Last weekend, with a large group of Sogetsu practitioners from around Australia and New Zealand, I attended a training day followed by a day of workshops for the new Book 5 of the Sogetsu curriculum. 

The program was presented by Mrs Ishikawa, a Master Instructor from the Sogetsu Head Quarters, whom I had got to know in 2011 when I spent 3 months in Tokyo as a recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship. On the morning of the first day, Mrs Ishikawa's PowerPoint presentation covered a number of exercises from the new text book which was followed by demonstrations. Below are photos of some of her demonstrated works.

The example above is of Exercise 1, from the new text Book 5, using 'Seasonal Plant Materials'. In this case Jacaranda j.mimosifolia flowers and strelitzia nicolai. 

In the Australian context, a 'Seasonal Arrangement' can be a challenge as our seasons are not as clearly defined as in Japan. It is especially the case when using native materials. Mrs Ishikawa pointed out the importance of using materials that are only available locally during the particular season.

Exercise 18 is, 'A composition expressing movement'. Mrs Ishikawa chose to represent the word 'explosion' with this energetic arrangement of 'spear grass' xanthorrhoea arborea, (I think) and 'pincushion flower' leucospermum cordifolium.

Exercise 8 is 'Arranging in a suiban without a kenzan'. This is a more difficult example of the exercise as the palm fronds provide fewer opportunities for fixing the stems together.

Exercise 4, new to the curriculum, is an arrangement using 'Green Plant Materials' only. This causes the ikebanist to pay attention to the varieties of green as well as texture.

Mrs Ishikawa chose long needle pine, Pinus palustris, a double white oriental lily and yellow kangaroo paw, Angiozanthos, for her 'Arrangement for a Celebration'. She added gold painted washi paper and red sticks to create an extra feeling of occasion.

Exercise 2 is an arrangement using a 'Vertical fixture'. In this example Mrs Ishikawa used tortuous willow and peonies in an irregularly shaped tall vase.

On the second day, the participants got down to work for two very focused workshops. The first exercise was 'Composing with Branches - A two step approach'. Each participant was provided with a bunch of dried branches which had to be wired into a self supporting three dimensional sculptural form. 

I had five straight branches with fairly solid stems and multiple, smaller, side branches that had obviously been reaching upward. I was able to make a three legged base to which I added two further inverted branches joining them by the small side branches only. It tended to sway a little but stayed upright. 

The second step in the exercise was to use this structure in a different way in a vase with some fresh flowers. I placed the branches horizontally across a stemmed ceramic vase (I had wanted to float them above the vase but could not achieve the effect I desired). I then added two stems of white snapdragons that gave a soft fresh feeling.

This is a close up of the flowers.

Mrs Ishikawa commented on the different appearance of the branches when placed horizontally. In the critique, her suggestion was that I should add a small leaf, peeping at the back of the of the vase. It certainly made a positive improvement to the arrangement.

The afternoon exercise was to re-use the morning materials to make a celebratory arrangement. We were required to add a branch of camellia leaves and some mizuhiki (Japanese paper strings) or other decorative man-made material. I re-used my branch structure, this time placing it vertically, then added a single branch of the camellia stripped of all but five of its leaves and placed it vertically. The stripped branch had a very similar form to the dried branches and blended in well. The mizuhiki was looped and hung on the left-hand side. The colours and tall shape suggested to me the shape of a Christmas tree made from driftwood.

Finally, I must express my gratitude to Mrs Ishikawa for two days of inspiration, and to the New South Wales Branch for their hospitality and all their hard work in presenting the workshops.

Greetings from Christopher
26th November 2017

Lara Telford has a new post on her blog from Tokyo where she is the latest recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment scholarship.

Also my colleague Emily Karanikolopoulos has a blog post about the Book 5 workshops in Sydney.


Recently, my student Kyoko has started the second part of the Sogetsu curriculum, books 3 and 4. After the foundational exercises focusing on the proportions and angles of the materials relative to the vessel, the curriculum then attends to other design aspects of ikebana. In this instance the exercise was to make an arrangement using materials 'in the same tonal range'. 

