Ongoing Studies - since the return of Sensei by Alexander Evans

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, my teacher had gone away for a little while earlier in the year and while she was away had set us some homework (see previous blog entry). Since her return there have been a number of classes that I attended and I was able to make some nice arrangements, a few of which have been added to the current gallery on this website. I thought it useful to add some here and talk about the brief for each one so as provide a fuller picture of the classes.

Above are some images of an exercise in creating a hanging arrangement that might go in the centre of a room or in an alcove or somewhere that might otherwise suit such a thing, over a table perhaps?.. There are a couple of considderations to think about for this kind of arrangement not the least of which is that it needs to be attractive from all sides, including from below! Another thing that I had to keep in mind was the container. Hanging containers are actually quite hard to find outside of Japan so I decided to make my own using a number of lengths of bamboo and some rattan cane. I didn't want the container to overwhelm the flower arrangement so I painted it green and silver so as to blend in more as it came closer to the top. I felt this was quite a successful container and was pleased with the result as well as the arrangement as a whole.

Another arrangement from class was to create something that hung on a wall using fresh material. The suitable ceramic containers my teacher happened to have on hand were a little on the small side and so she offered that if I'd like to use some bamboo from her garden we could make a container out of that. So on the spot we took her bamboo saw and set about cutting a suitable piece of bamboo. Making the hole was an interesting exercise in itself and we achieved a nice result using a small saw, a hammer and a very sharp florists knife. We made a small drill hole at the back of the top and it was ready to go, only needing the flowers to be arranged. I wanted to keep it quite simple and very natural looking so I didn't want to manipulate the materials too much. One chrysanthemum, a little viburnum and a couple of tendrils from a groundcover (I forget the name of it) were all that was needed to make a very soothing feeling arrangement. 

The above shows a relief work using dry and painted materials. Here I wanted to use a more interesting shape than just a square and so I created a hexagon out of 3mm craftwood. I also wanted to break up the surface a little by adding a couple of additional hexagons in different sizes and some wire mesh. Finally I painted the whole base using a textured paint, again to ensure that it didn't all feel too flat. My next step was adding the plant material which I had prepared in advance. Placing everything first to get a sense of the composition I them had to find appropriate ways to fix things in place.. I made a couple of small holes in the base and in some places used wire, other places were more suited to hot glue. It was very much a case of what was going to work best in the particular spot with the specific material. The final result is as you see above. I was very pleased with the outcome and I'd like to do this exercise again as I really enjoyed the different approach.


But wait there's more!!!

The next day of classes was also very exciting. Pictured above is my arrangement for the exercise "arrangement complimenting an artwork". I wanted to do something quite bold and caligraphic but at the time I didn't have any artwork that would really be suitable so I got out my ink set and began to paint. I liked the Kanji "kokoro" for the idea of heart/spirit/passion and created caligraphy using some dried shredded gymea lilly foliage that I had made into a brush. I liked the elegance of the idea, painting using old ikebana plant matter to create an artwork which I would then make a new ikebana arrangement to compliment. There was such symetry to that concept I felt I simply had to do it. Pleased with my artwork, the excited lines capturing the passion and excitement of the heart (in making ikebana) I set about creating my arrangement. Here I used the bark of the snow gum (eucalyptus) which I assembled with wire and wood glue, and combined it with red spider orchid. I feel the raw shapes of the bark really echoed the lines of the caligraphy in a raw and powerful, passionate way and almost created a 3D character! The red obviously reinforcing that idea of a passionate heart. My teacher and I were both very pleased with this arrangement and I re-created it again once I got home.

At the time of the class even though I had completed many of the lessons in book 5 I hadn't yet done a seasonal arrangement, but it being autumn at that point I thought I would be a good time to try that particular lesson. Using only materials from my teachers garden I created the above arrangement. I focussed on the lovely movement in the ornamental grape vine and also on the colours, predominantly keeping to colours that sit close to each other on the colour wheel with just a small touch of green for contrast. I was happy with the arrangement as was my teacher who enjoyed it in her home on the mantle shelf for several days.

Also on the day my teacher asked me to create a second seasonal arrangement but using only one kind of material. Luckily I had brought some lovely Japanese maple with me from home! This was a fun exercise and I really enjoyed the result.

