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The art of floral design: Tomas De Bruyne turns emotions into arrangements

Orchids and burned driftwood pieces demonstrate the striking impact of meshing male and female design elements

I have a handful of simple yet striking floral designs in my repertoire. They come courtesy of a demonstration for laypeople from Victoria florist Susan Ramsey of Ramsey and Ramsey Flower Merchants.

This week I was reminded how little I know about this art when I attended a lecture by Belgian floral designer Tomas De Bruyne presented as part of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s Art in Bloom series.  De Bruyne works in a different stratosphere – not only from me but also from most professional floral designers (Ramsey is a notable exception).

In De Bruyne’s realm, a bouquet might be made of long-stem white roses, woven together as a basket would be, with wispy white feathers glued to the blossoms (using Oasis’ cold glue, for the benefit of any ambitious creative folk reading this).

A De Bruyne centerpiece can be a dramatic combination of black driftwood (burned, painted, then wired in upright rows) and delicate white orchids (draped upon the driftwood over a tabletop pond featuring a bed of exotic-looking black and white stones and a delicate layer of duck weed).

I figure I just might be able to approximate one of De Bruyne’s designs (one where he skewered rolled-up leaves, wrapped them with decorative ribbon and set blossoms inside them in a shallow dish).  Mostly, though, I will aim to be inspired by his passion, commitment and creativity.

For your inspiration and floral designing edification I offer a summary of De Bruyne’s tips:

I figure I might be able to replicate this one. Maybe...

Respect the material

Pointing to a delicate branch extending from one end of what he calls “a walking forest,” De Bruyne notes that it is set a few centimeters above the plank upon which the display sits.

“This respects the nature of the plant. It doesn’t grow against the ground. This is more elegant.”

Respect the rules

This may be surprising coming from someone noted for his groundbreaking creativity but De Bruyne insists that proper technique and standard design rules are the foundation of any successful piece. For example, a table centerpiece must not use strongly scented flowers and it must be short enough to allow unimpeded conversation among the guests (“unless your mother-in-law is sitting across from you!” De Bruyne jokes).

Design like an architect
De Bruyne eschews flower foam “because it makes us lazy. We don’t need technique or knowledge.” He urges us to create “construction that is built in a way that is part of the arrangement.”

Examples in his designs include frameworks of bamboo woven together and glass vials wired or glued in plain sight.

A few carefully placed leaves link the three containers in this arrangement

Try different heights, combinations (De Bruyne uses the terms “male” and “female” to describe design elements), shapes (asymmetrical is more interesting) and colour.

“With colour, you can work with any on the colour wheel as long as you work with all the colours in between the two extremes [you’ve chosen],” De Bruyne says. “Green goes with everything.”

Consider the intended effect

De Bruyne exhorts us to think of the purpose of the arrangement – the message and the emotions we hope to evoke with it.
“Floral design is the art of transforming emotions into an arrangement.  It is how we communicate with flowers and through flowers.”

For those mortals who wish to create arrangements of De Bruyne’s caliber without summoning an equivalent amount of genius and know-how, he has written a series of step-by-step books with co-authors Per Benjamin and Max van de Sluis. These are on sale for $49 each in the lobby of the Victoria Truth Centre at 1201 Fort Street through April 2 whenever Art in Bloom events are taking place there. The books may also be ordered from De Bruyne’s website.

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