In her cascading arrangement Kyoko has used the deep maroon leaves of Copper Beech Tree Fagus Sylvactica purpurea, a deep purple coloured snapdragon Antirrhimum and pink peonypaeonia suffruticosa.

In the same class, Robyn's exercise was an arrangement using two vessels and intertwining the materials. Robyn has intertwined dietes leaves with a long branch of dried wood and used red berries as a focal material. She has placed a modern ceramic vessel on a black metal right-angled vase.

On Tuesday, the last meeting for 2017 of Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter was held. Photos can be seen on the link. 

Greetings from Christopher, in the Sydney airport having attended Sogetsu Book 5 training with Mrs Misei Ishikawa. Photos next week.

19th November 2017


In the garden at the moment a number of Australian native flowering shrubs are covered in blooms. The most conspicuous at this time of year are plants in the Myrtaceae family. In our garden are pink, red, and pale yellow callistemons as well as some melalucas

Recent research has confirmed that the callistemons belong in the same genus as melaluca. All of the examples in our garden are characterised by flower-heads of cylindrical 'bottle-brush' type.

This pink one is about 9 centimetres long.

Most flowers of this pale yellow one were damaged by rain a couple of weeks ago. It is slightly smaller.

Here is a red one that I photographed to show how the individual flowers open separately.

This red one is slightly different to the previous photograph and has the longest flower-head at about 14 centimetres. It is distinctive for the conspicuous, bright yellow spots of pollen on the stamens.

Here is the very small flower of melaluca decussata.

Its flower-head is only 2 centimetres long.

Strangest of all these is Melaluca pulchella which has masses of oddly-shaped, tiny purple flowers less than one centimetre across.

Here is a close up of the flowers of Melaluca pulchella in our garden.

My ikebana for this week is a wall hanging I made for the annual exhibition of the Victorian Branch of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. The irregular red lattice is made from painted dried stems of agapanthus. The other materials are two very large (about 60 centimetres long) dried leaves of Tetrapanax  and two small bunches of dwarf nandina. Click here to see photos from the exhibition.

Greetings from Christopher
11th November 2017

Lara Telford has new posts on her blog from Tokyo where she is the latest recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment scholarship.


At the beginning of this week Laurie and I visited the Japanese collection in the Pauline Gandel Gallery at the National Gallery of Victoria. We were re-aquainting ourselves with three woodblock prints by Junichiro Sekino, that had been hung for the first time. 

Sekino was an artist of the sosaku hanga movement, a group mid-20th century artists who broke with tradition by completing the whole process of designing, cutting, printing and selling themselves. In the past the activities of cutting the wood blocks and printing were undertaken by separate artisans under the direction of the publisher. 

Laurie had donated these three woodblock prints to the gallery a couple of years ago. Here we are with Dr Wayne Crothers, Senior Curator of Asian Art, Laurie and me. If you have the opportunity to visit the gallery in the next few months these modern works give an interesting insight into the evolution of Japanese woodblock prints. This is particularly relevant at the moment as the outstandingly successful Hokusai exhibition at the gallery closed only two weeks ago.

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Meanwhile in the classroom some of my students have been working on 'basic' arrangements from the early part of the Sogetsu curriculum.

Jacqueline's exercise was a 'Variation No 1' Slanting style. This arrangement creates a lovely open space between the two 'arms' of the branch material which stretch forward and to the back. The flowers make an eye-catching focus between them.

Marisha created a 'Basic up-right' arrangement in the nageire style. She has used the Australian native pomaderris elliptica, which sits well with the fresh look of the white chrysanthemum. This is probably the most difficult of the nageire exercises, as the longest branch has to rise from the centre of the vase without touching the bottom and being supported by the shorter branch. 

My arrangement this week is a freestyle in an open bowl using scabiosa from the garden. The vessel is actually a porcelain soup bowl with a pale blue glaze by Graeme Wilkie

Greetings from Christopher 
4th November 2017.