2023 Speaker Profile: AMY BALSTERS
Amy Balsters' mission is to demystify the art of designing an effortless, hand-tied, spiral bouquet -- something many have struggled with. She has taught more than 1,000 floral designers at her in-person workshops and tens of thousands of online students by reinterpreting classic floristry principles. Her approachable teaching style introduces students to mechanics, color theory, stem selection and bouquet composition with confidence. In her presentation for the Slow Flowers Summit, Amy will demonstrate how she designs loose and airy hand-tied bouquets in several interpretations -- and she will share simple steps from her Bouquet Bootcamp curriculum for you to put to use in your own floral enterprise.
After more than two decades as a floral designer, Amy Balsters, aka The Floral Coach©, has a wealth of knowledge and experience in retail floristry, weddings, and special events. With all that wisdom, it would be fair to assume the highly regarded DC-area-based teacher would have a quiver-full of courses on offer, but Amy is all about going deep into a subject area. “I don’t have 100 courses,” she says. Instead, she’s honed in on a handful of impactful design topics, with a specific focus on hand-tied bouquets.
She’s approached the creation of her signature whimsical “loose and airy” style with the flourish and design principles of an artist, the technical precision of an engineer, and the economic efficiency of a CFO. Her cornerstone course is Bouquet Bootcamp©, a comprehensive on-line design course and hands-on workshop series.
Amy spent years investing in her own design education by attending workshops, conferences, and specialty training. It was exhilarating and challenging, and, at times, frustrating. During many of the workshops she attended, she often questioned “why?” Why did the instructor choose that flower? Why did they place it there? “I have always craved the theory behind good design,” she says, “real explanations that I could sink my teeth into and go home and build on, but I often felt that was missing in many presentations I’ve observed over the years.”
After a few major life changes—including a tough pregnancy and some health complications—Amy had to re-evaluate the day-to-day hustle of her role as a floral designer and found her calling in teaching. She started traveling the country teaching floral design at retail shops, floral studios, and the back of wholesale houses. Through these experiences she noticed that florists seem to struggle the most with bouquets.
She knew what it was like to struggle with the modern “loose and airy” styling—away from the classic, tight pavé bouquets for instance—but too often she came away from workshops discouraged because the instructor couldn’t help students articulate why their designs worked, or didn’t, or simply didn’t use mechanics and techniques that could be easily repeated.
After years of frustration, Amy returned to her classical training and discovered her own way to apply the fundamentals to floral design. Learning how to effectively teach the techniques was next and she took this as a personal challenge. “How can I explain my technique and process in a way that designers can replicate whether they’re at day one, day 30, or year 35?” she says. “How can I simplify, simplify, simplify, and streamline so designers can work faster and more efficiently, but get great results every time?” After one and a half years of digging deep into those questions, Bouquet Bootcamp was born.
“I returned to the formal training I was incredibly blessed to have received as a young designer, and really dug back into the principles and elements of design to explain step by step, how and why my unique approach works,” she says. “I’ve taken a lifetime of doing flowers and fine-tuned that into a methodology for designers of all levels to better understand how design works and how to apply it.” To date, she’s helped thousands of florists, including retail florists, wedding designers and flower farmers, with her course and workshop.
At a time when some floral design programs are losing funding and even closing down, and the barrier to entry in floristry remains low, Amy will never dismiss the formal training she received. “I personally found a lifetime of value in the two years I went through my accredited program,” she says, and while there are things she’s abandoned—“I don’t use foam”—every time she sits down to analyze a piece of work she uses the training she learned 20 years ago in floral design school. “I’ve built on that,” she says, and “learned from European designers and other masters.”
Knowing that this classical training in design principles has been fundamental to her success as a teacher, she finds it sad to hear design presentations that are reductive or that minimize the art of floral design with phrases such as “just go with your gut” or “feel your way through it.” For students hungry to learn, these phrases can confuse or mislead them to believe that their intuition will guide them, but what happens when they are struggling and need real answers to real design challenge? At worst, these experiences can leave students feeling inadequate and frustrated that they can’t intuitively get a design to work, that somehow their gut feelings or aptitude for “going with the flow” won’t result in a balanced, effective design.
“I want designers to be able to look at a design and identify whether there is a balance issue, or a proportion problem, or maybe it needs a stronger focal area.” And then, most importantly, understand why, Amy explains.
Amy wants people to leave her workshops knowing how to fix a problem for themselves; how to reverse engineer the design process. “My benchmark as a teacher is when a designer can replicate a fundamental technique I’ve taught them and apply their own aesthetic or artistic voice to it,” she says. “I want designers to be able to look at a design and identify whether there is a balance issue, or a proportion problem, or maybe it needs a stronger focal area.” And then, most importantly, understand why. “People who are struggling with their work are helped when there is a solution presented for a design problem,” she says. “There’s a difference between an inspirational and entertaining design demo with an abundance of beautiful flowers—they’re wonderful and help excite people—versus teaching and training, which is more focused on a process which breaks down every step.”
Amy’s current passion is color theory. “It’s been brewing in the back of my mind for years that there isn’t a really a robust online course about color theory made by a florist, for florists,” she says. “We're so emotionally connected to the color; it’s how most clients think about or order flowers,” she says, “and it's such a heavy, science-based topic that it can be really hard to tackle.” Amy relished the challenge though, and will be launching the new online course soon, further making fundamental design concepts accessible to florists.
“Teaching is a passion—and at times a bit of an obsession,” she says. “I’m always striving to improve my teaching skills, collecting feedback and applying it, and tweaking my presentations and explanations to make difficult things easier for others to understand. It’s incredibly fulfilling to help designers do their work better.”
At the Slow Flowers Summit, Amy will be demonstrating her unique approach to fashioning a stylish and on-trend bouquet. “My process for using the spiral technique is incredibly effective when it comes to all sorts of design needs from bridal to market bouquets,” she says. “You can style tight and round, oblong and oval, loose and airy, and even a cascade, all using the same technique and with any flower.” And, in keeping with her ethos, she’ll be talking about how to keep bouquet costs down without compromising on aesthetics. “In an ever-changing industry and economy, the one thing that we can control as designers and business owners is our approach to how we work,” she says. “Our ability to do something more efficiently, to order less and increase its value through great design, that's something we can control which can help our businesses through all seasons of our work with flowers.”
Slow Flowers Summit welcomes Adrienne Mason as our profile contributor for the 2023 season. Adrienne Mason is a writer and editor based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She specializes in writing about science, nature, and the cultural history of the west coast. She is the author of over 30 books for both adults and children, the most recent of which is Whales to the Rescue. Adrienne also specializes in writing for museums, parks, and interpretive centers, and her work is in dozens of exhibits across Canada. When she’s not at her desk, Adrienne spends as much time as possible outdoors—hiking, camping, beachcombing, and in her garden, to which she recently added two large cut flower beds. Visit Adrienne at adriennemason.com.