The final exercise for the day was a revision of creating lines at the base. Here I used crab apple branch, red spider orchid and a small strip of New Zealand flax. A very satisfying end to an extremely productive day. 

Thanks for reading and more to come soon. 

End of the absense - getting back into the groove by Alexander Evans

It's been such a long time since I made an update here and so much has happened! A part of my absense was due to having some surgery, which all went very well (no need to worry it was not anything life threatening). In the lead up to the surgery there was a little bit of a break and then following the surgery there was a bit more of a break to help me have a good recovery, which is also going brilliantly. 

Back to the topic at hand though... Ikebana things! Lets first take a little look at what was happening at Raku in my lead up to being away.

I suspect that I had a few more arrangements in the restaurant but I'm a little bit hazy about it and these seem to be my latest photos. Fortunately another local Ikebana artist, Sachie Terasaki was kindly able to provide the restaurant with some lovely arrangements in my absense and from the 5th of July I'll be back into the swing of things with new arrangements in the restaurant so watch this space for more in the near future.

In other news...

I have been doing quite a few things at home as my teacher, the most excellent Sandra Marker had been away for a while leading a tour in Japan. Sadly I was not able to go along this time but I hope to make it for the next trip. Although Sandy being away didn't mean the rest of us students had time off!! Indeed Sandy set homework for us.

The first exercise was inspired by the work of Isamu Noguchi, an artist who works extensively in stone. He designed the foyer/exhibition space of the Sogetsu Headquarters building in Akasaka, Tokyo. The assignement was to feature stone in an arrangement. I made two arrangements, one in a natural environment which was lovely but difficult to photograph and another arrangement at home, see below. 

stone exercise.jpg

The following exercise was inspired by the work of Kengo Kuma a very famous architect from Japan whose work has gained worldwide acclaim. His work often features wood and utilises repeating patterns or geometric structures. In meeting the requirement I kept my piece quite small and simple.

Kengo Kuma exercise.jpg

A third exercise was inspired by the cityscapes of Japan. For this I did a miniature arrangement using containers that I had made which looked a bit like little buildings.

cityscape exercise.jpg

Finally a little more recently my teacher set another piece of homework even though she was no longer travelling in Japan. In this case, because it is the middle of winter here in the southern hemisphere, the brief was to create an arrangement that captured the essence of winter...  I feel that this was the most effective of my homework exercises and I was really happy with the result. 


As this post is getting a little bit long I shall make another entry shortly with more recent happenings. Stay tuned folks... more coming soon.

Ongoing Studies - Tsubo, direct fixing, miniatures & more - OH MY! by Alexander Evans

It's been a very busy few weeks but I finally have had a moment to edit my photos of class projects as well as a number of other excellent ikebana moments, but more about those in another blog post (coming soon). I've been hard at work and fitting in as many classes as I could manage before my awesome teacher headed off on a Japan adventure of her own. I would have loved to join her, along with some of my fellow students but alas circumstances didn't permit. Perhaps next year I will be able to go along with them. In the meantime I have tidied up my photos so that I can present them here. They are perhaps not in the exact order that they appear in the textbook however I've enjoyed mixing things up a little bit.

 Arrangement in a Tsubo container. (Container by Alexander Evans) This arrangement also makes use of the direct fixing technique.

Arrangement in a Tsubo container. (Container by Alexander Evans)
This arrangement also makes use of the direct fixing technique.

I quite liked working in a Tsubo container and really got a sense of the traditional feel to this way of working. In this instance I went for quite a "full" feel with the arrangement as I wanted to balance it against the strength of the golden ash branches and bulk of the container, whilst still giving my lovely big purple chrysanthemums a backdrop of green for contrast. I was really happy with the result though in hindsight I think I could have trimmed a little more of the green away. Even so, it remains a very nice arrangement.

 Arrangement showing movement - Blowing/sweeping. (Container by Alexander Evans.)

Arrangement showing movement - Blowing/sweeping. (Container by Alexander Evans.)

In the above arrangement I was lucky to find a dried eucalypt branch that had been bent and curved in the strong winds where I live. It was so striking and captured a sense of movement in such a direct and poetic way, justy looking at it I could feel a sense of the wind. I wanted to retain that feeling of lightness and movement of the air and so I felt spraying it silver would help reveal and enhance its character. I combined it with some very simple flowers and foliage so as to allow the branch to be the main feature.  

