Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Five Elements of Floral Design

In addition to Adelaide B. Wilson's discussion of the six principles of floral design, she lists five elements of floral design. The elements are: line, form, pattern, texture, and color. One might think of the six principles as the active components while the elements are the matter on which they act in making the arrangement.

What Wilson has to say about the five elements can be summarized as follows:

Line refers to the overall framework or skeleton of the flower arrangement. It can include many subsidiary lines that are curved or straight, long or short. Wilson recommends working with the natural shape of the stem in creating line, and choosing the natural shape carefully. She cautions against trying to force an unnatural line on a stem as it might not remain in place.

Form refers to the shape of the bloom. Some are elliptical, some trumpet-shaped, others are spiked and so on. Also, the same flower has different forms when it is in bud, in half-bloom, and in full bloom. By using these forms in different combinations, one creates contrast and rhythm as described in the discussion of the six principles.

Pattern is the combination of line and form. It includes how empty spaces interrelate with the stems and blooms. Wilson recommends being careful not to crowd the flowers too closely as this impedes the construction of a pleasing pattern.

Texture refers to the roughness or smoothness of the bloom or foliage. It can be used in addition to color to create contrast. It adds shadow and depth. Wilson recommends being sensitive to the texture of other items in the church and also to whether the plant is so coarse in texture that it is too casual for church flowers.

Color is especially important in relation to rhythm and balance. Wilson points out that the visual weight of a color is significant. Light or pale colors seem lighter in weight than darker ones. Generally, it is better to use light colors high in the arrangement and dark colors lower, so that the dark colors give stability by means of horizontal balance.

Wilson advises the arranger to be sensitive to the liturgical colors. She also cautions that "great masses of brilliant flowers" are improper in a church setting because they draw too much attention. She notes that small amounts of lighter values of warm hues (yellows and reds) are effective for large areas whereas dark values of all colors, and blues and violets in all values, have a receding quality so that they tend to become invisible in a large church or a dim one.

The floral still-life above by Jan Davidsz de Heem illustrates all five elements of floral design. It can be an interesting exercise to use the painting to identify them.

Based on Wilson, Adelaide B.; Flower Arrangement for Churches (M. Barrows & Co., Inc.; New York, 1952), pp. 62-73.

Heem, "Flowers in a glass vase" (17th century; oil on canvas), from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

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