"What is there in life if you can't express yourself?" asks Pieter Bouterse.
His method of expression is Dutch flower arranging, a type of living sculpture. "The design elements in European arrangements reflect the way people interact with each other on a day-to-day basis," he says.
Bouterse's designs don't mimic Martha Stewart's pom-pom arrangements or typical supermarket-florist "triangles." Flowers are far more complex to Bouterse, a Dutch craftsman and owner of Pieter Bouterse Studios in Cleveland.
Think conversation and interest - dimension that draws you in to study an arrangement, not just a "look at me!" punctuation mark.
Full-bodied Dutch flower sculptures - and Bouterse uses this term intentionally ? offer depth. "Flowers [in Europe] are the focal point of a setting, where here flowers are an accent placed on a table," he says. "Here, people think of flowers on happy occasions like weddings or when we need to make a profound statement when we don't know what to say, like at funerals. In Europe, we always think of flowers."
In fact, Europeans spend an average of more than $100 each year on flowers, while Americans fork over a measly $32 annually, usually on standard-issue arrangements found in grocery stores.
So what would a proper Dutch flower sculpture look like in nature? Consider a tree peony in bloom with 60 to 70 blossoms that are perfectly accented and balanced, Bouterse explains.
To achieve this look, Bouterse first considers a color theme and then aims for arrangements that incorporate an assortment of textures and varieties. For a home with black and silver accents, he might elect chartreuse chrysanthemums, which look like little coat buttons. "Used in amassment, they look like a miniature lawn," he compares.
Bouterse combines textures and creates a pattern of color in his sculptures. He suggests picking an accent flower first, not a shape. "The flowers tell you what they want you to do with them," he says.
He might choose a chartreuse flower with a bit of burgundy or white. An amaranth seed-podlike variety picks up the white and adds a chenille texture. Jade roses, tight-budded and green, add interest with more texture. White garden roses top off the combination with dimension and fragrance.
"There you have four different flowers, but they are all in the same vein," Bouterse explains. "The colors reappear in each other, so you end up with a multitextured design that takes on motion."
Sounds easy if you have a green thumb or a knack for design. The rest of us can rely on a few hints Bouterse provides as a guide to creating your own Dutch flower sculptures at home. "Everyone can be a floral designer," he promises. The best part: Bouterse's suggestions require little or no experience, and class starts in your own back yard:
Tools of the trade. Purchase a pair of good clippers. Bouterse suggests Felcos, which are widely used by gardening professionals and come with a replaceable blade. Next, get a knife. The blade size should not exceed 3 inches; you'll want to make sure it locks so you can cut through tough stems without the knife closing up.
Play in the yard. Clip some branches and grasses, and study nature while you're at it. "Look at how nature does it," Bouterse says. "Notice how every bloom gets the right amount of light and space." Then, take these homegrown samples indoors and play with them by arranging them in a vase. "This sounds elementary, but flower arranging is a path of trial and error," Bouterse says.
Meet your florist. Don't rely on grocery stores for top-notch flowers. Get to know a neighborhood florist whom you trust.
Start small. Choose two bunches of flowers with complementary color and texture. If you purchase individual stems, buy five of one variety and five of another.
Spread your creativity. Lay out flowers on the kitchen counter, flower sides facing you. (If you look at the stems, you won't know which colors and textures work well together.) Build layers, placing one flower on top of another.
Gather and cut. Place stems in one hand and begin composing your bouquet. Pull some flowers up to create height; push some down for depth. Once you have a pleasing arrangement, snip stems so they are even on the bottom, cutting off at least 2 inches to remove any air bubbles.
Assemble and enjoy. Once stems are cut, punch them into chicken wire or floral foam. Do this quickly, pushing stems into a medium within 3 seconds of cutting off the ends. This is important so stems do not seal themselves off and prevent water uptake. Place your creation in a vase with water and voilà.