 Arrangement showing Movement - rising. 

Arrangement showing Movement - rising. 

I so enjoyed the chance to use my golden ash that I had to make a second arrangement showing movement. In the above example it is paired with echinacea which I used to create a mass.  

 Freestyle arrangement using only one type of material - fun exercise

Freestyle arrangement using only one type of material - fun exercise

The above shows an exercise in which my teacher handed me one or two gymea lily leaves and instructed me to make an arrangement from them within a short time limit. I was really taken with the idea of creating movement but also I wanted to bring out something of the wildness of the forces of nature in this usually quite rigid material. So by shredding, cutting and knotting I created mass and a couple of different kinds of lines that with the container kind of evoke a storm swept reed bed. I was super happy with this result. It felt very natural and at the same time very dramatic!

 Celebration arrangement using paper fans - Fan Festival!

Celebration arrangement using paper fans - Fan Festival!

 Celebratory arrangement - family reunion

Celebratory arrangement - family reunion

Celebratory arrangements are such a pleasure to make. They solidfy the happy feelings of the coming occasion and create a wonderful welcome for guests. A very enjoyable couple of exercises.

 A microcosm of miniatures

A microcosm of miniatures

Miniatures in Sogetsu Ikebana present quite a unique challenge but one that I really wanted to embrace. I was very fortunate and my father was able to use his lathe to turn these small containers for me from two different kinds of timber, Australian Silky Oak and Rose Alder. He did such a wonderful job on them that I felt my arrangement needed to be very special but still encompass the simplicity and elegance required in miniature arrangement. I feel this one was very successful as it is really arresting and gives a viewer pause to reflect on it and just linger there as they take it in.


Raku Happenings - continued by Alexander Evans

As always my works at Raku continue and the restaurant have been pleased with my arrangements each week. Here are some of the most recent works.

 This arrangement, when in the restaurant was a little difficult to photograph and so I made sure to photograph it at home instead.   

This arrangement, when in the restaurant was a little difficult to photograph and so I made sure to photograph it at home instead.


Ongoing studies - Suiban no kenzan & Floor position by Alexander Evans

My first class this fortnight was a challenge, but a pleasant one. I quite enjoy making arrangements in Suiban without kenzan even though this is one of the more difficult arrangement styles to become proficient in... Presently it is the first few days of Autumn here in Australia but the feeling in the garden is still very much of the summer heat. With this in mind I wanted to create a sense of shade over the water in the suiban to capture stillness and coolness hence I chose to use a prostrate form of leptospernum as the branches gave a nice structure to work with as well as retaining quite a canopy of small fluffy grey/green leaves that create almost a feeling of clouds. I chose the gerberas for their simple stems and nicely contrasting colour. 

Initially I kept the flower at the bottom quite full but achieved a slightly different feeling once I had plucked it a little to reduce the number of petals and the overall size of the flower.

I think that one of the most important things with this kind of arrangement is to demonstrate the skill of being able to make the arrangement stand on it's own without having its legs pushed into the corner between the base and the wall of the container and at the same time to avoid it becoming too conical or looking like a tee-pee. It is truly challenging and takes a lot of practice and meditation to get it right.

The second class for the fortnight was to create an arrangement to be positioned on the floor. I had overheard another teacher at one point saying it should have a sense of "rising" from the floor which I thought to be an interesting thing to keep in mind. My aim was to create a feeling of upward movement that would not only suit a floor position but also give that sense of "Rising".  I made two different arrangement for this exercise as I was doing well for time.

As a bonus exercise my teacher asked me to make an arrangement that utilised bulrush and was inspired by architecture in some way. So I looked at my materials and thought it would be interesting to create an arrangement that featured canteleavering. My challenge here was not only an aesthetic one but also a technical one in terms of fixing my materials so that they would occupy a position in space horizontally distant from my container!

