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Home Blog The Farmer & the {Florist} Interview: Joshua Werber
December 28th 2014

The Farmer & the {Florist} Interview: Joshua Werber

Written by
Floret

Josh Werber For this week’s installment of The Farmer and the {Florist} I’ve invited Brooklyn-based artist and floral designer Joshua Werber. I first met Josh at the 2013 Seasonal Bouquet Project in Philadelphia and just loved his fresh design style and great personality and attitude. Josh visited the farm back in August and we had a lot of fun crafting some crazy cool dahlia headpieces. I asked him to share a little more about his background, his design experience and his most recent creative collaborations.

Erin: Josh, it is so nice to connect with you again! I know you are an accomplished artist and potter as well as a fantastic floral designer. Tell me more about your background and how you got started into flowers. How have those two fields complemented one another?

Josh: First of all, it is an honor to be included in this series and I want to thank you for the opportunity. I have always appreciated the beauty and importance of plants and flowers. I started gardening as a teenager after a couple of large white pines fell at my parents’ house and I took on the project of re-landscaping the backyard. I started perusing the plants at local nurseries, studying seed and bulb catalogues, and watching gardening shows on public television. I began to collect an assortment of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs and displayed them in “garden rooms” attempting to provide 365 days of interest.

Joshua Werber designsOver the last decade, I have had various design experiences including landscape and interior design, jewelry design and fashion styling. I have developed a broad knowledge of various types of design and different methods of approaching it. For me it’s all creative problem solving. I enjoy creating site specific work that enhances an existing space. Most of my work plays on the line between art and decoration. My ceramic sculptures began as a means for creative exploration and play.

I read about Saipua and Sarah Ryhanan in Martha Stewart Living (which I had been reading/studying/collecting since the early 90’s). Sarah did the flowers for my cousin Benjie’s wedding and I was blown away, when I saw her work in person. I realized that this was something I needed to be involved with. I started taking classes with Sarah and Nicolette at the Little Flower School, and found that playing with flowers also allowed me to experiment with gesture, form and negative space the way I did with ceramics. My passion for floral design has grown stronger. I like to work big and relatively fast and flower arranging has pretty immediate results.

Joshua WerberErin: You are best known on Instagram (@ControlledChaosLLC) for the #FloralTeteATete hashtag to denote the weekly floral headpiece challenge between you and Ohio-based designer Kumiko Matsuura (@pixelfluer). For those not familiar with the challenge or the French term, can you explain what it means and how it all got started?

Josh: Basically it all started because of you and Jennie Love. The Seasonal Bouquet Project brought us together. Kumiko and I bonded during a floral crown mini-photo-shoot at the end of the workshop. A week later, my boyfriend and I dressed up as Omo Valley warriors for Halloween, covering nude bodysuits with woven plants and branches (we used flowers from my seasonal bouquet project arrangements). Kumiko saw a photo on Instagram and challenged me to a “weekly headpiece competition.” This weekly floral challenge is a weekly practice that is now into its second year.

Kumiko came up with the hashtag which literally means head-to-head, but alludes to a private conversation between two people. I thought #FloralTeteATete had a nice ring to it and I loved the added nod to the early blooming daffodil.

7Erin: You poured SO much creativity and effort—and humor—into your #FloralTeteATete designs. Your literal interpretation of “Cockscomb” and your post about finally finding a use of gerbera daisies had me rolling! (And by the way, you should win a prize for creative urban foraging—using flowers from your fire escape?! ) I’m curious, though, what were a few of your favorites? And might you share a little about the backstory or why each was so special or meaningful?

Josh: Thank you, I appreciate your encouragement and support, and you blowing up my Instagram account while visiting this summer. Often the inspiration starts from the materials that are available and is generally spontaneous. Occasionally, I’ll have a specific idea like the cock’s comb or for a smoke bush collar. That is actually one of my favorites. I tend to like the pieces that look the way I imagined, and I was going for Eskimo Realness. Like with other mediums, often the challenge is bringing the concept into fruition.

Joshua WerberAs with any weekly practice, the amount of time and effort spent varies week by week and unfortunately the results are not always a reflection of that investment. Some pieces require hours of wiring individual flowers and stems, while others are assembled in minutes. I have enjoyed the process of discovery and the challenge of trying to create better work each week.

