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Dr. Stephen Rittner - Floral Design Educator

Image of Stephen Rittner Dr. Stephen Rittner is the Director of The Rittners School of Floral De-sign in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a third generation in the floral field and for over thirty years has taught professional floristry to thousands of students from all parts of the globe.

Dr. Rittner received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Tufts Uni-versity and his Doctorate from Boston University in liberal arts, science and education. His special interest in education is in curriculum devel-opment and differing ways of presenting information to facilitate learning.

His most recent project is a series of over seventy e-book lessons in flo-ral designing available for purchase at reasonable price. You may find him online at www.floralschool.com and his email is stevrt@tiac.net

How Did Your Romance With Flowers Begin?

I quite literally grew up in the floral industry, both in my grandparents’ flower shop and in the floral design school started by my family. At the time that our floral school was established over sixty years ago, the con-cept of “floral schools” was revolutionary. In those days apprenticeship, a rather inefficient approach to floral education, was the only way one could learn floral designing. Going to a school with an organized curricu-lum to teach floral techniques and approaches was considered quite radical. The excitement of creating a school that was special and unique involving floral media was very evident in family discussions. When not in school myself, I spent many hours both in the floral school and the family flower shop. I found that I loved the natural beauty of flowers and the skills required for floral designing.... The completed floral art always brought about admiration and enjoyment from recipients.

We not only had flowers all the time in our home, but also visiting floral artists. Floral designs, floral designers and floral education topics were literally always at the dining room table. We were constantly attending floral related events and shows. Growing up in the heart of Boston, I was also fortunate in the wide range of artistic, cultural and museum re-sources that were also a part of my upbringing. I was fortunate in that my grandparents and parents were not just family but also pioneers in floral design education. I lived with and learned from outstanding floral artists and teachers.

When it came time to pick out a career it was quite obvious that becom-ing a floral educator was the area of interest for me.

Where Do You Look For Inspiration?

This is a great question and can be answered on a number of levels.

First of all just looking at our media, flowers, is inspirational. Think about it. We get to play with some of the most beautiful of God’s creations-- flowers! The natural beauty of flowers inspires. Looking at different floral materials, the forms, and colors and how they interact, inspires. The various allied items that our manufacturers, importers and wholesalers make available to us constantly change and inspire as well.

There are a huge number of great floral designers out there both past and present who inspire. I am fortunate in that our floral school library at Rittners Floral School contains over four thousand books, periodicals, and other media. And we are constantly adding to those resources. That coupled with the internet make it easier than ever to find lots of exciting and stimulating approaches to floral art.

I also find inspiration from a variety of non floral design sources. For ex-ample, a guru in graphic art design or an outstanding website about teaching inspires me to create lessons and presentations with greater visual appeal. An educational book discussing the use of drama or hu-mor in teaching helps me continually develop my teaching skills. And then there is the technology! All of the wonderful "toys" available to us today, from computer technologies, to digital photography and video in-spire me professionally to develop more interesting and more efficient ways to teach floral art. As an educator, I love these things.

As a floral artist I find that sometimes things totally unrelated to floral de-signing can really help provide perspective and encourage new ways of seeing. Taking photographs of a sunrise on Cape Cod, or discovering the majesty of nature at Yosemite, for example, can really be renewing.

My students never fail to inspire me. While they come to us to develop their floral art skills, I am constantly amazed and delighted with what they do with the various floral designing techniques that we teach them-- even while at school.

I also get a great deal of inspiration from my immediate family and staff. Their perspectives, and viewpoints constantly challenge me to look at things differently, and with new perspectives.

How Do You Think Flowers Make Everyday Life Better?

As human beings, we have always known collectively, that flowers make everyday life better. The long history of flowers being used across many cultures both for important life events as well as for general ornamenta-tion testifies to the importance of flowers in our lives.

If you’ve ever been to a funeral without flowers, the overall atmosphere is far more sterile and cold than one with the warmth and comfort that flowers provide. Similarly, when someone looks back at their wedding photos, what will be apparent? Perhaps your best friend dancing with a favorite uncle.. But in many of those pictures you will also find the flow-ers that people carried, wore, or enjoyed that created a very special at-mosphere. These form a major component of our memories of that event....

