathaveyou in my living space. I thought of the things I made as sketches or maquettes or practice, and I figured that at some point (i.e. when I was finished school) I would be an artist, and at that point I would hang my work, or sell my work, or look at my work as art and thus worth putting up in my home. But with this picture...somehow I put all that mental talk aside and put it on my wall, by my bed, where I could wake up to it every morning. I just liked it. It spoke to me.

It took me nearly six months of looking at that picture every day to realise there was a bird in it. And then I remembered why I took the picture in the first place.

When I was a student at the U of A, I would sometimes go for long walks in the River Valley in between classes. (Anyone who lives, has lived, or has visited Edmonton knows that we have a spectacular park system smack in the middle of our city—in my opinion, reason enough to live here.) Most times, I would bring my camera and take pictures of random things that interested me

like pine cone piles

or fungus

or plants I don't know the name of.

And while with most pictures, I could take my time and experiment with composition, aperture, shutter settings, etc...with that bird, I knew I had pretty much just one shot and I'd either get it or I wouldn't. So I swung my camera up, focused, clicked, and not a second after my shutter closed, the bird flew away.

Did I get the shot? I didn't know. I was using a film-based SLR, so there was nothing to review—none of the instant gratification I take for granted with my 850 point and shoot. To add a little spice to this story, that picture was the last exposure on the day's roll, taken on impulse as I walked out of the valley and back to class. And of course, when the distractions of student life reared their not-so-little heads, I stopped taking pictures for a while and forgot about that day.

But now, looking at that bird (a woodpecker, I believe) and remembering, flashes of moments scatter like madeleine crumbs across ripples of time and memory. I recall how free I felt walking out of the valley that day—the joy thrill exhilaration of thousands of unrealised potentials laid out before me—and the solace I found in such remembrances of freedom during the very dark span of years amidst which this moment fell.

The response to this blog has been very positive, and I'm thankful for all of your support. I started this blog to share the small and big ways of living a creative life and I'm glad to hear you are enjoying my writing and pictures. It's also a nice surprise to find out some people are reading it that I didn't expect. Part of my original intention for today was to share some of the sources from which I find inspiration, but I suppose that can wait until tomorrow.

Well, maybe I can post just one: these ladies have a serious Desire to Inspire.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not quite 36 views
of a historic building

Well, I said I'd post photos of my previous projects for the Government of Alberta and here they are.

Three views of Mount Fuji. Wait...of the table arrangements in the dining room.

From top to bottom: front view, the arrangements in their natural habitat, and rear closeup.

Unable to find the quantity we needed of suitable containers, we opted to re-use the green plastic liners from the original arrangements (yay environment!). The liners are meant for dropping into a bowl or other vessel, so the staff can just plop these into some silver serving dishes they have many of. Margaret wanted the tones very light and fresh for the dining tables, so we kept to shades of white and cream with green accents. In these arrangements, I used rubrum lilies and buds, calla lilies, ranunculus, pittisporum (the dark green leaves with white variegated edges), pale green rose buds, cymbidium orchids, roses, viburnum (the clusters of small white flowers) and wired twigs.

I chose especially sturdy flowers since we knew the dining guests would be touching the arrangements often, and not always as carefully as their mothers would like.

These arrangements (of which, there are four) are intended for the buffet tables. Since Government House doesn't host events every day, in the meanwhile, they've been pressed into service in the tea lounge, the coat room and (as pictured here) on top of the grand piano in the music room.

For continuity, we kept all the floral from the table arrangements and added: green hydrangea, green vanda orchids (the label said phalenopsis, but the veining is more consistent with vanda), purple dendrobium orchids, pale green protea, another type of cream rose, larger calla lilies, a single red ladyslipper orchid as a little "surprise", and a ladyslipper orchid in pale green as another surprise.

You'll notice we amped up the colour a bit, allowing for more green tones, with hits of deep purple and burgundy.

This picture is a bit dark, but I wanted you to see this mirror in the music room.

The custom florals that I've been doing for Margaret and the Government of Alberta are part of her work as a member of a the Government House Foundation Board. The Board's mandate is "to advise on the preservation of the House as an historic building, inform the public of its architectural and historical development and solicit and receive any artifacts for display or use there." If you read the history of Government House, you'll know that it closed in 1938 and wasn't officially reopened to the public until 1971.
From 1938 to 1942, Government House remained vacant. In 1942, during World War II, it was leased to North West Airlines which had contracts for the delivery of aircraft to the United States government to support the construction of the Alaska Highway. From 1944 to 1950, it was used as a convalescent home for wounded veterans. Government House was purchased by the federal government's Department of Veterans' Affairs in 1951 and was operated as a home for disabled veterans. It was during the 1950's that the conservatory, which was once a part of Government House, was demolished.

During one of my visits to Government House, Margaret gave me a quick tour, mentioning that when the House closed, many of its furnishings and decorative objects were sold at auction, including this mirror. Thankfully, records were kept and as the house was being restored, calls were put out and photos were published. This mirror was found in the lobby of the Varscona Theatre—with a giant rainbow painted across it. The Board bought it back, restored it, and returned it to its rightful place, here, in the music room. It still has the original gilding.

