A Floral Design Career
Getting Paid to Design with Flowers
For many years I worked in a flower shop where our customers were able to walk through the design room as we were working. It was exciting for them to see what we were doing and we frequently heard comments like, "That must be so much fun." "You are so lucky to be doing this work." "It must be so relaxing." "I would love to do that too."
It is my goal to help you understand the day to day work of a floral designer. It is not as easy as you may think and is frequently very stressful. But, it is wonderful to be able to combine creativity and nature.
In third grade I took an apptitude test and the conclusion was that I would be a good landscape designer. Well...I think floral design is a mini-version of that.
I hope you enjoy learning about floral design as a career.
How I became involved with floral design
I learned floral design on the job. This is not uncommon, but getting your foot in the door is key. Here is how it worked for me.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in drawing and painting, my yearning to be connected to the natural environment led me to work in a greenhouse for the summer after graduation. This turned out to be the 'foot in the door" for me. I was in the right place at the right time and, even though I had no direct experience, a flowershop owner who regularly visited the greenhouse where I worked, got to know me and recommended me for a floral design position at another business.
This was many years ago and things have changed since then. It might be harder today to begin with no experience, but don't let that stop you from trying. It's a great way to learn.
After working in my first floral position for a few years, I went back to school, received an MA degree in drawing and taught art for several years. Eventually my love of nature and flowers guided me back to the art of floral design. But, you absolutely do not need a Master's degree to be a floral designer.
Designers have started out as delivery drivers, flower processors or salespeople.
As a flower processor, your job is to inspect, cut and treat the flowers as they arrive from the wholesale market and it's a great way to learn about the flowers.
I have known of salespeople, drivers and processors who wanted to start designing, but the shop owners felt they were too valuable in their current positions to move them to another one. You may need to think through a plan to present to the owners which would make the switch more desirable to them.
Going to school for floral design
As I did, you may want to study art and design at a 2 or a 4-year academic institution. Another degree which can help you along toward a floral design career is horticulture.
There are also schools specific to floral design such as Rittner's in Boston (see below). Some of my fellow designers have studied there and are doing quite well now. Once you begin to work in a shop you will fine-tune your skills and find working with other designers to be of great benefit as you learn from each other. You're constantly learning more and more.
Floral Design Schools and Other Resources
- Rittners School of Floral Design in Boston
Rittners School of Floral Design offers diploma, hands-on workshop courses in Floral Designing and Flower Shop Management. The site also offers free flower arranging lessons, industry information and more.
- About the American Institute of Floral Design - AIFD
The AIFD is a key organization in the floral design industry. In order to be a member, you must successfully complete a course of trainings and testing. It's not easy to do, but this group is very highly respected.
- Chain of Life Network
The site is full of information on horticulture including plant and cut flower care. It also has a comprehensive listing of floral design and horticulture schools. Sign up for free membership to receive mailings.
- Society of American Florists (SAF)
The Society of American Florists is an organization providing support to florists in the form of information, research and promotion. Explore this website which is a wealth of resources including many well-written articles and research reports.
What is There to Learn?
Its not just design
An important part of your education in floral design will be in what is called "mechanics". These are the techniques you will need to know in order to produce a solid piece which will be long-lasting and secure.
Proper use of a knife, though it may sound elementary, is important, for instance. Cutting cleanly at the correct angle can make all the difference in the success of your designs. Certain flowers will need extra support and unique treatments.
Even for someone who has been in the business for years, there is always something new to learn and floral supply companies are constantly coming up with innovative products to make our job easier and more interesting.
Get Yourself a Pair of These - The Best - REALLY!
You might not think that there would be too many safety issues in floral design, but, aside from the obvious (knives, scissors, thorns), there are other things which are somewhat unique to the business.
- PESTICIDES & HERBCIDES: I think that the one issue most disregarded is that of pesticides and herbicides. These are absorbed through the skin and, while most designers do not wear gloves because they want being able to feel what they are doing, its not a bad idea to start early-on and get used to wearing them. (With corsage and other delicate work, however, gloves just won't work).
I have found the best work glove to be a latex-free one by Kimberly-Clark called "Safeskin Purple Nitrile exam Gloves" and you should be able to find them in many drugstores. They are not as fragile as latex gloves and can be re-used. At the very least, consider wearing them if you are cutting the flowers as they arrive from wholesale.
- AEROSOLS: Many shop owners will want you to use a spray to shine the greens in your arrangements. This is so bad for you and we should legally be able to refuse to use it. These sprays specifically say to use them only in a well-ventilated area. Many a day I have seen clouds of this spray lingering in the air and gone home with a layer of it on my glasses. You know you are breathing it in. Try using a similar product in a spray bottle rather than an aerosol.
- SPRAY PAINT: Most shops discourage their customers from insisting on flowers sprayed with color. Some customers, however, cannot be convinced. Asthetically, its not great and the sprays are even worse than leaf shine, especially the metallics. I have seen designers get physically ill from using these. If you must use them, go outside.
