Designing with Flowers: 3 Tips for Getting Started


Last month, I introduced you to my friend, Natalie Bowen Brookshire—a talented floral designer with her own San Francisco-based studio, Natalie Bowen Designs.  I’m excited to announce that Natalie is going to contributing some posts here—first, with a series of floral design tips that will be relevant to you whether you’re choosing flowers for your wedding or simply for dinner; and second, with a travel series based on all the incredible places she gets to visit for weddings and events—it will be wonderful inspiration for anyone planning a destination wedding. I’m constantly looking to her Instagram feed for inspiration: she often extends her work trips, and ends up in the most beautiful places. 

So today Natalie is starting things off with some answers to the flower-design questions she gets most often: “Where do I start? And how do I gather inspiration when I feel completely overwhelmed by my choices?” 



I often get asked where I find my inspiration. This is a huge question and the answer varies depending on what specifically we are talking about. My best way to answer this query is that I am always gathering inspiration and storing it. Generally speaking, I avoid visual references such as Pinterest in order to keep my work authentic and an original expression. I find that I am most influenced by fashion, art, architecture, my creative friends, and—mostly—by nature itself.

While I have a constant catalogue of creativity that is waiting to have the right project to unfold, I too get stuck. I find that the jumping off point of inspiration can be the trickiest. I’ll call it writers block of the visual kind. In my line of work, I often start this process at the flower mart in the wee hours of the morning before the sun has come up—groggy and half asleep. I usually go to the market with an idea of what I am buying, but if the event is of the smaller scale variety I usually don’t have a strict idea of what I am buying until I see it in person.

The great thing about going to the market and letting the season inspire me is that I can see it right in front of me and let that lead the design. The hard part is getting overwhelmed. In teaching workshops and working with people one-on-one, I have found that many designers get overwhelmed with their choices, even when buying flowers at the grocery store. In order to save myself from getting stuck in those early mornings at the market, I’ve come up with three tips that have helped me work through the process and produce an end product that looks thought-out and complete.


1. Chose your color Palate.
I love color. Playing with color combinations is one of my favorite things to do! In a world where neutral grays are trending, I am a girl with an orange couch. Two orange couches to be exact. My husband shares this love and Apartment Therapy referred to him as having a “unapologetic love of orange.” So you get it: I love color and I love playing with color. (Even if this means attaining texture through layers of a simple palate—like a neutral white.)

But the best way to think about color is deciding not only what you are drawn to, but what will look good in the space. Keep in mind the environment your arrangement will be placed in. If your dining room has a blue painting in it, pull in blue. If your favorite plates have yellow detail on them, pull in yellow. If your room is dark and moody, brighten it with lighter blooms. You do not need to be specific and can easily approach this with an idea of lighter and fresh, or dark and moody. Once you settle on a color palate, you are ready for the next step.


2. Chose one element as your launching point, and build from there.
Once you have a color—or general color palate—in mind you are ready to chose your components. When I shop the market, I look for one bloom, green, or other element that I love and that I respond to. The same approach could be done in a grocery store floral department. Once you have found your single favorite element of the day, start adding the other elements around that. If you found beautiful roses, add greens or filler and a textural element. If you just love waxy green magnolia leaves, add simple blooms to complete it. If you get stuck, ask yourself: what does not go with that element and rule those choices out. If your gut tells you it does not go with your hero bloom, then ditch it and move on!


3. When in doubt, keep it simple.
If you are still finding yourself overwhelmed, bring it back to basics and remember to keep it simple. One way to do this is to limit yourself to only three components. One bloom, one green, and one textural or unexpected element. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by choices; but if you give yourself a cap on the options, you’ll be able to spotlight what you want to focus on. I am more likely to be drawn to arrangements that have fewer varieties over ones with than many. It can be hard for the eye to really take it all in if there is too much going on. I’d say leave the complicated variety pairing to Nicolette and keep it streamlined for your own designs.


My final tip is such an easy one (you won’t even feel as if you did any designing, but you did!): It’s as simple as “chop and drop.” Buy several bunches of one variety of bloom and put them in a vase. A mass of a single type of flower can make as statement much greater than a mixed arrangement. Flower in a mass read luxury to me, and who doesn’t want to impress their dinner guests with that feeling? Tulips are the perfect bloom for the chop and drop method, but I think you could really do it with so many varieties.

Thank you so much, Natalie! 
Photos by Kim A. Thomas

P.S. Read about Natalie’s career path to floral designer. Also, I’m answering some questions on Natalie’s blog today!

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