Roughly translating to “living flowers,” ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, may have popped up on your Instagram feed in recent years. Although it’s an ancient art form, the practice has recently seen a modern resurgence thanks to its eye-catching sculptural qualities and wellness benefits.
But the art form is far from new. In the 6th century, Chinese Buddhist missionaries in Japan introduced ikebana as a form of floral offering designed to represent the harmony between heaven, humans and earth. Over time, the concept expanded into a diverse medium with anywhere from 300 to 1,500 schools, depending on who you ask. Generally speaking, the art form calls for carefully curated greenery, blooms and twigs to convey an emotion or a message – much like a painting.
Ikebana’s minimalist beauty has captivated practitioners from all over the world, including Ekaterina Seehaus. Born in Russia and based in Belgium for the last 27 years, she has been honing her skills as an ikebanist for over a decade. Ekaterina first stumbled across the practice via a workshop in Brussels, then studied ikebana extensively and eventually qualified as an instructor.
When it comes to the art form, Ekaterina says Japanese floral art exudes a “less is more” approach and is more akin to a living sculpture than a garden-variety bouquet of blooms. In ikebana, what you cannot see matters just as much as what you can. “I always think of this idea that ‘perfection is achieved not when there is nothing to add, but there is nothing to remove’,” says Ekaterina, quoting the famous French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Indeed, the power of ikebana lies in simplicity and precision. Practitioners thoughtfully select blooms and twigs to strike a perfect balance between shapes, colors, and textures. Adopting a “zen” state of mind is essential to practicing ikebana effectively, explains Ekaterina. A clear mind will encourage greater creativity and enable practitioners to benefit from the meditative practice.
“The key is that the outside world ceases to exist,” says Ekaterina, a working mom who held a high-powered corporate role before teaching the practice online full-time. “Ikebana always keeps you on the edge of your ability, and you have to concentrate deeply. It’s a bit like yoga or meditation, but at the end, you have flowers to take home – which is a lovely bonus!”
Ekaterina practices the Sogetsu style, a relatively new school that takes a slightly more liberal approach than other ikebana schools, emphasising innovation, found objects, and creativity. Some of Ekaterina’s floral displays contain just one flower and a branch bent at an interesting angle. Others showcase several seasonal blooms that feel light, harmonious, and imbued with a sense of movement. Make sure “the wind can go through, the sun can go through” the arrangement, she advises her students.
“You don’t need much to get started – something as simple as a nice twig or branch – so it’s very accessible. Today, I teach students in 27 countries worldwide, and I’m convinced that online teaching is how ikebana [which has historically been taught in person] will be passed on and survive with future generations.”
Whether it’s a centerpiece for your next dinner party or an eye-catching objet d’art for a coffee table, you can easily introduce ikebana into your home and enjoy the meditative, creative experience in the process. Ekaterina shares a few pointers to get you started:
Quality over quantity
Just because you may not have a greenhouse full of fresh blooms doesn’t mean you can’t immerse yourself in the Japanese art of floral arrangement. Ikebana is all about curation and letting nature’s quiet, inner beauty shine through. Something as simple as a flower, branch, leaf, or bunch of berries is enough to start your first masterpiece, says Ekaterina.
Design for harmony
A fundamental principle of ikebana is to consider your environment: How will your display serve the space around it? For instance, when dealing with a narrow foyer, strive for vertical lines and shapes that feel at peace in the compact setting rather than battling the dimensions.
Focus on the process
Ikebana is, above all, a mindfulness practice. Rather than focusing on the results, Ekaterina recommends embarking on each arrangement with thoughtful curiosity. Take the opportunity to notice yourself, your instincts, your materials. Even if your ikebana arrangement isn’t “technically” perfect, you’ve effectively mastered one of the most challenging – and beneficial – aspects of the art by taking the time to tune in with yourself.