The elements of floral design help make a design the best it can be. A knowledge of what and how to create line, form, space, color, texture, pattern, harmony, and unity in a design goes a long way to improving skills and becoming a master. As you move through the various elements, it will all come together as the basics to keep for always, just like a chef will always deglaze the pan to add flavor to a sauce. Once you have these down, it is all about practicing the techniques, trying new things, and learning more as you go along.
When starting a classic design, one of the first things to consider is the line. This element sets the tone for the form and the framework to which all the elements are placed.
It is often the case that the flowers, foliage, and other plant materials will set the design style by their line. A curved branch will set the scene for an oval, round, or S form by its line. The stems of tulips lined up together like soldiers set the tone for a more contemporary design style.
So, too, do tall flowers like gladioli, larkspurs, and delphiniums, or foliage like flax, reeds, and ivy. Then the accessories or elements will be placed first and designed around its line. These include pieces of driftwood and not forgetting containers with a line that needs to be included in the overall effect.
The many different types of line forms are not only straight or curved. A line can zigzag, move horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, create the idea of being graceful, delicate, or bold and dramatic. A line can also evoke a sense of the masculine or the feminine. It also expresses movement and gives design energy as your eye moves along the line forms.
Straight vertical or horizontal lines are dramatic, bold, and emotional while cascading or curved lines are more peaceful, graceful, and soft. From this, we can see a definite emotional link in the structure of a design, which a designer will want to express in flowers and foliage.
It follows that form will also play an important role in the design of a flower arrangement. Form adds shape by linking the individual shapes of the components to make the whole shape. It is concerned not only with the shape but also the height, width, and depth of the arrangement as a whole and of the individual elements within the space. Place these in harmony and you have success.
Designers often refer to some individual flowers or elements as form flowers because they have an unusual shape and can stand on their own as a form. These are flowers like lilies, orchids, strelitzia, proteas, and anthuriums.
Form is expressed using various shapes. Bold shapes like geometric shapes, squares, rectangles, and triangles placed horizontally, vertically, or at right angles have a defined structural linear form. In contrast, curves, circles, ovals, arcs, crescent shapes, and S curves have a more informal flowing form.
Within these forms, you can choose to make them open forms or closed forms, which just means packing them in tightly for a denser look like a bride’s bouquet. Alternatively, give them space and use negative space as a filler for open forms that are often used to fill larger areas like the arrangement at the altar of a church. Two completely different looks can be achieved with the exact same plant material.
If you have ever done an informal flower arranging session, you will note that you can have 10 people with the same flowers and foliage, an instruction to make a bouquet, and everyone will make something that looks different. That is because we all want to achieve something that has a personal feeling and will choose the form based on emotions.
One last thing on form, remember to always think in 3D, and don’t forget the back of a design which may not always be seen but will create the depth needed for a good form. And the form should always be in harmony with the surroundings in which it is to be placed.
Following line and form, there has to be an element that will describe the area around and between the design. This open or negative area is the element of space. When playing with flowers and foliage, there should always be an idea of where the final composition will be placed so that once it’s ready to be admired, it fits in well and complements the areas around it.
Space can be divided into two – positive space and negative space. The positive refers to the area occupied by the elements in the design, the flowers, foliage, and accessories including the container and any decoration. The negative space is the open space that falls between the positive elements but that also forms part of the design. This negative space is sometimes the more difficult for one to grasp as it’s not always something we think about automatically. Do an experiment where you draw only the negative spaces of a ladder for example and you will see that it’s quite tricky for a novice.
Color is one of those essential elements that give life and personality to a design. The eye picks up the various hues, and a response is gained – sometimes cool and calm and sometimes exciting and bright. The use of color can save a design with very little skill in the elements of design. The color first attracts us and gives us a feeling of harmony. On the other hand, a design that has inadequate color usage will give the viewer a sense of disquiet or anxiety.
Once the basics of color are understood, the element of color can be used to get a human reaction and an emotional response, which, at the end of the day, will make someone stop and admire a design rather than simply pass it by – what we all want in our work with flowers.
Often going hand-in-hand with a pattern, the texture is the surface quality of pieces of plant material, accessories, décor, and containers. Texture can also emit an emotion by sight or touch. People find it very difficult to resist touching a lamb’s ear leaf (Stachys byzantine) for example. Its fluffy furry appearance in the soft grey color is irresistible.
The same goes for other textures like smooth, glossy, waxy, rough like sandpaper, velvety, spiky, fluffy, furry, and fuzzy.
Strong, bold textures are used to create drama and textures that blend to create harmony. For a little bit of both combine soft and striking textures and a visually appealing composition will be formed.
Often, texture is found in the use of plant materials besides flowers. Fluffy grasses are excellent for texture, form, and line; branches of berries provide smooth and rough textures in one piece, and a variety of ferns in one design can be delicate, bold, lacy, soft, shiny, and structured all at once. Texture will also change to the viewer in a different light.
Texture can also not be forgotten in containers to blend or contrast the design.
While there are elements of pattern in flowers and foliage, there is also a pattern in grouping elements in a way that creates a pattern. Line up the stems of tulips, and you have created a visually appealing pattern.
Pattern can be achieved by repeating the elements of line, form, space, color, texture, and size. Just two of these elements can be used to create a pattern. A flower crown, for example, can be a good use of patterns.
Then, there is the use of patterns in accessories and décor – a basket weave pattern or a vase showing definite lines and grooves.
The orderly arrangement of elements is identified by the spaces between and a unit of measurement and can be used to great effect in floral designs especially those in the contemporary style.
The physical dimensions of the elements of line, form, and space make up the size of the design. Size can be measured, but it also has an emotional value. In this case bigger is better – or is perceived as such. Size is always a consideration in floral art – the size of the plant material, the size of the container, the size of the accessories and décor, the size of the space it will occupy, and so on.
Size often goes together with scale and proportion to ensure the design is balanced and harmonious.
8) Harmony and unity
Harmony brings everything together in a pleasing conclusion. Back to nature, we can distinguish the beauty of a tree’s bark, the boldness of the leaves, and the line and form of the branches individually, but together they form a harmonious whole.
Once a design is complete and you step back to inspect the result, a sense of harmony should be on the cards. After all, playing with flowers is a delightful pastime and we are only just trying to find relationships between items to make something beautiful.
When all the participants in the show come together with links that relate, they form an alliance that brings them together. United and complete!
The Elements in a Nutshell
- Line is the motion
- Form is the structure
- Space is open or closed
- Color dictates the mood
- Texture is visually appealing
- Pattern is orderly repetition
- Size occupies the space
- Harmony and unity is the peace.
Wendy brings over 20 years of senior leadership experience in gardening magazine publishing. Today, she is the features editor for The Gardener magazine and Grow to Eat magazine. She is also the senior editor for Let’s Braai and Open Gardens of South Africa magazines, published annually by Lonehill Media.
Wendy has been involved in many aspects of the industry, including managing editorial and creative teams, writing and producing expert guides and articles on many gardening subjects, magazine design and photography, and developing recipes for publishing.
Wendy’s interests are very much in the arts – writing, design, cookery, and floral art. She also loves to spend time growing flowers on her small flower farm.