Sponsor Spotlight: Austin Ikebana.

This morning, I want to show off one of Austin Eavesdropper’s newest sponsors: Austin Ikebana.
Ikebana is a special art of flower arrangement — almost like flower craft.  Rather than big bunches of flowers, Ikebana practitioners mold different parts of the flower to create these delicate, gorgeous shapes.  They’re like little pieces of art.
So when I heard about Vanessa Howell, an Austinite who trained under an Ikebana sensei in Tokyo, I was immediately intrigued!  Her arrangements are the kind of thing I could see at The W Hotel or Uchi here in Austin: Unusual, striking flower settings that beg you to stare, and wonder: “how are those plants making those shapes?”
But even more than Vanessa’s work, I was really touched by her back story.  She and I started talking back in April, and I found out that she did something I’ve always wanted to do — pick a place on the globe, and go live there for an open-ended period.  That was how she accidentally stumbled on Ikebana, which now enables her to be a working artist.  I’ll let her tell you her whole story, below, but trust me.  It’s pretty rad.
(As is her baby boy.)

I am so pleased to introduced Vanessa Howell of Austin Ikebana!

Hi Vanessa!  First of all, can you explain to everyone what Ikebana is?
Unlike traditional western flower arrangement, which focuses almost exclusively on the flower blossoms and their colors, Ikebana designers consider the entire flower—the bloom, stems, and leaves—when creating arrangements.

The rules that govern traditional Ikebana emphasize shape, line, form, color, and meaning. The art represents a marriage of nature and humanity: Ikebana uses the designer’s hand to integrate raw pieces of the natural world into an arrangement that becomes nature, distilled and presented for the human eye.

You learned the art of Ikebana while living in Tokyo.  What made you decide to venture out there?

The short answer is, there was no good reason! I met my man in Japanese class at UCF in Florida, and we just decided one day to sell all of our stuff and move there. We didn’t have jobs lined up or anything, we were just hoping to go and find jobs before our three month tourist visas ran out. It’s kind of crazy now that I look back on it, but it’s seriously the best thing I’ve ever done!
I also brought my cat with me to Japan, he is in one photo. We strapped a camera around his neck that took pictures on a timer.

The pictures of the bike and the sky are by him: 

How did you find a teacher?

I was teaching some really cute girls in their 20s conversational English, and we were having a conversation about hobbies. One of the students described her Ikebana hobby, and I had really been interested in trying it myself.  So she introduced me to Tsubaki-sensei (‘Tsukabi’ which means ‘camellia.’)

Her lessons were taught out of her home, and her mother was a really accomplished Ikebana practitioner as well. She was really kind but didn’t speak English, so at first, when my Japanese wasn’t that great, we just had to be patient with each other. I loved it immediately and she laughed at how serious I was about it.

My Japanese gradually got better, and at the conclusion of my time there, I had earned three levels of certification from the Ohara School. I currently hold the しはんか いっき しゅうりょう, Advanced Level Certification.

What was the very first Ikebana arrangement you ever created?

My first arrangement was this one, simple with hydrangeas and sunflowers:

It must have been during the rainy season in summer. I didn’t have proper vases so I just had to use a soup bowl and one-cup sake glasses that they sell in the convenience stores there. At my lessons, my teacher would teach me a certain style, then I would take it all apart and carry the flowers home and then try to put it together again once I got home. It was good practice!

When ordering from you, what should a client request? Do you create arrangements based on a client’s personality, or the room’s style?
For home deliveries that are gifts, where I set up an arrangement on-site, I usually just need to know the occasion and then I work with their budget to make something that conveys their sentiment using as many seasonal elements as possible.   Sometimes, people tell me the personality of the gift receiver or they might know their favorite flower, and all that info just makes the arrangement as appreciated as possible!  Since in these gift situations I usually don’t know what the room will look like, I will bring a big bucket with a few different options.   This is also good because the receiver of the gift can spot their favorite blooms and say, ‘Oh I love peonies! Please use those!’
For clients hiring me for a specific function (like a party, a realtor’s open house, a wedding, or table centerpieces for a banquet), I can usually scope out the place beforehand, which is really the best. Otherwise, I just bring a few different options and get some clues from the client about what they are envisioning. Some clients have a lot of input they want to give, which is great, and others just want me to handle it and use my judgment, which is great too.

Thank you for sponsoring Austin Eavesdropper, Austin Ikebana!  I love your business and your awesome story.  Your sense of adventure is totally inspiring to me!
Take an Ikebana Class with Vanessa:
Saturday, June 18th
Contact vanessa@austinikebana.com to reserve a spot.