Styling by: Honeysuckle and Hilda
Photo by: Claire Bowen
There can be no denying that 2016 has been The Grand Tour of floral designers, worskhops, retreats, 121s, and garden visits. In this respect (i.e. outside of the year that saw the deaths of I don't know how many talented artists whilst the rest of the world hit the auto destruct button), it has been a wonderful year. It was preceded by about two decades of office jobs I didn't enjoy, and a pretty bumpy three years more recently, so I do feel like I earned this one. And whilst Rome has been burning, I have most definitely been fiddling (with flowers).
Most of my studying has been in relation to the flowers themselves, how to make do large scale arrangements, make beautiful bouquets of various shapes and sizes, buttonholes, garlanding, wreath making, archways and even a bit of botanical jewellery. And in days gone by, that would have been enough. But in the social media driven age that we live in now, it simply isn't. In order to make our businesses credible, we need to attract followers, and thus the public holds us accountable, measuring our success on Instagram, Pinterest and the like. So it is not just a question of having a lovely product, we also have to be able to present that product to the outside world on an almost daily basis. We need to know our Planoly from our Unum, and to be able to produce a Gorillapod in any situation.
In some ways, this is an amazing thing. We can, to a large extent, market ourselves. We don't need to employ PR gurus, or court magazines in the hope of editorial as the only medium through which our works will be seen. I wonder how may florists who don't have a shop would be enjoying so many bookings from their workshops if it wasn't for Instagram. On the other hand, though, we do find ourselves slaves to hashtags (interestingly, my spell check always changes the word "hashtag" to "hostage") and worrying a lot about the images we post. I tell the outside world and other florists that I don't really care, and we laugh about it over a cup of tea from time to time, but when I reached 1,000 followers I was so excited. I was out in Richmond Park when a text flashed up from another florist friend congratulating me on reaching the first milestone. I stopped trying to pose Hilda in amongst some ferns and and a tree trunk to check my account, and sure enough it had happened. Hilda seized her moment and escaped down a river bank, and so was almost as excited as me. I could hear her woofing in celebration about 200 yards away and she was definitely saying "1,000 followers, woohoo!" and not "finally, I can have some fun without being poked with bits of fauna whilst sitting in bits of prickly stuff under the tree".
At the Ponderosa and Thyme retreat we had a session on photography led by the wonderful Maria Lamb, as well as one on styling from Katie herself. It was early days for me and at the end of a long week, and I ended up plonking a the wing of a pheasant whose carcass we had found whilst out foraging, next to a lovely piece of mossy bark I came across, with lots of lovely spring blooms. I added quails' eggs for good measure as everyone else had done and of course a pile of old books. Katie was as encouraging as ever, but I could see there was work to be done. Maria took artistic shots of my scene in sections, perhaps because the grouping as a whole was a little overwhelming. When I got home, I purchased Silk and Willow ribbons and fabrics en masse in a sheer fit of enthusiasm, and practiced furiously with both flowers and props. Annoyingly, one of my favourite images came about when I turned my back and Cecil the cat destroyed my taxidermy butterflies. I should have been annoyed, but he told me he was collaborating on a piece about shattered dreams and the fragility of life. And of course, Instagram loved it.
A few months later, I asked Miss Pickering for some help with my photography during a 121 session. We talked about light sources and exposure and I did make a little progress. But I still had work to do. It occurred to me that, sometimes on a course I am so relieved at the point I have produced something beautiful, that by the time it comes to learn how to document it, I am already emotionally exhausted. Or something like that (perhaps a bit less dramatic, but along those lines). So I made what turned out to be an excellent decision in that I booked two days that focussed on photography and styling, ones that didn't require me to first pour all my energy into creating something. I attended first of all, the Green and Gorgeous flower photography day, led by the excellent Clare West (which focussed on photography with some styling) and then a day of Styling for Florists hosted by A Quiet Style (which started with a little photography but focussed mainly on styling).
Both days were revelations. I could pass on all the tips that were given to me by Clare and Emma, but they have courses to run and livings to earn! However, three top tips that were common to both days:
1. When considering the ever present and much discussed triangle of exposure, for us floral designers, it is the depth of field that matters the most. That's the F stop thingey. It is really important, especially when photography moody photos of dahlias (see above).
2. Choose backgrounds carefully. The bouquet above is set in front of a really lovely textured and weather beaten grey wall. The styled board at the beginning of this post is in on top of some lovely coarse jute. Wooden boards and linen also work well.
3. Obey the Rule of Thirds. I knew this already, but when I actually put it into practice rather than just thinking about it, it really does make a difference.
The above is just a very small sample of what I learned from Clare and Emma. Clare succeeded where so many others had failed before her, in that she got me to focus as well as my camera, no mean feat. And if you want to know your flat lays from your uprights, I can't imagine a better teacher than Emma.
I stuffed a bag full of my favourite props at 6.05 am and grabbed some hellebores from a jug in the kitchen before jumping on a train to Brighton. After an hour of listening to Emma, I emptied out my bag á la Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club and created the image at the start of this post in less than 20 minutes. Later on, after more tweaking and listening, I created the scene below in just under 15 minutes. I still don't really know how, but everything Emma said made so much sense and I was surprised that I hadn't panicked or even needed much help (ok, just a little) when putting her advice into practice. I left feeling so happy and inspired - and I may also have come a full circle since, just as my first attempt with Katie had me hitting the Silk and Willow website really rather hard, so today I have been adding to my props stash at an alarming rate - expect to see 19th vintage French secateurs, a white linen and lace tablecloth, even more flower books and botanical illustrations and of course some vintage ribbon spools coming to an Instagram account near you very shortly. Meanwhile, I'm off to organise my grid.