Interpretive Floral Design


Sometimes in floral art competition the schedule will stipulate a particular style of design but often you will be given just a title or theme.  Recently I thought it might be helpful if I charted the process I tend to follow when I am faced with creating an interpretive floral design. How do you go from a theme and create a design that can ‘speak for itself’? How do you make your design stand out from it’s competing entries and evoke the theme for the judge?

The Definition of an Interpretative Design is  – A design in which components are chosen and placed to evoke a theme, occasion, or atmosphere; not a design style.

Image: "Two to Tango" a design by Mel Harris Feb 2016
From “Two to Tango” a design by Mel Harris Feb 2016

Competition schedules usually have a theme which means “an implied or suggested idea”. If no style of design is stipulated then you are free to interpret it however you like simply designing from the theme. If you need a little help there are lots ways to find ideas:

Where do you start ?

For example: You might be given the Theme Title “Two to Tango”.

  • Look up the meaning of the phrase and each word in your title in a dictionary.

e.g. It takes two to tango is a common idiomatic expression which suggests something in which more than one person or other entity are paired in an inextricably-related and active manner, occasionally with negative connotations.

The tango is a dance which requires two partners moving in relation to each other, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in opposition. The meaning of this expression has been extended to include any situation in which the two partners are by definition understood to be essential—as in, a marriage with only one partner ceases to be a marriage.

  • Highlight and focus on any key words that you could translate into your design to convey your interpretation.

For me the following key words stood out: more than one entity; paired; inextricably-related, active; a dance – moving in tandem/opposition; two essential partners.
  • Is there an artwork, song, book or movie that uses the theme word or words in its title?

e.g. The phrase is incorporated in the lyrics of the song “Takes Two to Tango”, written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning  in 1952 about romance, but the open-ended possibilities of the idiomatic expression are available for a wider range of prospective applications. One stanza of the song explains:
You can sail in a ship by yourself,
Take a nap or a nip by yourself.
You can get into debt on your own.
There are lots of things that you can do alone.
(But it)
Takes two to tango … etc.
Given that there was the overall theme of Happy Valentines for the Club Competition that night interpreting the theme with respect to “Romance” seemed appropriate.
A painting with the title “Two to Tango”
  • The date a song, book or movie was written might help you choose a style or the accessories for your arrangement.

e.g The song and painting ideas suggested to me :
  1. a design in the contemporary style,
  2. one which appeared to be free-standing,
  3. showed two complimentary/essential parts, 
  4. showed a high degree of movement,
  5. created a sense of  unity and of space
  6.  and  was not formed by a vase or container (I’ d have to get my DIY guys to make me a bespoke stand).

Once you have some BASIC ideas for your interpretive floral design  –

  • You might begin to associate a particular colour(s) or flower(s) or plant material with the theme from something you remember or see in your research.

e.g. Red and black flamenco colours started zipping about my mind, red Roses, circular or rounded forms, ways to manipulate foliage or colour foliage.  I thought about black aspidistra leaves or purply black pittosporum.  The form and elegance of calla lillies appealed to me and I began to wonder about how to link two parts together in a design.  I loved the simplicity of the following designs.
Design by Marie Francoise Deprez
  • It could remind you of a place, a time in history, an animal, a piece of art, patterns, a season, a holiday or almost anything else.

e.g. Thinking further I found this picture of Tangoing Flamingoes which echoed the “dancing legs” and led me to thinking about the possibility of using plant material to show this in my design.  

by Simen Johan found on
  • ‘Surf the net’ for ideas and inspiration or look through some magazines until you have an idea of what you want to create.

e.g. I find the online scrapbooking application to be very useful for discovering and saving creative ideas.  There you can put together collections of images under your own themes and search the ‘boards’ that other users have put together.



  • Sketch your ideas.

My preliminary sketch for "Two to Tango"
My preliminary sketch for “Two to Tango”
  • Check whether the flowers and plant materials that you have thought of are in season and available to you.

e.g. I soon found that since it was near Valentines Day I would find it too expensive to use red roses in my design.  Instead I found some lovely deep red/cerise dianthus which evoked a flamenco feel and found that I could get some lovely  Pittosporum “Tom Thumb” foliage for the ‘male’ dance partner.  Finding a potted ‘Regal’ purple Calla Lily plant in flower in a local garden centre proved perfect.  I hunted for some Phormium leaves in the right shade but substituted these for Cordyline ‘Crimson Star’ which were stiffer and held their shape very well.
  • Don’t forget to review the competition rules and regulations before you finalize your idea.

I find it particularly important to consider the measurement requirements and to always ensure that you are working within the allowed exhibition space, considering how your design will be viewed and judged (i.e. whether it will be viewed from the front or from all around etc.)  It’s important to consider the merit and visual dominance of any accessories you have added and your use of container or stand as well as your coverage of any mechanics. 
e.g. This applied to my design in terms of the stand that I had my son make, the colour I chose to spray paint (this was designed to blend in with the background that it would be displayed against)it and how I covered the upright supporting dowels with the Cordyline leaves and attached these with clear floral adhesive. I also needed to think about how best to fix the floral foam to my stand for arranging.
Mechanics: My son constructed the stand using an MDF board and two upright pieces of 10mm wooden dowel. we attached plastic ‘frogs’ to the top of the dowels with screws to prong into the oasis balls (they were 12cm spheres). Plastic vials were also inserted into the sphere to place and support the Calla lilies. Tip: Cover your oasis tightly with a mesh bag from your fruit and vegetables. this will hold it together well and leave holes for insertion of plant material.

Work AWAY!

Here is how my design ended up. In the competition I was awarded 1st Prize in the Advanced Class and also Most Artistic Prize. On the night I was complimented by the Judge on my interpretation, my complimentary choice of materials for the spheres and ‘the dancing legs’ which she said were “very strong” in conveying my interpretation of the theme.

"Two to Tango" a design by Melanie Harris Feb 2016
“Two to Tango” a design by Melanie Harris Feb 2016

For blogend

Some comments from those who viewed my design….

“That’s gorgeous Melanie – looks just like two people dancing!”

“You captured the stance of those inspiring flamingos perfectly, they really looked as if they might perform a tango! Very elegant Mel”

“The stand is almost invisible. Beautiful work!”


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