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Chapter 16 Oriental style of design.

Throughout the various periods of history in the Western world, floral art has generally emphasized massed arrangements. In contrast, oriental art has focused on line, simplicity, symbolism, and the careful placement of plant material. The oriental style of arrangement originated the use of linear, asymmetrical balance in floral designs. Although contrasting considerably to the European style of arrangement, the oriental style of floral design has greatly influenced the development of the art of floral arrangement (see Figure 16-1). The floral arrangement styles of both China and Japan share a similar philosophy of nature. Because oriental design has influenced the American or Western style of arrangement, study of these important styles and design techniques can help you become more confident in your creativity as a professional floral artist.

Chinese Influence

Glimpses of the ancient floral art are preserved in paintings, prints, and scrolls Many of these art pieces show how flowers were used and arranged in vases. Although the Chinese style of floral arrangement is less stylized and less recognized and studied than the Japanese style, this style of design is a respected art form that has greatly influenced the Japanese style. The ancient floral style of China is symbolic of nature through the use of a few flowers and interesting branches. This quiet, refined style of design was passed on to Japan, along with Buddhism, and developed into a highly symbolic art.


Seasonal plant material is characteristic of Chinese arrangements. As shown in the four prints in Figure 16-2, each season of the year has its special branches of flowers and foliage signifying the time of year.

Chinese arrangements appear less carefully planned than those of the Japanese (see Figure 16-3). However, these unstructured, naturalistic designs require thought and planning on the part of the designer. Anciently, arrangements included the use of a dominant vertical element and the use of a more delicate, horizontally placed element. Usually large, these arrangements were and are made with a limited variety of plant material. The emphasis is on naturalism, not stylized design. Branches and flowers never appear tight. The voids or negative spaces within the design emphasize form, color, and texture. The overall appearance of a floral design made in the Chinese style reflects nature through luxurious abundance and elegance in plant material and container (see Table 16-1). Ornate porcelain vases, jars, and dishes are characteristic of Chinese designs. Other popular container materials include bronze, pewter, and pottery (see Figure 16-4).

The design style of ancient China can be easily incorporated into professional floral arrangements of today in a variety of inspiring ways. The use of a few seasonal branches and flowers arranged together in a decorative container will portray naturalistic elegance. And, whether Chinese or Japanese in style, it is helpful to remember that traditional oriental designs require thought and planning both for the floral elements and in the selection of appropriate vases and mechanical aids (see Figure 16-5).




Japanese Influence

Adapted from the ancient Chinese style in the 6th century, Japanese floral design is steeped in tradition and symbolism. However, the Japanese style of floral arrangement, in contrast to the Chinese style, is highly stylized and adheres to strict rules of construction. For centuries, arranging flowers has been a recognized art form. Even today floral designs often incorporate the Japanese style of design into contemporary arrangements. The Japanese influence has contributed in many ways to the development of the American or Western style of floral design.

Although many Japanese schools, styles, techniques, and literature have developed throughout time, all share the same philosophy--to depict and symbolize nature. Generally, cut flowers and accessory materials are placed in arrangements to represent nature (see Table 16-2). Natural growth patterns are reflected and plant material is pruned and groomed to perfection (see Figure 16-6).


The use of flowers and plant materials in arrangements was first practiced as a part of sacred religious ceremonies (decorating altars and given as symbolic offerings). Later, flower arranging became a popular and important art, practiced in the home. Traditionally, Japanese designs are placed in what is called the tokonoma, an alcove in a home in which a flower arrangement, a hanging scroll, and other art is displayed (see Figure 16-7).


The word ikebana ("giving life to flowers") is generally interpreted as the art of Japanese flower arrangement. Several floral schools in Japan have greatly influenced the floral style of ikebana. For example, the Ikenobo school is noted for the development of the formal rikka, or upright style; the Ohara school is known for the moribana style, a more practical and naturalistic design; and the Sogetsu school is known for freestyle and abstract designs. All Japanese styles place great importance on simplicity and line (see figures 16-8 and 16-9). Generally, designs display three main lines or elements. The varying heights and placements of the three lines are set apart from each other. Visually, the three tips form an asymmetrical triangle (see Figure 16-10).

Emphasis is placed on depth. Plant material is placed three dimensionally in compositions to portray the spaciousness of nature. An entire landscape can be created by properly spacing a few materials. Evident in Japanese designs is a feeling of growth through the use of dynamic, rhythmic, and unconfused line.



Generally, the line of most Japanese styles of arrangements is emphasized without regard to color or mass. Simplicity and negative space are important in emphasizing the three main elements. Uncluttered design is regarded as fundamental. To make this possible, each flower, leaf, or branch is groomed for its best appearance, and each flower, leaf, and stem tip is angled upward to appear as if it is still growing. Flowers are arranged to face the viewer. Filler and helper flowers and other plant materials are placed in designs to help strengthen the three main elements. They are generally placed sparingly along the axis of the stem elements they are to strengthen and are shorter than the tips of these three main elements.

Figure 16-11 illustrates the many types of containers and bases that are typically used for Japanese designs. Most are simple in design. Container shape and type are selected carefully to complement and enhance a particular style of design.

