Japanese floral art or ikebana is much more than just flower arranging. It is a philosophy and a lifestyle that makes you slow down, work on your personal growth and find inner peace. Ikebana is incredibly popular these days. FLEUR spoke to Ilse Beunen, author of the book ‘Inspiring Ikebana’.
Shortly after graduating as a landscape architect and getting married, Isle Beunen and her husband Ben Huybrechts decided to go to Japan. They intended to stay there for 18 months, but ended up staying in Japan for 11 years. She was there to learn from Suzuki Shigeichi, a landscape architect in Nagaoka (Japan). She learned more about the many aspects of Japanese culture, and the role ikebana plays in it. This sowed the seeds of her passion and her life’s work. Ilse was in demand around the world until all her assignments were cancelled because of the Corona virus. She started teaching online and wrote her first book ‘Inspiring Ikebana’ during the first lockdown.
‘Ikebana is an art form and a way of expressing yourself,’ says Ilse.
What do you mean by: ‘Ikebana looks simple, but nothing could be further from the truth’?
‘Creating something simple requires knowledge and expertise. You need experience to achieve simplicity. Ikebana is all about creating space. The empty space is just as important as the space your creation takes up. You want to create a balance between the empty and the filled space. There has to be a certain tension, especially when you are working with difficult contrasts such as a branch and a flower or a leaf and a flower. You have to create sufficient tension so the piece comes to life. It has to create that wow effect.’
Author Ilse Beunen
Is that what differentiates it from traditional floral art?
‘In traditional floral art, the idea is to use flowers as a focal point of the creation. The individual flower is not important, but the end result is. Getting to that result by manipulating the flowers and arranging them in a certain way is the essence of traditional floral arranging. With Ikebana, every branch and every flower you use must be at its best. You can only create a curved line with flexible materials. The interaction between yourself and the material is very important. You have to really feel it. A floral artist just doesn’t do that. Their starting point is quite different. First and foremost, Ikebana is a voyage of self-discovery.’
“You have to create sufficient tension so the piece comes to life. It has to create that wow effect.”
What should florists take away from Ikebana?
‘Flowers are quite expensive. You have to be very creative as a florist to remain affordable. Ikebana helps with this because you can do a lot with a minimal amount of material. You are trying to find a balance between empty and filled space. I notice that young people show more interest in nature and are trying to get reconnected with it. Where do flowers come from? How do they bloom and thrive? Why not create a mix of home–grown flowers and flowers from the wholesaler? Flowers are a transient, natural material. You have to have a certain feeling to work with them. The longing for nature became quite evident during the pandemic. Many people feel that need to be closer to nature. Ikebana can help them reconnect.’
According to your book, the creative process is more important than the final result. There is also a meditative aspect and a certain mindfulness to this art form. Could you elaborate a bit on this?
‘Ikebana is first and foremost something you do for yourself. It’s like creating a painting, doing pottery or when you practise sports. At that moment you are not thinking about anything else. There’s only you, a branch and your flower, the challenge it to come up with something original every time. This is how you develop your creativity with whatever material you have at hand. You can let your imagination run wild. The only limit to your creativity is you. Every branch reacts differently, each material is unique. That’s what makes ikebana so fascinating; it’s always something different.’
This is your second book on Ikebana. What does this book mean to you?
‘My first book “Exploring Ikebana” had to be a very accessible book. This was a very big milestone for me. I was given carte blanche to do my own thing for the second book. This book only features my very own creations and ideas. It has been very well received so far. I really want to bring ikebana into the mainstream and share my knowledge and ideas. It is still difficult to marry the two worlds of floral artist and ikebana. Floral artists can take some lessons in Ikebana. They learn to master the techniques by repeating their own creations and those of others. You keep doing that until it is second nature. Copying things is really a process of perfecting yourself. The point is that you master the technique first and to do your own thing afterwards. During the first 40 lessons, the configuration is set. You get to choose the flowers and the branches. It is important to create a field of tension and to develop a spatial feeling. It is very difficult to come up with your own creation until you have mastered that, but by keeping your nose to the grindstone and completing the course, then the sky is the limit,’ Ilse smiles. ‘You learn a lot of techniques and explore both worlds of floral design. After that you’ll be ready for anything.’
- Ilse Beunen
- Photography Ben Huybrechts
- Stichting Kunstboek
- € 29.95