Written by: Olga Kuchment
Mr. Jim Johnson’s colleagues have asked for one more lesson, to commemorate his time at Texas A&M.
After having spent 13 years as successful florist shop owner, having seen 31 years as first holder of the Benz Chair in Floral Design at Texas A&M University— and having inspired countless people around the world, Mr. Jim Johnson is ready for something different: He is moving to Indiana to renovate his 179-year-old family farm for his kids and grandkids.
Mr. Johnson’s work at the Texas A&M University Benz School of Floral Design has won professional awards, including the American Institute of Floral Designers Award for Distinguished Service to the Floral Industry, as well as the deep gratitude and appreciation of his students, who garnered him the Texas A&M University Association of Former Students Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2010. His colleagues at the Benz School, the Department of Horticulture, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M have asked for one more lesson on floral design.
Below are a few of the things Mr. Johnson has taught and learned over the years:
- All flowers need a good water source in order to live.
- Don’t let your design get too crowded. Treat your floral arrangement like a family picture. Every face should show.
- What you create must fulfill a need. Think of the design’s purpose and you will know what you’re working toward, and it will be easier to get started. That idea also helps with life decisions.
- Learn about balance and proportion. If you have no opportunity to take a class, step back and think, does it look right? Do you feel comfortable with that? If you don’t know, look at pictures for reference, but realize that what’s in pictures may look overcrowded in real life. Take a class if you can. Lots of helpful hints are spoken with the simplest task or through conversation between the instructor and student.
- Learn to appreciate nature. In a traditional floral arrangement, all stems come out of one point of intersection, like the growth point of one plant. This has surprising implications. A former Benz School student serving in the military earned his outfit praise every time for developing camouflage. The man taught his team to just put plants in the container the way plants would grow in nature— and, he later came back to tell “Mr. J.,” their camouflage was always the best.
- Be ethical. Don’t promise flowers will last longer than is possible. Don’t change the colors the customer requested. What the customer likes may create something unexpected. Listen to your customer and follow the principles of design and proper care and handling.
- Find inspiration in something that triggers an emotion in you. Floral design is a combination of craftwork and artistic vision. Art can transform what people feel.
- Develop your creativity. Find a way to break out of routine. Create something not necessarily practical but still valid. A person who nurtures their creativity will be a better boss, manager, business owner. The skills used to develop creativity are also ways to solve problems, in any business.
- Nurture rather than criticize. So many students have no confidence in their creative ability. Instead of making a critical remark to a student, ask the student what they think about their work. They might make a negative statement. Ask them, what is it you don’t like? Let’s fix it. The student will figure out a way and will be very excited.
- Focus on guidelines, not rules. In cooking, a recipe is exact but people often add something and the dish becomes more interesting and better. It’s the same in floral design, exactly.
Goodbye, Mr. Johnson, we sure will miss you. And now, we really should double check the water source for those flowers…