Basically, Japanese flower arrangements may be divided into three groups: the classic or formal style, the naturalistic or informal style, and the abstract or freestyle. These three groups are general types. Variations of each exist that have been promoted by many teachers and schools.




Classic Japanese Design

Early Japanese designs, called classic or formal, are linear and focus on nature and symbolism. The classic or formal style includes rikka and shoka or seika.

Rikka, or rikkwa ("standing flowers"), is the ancient temple style of Japanese flower arrangements (see Figure 16-12). These designs were introduced as religious offerings in the 11th century by a flower master of the Ikenobo school. These highly stylized designs adapted from the Chinese floral art, depict scenes of nature by using a great variety of standing plant material. They are generally massive, pyramidal, and symmetrical, as shown in Figure 16-13. A typical container for these early temple designs was a bronze ceremonial vase. Anciently, these designs required several days to complete and would reach a height of six or more feet.



There are a number of Japanese floral schools, all of which use the art principles of the three main lines. The first rules of construction utilized three main structural elements. In most schools, these three elements are named shin, soe, and tai. Shin, the tallest background element, represents the distant view of nature and is depicted by the use of large tree branches in the background of the design. Soe, the secondary line of the design, represents the middle view of nature. It is represented by placements of low shrubs in front of the trees. The close view, or tai, is the tertiary line of the design and is depicted with small flowers and other plant materials in the foreground of the arrangement. In the Ohara school, the three main lines are named the subject line, the secondary line, and the object line.

By the middle of the 15th century, floral styles had become less formal and rigid in design. In contrast to the rikka style, the shoka or seika ("quiet flowers") style is an asymmetrical triangle design, based on three main elements adapted from the three main structural elements used in rikka styles of arrangement. The three elements of shin, soe, and tai were changed to "heaven, man, and earth," symbolizing that man is found between the sphere of heaven and the soil of earth.

Two characteristics of the classic shoka design are asymmetry and line. The subject line is the shin, or heaven element, and is at least one-and-a-half to three times the height of the container. The secondary line, soe, or man, is two-thirds the length of the heaven line. The object line, tai, or earth element, is two-thirds the length of the secondary or man line. The tips of these three elements, when connected with imaginary lines, form an asymmetrical triangle. Today, the shoka style generally takes the same triangular form that has been used for centuries (see Figure 16-14).



This less formal style requires skill in bending branches into curved lines and creating mechanics to keep them in place, as shown in Figure 1615. Forced bending must be done gently. It is best accomplished with thumb pressure. Sometimes hot water will make stems more pliable. Because few materials are used, flowers and branches were traditionally, and often still today are, held in place with a forked stick fitted across the mouth of a container (see Figure 16-16). These forked twigs, called kubari, wedged across vase openings, have long been used in classical designs. Other sticks wedged against forked twigs can further secure the flowers and branches in the vase. For low, flat, and open containers, decorative metal holders have long been used. Often pebbles or stones are used to conceal any mechanics of construction. The pin holder, or kenzan, is also used to construct designs. Today, however, floral foam, once secured and concealed in a vase or low container, is generally the favored foundation for most Japanese design styles.



Naturalistic Japanese Design

Japanese designs classified as naturalistic or informal include nageire and moribana. Although these designs generally follow basic rules of construction, arrangements are characterized as more natural and casual when compared with the traditional classic styles. Importance is placed on the appearance of the design rather than its technical form.

The nageire ("thrown in") style of design incorporates curving lines rather than the traditional rigid triangular shapes. This prominent style of design emerged during the 16th century and is known for using tall upright vases with curved stems, creating the traditional asymmetrical triangle (see Figure 16-17). These arrangements imply a more natural and less confined presentation of flowers. Heika is also an arrangement style in a tall vase, and the word is synonymous with nageire. Although known for using tall vases, nageire designs are often created in hanging containers and other styles of vases.

Moribana ("piled up flowers") is a contemporary style of arrangement. These designs, like nageire, are informal, casual, and free of exacting rules. Plant materials are placed in low, shallow containers to create a natural landscape scene. The foreground, middle ground, and distance lines are established with seasonal plant materials. Often the landscape or garden scene is made of colorful, short-stemmed flowers grouped by type and often surrounded by a pool of water (see Figure 16-18). Because these arrangements are constructed in low containers, the plant material is often placed in a needlepoint holder or a piece of foam anchored into the container. Mechanics may be concealed with such materials as moss, driftwood, stones, and marbles.



Variations in Style

Several variations in line arrangements determine different styles of design. These variations may be easily adapted to both the tall-vase heika or nageire and the low-vase moribana styles of arrangement. The five basic variants include the upright, slanting, cascading, contrasting, and vertical, or heavenly, styles.

In the upright style, the placements of the three main stems form an asymmetrical triangle (see Figure 16-19). The subject, or shin, line is the tallest stem and is placed in a vertical position above the container. The secondary, or soe, line is generally two-thirds the length of the subject line and is located to either the left or right of the subject line. The object stem is generally one-half the length of the subject line and is placed on the opposite side of the arrangement to the secondary stem.

