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Chaos to Stillness: an Ikebana Exercise


Fail, fail again, fail better.

-- Samuel Beckett






Pardon the interlude these past couple months. With COVID's relentless march across the world in 2020, and the miserable mayhem of January, 2021, here in the US, my mind has been in a tangle. Every time I tried to produce anything worthwhile, either in a vase or on the computer, I failed.











Hello there! Within an hour it was gone.



I saw chaos everywhere — in that wayward tumbleweed that materialized from nowhere in my fenced backyard, in those gnarled branches of every Ponderosa pine I met, in the twisting crush of a manzanita chaparral.







Then without intention, my turmoil became an ikebana exercise. I tuned down the layers of noise and looked for order and stillness in arrangements featuring nothing but a single material. Try it! You'll learn a lot about what's around you and discover the subtlety ikebana can offer.

Ponderosa pine sapling.


Winter is a great time for this practice, since flowers can be scarce depending on location. Here in Central Oregon, I landed on the Ponderosa pine and the manzanita because they dominate our landscape.


The Ponderosa provides colors green and gold, verdant or dry needles, cones of all sizes and shapes, and dusky, Byzantine branches.






The Manzanita boasts a bonanza of green and rust, acrobatic red and gray branches, even some charred black, a result of the annual controlled burns we have around here (or vestiges of the uncontrolled variety, which we in the American West know only too well).


The multifaceted Manzanita.

In the single-material exercise, countless features come starkly into focus -- the tiny spent blooms you never noticed, the waxy surface of a leaf, the richness of decay, the contortions of a branch. It also refreshes interest in the individual components of an ikebana arrangement. Line, color, space and mass. Remember those? Details and distinctions matter. If you’ve ever taken a close-up photo, you know how much in life is overlooked.



Things to consider:

  • What's around you? An attachment to place is a gift. Find a plant you love and investigate.

  • Choose a plant and season that afford a multitude of components -- buds, berries, cones, varied branches, leaves and colors.

  • Which vase? Normally, the container plays second fiddle in an ikebana arrangement. Here, lacking brightly colored blossoms, a vibrant vase can really represent. I'm even attracted to white and blue. For me, they summon the snow, sky or still water.

  • Remember the basics: line, color, space and mass. Where's the emphasis and why?

  • Too simplified for your taste? Add an ornament, a cluster of mizuhiki, even some unconventional material like colored wire or mesh.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, for me -- someone who fails at sitting still -- ikebana really is a meditation. Artist and materials are in motion, yet there is focus and calm. Out of chaos comes order.


Fail better!


Stay tuned for future posts on single-component arrangements such as only branches, leaves, or

flowers....





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