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Design As A Factor In Flower Arrangement; Tones, Measures And Shape

( Originally Published 1923 )

"The first condition to effective design is to know what we wish to do. To know what we wish to do is to have an idea. To express that idea we require principles and a form." —VIOLLET-LE-DUC.

The first factor for consideration in any flower arrangement is a definite idea as to the result desired, be it a stage decoration for a concert, a setting for a church wedding or the simplest vase arrangement. Originality in ideas is desirable particularly for professional flower decorators who are called upon almost daily for hall or church decorations, and the more varied the decorations, the more they will interest. One of the recently adopted slogans of the professional florist is, "Say it with Flowers," yet the expressing of an idea with flowers is certainly not a new one. If on Saint Valentine's Day our grandmother in her girlhood days had received from the young man who later became our grandfather, a heart-shaped basket filled with Forget-me-nots or Bleeding Hearts, she doubtless would have comprehended that he had expressed an idea, in other words, had said it with flowers.

Following the thought expressed in the opening quotation of this chapter, to express the idea after it is conceived, one requires certain principles and plant material.

Batchelder* in his excellent book, "Principles of Design," gives the principles governing the use of water colors, pencils and paints. The same principles apply equally well in flower arrangement. "Good designs are invariably sane, regular, orderly, consistent throughout. A piece of work well done brings to the beholder a sense of satisfaction, completeness; there is no desire to change a line or an area, or to vary any tone relations."

In any decorative work with flowers, care in arrangement is very essential. No composition can be thrown together in a hasty, careless manner and give the be-holder any sense of enjoyment.

One writer has said that "the purpose of all decorations is to add interest." Flowers and plants add to the interest by creating a setting or a picture background for the principals. If the occasion for the decoration be a wedding, the bridal party will, of course, be the center of interest; if it be for a concert, the artists appearing will be the chief interest. All concert decorations should be arranged carefully so they will interfere in no way with the comfort of the principals in the occasion, neither cause discomfort to an audience by cutting off its view of the artist. If the decoration be for a dinner, its purpose is to add interest to the meal and, therefore, should not interfere with the sociability of the guests nor with the service.

Batchelder states that two fundamentals in the equipment necessary for good design are: "First, a fund of common sense; second, a wholesome imagination." Additional equipment would be ink, water colors, brushes and the like. The first two requisites are as important in design in flower arrangement as for the worker with oils, and in addition there should be fresh, attractive flowers and clean, healthy foliage.

In flower decoration, as well as in the creation of any design, we use "the mind, the eye, and the hand." First the mind conceives an idea, then the hand makes a picture of the idea with the aid of the eye. One learns largely by doing, not by dictation; thus, it is difficult to train people in flower arrangement without something tangible with which to work. Practice must follow a knowledge of the principles if perfection is to be acquired.

The student of flower arrangement should make a careful study of each composition to be made. Definite conditions are imposed by the varied material used, the particular object for which it is to be arranged and the environment it is to have. He must then create a composition which is beyond criticism as to design. Batchelder says: "Pure design gives definition to fundamental principles, and employs as a means to an end, abstract spots in ink." In flower arrangement one uses "spots" of flowering and foliage material. "A spot of paint may be described in three words: it is a tone, a measure, a shape." This description applies equally well to any flower or leaf which may be used in an arrangement. "Tone means value (light or dark) or the color (as red, green, blue). Measure means size (as long, short, large, small). Shape means contour or bounding line (as straight, curved, square, round). Pure design is the composition of tones, measures, shapes, for the sake of rhythm, balance, harmony, the principles of order and beauty."

In successful flower arrangement much depends on the proper relation of each of these factors. They are so important that the following concise definitions as given by Batchelder cannot but be helpful to the student of design in flower arrangement:

"Rhythm means joint action, or movement, a consistent relation and connection of parts that enables the eye to find a way through all the details of design."

"Balance means repose that results from the oppositions of attraction."

"Harmony means the consistency of likeness, having something in common. A unity, all the terms of which are in interior accord."

"Thus we have as terms: tones, measures, shapes; principles: rhythm, balance, harmony; problems: combination of terms with principles in order to understand the various ways in which a principle of design may manifest itself."

"It would be well to enumerate the more important manifestations of the principles of design."

