With backgrounds in fine art and literature, Seattle FlowerLab's Katie Ellison values the true aesthetics of design, as well as human inspiration behind every arrangement. Flowers can express many things, and there's good reason we choose flowers to celebrate our bright moments and mourn our dark ones. Katie's unique appreciation for visually-pleasing arrangements and the human impetus behind them has given her a distinct voice and aesthetic. For 15 years she has worked as a florist in Montana and Washington, collaborating with many event florists in the Seattle area. Her work celebrates a rich array of design styles and a deep appreciation of the varied ways in which people approach floral design.
We are delighted to host two masterclasses in floristry with Katie Ellison of Seattle FlowerLab at Moth & Myth! Katie will be teaching an evening workshop on June 24th, and a daytime workshop on June 25th. To give you a better idea of Katie's creative process, and what will be covered in the classes, we conducted a little interview below!
How did you get started working in the floral industry?
When I was attending the University of Montana, I needed part-time work to make rent. I lived a block away from Bitterroot Flower Shop, a large retail and full-service florist right off the “hip strip” in the downtown area of Missoula. I basically squeaky-wheeled my way into a position doing customer service, refreshing the display cooler, helping with wraps, checking on plants and general upkeep at the shop - it seemed to me a perfect, convenient job during my studies toward my English degree.
I did this for about a year until a design position opened up. I have always been artistic and I’d been doing the chalkboard and window displays consistently so I was offered a tryout to get the spot. The lead designer Linda was absolutely incredible and she quickly picked up that I could copy her designs and had a knack for designing. This shop was big, and walked a line between pretty traditional “Teleflora” designs, along with some of the freedoms of “designer choice” bouquets. I learned every fundamental skill I have there, and I learned how to design confidently and quickly — a necessary trait for any busy flower shop designer.
Do you have a favorite part of your creative process?
The creative process at Flower Lab starts with a request from a client. I love this challenge of expectation mixed with my own skill and desire to impress. That said, I have a rather vast supply of colors, design forms and flower combinations that circle around in my head. I love to see a color palette expressed in nature, and then pull a selection of flowers and foliage that mimic it. I do this with color palettes I see in fashion, in home decor shows on tv, in other peoples’ floral designs, and on instagram of course! Greening a vase and pulling flowers that can express some beautiful image in my brain — self realized or inspired — is so formative and keeps things fresh and ever-evolving for me.
How do you feel your background in fine art and literature influence your designs?
The designs I love the most are balanced, textural, and definitely colorful. As a painter, I’ve always loved line movement, seeing the brushstroke, and having punchy, effective color, and I love to have a project to work on — these tendencies are perfectly suited for floral design. I initially struggled to view my floral design in the same special light as my painting (it was my paycheck and painting was my passion), but I now realize how limiting that is to my experience as a whole artist. My love of books and story and humanity (literature!) is completely suited for floral artistry. 99% of my designs are linked directly to a person and their unique human experience — the client, the birthday girl, my mother, a stranger in mourning. Storytelling and developing connections with another human is inherent in this craft. Additionally, my language skills help greatly with my communication. Being able to describe a bouquet concept or give a sense of my design vision to someone over the phone or through my consistent email communication is a daily occurrence. Years of writing prose and analysis in papers helps me confidently express myself on the daily, and these skills have helped me establish trust and mutual passion for flowers for many years.
Are there themes or ideas you think floral design is more suited to expressing than other art forms?
This is such a great question. While I’m generally someone who struggles to place art forms in competition with each other, I also cannot help but find floral design to be so vastly effective in a broad range of areas. The beautiful yet fleeting nature of a cut flower is something that powerfully reminds us of life itself. When we use flowers to celebrate big moments in time, they are really granting a two-fold gift for that moment — the pleasing feast for the eye that creates a special, thoughtful experience and, in its grandeur, the hidden reminder that this experience is transient and worthy of our reverent attention.
I’m always reminded that flowers are indeed a luxury good that we’ve chosen to embrace because of their essential presence. As with any art form, the creation of a floral design must have meaning and skill behind it to justify its presence. Being there for people from birth to birthday, parties to marriage, and then perhaps most importantly in those moments of death, is a gift for any florist. In those moments of life that are beautiful, fun, difficult, shattering — the peaceful meaning of cut flowers designed expertly is both powerful and essential to my mind.