This arrangement is the first one you see upon entering through the front doors. Finding the vase proved somewhat difficult, but we prevailed and decided on this one, which Margaret tells me is a similar shade of deep green to English Majolica. The pedestal base adds height, and keeps everything from feeling too heavy.

In this arrangement, again for continuity, we kept most of the floral from the other two arrangements and added camellia leaf branches, burgundy phalaenopsis orchids, cymbidium leaves (the green spiky leaves), and pale green phalaenopsis orchids.

The shape and composition is inspired by those seen in Dutch floral paintings, and florals like this one, densely packed and not too perfect, a reminder of the natural and ephemeral beauty of flowers. The subtle reference to floral history adds a certain presence too.

Above, the same arrangement as seen in the foyer (the entrance doors, not shown, are to the right).

You can see, here, how I allowed for an even greater depth and richness of tones than the dining table and buffet arrangements. This helped ground the arrangement within the large room and all that dark wood panelling. In the background, you can see another floral I did at the end of the hall.

(I apologise for the slightly blurry picture. It was rather dark in the hallway.)

Again, we opted for a depth and richness in tone to build on all that rich tone in the wood panelling, rather than the sharp contrast a white arrangement would've created.

Here, I used green hydrangea (though a different type than the foyer arrangement, for variety), cream roses and rose buds, lavender, burgundy phalenopsis orchids, burgundy ginger flowers, eucalyptus, magnolia leaves, orange and yellow calla lilies, pale green phalenopsis, ranunculus and deep brown twigs. The container was recycled from the arrangement that was here previously. It was some sort of heavy resin, finished to look like worn stone.

That's all for now. I just realised I'm missing some pictures of another arrangement I did for the buffet tables. I'll post them when I finish the florals for the ladies and gents bathrooms.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A modest {bathroom} proposal

I just sent off a proposal to Margaret for two floral arrangements for Government House. These will go in the ladies and gents washrooms. We'll see what she has to say about the proposal, but regardless, it's really rewarding working with her. It's not often that someone gets to be a part of the visual evolution of such a historic building.

I stopped by Government House on Friday to see the spaces where the arrangements will be going and spoke with Gino, the manager of the building. Apparently, people are so convinced the flowers are real, that they lean in to smell them. (He wants to find scented oil somewhere and place a few drops on the arrangements to really further the illusion.) The arrangements also get touched (and tugged at!) a lot. I've set aside a few extra calla lilies to replace ones that some mischievous government employee accidentally tore at.

I'll wait until I hear from Margaret before I post too many pictures of the upcoming project, but in the meantime, here are some pictures I took today for the proposal.

Each image shows the floral elements I'd like to use for a particular composition.

Top, from left to right: green jackfruit branch, burgundy leaf, purple heliconia, green ladyslipper orchid, purple vanilla grass, protea (side view), protea (top view), purple dendrobium orchid, cream rose.
Middle, from left to right: eucalyptus, curly willow (dried), fuchsia dendrobium orchid, dendrobium leaves, mondo grass.
Bottom, from left to right: purple vanilla grass, frost grass, phalenopsis leaves, berry calla lily, eggplant calla lily, green tiger cymbidium orchid, staghorn branch, cream vanda orchid, red bird of paradise, cream rose.

The green tiger cymbidium spike in the bottom picture is particularly amazing (and quite expensive). Aaron and I went to the annual orchid show two weeks ago here in Edmonton and this spike is very very much like the real thing.

The large cream protea in the middle image is also fantastic. The weight of the head is a surprise to some, and adds to the realism. When they first arrived in the store, I found them garish, but then I saw one in an arrangement (a real one!) on this year's Homes for the Holidays tour, and it was love. It's only shortcoming is that the manufacturer wired the petals to allow designers to form them, but whereas they sometimes hide the wires between a sandwich of petal layers, in this flower they are exposed. And since this flower tends to be arranged facing outward, the wires can be a bit obtrusive in finished arrangement. Still, the subtlety of the colouring and the texture of the petals more than makes up for exposed wires.

These images remind me of the visual glossaries I see in Martha Stewart Living Magazine (like this one, this one and this one). I've been reading Martha Stewart Living for over ten years now, and the glossaries hold a special place in my heart. They're always so beautifully laid out, and it's so useful when you know absolutely nothing about a particular subject (but are very curious, as I often am) to have a visual guide to help distinguish between this green edible weed with a white stringy bit and that green edible weed with a cream stringy bit, or this silk ribbon with a satiny swirly pattern and that silk ribbon with a shiny swirly pattern.

If you have a free weekend, drop by Government House and take a look around. The building is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from 11am to 4:30pm, and a tour guide can show you around at no cost. It's just south of the Royal Alberta Museum at 12845-102 Avenue. And afterwards you can visit the museum!

I'll post photos of the finished arrangements in the coming weeks. For images of other arrangements I created for Government House and the Government of Alberta, check back tomorrow.
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