You could say that our very own Australian floral designer Mark Pampling was born into flowers. Mark’s hometown of Toowoomba, Queensland is in fact called The Garden City, and his attention was drawn to flowers at a very early age, clearly evidenced when he won a painting competition as a 4-year-old pre-schooler called ‘Grandma’s Roses.’
Mark’s mind had always been creative and his hands busy with crafting, painting, sewing and cooking. But it was the city’s annual Carnival of Flowers that introduced him to the allure and sensory pleasures of working with flowers and gardens. To quote the celebrated gardener, Vita Sackville-West: “Flowers really do intoxicate me.”
Aside from competing on the World Cup circuit, he contributes on a regular basis to Fusion Flowers Magazine and FLOOS, an online digital book with instructional recipes that can be accessed from anywhere in the world in your own time. You can check out his eight designs and their instructional recipes.
While Mark has been awarded the top floristry prize, the Interflora ‘Australia Cup,’ multiple times, but says that sometimes it’s private and corporate projects that can present the most challenges. If you’re a local in Queensland, you can find Mark involved as the Floral Convenor at the Flower, Food and Wine Festival in Toowoomba. The event hosts a number of competitions with generous prize money and logistical support, along with some fantastic feature flower displays and additional floral activities.
A Bit On Style
Mark’s style is usually linear and technique-based, clean, often sculptural and always exploratory. He recommends keeping the focus on the horticultural materials and the craftsmanship, and to consider more than the obvious options. He strongly believes in pushing one’s own ideas and beliefs, and the possibilities of the materials a little further than is always comfortable.
When asked if he ever suffers from a momentary lapse of creativity Mark answered sometimes, but not often. “To overcome it I make one design decision at a time and remain patient. Having confidence that I can find an answer in any given situation also helps.” Good words to live by.
A student of fresh perspectives and new ways of presenting familiar materials in unfamiliar ways, Mark is also very fond of the chicken wire and tatami techniques, and the simple process of binding to make structures. His preference toward organic forms can be seen in the shape and composition, even when making, say, a biker bouquet with chains, nuts, bolts and completed with the cap from a petrol tank.
Another amazingly unique work that Mark had published was made of burnt cardboard, a charred tree stump, black fungus and seaweed. What makes a design “perfect,” or rather the allure of perfection, is what Mark says is something that keeps designers going. His definition of something that could be called “perfect,” is if a design fully and completely answers the question (brief), then you may have something that approaches perfection. “For example,” said Mark, “if you have a bride, and you are fully acquainted with her personality, what she thinks of herself, what others think of her, how she thinks others see her, the style and theme of her wedding, her family and cultural background, her physical qualities, and her chosen outfit and grooming, etc., etc., and then you create a design for her to carry that is in harmony with every one of these elements, then you may have something ‘perfect.’ That would be rare.”
Adventures in Competition
While Mark doesn’t kiss and tell, he did share a story of one of his most challenging competitions. It was the Asia Cup in 2014, and he had learned 10 minutes before the start of competition time, that he wouldn’t be allowed to have the stewards’ assistance installing his very large (170cm square), very heavy piece of thick Perspex over the table design after he had completed the flower placements within the competition’s time frame. “It was very stressful,” said Mark. “My assistant and I had to quickly brainstorm a solution for getting to Perspex onto the base, over the flowers, by myself. I could barely lift the piece myself vertically, and it needed to be placed horizontally in an exact position – unscratched.” The two devised a solution but didn’t have time to test it. It was a one-shot chance that fortunately worked perfectly.
Mark admits that he probably didn’t have the time to afford to be stressed and that it was actually more stressful for his support team to stand by helplessly and watch him attempt the challenge alone. He did not win the table arrangement section, but he did win in the surprise arrangement with the theme ‘Winds of Asia’.
Any words of advice for those entering their first competition? “Just do it. Treat it as a learning experience and try to minimise any fears of failure,” said Mark. “We learn more from our failures than our successes.” All that you can do is to make the best design that you can, that answers all the marking criteria, and trust that what you make will be beautiful.
Words About Working in a Challenging Medium
“The fact that flowers die is one of the reasons I like working with them,” said Mark. He addresses the challenges of working with a medium that’s in a constant state of dying by firstly, working with good quality material where possible, paying close attention to the hydration requirements of the materials, and considering the context in which he’s working.
“Maybe controversially, some might say disrespectfully, I am happy to work with flowers and plant materials out of water IF (and only if) the time frame requirements of the design are short and the materials are suitable for that contracted period,” said Mark. But he offers cautious words of encouragement for those new to floristry. “Flowers may be beautiful and even glamorous, but they also demand hard work and patience—and it’s usually always worth it.”
Going the Distance
Mark has travelled far, both in distance and in practice for his work. In distance, he’s travelled to Northern Ireland. In practice, he’s gone so far as finding the best method for producing a non-smelling, non-rotting, flesh-free chicken skeleton. It was all for a competition item with a theme of The Sorcerer’s Workbench. “I tried various things, none of which worked, until I worked out that I should first steam the chicken, pull the cooked meat from the bones and then roast the remaining skeleton to cook off any residual meat.”
When asked who in the profession he admired, Mark said the list was simply too long, but he did offer a sampling of: Gregor Lersch, Moniek Vanden Berghe, Stein Are Hansen, Premysl Hytych, Bart Hassam, Irene Brockwell, Greg Block. “There are many, many names – each has an individual perspective, skill, philosophy, quality and/or approach that can inspire me.”
Many of Mark’s works look like scenes from a dream, so we had to ask what his ideal environment would include. He admits that the answer could be many environments, but that they would all likely have things in common. “A balanced, harmonious feeling, with all who are present in a similarly relaxed, convivial mood. Flowers would be present, of course, abundant rather than extravagant, in restrained colour palettes and varieties,” said Mark. “There would, no doubt, be a lot of natural colours and textures – oatmeal colours, as a friend of mine likes to call them, along with white green. Water would play an important role, either a pool or pond, or view over a harbour or ocean, and champagne and delicious morsels would flow freely.” That sounds like a perfect environment, indeed!
For now, you can follow the works of Mark and his designing activities on his website, Instagram and Facebook, as well as checking Fusion Flowers Magazine and FLOOS online. Mark is also co-owner and designer at Alstonville Florist in New South Wales. When Mark is not busy on projects, you might be able to spot him there with Kerry Thompson and their very talented team of florists.
Interview and writing by Kali Simone.