I have always been that floral designer that needed to be reeled in a bit. Given too much time or too little work, I’d go off on bold tangents and start building what became known with much chagrin as “another Lisa thing.”
Sometimes it would be threading blooms onto wire to make flower “curtains” for the front display cooler or building some sort of FLOB (floral object). Other times I’d create a wall hanging that even I knew the general public would likely never buy, but the process of creating fed the starving little artist within and I didn’t care if it would be met with approval.
When you’ve been through nearly 16 years of the same type of work, it can get monotonous. There are some things that can get a little mechanical and formulaic. It’s not that you don’t enjoy your daily work or aren’t appreciative of those bread and butter projects, but it’s nice to bust out of those confines from time to time.
Play is what keeps the creative person alive. It’s like water and oxygen. Exploration and experimentation are the oil that keeps the machine running and able to forge through the tedious.
A few years ago, I read about a Flowers in Bloom event that was happening in art galleries in Edmonton and had florists “paired” with a painting or sculpture that they’d reimagine and interpret in a floral design. Being a fine arts graduate, this held extra appeal for me, as it was the perfect melding of two of my familiar worlds. I was too late to participate that year, but reached out to the organizer, Heather de Kok, about getting involved in the future. It was something I knew I needed to do.
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One more. An action shot from yesterday at #mapleleafcupyeg. Designing in front of a crowd didn't make me that nervous surprisingly, it's always time that rattles me a bit. It's a steep learning curve testing and competing, learning to balance and manage time. I'm learning a ton about strategizing and designing smarter. And as Hitomi says "the economy of means".
That event never came to fruition the following year, but Heather did invite me to participate in the first-ever Maple Leaf Cup floral competition in 2016. I was gung ho to do it, but unfortunately fractured my arm in a skating debacle on New Year’s Eve 2015, so needless to say, my plans came to a screeching halt.
Thankfully a second annual competition was planned for 2017 and I, with my feet firmly planted on terra firma and arm no longer in a sling, was on the roster!
Finding out the competition would involve “hort couture” was so exciting. I love the idea of making flowers wearable beyond more common applications like headpieces, corsages and boutonnieres. I had poured over videos from the previous year’s American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) symposium, where a group of designers had done floral couture for live models on a runway. It was so inspiring, and getting to trial and conceptualize ideas on a stationary mannequin seemed to be a good baby step in the right direction.
The weeks leading up to the competition found me doing rough sketches, jotting down potential ideas and the flowers and supplies that might achieve them. The night before I barely slept and was buzzing with excitement. I hit the Edmonton Expo Centre the next morning, on three hours of sleep and only copious amounts of coffee for breakfast.
We were given just over three hours to work on the base of our fashions. I turned on the tunes hoping an up-tempo beat would help me develop a steady rhythm and also tune out the rest of my surroundings (like a lot of creative types, I get distracted easily). Every now and then I would allow myself to steal a peek around the room at all of the other creations in progress. They were nothing short of amazing. It was so cool to see all of the extremely varied interpretations of the theme.
— Fleur-de-lise (@fleurdeliseCA) March 24, 2017
In between the work, I was able to talk to many of the fellow competitors and learn a bit about their backgrounds in design. Everyone was incredibly friendly and supportive, while it was clear we all had our eyes on the prize and delivering our very best work, there was a very genuine camaraderie among us.
I did not win the Maple Leaf Cup, but truthfully never expected to. I was there for the experience—to push and challenge myself, to increase the visibility of my design business, and to network with like-minded people who share my passions.
Aside from that, I got to witness my friend and absolutely brilliant mentor, Lea Romanowski of Calgary, clinch the prize. I am largely the designer I am today because of her influence and support, without which I might have left the industry altogether. She’s been instrumental in my interest in accreditation through the Canadian Academy of Floral Art and AIFD, and she encouraged me to forge ahead with my plans to open a design shop—without a storefront—when so many frowned upon and held little respect for doing so.
Some florists get very possessive and protective of their knowledge and their tips and tricks. I’ve always found that funny, especially in this day and age of the internet, and everything being discoverable if you look hard enough. That was completely absent at the Maple Leaf Cup, at least from my perspective. People openly asked questions and shared their ideas, tips and techniques.
— Stephanie Dubois (@StephSDubois) March 24, 2017
That’s the thing that has struck me the most about the people that take on these design challenges and go through accreditation. They seem to be the folks that see themselves as willing teachers and perpetual students. There is a dedication to the craft, and to the industry—a spirit of, “I want you to succeed, because your success helps the greater good, it increases the value and draws attention to the greater whole that we are all a part of.”
I find that spirit infectious and as important to my creativity as the concepts of play and experimentation. My passion and excitement for the amazing type of work I do was rekindled by being in the company of so many talented, humble, generous and supportive people. It put me back in touch with my absolute joy in working with flowers.
The entire experience has me thinking about the Japanese proverb: “Happiness is to hold flowers in both hands.” That’s such a palpable reality.
For that alone I walked away having won a prize far more coveted than I bargained for.