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Flower.Style35: Focused on Education and Design, Hitomi Gilliam Has Learned Perfection Is Overrated and Hopes We Stop Painting Fresh Flowers

With an unyielding passion for education and design mechanics, Japanese-Canadian floral artist and innovator, Hitomi Gilliam, has made her mark on all aspects of the industry. Celebrated internationally for her expertise in styling, techniques and systems, Hitomi is committed to sharing her knowledge of everything botanical with seasoned professionals and enthusiasts alike. And using nature, art and contemporary trends as guides, her creative edge is inspired by a “less is more” mentality with a focus on linear expression.

1. What’s your present state of mind? My mind is one hundred percent focused on floral education and sharing my knowledge about flowers, design, art, mechanics, techniques and systems.

2. How did you get started in the floral industry? After high school, I worked at a nursery plant propagation, and also studied landscape horticulture in college. Later on, my husband and I built a greenhouse business, growing bedding plants and specializing in Fuchsia propagation—cultivating over 300 varieties of the latter. In Canada, I also opened up a retain plant store in my local town, which eventually evolved into a flower and plant shop within a year of the store’s opening.

3. If not a florist, what would be your fallback profession? Maybe a landscape architect, but not working with a firm; I’d most likely be self-employed.

4. Are you a Type A or B personality? A bit of both. For most of my life, I’ve been driven to excellence, and was very hard on myself on the pursuit of perfection. My biggest fear was failure, so I was also highly competitive. Hence, the Type A side. But over the years, I have mellowed and let go of the extra stress and pressure I’ve put on myself—welcome Type B. I’ve allowed imperfection to be an acceptable human trait and have celebrated its worth as a part of human authenticity. Letting go of this “perfection” as the hard standard has made me a better educator and teacher.

5. What is your most treasured possession? My vast collection of over 800 books, which includes mostly art books and biographies of my favorite artists. Ninety percent of it is non-fiction. I also have some very special editions that are the treasures of the collection.

6. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? The three A’s: amazing, awesome and absolutely.

7. Where do you find inspiration outside the flower world? Art in all media, architecture and fashion—in that order. My favorite book on architecture and fashion is “Skin and Bones,” which parallels what florists do with flowers: “fashion” is the flowering and “bones” is the structure.

8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’m very driven to work, and probably do it too much. I would like to be a bit more relaxed, but when I relax, I feel like I’m being lazy.

9. What do you consider your greatest achievement? I created a FlowerXArt hybrid work that was showcased at Sotheby’s Art Institute in NYC. During that time, I gave a presentation about the topic to a class and enjoyed engaging in art conversations with the student assistants. It was joyful to be in the art world!

10. What’s one thing you would tell your younger self? Enjoy your “radical thinking,” youthful years longer and don’t allow the uptight, “over-achiever” to kick in too soon.

11. What event or job has been your favorite? It was a great honor to judge the floats at the 2020 Rose Bowl Parade.

12. Any projects that you wish you could forget? Prepping wedding flowers for friends for no pay, which turned into the biggest complaint for not being present for the take-down. I remember getting yelled at for resting after the marathon installation. Being taken for granted is the absolute worst experience.

13. What is your most marked characteristic? My hairdo.

14. Who are your heroes in real life? My son, Colin Gilliam.

15. Who is your floral hero? Gregor Lersch—the best teacher to teach with. He’s a good soul with huge respect for the people he comes into contact with, especially his students.

16. What is your favorite color? Black (to wear).

17. What is your favorite flower? Gloriosa lily. She has the most vivacious personality and is a true extrovert! I have always wanted to grow up to be like a Gloriosa. I am naturally introverted, so I don’t like to draw much attention to myself.

18. What is your idea of the perfect flower arrangement? My perfect flower arrangement is created in my hand-made ART structure/sculpture with gorgeous Gloriosa superba and Alocasia cucullata as the featured foliage. I’d include woodrose vine for naturally contorted linear flow with some Tillandsia xerographica leaflets to add curvilinear accents. Split Curculigo orchioides leaves provide an elegant downward flow. This completely Zen, primarily linear-focused design raises my spirits, and is at one with the beauty that exists on this planet.

19. What would you call your style of design? Linear, “less is more” botanical art.

20. What is your favorite tool for working with flowers? A pair of ARS pruners.

21. Who’s on your playlist? Coldplay, Hall & Oats, David Bowie, Doors, The Beatles and the soundtrack to “Hair.”

22. What’s on your to-do list? Drive to Alaska, take a chartered photography trip to see the Spirit Bears in Northern BC, travel to Iceland and a take another driving trip to the American Southwest to complete the loop through New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

23. Who is your favorite artist? Georgia O’Keeffe.

24. What’s the last book you read (and loved)? Bound for Glory” by Woody Guthrie.

25. Any pets? My son’s dog, Swarley, a Miniature Australian Shepherd.

26. Are you prone to routine or are you more spontaneous? Routine, starting daily with crossing-off my list of to-dos in order of deadline.

27. Favorite beverage? Japanese tea.

28. What do you see trending in floral design? Continued garden style, but with greater emphasis on organic curvilinear shapes with more transparency. Secondly, Art Nouveau influence heading to form linear styling. I also see more adventurous flower blending.

29. What’s out? I would like to see painting fresh flowers go out of style.

30. What is your flower motto? "Design with nature as your guide. Also, listen to your flowers."

31. How would your friends describe you? I hope they say: honest and kind, creative and that I have great ideas.

32. What would surprise us most about you? I’m a big sports fan! I watch hockey (Vancouver Canucks), football (Seattle Seahawks), basketball (Golden State Warriors), and am a huge fan of the Olympic Games.

33. If you could invite 3 people (dead, alive or fictional) to a dinner party who would they be? Describe the centerpieces. Frank Gehry, David Bowie and Maya Angelou. I would have Frank create a spontaneous, 3D paper structure to use as the container. David would add tropical flowers to this (think Anthuriums and Alocasia), followed by Maya placing stems of Lady Banks’ rose.

34. What’s your best advice to someone just starting out in the flower industry? Get a sense of what area of floristry you’d like to pursue, follow relevant designers on social media and take a class with your flower hero. When you’re ready to get into serious studies, take a class on “Elements and Principles of Design” to build knowledge of plant materials and nomenclature, and to the process of creating compositions.                                             

35. What did we forget to ask? You covered pretty much everything…I think.


To stay connected with Hitomi and view more of her work, click on the links below.

Hitomi Gilliam Website | Hitomi Gilliam Instagram | Hitomi Gilliam Facebook | Hitomi Gilliam YouTube | Hitomi Gilliam Patreon