- SHARP THINGS ON THE FLOOR...knives, wires or other sharp things! When you and your fellow designers are working quickly and dropping things on the floor as you go, the debris around you can be hazardous. You may forget that earlier you dropped your knife and had to get out another one because you couldn't find it. I've seen some pretty serious injuries caused by people scooping up debris off the floor to put in the trash. I jammed a wire up under my fingernail once and now I always use a broom and dustpan to pick things up. I cringe when I see someone using their hands. I just don't want you to learn your lesson the hard way.
Under The Feet of a Floral Designer
A High-Quality Knife is Important
The Importance of Speed
or ..."Time is money".
Any good manager or shop owner will encourage you and reward you as a designer for being fast.
You are a major component of the product being sold: the flower arrangement. It is your skill and creativity which transforms the raw materials into something greater than the sum of its parts. Without you, it is just a bucket of flowers, a vase, some water, a knife, greens. With you as the added component, it all comes to life.
To many people looking from the outside in, this is almost magical and it is a wonderful feeling to be able to provide a creative product. Speed, however, is an important part of professional floristry. It is what makes the business profitable. Speed will come with experience and focus.
I have seen Paula Pryke work (a published and well-known British floral designer) and, in addition to being a fabulous designer, one of the things that stands out about her is that she is very, very fast.
It takes a dedicated floral designer to hold up through the holidays. When other families are getting together on their day off before the holiday, you are working long hours at the shop, eating while you work without a break. you can get a little goofy.
Some holidays are intensive but short, like Valentine's Day, while others seem to drag on forever (Christmas). At Christmas you get tired of red and white and Holly (ouch). After Valentine's Day, you never want to see another red rose again.
Holidays can be a fun time in the shop when you bond with your co-workers through punchy silliness. You go through highs and lows throughout the day. Quiet times will ramp into periods where everything is suddenly funny.
It can take days to catch up on your rest and spouses and children can be resentful of your absence. Unless someone has been in the floral business, they will not understand how burned out and tired you are.
During these times, your love of flowers and design must carry you through.
Here's the Perfect Apron
It's a Messy Job
Floral design is a messy job. You may not want to wear your best clothes. Things like stains from being surrounded all day in flowers, leaves and stems; floral glue from a tube or hot glue pan and even bleach from cleaning buckets...well...it all can get on your clothing at some point.
Want an Apron That's More Fun?
Find a Job in the Floral Industry
Here is a link to a headhunter/placement company for flower shops and other floral-related businesses as well as a jobs website specific to flowers.
A Great Cutting-edge European Floral Magazine
Learn More Through Floral Design Magazines
Here's an idea: Talk to the owner of your local flower shop and tell them you are interested in learning more about design. Ask if they would be willing to give you issues of any floral magazines they receive once they are finished with them. This will have the added benefit of showing your interest and potentially developing a relationship that might "get you in the door", so to speak.
If you end up working in a shop, make sure you are given access to all of the shop's magazines each month.
While the periodicals I am showing you here may seem expensive compared to your every-day magazine, as a professional publication, they are well worth the price. Besides, if you are working as a designer, you should be able to claim these as a deduction on your taxes. Both of these high-quality magazines from Europe are published 6 times a year.
And, Another Unique European Floral Design Magazine
The Floral Design Magazine You'll Find in Many Shops
You will find this magazine in the back rooms and offices of most flower shops. Here is a description from the website of "Florists Review": "Florists' Review is the oldest and largest trade publication in the floral industry and the industry’s only independent monthly magazine for the retail/wholesale market." I'd say that, if you are a florist, it is definitely an important magazine to look at each month.
How Do You Feel About Floral Design?
Wholesale Flower Markets
This is the kind of place where many professional florists find their flowers. You must be a registered business and this is a very early morning undertaking, much like going early to the fish market if you are a chef to get the freshest products of the day. Some florists, if they are close enough, go every day. Others who are further away can opt for deliveries.
Just One of the Many Big City Markets Across the Country
- The Boston Flower Exchange
The Boston Flower Exchange - Flowers wholesale to the floral trade, Boston, Massachusetts.
Fun With Color
- ColorQuiz.com - The free five minute personality test!
Here is another interesting and interactive website. While not directly related to floral design, it is about color and it is just fun to do! I read a book on this color theory 20 years ago and it was very interesting.
I hope you have found this information helpful. I just met a man who worked as a floral designer years ago. He said he had to change jobs once he was married and began to have a family. Yes, the floral business takes up so much of your time. "I never worked harder in my life.", he told me. So, there you go. Be prepared to work hard and make sure you love floral design.
If you have any questions about floral design, please feel free to contact me! I would be delighted to answer any questions you may have.
Any comments? Feel free!
© 2006 Nancy Graham