On Friday I attended the first of three Sogetsu Victoria Branch workshops that were led by Yoshiro Umemura from Sydney. Mr Umemura is a very popular, senior ikebana artist and teacher who, from when he first came to Australia in 1986, worked continuously with the late Norman Sparnon until his death in 1995. 

The first of the workshops had the following theme: create an ikebana work that '...some would say, "You can't do that."...'. This is an interesting and perhaps slightly contradictory challenge, because freedom of expression for the individual ikebanist is encouraged in the Sogetsu School. We remember that our founder, Sofu Teshigahara, said that ikebana should be able to be made 'anywhere, by anyone, using any material'. The caveat, of course, is that the person has to have had an appropriate level of training.

This is the demonstration example that Mr Umemura made at the start of the workshop. He had made three almost circular shapes from disposable bamboo forks by glueing the tines together. After fixing them into a circular vase he then added fresh materials. Firstly green tortuous willow stems to make lines and, for a colour focus, petals from a bright red gerbera which he scattered on the moistened shapes. In this demonstration he was deliberately violating the idea that ikebana should not look like a work of 'handcraft'. 

In thinking about this topic in advance I came up with a question that I had wondered about in the past. That is, how can one make a modern ikebana in a vessel that is profoundly historical in its form. I had in mind the classical bronze usubata vessels that I have only ever seen used for Rikka and Shoka arrangements. A couple of times I have seen people with no knowledge of ikebana buy such vessels as antique objects and then try to arrange flowers in them (with mixed or unconvincing results).

Interestingly, 18 months ago Laurie and I were given one such vase by a childhood friend of mine as a wedding present. My friend thought it was for burning incense. Now, I thought, I will have to see if I can find a way to make this work. In advance, my apologies to practitioners of the Ikenobo School for whom this vessel would have been made.

In my ikebana at the workshop I have used stems of Umbrella grass, cyperus alternifolius. I did three things that some people would say I should not do. The first is making a very spare, modern arrangement in a traditional vessel. The second is that I have deliberately placed some of the material on the table surface. The third is that I have made a reasonably close copy of an arrangement that Hiroshi Teshigahara made for one of the earliest printings of the third Sogetsu text book. His arrangement was illustrating the exercise of 'making a surface by massing lines'. 

I was not displeased with the result. I am reminded of the way contrasts of modern and traditional aesthetics are successfully combined by greater artists than myself, such as the glass pyramid by I. M. Pei at the Louvre in Paris.

More photos from the workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
26th May 2019 


Yesterday, Laurie and I visited some friends at Anglesea which is the next town along the coast west of Torquay. The township is surrounded on the north and west by a state park incorporating the Anglesea Heath and bushland. The bushland seems to flow into the township the way a garden can flow into a well designed house.  As a consequence, there is an abundance of native flora and fauna. When we turned the corner into the street where our friends live we were surprised to see three Eastern Gray Kangaroos hopping across the road.

Meet 'Erica', in the red collar and blue ear tag. She and one of her 'adolescent' young were photographed by Laurie feeding as they foraged in our friends' front garden. Their vegetable garden has a very high fence!

These kangaroos are easily seen on the Angelsea Golf Course where they enjoy the nourishing short grass. The mob is monitored by research scientists from Melbourne University's Zoology Department, who have tagged and identified many of the animals.  

What is the connection with ikebana? The unique art of ikebana that has come to us from Japan is grounded in an appreciation of the natural world. It is also able to address the relationship of humankind to the natural world. At a recent class I attended, Elizabeth  set us the exercise of making an arrangement that incorporated a man-made product, paper.

This photo shows the work of Pearl, one of my fellow students. She has carefully rolled black and fawn card into small straw- like tubes which she has then joined together. The massed lines that she has made had a lovely texture that contrasted with the spiralling vessel and the dahlias.

For my arrangement I decided to use newspaper, because it is so ubiquitous that we don't usually think about it after we have read the news. I am intrigued with the properties of paper. Especially that such thin flimsy sheets can have considerable strength when rolled, folded or even scrunched. I used this conical metal vase so that I could show that the paper could support its own weight and appear to be blowing in the breeze. 