I have a small rooftop garden off of my bedroom window in Brooklyn. It’s about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long with a fire escape in the middle. The entire garden is in containers, which is very different from any other garden that I’ve tended to. It’s fun to be able to move plants around without having to dig things up and wait for them to grow back.

Joshua Werber rooftop gardenThis past season, I really embraced the impermanence of this garden, and experimented further with plant combinations and tucking in all sorts of seeds and bulbs. I have a hard time cutting from this garden. I do indulge occasionally with flowers that only last a day like hibiscus or datura, or when it’s my birthday, or when the broom corn no longer stands upright. Bodega flowers often also make appearances in my headpieces as do leftovers from flower friends.

Erin: You have studied with some great designers over the course of your career and I believe I see the influence of the great European floral design instructor Francoise Weeks in your headpiece designs. How have her teachings informed your work? Did you learn your gravity-defying designs from Weeks or are those Werber originals? Any floral mechanic secrets you can share?

Joshua Werber designsJosh: Most of my tete-a-tets, involve wire, glue, or foam and a lot of trial and error. Either my hair is too short or I have no idea how to properly use a comb, so I rely mostly on headbands or elastic cording to keep things on. An elastic headband threaded through a metal flower frog is a quick way to get flowers to stand up vertically on your head. If you have bangs you can tease them over the tines of the frog to cover it. The quality of my headpieces improved exponentially after taking Francoise’s workshop. She is a master of botanical couture and she graciously shares her techniques. She introduced me to floral glue and mini oasis domes, as well as many of the mechanical concepts and techniques I use in my designs. There has also been a tremendous learning curve from trial and error.

Joshua Werber designA lot of my secrets are not really mine to give away. What Francoise can do with glue and Saran Wrap is a blog post unto itself. Francoise encourages looking at flowers and plants as the sum of their parts which opens up a new world of possibilities. Everything can be taken apart and reassembled. I have been building my toolbox of millinery, craft and floral supplies, and while I am morally opposed to floral foam, a small amount is necessary for keeping flowers “in water.” An alternative method is to “quick dip” and wire stems. It’s a lot of work, but wiring provides more control and easier manipulation. The blackberry crown is all wired and taped on a hanger twisted into a modified S shape.

8Erin: I know you also work behind the scenes with some great New York designers, most notably Emily Thompson. Like you, I absolutely adore her unique approach to design. What have you learned from working with her—specifically about material selection and system of achieving nontraditional forms in her designs?

Josh: Emily is a creative powerhouse and working with her pushes my boundaries as a designer and artist. I’ve been entrusted with the opportunity to make some of largest arrangements I have yet to make, 18-foot wings of crabapple in a Brooklyn Library or arrangements inspired by poems or “tulips in conversation” and to work in some of the most beautiful spaces in New York. I have learned to be fearless and more confident in my designs.

IMG_3463The material selection is very specific and relies heavily on branches and other woody materials. Of course high-end floristry provides access to incredible materials, but working with Emily means working with the weediest and weirdest thorns and thistles as well as the most exquisite and luscious blooms.

IMG_1619There is also tremendous amount of restraint so arrangements are not overly mixy. A typical arrangement might not have more than five or six different types of flowers or foliage. Instead the flowers create shapes and forms unto themselves and the arrangements are somehow wild and contained at the same time. In her shop, we talk a lot about “making rivers” in our arrangements, and one method I learned at Emily Thompson Flowers is to work one material at a time, creating layers of fluid shapes with groupings of individual materials.

5Erin: Finally, what are you experimenting with in your own work lately? Any big projects on the horizon?

Josh: I’ve been experimenting with pushing the boundaries of what I can do in terms of height and form. One idea often leads to infinite possibilities and I’m excited to see where this can go. I would love to collaborate and create headpieces for fashion editorials or runways shows. For now, I’m freelancing and excited to work on other large scale installations and events.

IMG_3507Erin: Josh, thank you so very much for taking time to share your story with us today—it’s been so much fun!

Thank you for everything! You’re the best!

Connect with Joshua Werber:
JW Flowers Website 
Joshua Werber on Instagram (@ControlledChaosLLC)

6 Comments

  1. VillageKid on

    I am off to take a look at more of his creativity….wonderful

    Reply
  2. Clare on

    Love this interview! I have been a fan of Josh’s for awhile now – so great to hear about his approach to design.

    Reply
  3. 陈曦 on

    太有创意了!膜拜!

    Reply

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