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Friday, September 20, 2013

Floral Design

A floral design buffet.

Chinese floral design by Li Song,
11th century.
I've long been an advocate for elevating designers in virtually all fields to the rank of artists. I've written on various of these design fields too many times to list them all here. If you wish to pursue any of these areas, simply type "designer" into the search box at the top of this page. You'll get everything from architecture to tattoos. In discussing still-life painting, a major endeavor of painters within this genre involves painting flowers--florals, as art historian shorthand calls them. As pretty as such paintings may be, they are merely an inadequate record of the efforts of the floral designer (usually the artist, of course). Such floral designs date back at least as far at the 11th or 12th centuries as witnessed by Chinese painters. Egyptian art also suggests the presence of floral artists.

Floral designs aren't usually associated with
men. Perhaps this is a Father's Day Bouquet.
Don't confuse the floral designer's art with "floristry" (growing flowers), which is more science than art. And don't call such design artists "flower arrangers," though, as with virtually all design work, their task boils down to "arranging" various parts into a pleasing whole. Unlike other design artists, floral designers do not begin their designs on paper. Likewise, most designers don't usually "make" things, they simply direct others in doing so. To some extent, at a professional level, that may also be true of floral designers, however more often than not, the floral designer has a great deal in common with those artists who paint florals in that their work is fairly instinctive, designed "hands on," and is one-of-a-kind.
Floral designs are classified as
traditional, oriental, or modern.
This one is modern, one in which
negative space is as elemental
as the flowers themselves.

Unlike the work of most designers, the floral designer's creations are very often associated with holidays, which far outnumber designs for weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, combined. Christmas is important, but takes a backseat to Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Independence Day, even Halloween. Floral designers are at their best when they have such themes, which often spark creative genius. As with all design efforts, originality is important, so long as it's not too original. Floral design work is rather forgiving of errors (if it doesn't work, adjust, re-evaluate, or simply start over). Although flowers are expensive, they pale in comparison to the raw materials other designers employ--concrete, glass, steel, precious gems, furniture, fabrics, or sheet metal. As instinctive as floral design might be, the professional is, of course highly trained, either formally or informally, even though there also remains the element of trial and error cited above. And since the stakes are not as high, neither is the remuneration. However, since floral designers usually produce individual pieces by hand, they are far more in demand than many other design professionals.
Laura Dowling, White House chief floral designer caters to Mrs. Obama's
tastes for loose, informal floral designs.
Florists (those who grow and sell flowers) employ large numbers of floral designers, but so to do churches, hotels, restaurants, boutiques, millionaires, and at the top of the professional job postings, the U.S. Government. Long time White House floral designer, Nancy Clark, served for thirty-years under six presidents (Carter to Obama) and was witness to the various changes in floral decorating tastes over such a long period. In her book, My First Ladies, she also details the many individual floral tastes of the Presidents and First Ladies she served. Today, current White House floral designer, Laura Dowling reigns over a staff of three (plus up to a dozen volunteers) from a large flower shop on the ground floor under the North Portico. The shop features a brightly lit work area, offices, and large walk-in coolers for storing the uncut flowers and finished designs, as well as cans of diet cola and yogurt.

Former White House Chief Floral Designer, Nancy Clark, was a workaholic stickler for detail. Such traits are valuable when accommodating the changing tastes of six presidents and their wives over the course of thirty years.

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