A renowned designer shares his process for finding the perfect 
botanical materials and creating floral art.


Text and Floral Designs by Derek C. Woodruff,  aifd, pfci

Photography by Sarah Brown, Sarah Brown Photography,
Traverse City, Mich.


Every day, we floral designers are working in our field to convey emotion through flowers. Florists are artists, though not in the traditional sense of conveying a story or emotion through paint on canvas or chisel to stone. Instead, art is projected through fragrance, texture and life in the form of botanicals.

Unfortunately, many people look upon floral arrangements as commodities rather than pieces of art. But there are occasions when the artist gets to put on his or her creative hat and generate something fresh and different. It is often for a memorial service, hotel lobby, themed event or other daily opportunity that surfaces within any bustling flower shop. What about creating floral art just for fun? Fresh flowers do not come without a price tag or without a shelf life. So how does one enjoy the creation of floral art on a regular basis, and how can that translate to everyday design?

The Procurement

I want to combine elements that are both exciting and pleasing to the eye and make people ask,What is that? so I start my process at the procurement level. I look for unusual materials that I can combine with more affordable and commonly available product. My decisions are based on things like color palettes, textures and shelf life. I prefer materials that work well together naturally based on scale, shape and form so that when I am constructing a piece of art or a floral design, my materials do not compete with each other. Of course, procurement often depends on seasonal availability, quality and broker buying habits.








Understanding Materials

Making time to create art is no different than making time for other important things in your life. To become an artist, you must make time to practice art. Become familiar with your materials on a regular basis. Feel how the stems bend, move and shape. Do your flowers drink rapidly? Will your foliage dry out quickly? How will you put your materials together? Although it is generally good to have a plan when creating, you also must be open to change and willing to work with what the materials want to do naturally. In the design at left, because of my selected materials curvaceous nature, I decided to weave them into a whirl. Curly willow, when fresh, provides great movement and is flexible enough to bend and bind without breaking. I added orange glitter stems to the composition to interject an inorganic element as a juxtaposition to the design. The callas add visual strength with their thick bright green stems. The Galax leaves reflect the roundness of the sculpture on a smaller scale, giving the eyes places to land as they travel around the composition. The fragrant, yellow Acacia adds a softness and playful element as it naturally dangles. The tiny orange Asclepias flowers add an element of depth from the back of the structure, also creating interest within. Because any good piece of art needs a focal point, I created pools of color using strong red, orange and green tones in the form of Ranunculi and Anthuriums. To really provide a unique finish, I procured some very long-stemmed Gloriosas. The coloration and detail in these flowers add a playful movement to the finished piece of floral art.  


The Translation

After enjoying the process of creating this floral sculpture and savoring it for a brief period, it was time to put it to work. Using the same materials, and adding vases for a water source, I translated my sculpture into deliverable designs to be showcased at two locations. The flowers are separated by color and will feature a different color palette in each space. I love to design installations in multiples. Why have just one arrangement when you can separate the materials into three or more pieces that create a whole?  

Using my red-hued flowers and the curly willow, I created a striking trio above. Twisting and contorting the willow within the vase, and then adding water, replicates the structure from the original sculpture. From there, I trimmed the stems to the appropriate length based on the scale of the vases. Using the technique of hana-kubari (using natural materials to create structure), the stems are crisscrossed in the vases to create a design that is aesthetically pleasing and strong. Letting the flowers do what they want to do naturally lets them find a resting place within the arrangements that is organic and comfortable. The result is a tablescape that will be a conversation piece on a large common table in a fine-dining restaurant.  


The orange-clad composition above starts with the re-shaping of the orange glitter stems to fit inside the multiple tall vases. The glitter remains on the stems and reflects light even after water is added to the vessels. Practicing the principle of scale by trimming the stems to fit appropriately to the height of the vase is both right for the size of the arrangement and its relationship to the space where it will be installed. Using a technique called basing, the flat round Galax leaves are placed at the top of each vase. This creates a natural visual break between the stems in the vases and those coming out of the vases. Filling in with the orange Asclepias and the lily grass builds the structure that can hold the larger Ranunculus and Anthurium blooms. These massive flowers are added to the design at the end as a grand finishing feature. Together, these five individual pieces create one strong, dynamic installation for a bar at a popular sushi restaurant.

As showcased here, floral artists have the unique opportunity to practice their craft as well as utilize their materials to create beautiful and functional pieces of floral art for clients. Like the flowers we  work with, we all continue to grow and learn, which means adapting to our surroundings and being aware of opportunities placed before us. Remember to make time to practice the art of floral design and not just  be a florist. 

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