"Tone rhythm is a movement gained by tone gradations from light to dark, from color to color, from intense color to neutrality and vice versa."

The applications of one or more of the principles of design as defined by Batchelder will be very helpful in all floral decoration. The worker should always have in mind that he is composing a picture, and the result will be interesting or monotonous in the measure he responds to these principles.

Tone rhythm in flower arrangement refers more particularly to the selection of colors for various compositions or the values which exist between the background and the composition. "Rhythm means joint action or movement." Tone rhythm is gained by so considering the selection of colors, and so placing them in the composition that there will be no jarring contrasts. The colors are selected that are closely related in the spectrum scale, and so placed that there will be no marked variation nor conspicuous spots in the composition. Tone rhythm may also be gained by gradations in values between the background and the material used in the composition.

Value refers to gradations in tone from white to black. If black and white are mixed, the result will be gray, a neutral tone. A gradual gradation or movement from the high lights of the background through the intermediate values of the upper part of the composition to the deeper at the base, results in tone rhythm.

"Tone balance is the result of a selection and arrangement of contrasts in such a way that each part of a design may keep its proper place without being unduly emphasized at the expense of other parts."

Tone balance: "The even distribution of two tones that neither shall assert itself at the expense of the other is a valuable principle of design." In placing the darker flowers among the lighter in a decorative arrangement, the composition often lacks pleasing characters because of its apparent lack of stability. Balance means repose and this is obtained by so placing the darker material near the center or to so distribute it as a basal element, that there is a stability in the composition.

"Tone harmony occurs when tones sharing some common quality are used; or lacking this, the differences may be reconciled by varying the quantity of the tones used."

Tone harmony: As a rule, the less pronounced the difference of tones used, the better will be the harmony. Thus, if Hadley Roses are placed near the center or at the base of a vase arrangement, and Ophelias are above, the eye will naturally be attracted to the particular area of the Hadleys and there will be little interest in the Ophelias. On the other hand, if Ophelias are used above and Killarneys below, the better will be the tone harmony. Harmony is defined as "having something in common." Better tone harmony can be obtained by using flowers of varied colors of the same species, than by using those of different species. Variations in form and texture always vary the difference in tones and when the species in a composition are too varied, tone harmony is lacking.

"Measure rhythm is a movement gained by the gradation of measures, the regular increase or decrease in the measures of lines or areas."

Measure rhythm is obtained by gradual variation in the size of the material used. A vase of fully-blown Roses or Carnations lacks measure rhythm, but when buds, half-open and fully-blown flowers are arranged so there is a gradation of areas of flowering material among the green of the foliage, interest in the composition increases. A Geranium plant covered with fully-blown umbels of flowers would be less interesting than are the ones Nature develops with minute clusters of buds just appearing above the foliage, and other clusters in varying stages of development. If we could persuade the commercial growers of Carnations to gather a few buds when he is making his daily cuttings, and if the public would be willing to buy and use a few with the fully-opened flowers, there would be more measure rhythm in decorative floral arrangements.

"Measure balance is the careful adjustment of the various forces in a composition in order to secure the same feeling of repose that is found in symmetry."

Measure balance brings the same feeling of stability in an arrangement of flowers that tone balance brings.

In tone balance, however, the darker flowers may be of nearly the same size as the lighter, and the balance will be brought about by the different values. To secure measure balance it is necessary to use the larger, or the more fully developed flower clusters near the center or base of the arrangement, and the smaller flowers or buds above. When it is necessary to use small flowers below or near the center of the composition, they should not be used separately nor scattered among the larger, but several sprays should be massed; for example, the placing of a mass of Forget-me-nots or Sweet Alyssum at the base of a bowl of Calendulas. The eye finds repose at the center of equilibrium. The principle of measure balance is often neglected, not only in vase arrangement of flowers, but in the grouping of flowering plants among foliage, in stage or hall decorations. Small, individual plants are scattered among the larger, and the areas of the design are not only thrown out of proportion, but the values of the separate plants are lost.

"Measure harmony comes from the use of measures having some common unit of division; or, again, in the cutting of large measures in such a way that they will keep their proper plane in the composition."