Last weekend I attended a Saturday workshop of the Melbourne Ikebana International Chapter that was led by Emily Karanikolopoulos. She set the theme of an ikebana arrangement that represents a particular movement. This idea is taken from the advanced curriculum of the Sogetsu School.

This was my work that, as I hope you have guessed, represents the movement of 'zigzagging'. I have used the stems only of umbrella grass, cyperus alternifolius. I think this is ikebana as sculpture. This is because the material has been reduced to straight green lines and is not easily identifiable. Although I did experiment with adding a flower, the effect was to weaken the ikebana.

Click here for more photos of the Saturday workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
18th May 2019


One group of my students are members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) where I live in Torquay. As this is a community organisation, we share facilities with other organisations. Last week, unexpectedly, our class room was not available. A quick change of plans led to holding the class at home, creating an additional layer of complexity.  We had also to think about where the ikebana was to be sited. 

I had set the students the exercise of making an arrangement using two kinds of berries. Of course all the arrangements were richly autumnal. You will note that all the students had gathered cotoneaster berries that are readily available locally. When it came time to photograph the arrangements, I moved most of them to the niche in the living room.

Judy used some particularly large rose-hips from her garden, which she massed and contrasted with a line of cotoneaster branch.

Val also used two slanting lines of cotoneaster berries and two small masses of black berries from an unidentified plant.

Helen T used the large surface of some strelitzia leaves as a background to highlight her bright red cotoneaster berries. Her small black coloured berries are massed at the base. 

Marta used two branches of cotoneaster berries and a mass of pittosporum in the centre of her ikebana.

Kim set his ikebana on a low wooden box. He chose as his vessel a two-level bamboo steamer, that sat on a ceramic bowl to give the work additional lightness. His materials were cotoneaster berries, a small branch with black olives and a mass of acacia baileyana.

The next series of photos are from a class I attended with my teacher, Elizabeth. Last week we were given the exercise of creating an ikebana work using 'Green Plant Materials' only. This exercise is from the advanced curriculum in the Sogetsu school.

Dianne used some long leaves, asparagus fern and a lime branch with a single fruit arranged in a tall black vessel.

Swan arranged variegated aspidistra leaves and small chrysanthemum flowers in two matching green glass cylinders.

I had collected some reeds and stripped their leaves off as I wanted to show the variations in the green on the stems. I have varied the texture by adding dark-green clivia  leaves for the breadth of their surfaces. The vessel is a stainless steel cone with irregularly placed holes.

Greetings from Christopher
12th May 2019


The beginning of this year has been the driest on record and the exotic plants in the garden have needed extra attention and water to keep them in reasonable health.

On the 4th April the beach looked quite idyllic and rather summery for autumn. The weather was so mild and the sea so calm that the start of the Bell's Beach Rip Curl Surfing Pro had to be postponed for several days.

However, the weather changed three weeks later creating big seas and widely spaced waves.

This is Bird rock in summer mode a few years ago...

... and then at high tide when the waves were rolling. 

In this photo Bird Rock can be seen from the other direction and the cliff-hugging plants that are able to tolerate the prevailing westerly winds of winter. 

It is such wintry weather conditions that result in Moonah melaleuca lanceolata, growing such beautiful branches.

This week's ikebana features two more heads of the Hydrangea macrophyla (that I used a couple of weeks ago in a basket arrangement), and a branch of Moonah. 

When thinking about arranging the hydrangea I realised that it would work well with the large green bowl-shaped vessel made by Isabella Wang. Because the arrangement was to be placed in the 'niche' in the living room I had to take into account that it would be seen through 180 degrees. The photos below are against a back-drop.

This first photo shows the view of the arrangement when coming from the kitchen.

This view is directly from the front...

...and the final view is from the right hand side. I was pleased that in each of the views there was open space to be seen at the lip of the vessel.

This was the second version of the arrangement. Unfortunately I did not photograph the first version that had three large triangular lines, made from papyrus stems, projecting above the rim of the vessel. When I removed them, because they looked wrong, the thought came to me that I should 'let the materials speak for themselves'. The lines were an additional design element that did not relate to the materials. It made me think about Norman Sparnon's question '...What is the purpose..' of the ikebana? 

These days I re-frame this question to, what is the subject of the ikebana? In this case it was the hydrangea, not my other design ideas. 

Greetings from Christopher
5th May 2019