Ongoing studies - Arrangements in green & unconventional materials by Alexander Evans

As my learning journey continues I find I am really sinking my creative teeth into book 5 of the Sogetsu curiculum. In my most recent classes we covered a few different lessons, using different versions of crossbar fixing, working in only green coloured materials and working in unconventional materials. Making sure to utilise crossbar fixing I first made the arrangement below utilising green materials. I wanted to ensure an harmonious arrangement but one that also used a contrast of textures and surface qualities without becoming too busy looking. The cypress and agapanthus gave me a lovely contrast of lines between fine and lacy and straight and radial. I also wanted a contrast in scale which I achieved using the ginko leaves contrasted with the anthuriums. I feel it all came together in a lovely overall arrangement that met the requirements very well. My teacher and I were both quite happy with this arrangement. 

My second arrangement for the class also made use of green materials and a different version of crossbar fixing making use of a "Y" shape by splitting the crossbar. Again I created contrasts of the kinds of lines and the masses and volumes created in the arrangement. This second arrangement was also intended to be viewed on a low side table and so needed to be compact without feeling squashed. 

Finally I created an arrangement using unconventional materials. My thinking here was quite an experiment. I deeply considered the topic.

What is it that makes ikebana, ikebana if not the materials that we use? An interesting question I think. The conclusion that I came to was when you strip away the beauty of the flower, the leaf, the branch itself what is the philosophy underlying ikebana? I think each ikebana artist is going to have their own answer to that, and each will be valid in their own way, but for me, on a deep level, it is about the inherent nature of the passing of things, the finding of beauty in them each in their moment in time. It is about finding ways to cause that moment to shine and to engage the human spirit in a moment of transcendence of the every day while at the very same moment being supremely conscious that the moment of transcendence is itself transitory and temporary. In considering my unconventional material this was foremost in my mind. I wanted it to have it's moment. Not to be fixed permanently in time but rather to be present, to be beautiful and then to end, and perhaps to become something else, beautiful in an other and new way.

I set about building my ikebana of unconventional materials from match boxes. I often work large and bold and I wanted the challenge of finding beauty in small things. I also rarely work in blue (as a blonde haired, blue eyed child, my parents often dressed me in blue and by my late teens I'd had quite enough of it) and so decided that I needed also to challenge myself in that sense and so painted my match boxes blue. I built structures that had line, mass and colour, they had points of focus and were in and of themselves very lovely and met the requirements for the lesson but I wanted that other element to come into play, the moment, the temporary passing instant in which the thing would experience transition, change and transformation as does the flower and leaf as they wilt and dry... and so I brought into my work the element of fire. Dramatic, dynamic, alive and bringing with it change. In this way, my unconventional material had it's moment, its season, and then it was changed and yet beautiful in new and unexpected ways that can only ever be revealed by the action of natural forces, time, wind, fire, water and the wearing of the earth.

Raku Happenings - continued by Alexander Evans

As usual I have been making arrangements at Raku Dining each week and I wanted to blog about the latest arrangements. I decided in this weeks arrangements to go for something a little more simple in the more public areas of the restaurant but keep the private dining room a bit more exciting and dynamic. The arrangements in the main restaurant my focus was really on the lovely long lines of the New Zealand flax which I enhanced by adding some areas of gold. The aim with the flowers was to then keep things very simple. See what you think. 

I had made other arrangements at Raku between posts here but they did not come out very well in photographs as I had not taken my good camera. In any case, here are the latest.

Ikebana adventures at home - Informal teaching and personal practice by Alexander Evans

In exciting developments I have had my very first student who is not only enjoying what I am teaching but is also a great learner. After 2 weeks she has completed a couple of moribana arrangements and a small freestyle arrangement and is begining to have an understanding of the principle elements at work in ikebana as well as getting a sense of how to go about selecting materials. I'm very proud of her and in the next few weeks I hope to show some examples of her work here. 

Of course, with the presence of students in my home I have needed to make sure that there are some pleasing arrangements about the place as inspiration. See below for a few examples. 

 Typically this kind of container is associated with Ikenobo school of Ikebana but I thought why not use it anyway. It was a nice contrast of formal shapes with the dramatic and dynamic freedom of the dried and painted leaves. 

Typically this kind of container is associated with Ikenobo school of Ikebana but I thought why not use it anyway. It was a nice contrast of formal shapes with the dramatic and dynamic freedom of the dried and painted leaves.