Batchelder says that in measure harmony one should "see that the parts of a design are governed by a dominant measure." This does not mean, however, that a design must be made up of material of uniform size. Flowers of one species should dominate a floral composition, so that, to a certain extent, there is a "dominant measure." A basket of Gladioli alone is interesting; pale yellow or pink varieties interspersed with light blue Delphinium is more so. Spikes of one variety alone of uniform size and color produce monotony. A repetition of the harmonious spikes of the Gladioli in varied sizes and slightly varied colors is increasingly interesting, and when the color and size of the spikes are contrasted with the varied form and color of the Delphiniums, the harmony of the approximate size of the principal elements of the design is emphasized. A basket of Shasta Daisies varied with spikes of Speedwell, Veronica longifolia, is much more interesting than is an arrangement of Daisies alone. The number of Daisies used, however, should make that species dominant in the composition, but there should not be too much variation or the design loses in value and interest.

"Shape rhythm is the measure gained by the regular repetition of a unique shape; or by the inter-relation of lines and areas; or by a combination of both these expressions.

Shape rhythm in a composition of flowering material is gained by the regular repetition of a shape. This repetition requires skill, or the composition becomes monotonous and tiresome. However, many arrangements are but a varied mass of many species. In a well arranged floral design there should be order and a certain degree of regularity. The same rule applies to any vase arrangement. There must be a definite relation in the forms of the material used, and this is obtained by flowers of the same species used in repetition in an orderly and some-what regular manner.

"Shape balance is the opposition of equal attractions in symmetry on a vertical line, or about a central point." Shape balance in a floral arrangement refers more particularly to the outline of the composition or to the relation between the flowers and the receptacle. Often it is thought that a broken general outline of a composition is interesting, but as a general rule, an arrangement possessing symmetry best pleases. Batchelder says: "Shape balance in design may be defined as symmetry, a design, or figure, or unit in which the shapes on one side are op-posed by corresponding shapes on the other side. The opposition of shapes gives the simplest type of balance. The eye naturally seeks the center." In placing a flower on one side of a composition it is quite easy to place a similar flower on the other. By repeating the action the arrangement is completed in a regular, orderly, symmetrical manner. The result is pleasing to the eye with no discordant note occasioned by a broken or unbalanced line.

Often shape balance is lost by selecting too small a receptacle, or one which does not lend itself well to the particular species to be used. A vase so small at the bottom that it does not give an appearance of stability and repose when filled with flowers, is not a desirable one to use. As a rule, the broader the receptacle, the better will be the apparent balance between receptacle and flowers.

"Shape harmony results from the use of shapes having some common character in lines or areas."

In floral decoration it is often necessary to use shapes which are wholly unrelated. There should, however, be shape harmony. Care should be taken to select those species for the composition, which show the nearest relation. It is difficult, however, to reconcile the differences of unrelated shapes to each other. In certain families it is almost impossible to arrange the different varieties or types in a pleasing way. For example, the Chrysanthemum family is a large one, and represents many different forms. There is a small Pompon variety, the large quilled form, the shaggy Japanese form, and the singles. If these forms are combined in a single arrangement, much of the attractiveness of each is lost. It is better, therefore, to arrange each type in separate receptacles. Similar variations in types are also found in the Aster and Dahlia families. The Calla is exceedingly difficult to combine with other flowers. Its long stem, large size and peculiar shape either throws the design out of measure balance, shape balance, or shape harmony. It is possible, however, in some cases to reconcile differences in shape, so that harmony will be produced. The use of foliage material for the separation of unrelated shapes or the placing of the flowers so differences will be minimized, is necessary when unrelated shapes are brought together in one arrangement.

"One or two or all of these manifestations may be found in a single design. Their presence counts for unity, their absence for discord."

"It is not always possible to use shapes that are similar in character; often the designer is forced to do the best he can with unrelated shapes. Even so, harmony need not be sacrificed; it becomes necessary to `reconcile the differences' of the various shapes employed. Here we show our skill as designers."

For years flowering material has been used as an element in design by pen and ink artists, or those working with crayons, water colors or oils. Few artists working with flowers have realized that there are definite rules for making their designs interesting. If the successful decorator will but analyze his work, he will doubtless find that he unconsciously has been observing many of the principles here noted.

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