We talk to Mark Pampling about dream jobs, his desert island flowers, and how Valentine’s Day kick-started his funeral plans!
What started you on this journey to become a florist?
Well, I don’t know that you know you’re on a journey. I started out in the hospitality industry and while I was studying I realised that it was creating the environments that I loved the most. You get a chance to create an ephemeral atmosphere and flowers were a big part of that. So when a friend of the family was offering private lessons in floral design I went along. Then perhaps three lessons in, I thought – this is what I want to do.
You work, you teach, you demonstrate and judge – are you managing to find equal passion for all these roles?
At the core of all those things is the simple act of creating, being creative and floral design – and everything flows from that. If I’m judging or I’m teaching and the flowers and design aren’t at the forefront, the creativity isn’t at the forefront, then I become less interested. But creativity and design are the glue that hold all these different aspects together – so, even if I have ten sticks and some wire in a corner, I’m happy with the challenge of creating.
Describe a dream job – real or total fantasy.
Most of my floral design fantasies seem to revolve around me coming up with a basic design concept, supplying all the raw materials and structures, and getting a group of friends together to create it, with music and plenty of champagne! When I get married or when I die, that’s the basic structure I want to follow – flowers, music, champagne! In fact, around Valentine’s Day I had a group of friends together as all the flowers were coming in. Just buckets and buckets of flowers. So we decided amongst us which flowers we’d have at our funerals, and then decided who would be in charge of the designs, and what they would do.
We want to know your desert island picks. If forced to only take five flowers or foliage – what would you pick?
Brown Carnations, Alocasia Amazonica leaves, Rhipsalis, Echeveria (Rosette succulents), and Green Paphiopedilum (Slipper) Orchids. I don’t think I’d tire easily of any of them.
What has been your most challenging competition or job, and why?
Oh I think actually, sometimes working on projects for retail customers can be more challenging than competitions. With competitions you usually know what the judges’ expectations are and you have clear guidelines. On the other hand clients may not know exactly what they want, so part of the challenge is to work through that and try to define their expectations, perhaps even educating them as to what’s possible. Equally, you don’t always have a time-frame that allows for that. Of course you may also be given a brief that isn’t a personal preference, say; everything must be in coral and teal! I find in that case you have to go back to your design principles – ask yourself what colours will work with that scheme for instance, and by going back to the fundamentals of design, find the objectivity to make it work.
We’ve heard you described as enjoying a structural approach to design. Are there certain inspirations you keep coming back to, or particular themes?
There are certain techniques I keep returning to all the time, because I enjoy doing them, and the possibilities they offer are endless. And then there are some things I force myself to revisit because it’s often in revisiting an idea that you push yourself. Frequently we’re searching for the next new thing, the next new technique but there aren’t that many new original ideas – in not casting aside what you already know, but just focusing on doing it really beautifully, presenting old ideas in fresh ways, it can be the most satisfying work.
Is there any seasonal event you particularly like to design for, or find tough?
I find Valentine’s Day tough, because it’s less about the actual appreciation of flowers and more about the emotionally charged gestures behind giving the flowers – and that puts pressure on maintaining volume and high quality product, while meeting the clients’ expectations. So, it’s good for business, but perhaps not as good for increasing the public’s appreciation of flowers and florists’ skills. It would be great to partner the romantic message behind the day with a greater appreciation of flowers, and to see that valuing of flowers and design continue throughout the year – that would be a great thing for the industry.
Someone else’s work you wished you’d done yourself, or that you just loved?
At the 2002 Interflora® World Competition in Holland, when I saw the wedding bouquet design created by Japanese designer, Yoko Takahashi, I almost burst into tears because it was so beautiful; I had quite a strong emotional reaction. It was so harmonious, so beautifully balanced. I knew some people in the team so I got to find out a little about how it was constructed afterwards, it was interesting to get some background to the design.
Among your own designs, do you have a personal favourite?
It’s difficult to look back on your own designs. You tend to just see the mistakes or things you’d do differently. When I’m teaching I tell students that they’ll probably start to analyse everything they do and almost everything will feel as if it falls short. On the flip side when you do see something that’s perfect, it’s much, much more satisfying.
Following on from that, who do you admire in the industry? Do you find the industry supportive?
Well it would be really remiss of me not to mention Gregor Lersch, I’ve admired his work for so long. In 1994 he came to Brisbane right at the start of my career, in fact I might still have been studying, and I took the opportunity to go attend four days of workshops with him. Recently I was programming floral projects for the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers and I had the privilege of inviting him along to demonstrate and facilitate workshops – 20 years later! And I’m still inspired by his work. I’ve been lucky enough to see his work all around the world, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, China. I do find it a supportive industry – many of the people who I felt were “gods” at the beginning of my career I’m now lucky enough to call friends. There’s definitely a competition culture and you’re aware of that, but if you get to know the other entrants you find you all learn from each other, and it doesn’t always matter who wins. And you make some great friends along the way.
Your current favourite products? Essentials to have on hand?
When I started out, I used to travel with everything. Now it’s flat nosed pliers, the kind with a spring. I often use hundreds of binds in one floral design, and to get them tight I use the pliers, so they’ve become an important tool! Then paper covered wires, a pair of scissors, secateurs, a florist knife and a butter knife for cutting floral foam. If I arrive somewhere and I have those tools, I can go for a walk and pick up some sticks, and that’s it, I have everything I really need to start creating something.
How do you know about Koch & Co?
The first time I came to Koch would have been years ago, probably over ten years ago, and I visited the warehouse in Auburn. Back in 2004 I was representing Australia in the Interflora® World Cup and I was hunting for a particular orange wire – the sales assistant hunted high and low for me to get it, and they did! I co-own a shop in Alstonville and we have a range of Koch products on hand, and of course I’ve also become familiar with the products by using them in demonstrations. I recently did a Christmas demonstration using some of your green, Tuscan-style ceramics and your green glitter pears. I also used some interesting dried branches of bamboo in a fan shaped design – it was nicknamed the big green peacock!
Mark is co-owner of Alstonville Florist in northern New South Wales, a TAFE teacher, demonstrator, accredited floristry judge, industry consultant and regularly contributes to international floral design publications.