The slanting style places the tallest element, or the subject stem, extending outward, dramatically to the side, instead of upward, as shown in the nageire design in Figure 16-20. The subject, or shin, line dominates the entire design, as well as the lengths of the other two elements. In the true-form slanting variation, the secondary stem is generally one-half the length of the subject stem and the object, or tai, stem is equal in length to the secondary stem, yet they differ in the angle in which they are placed in the design. A slight height difference in the secondary and object stems may also be used in the design, as shown in the moribana design in Figure 16-21.





In the cascading style, the main or tallest stem cascades from the vase and extends below the rim of the container (see figures 16-22 and 16-23). The other two stems creating the asymmetrical triangle may vary in length and differ in the angles in which they are placed.

The subject and secondary stems extend outward in opposite directions in the contrasting style. They are unequal in length and at slightly different levels. The object, or tai, element is the shortest in length and is located in the center of the design (see figures 16-24 and 16-25).

In the vertical or heavenly style, the three elements form a tall, narrow triangle. All the stems, extending upward, are exaggerated in length to create a dramatic effect. The secondary line is generally one-half of the subject stem, while the object, or tai, stem is one-third the length of the subject stem and is located near the container's rim (see figures 16-26 and 16-27).

Abstract Japanese Design

Japanese arrangements classified as abstract or freestyle, often called jiyubana, emphasize the form and texture of the plant material within the design. This design style was introduced following the end of World War II when the Japanese adopted the culture from the Western world. Rather than adhere to strict rules of construction, these arrangements express unique individualism instead of depicting traditional nature scenes. Often these designs combine flowers with glass, raffia, metal, plastic, feathers, and other nonplant materials. Vines, leaves, and branches are often manipulated into unnatural forms and placed in vases in unusual patterns (see Figure 16-28).








The oriental influence has had a considerable impact on floral design. The use of uncluttered line, asymmetric form, negative space, and simple elegance similar to the ancient designs of China and Japan can be incorporated in floral arrangements of today. To become proficient in oriental design, it is important to become familiar with the various styles and design techniques and gain skills through practice (see Figure 16-29). Exploring the principles of oriental arrangement will allow you to create distinctive and inspirational designs. Knowledge and experience in oriental floral arrangement will give you greater freedom and confidence in expanding your own design style.

Terms to Increase Your Understanding
abstract Japanese
Chinese style
classic Japanese
Japanese style
naturalistic Japanese
object line
oriental style
secondary line
subject line

Test Your Knowledge

1. Describe the differences in the Chinese and Japanese styles of design.

2. What are some common rules of all Japanese designs?

3. Name the basic variations of the naturalistic, informal styles of design.

4. What are some characteristics of the jiyu-bana, or freestyle, design?

5. What are the advantages in knowing oriental design styles and techniques?

Related Activities

1. From floral magazines, collect pictures of floral arrangements with an oriental flair. Tell what elements are characteristic of the Chinese or Japanese styles.

2. Sketch the five variations of the nageire and moribana styles of design.

3. Select appropriate plant materials, accessories, and a container to make a naturalistic moribana design.

Flowers Typical to Chinese Floral Arrangements

* Acacia
* Aster
* Camellia
* Chrysanthemum
* Dianthus
* Iris
* Jasmine
* Lily
* Lotus
* Magnolia
* Narcissus
* Orchid
* Peony
* Rose

Other Plant Materials Commonly Used

* spring flowering branches
* berried branches
* willow branches
* pine branches
* bamboo
* fruits
* mosses
* gourds

Common Containers

* bowls, jars, flasks, tall vases, and low basins made from bronze,
pewter, pottery, and porcelain in decorative patterns
* spouted vases made from pottery and porcelain


* flat or footed bases of wood, porcelain, and stoneware
* rolled scroll of a painting
* incense burner
* painting hanging behind the flowers
* fresh fruits
* Chinese porcelain or jade sculptures
* single-flower blossoms and flowering branches adjacent to design


Flowers Typical to Japanese Floral Arrangements

* Aster
* Azalea
* Camellia
* Chrysanthemum
* Hydrangea
* Iris
* Lily
* Magnolia
* Narcissus
* Orchid
* Peony
* Rose

Other Plant Materials Commonly Used

* aspidistra
* bamboo
* Scotch broom
* cedar
* flowering branches
* berried branches
* willow branches
* pine branches
* galax
* grasses
* gourds
* hosta
* juniper
* maple
* reeds
* mosses

Common Containers

* There is a great variety of shapes and materials of containers,
depending on the style of design, including bronze, pottery, bamboo,
baskets, wood, lacquered wares, and gourds. Most containers are simple
and elegant in shape and design.


* Japanese containers generally stand on bases
* stands with short legs, claw feet, or brackets
* lacquered or polished, round or rectangular panels
* mats
* rocks, stones, glass marbles
* driftwood
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Section 4 Beyond the Basics
Author:Hunter, Norah T.
Publication:The Art of Floral Design, 2nd ed.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chapter 15 Everlasting flowers.
Next Article:Chapter 17 Contemporary design styles and techniques.

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