Interestingly enough there has been a movement to study the impact of flowers and floral art on human well being. These are wonderful studies that show among other things that flowers decrease anxiety, reduce de-pression, and make people feel more creative and sociable. These are good things....In a period of history marked by enormous change and tension, I expect that we will be seeing many more studies along these lines.

As we live in increasingly artificial environments removed from nature, the importance of flowers is more and more apparent. Studies from NASA attest to the importance of plants in removing toxins from the air.

I get annoyed whenever I hear someone talking about flowers as some kind of luxury or talk about getting something else more "practical". It is clear to me that flowers, plants and floral art are quite useful because they make people feel better. The floral industry has done a wonder-ful job in stressing this, but really needs to work even harder to spread the message that flowers are not a luxury but a reasonably priced necessity. They do make life better. Beauty makes life better.

One last thought concerns the very act of learning floral designing (as opposed to enjoying the flowers themselves). At Rittners Floral School we have noticed that even the process of learning floral design helps to reduce stress, helps people tap their creative side, and makes people feel happier.

What is Your Favorite Flower And Why?

Don’t get me started on that one. My students know that I can go into a half hour dissertation discussing that topic. I like every flower and foli-age. Each flower and foliage has its own unique properties that it brings to the design bench. If you are seeking a good sized flower that comes in a rainbow of colors and gives great value both in terms of cost and lasting quality, you can’t beat a Carnation. If you are seeking a prestige flower that you know the public will like, the Rose is your choice. On the other hand, if I need to use an exotic, one that I know people feel warm and fuzzy about, Bird of Paradise will be just fine. Looking for prestige and a wonderful presence? Go for Hydrangea. Looking for something to make your wedding designing extra special? Consider Stephanotis or Gardenia.... Glads are huge, impressive and make a great show quickly and easily in any kind of designing ( not just sympathy )......I can do this with just about everything that floral designers have to work with.

There are some floral designers who are very snobby about what flow-ers they like and which ones won’t "soil their hands." I feel sorry for them. They are limiting their design options and their ability to develop floral art with a wide range of different looks and price points. Any floral product that will enable us to further our art and help floral designers make a profit is my favorite...

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What Are The Most Valuable Lessons In Floral Designing And Floristry That Your Students Are Taught At The Rittners School of Floral Design?

Oh my goodness. There are so many of them! I find that sometimes a student will tell me years later that the comment I made about "such and such" was one of the most important lessons s/he learned in the course. And it may have been something I just said casually without much thought. That said, a few things that we like to stress:

It’s not about you or what you like as far as materials or design styles is concerned. It’s about the boss. You are there as an extension of the per-son who owns the floral business. This means that your designing must reflect the styles, approaches and value structure that your employer wants. Hopefully you will feel comfortable with that. Ultimately it is the customer who both you and the boss are trying to please.

I am amused at designers who talk about their "signature style" or ap-proach. That’s all good and fine, but it can be limiting. There is no one "Rittners Style." Our goal at Rittners School of Floral Design is to teach our students a variety of styles and approaches. A good floral designer should be able to change styles and looks at will depending upon what the boss and customer wants.

It should not be about being on an ego trip or being elitist. What is im-portant is what will contribute to the bottom line of your business. That is what should drive your efforts and your business decisions.

I like to stress giving the customer exceptional service and great value in their designs. At Rittners Floral School we provide generous amounts of flowers and materials to our students who make up lovely designs and take everything they make home. I like to stress that that same generos-ity should be in the students’ designing when they own their own floral businesses. This does not mean waste or ignoring floral design recipes. It does mean making designs that you can be proud of and that your customers will love.

I also stress that it’s not always about the final product when learning. It’s also about the journey. There are times when a student creates something that does have a problem or issue. I tell my students not to overly fuss about that. I am more concerned that they learn from mis-takes. It provides a positive perspective for future designing....(Isn’t that true of life in general as well? In fact there are many lessons about life that one can learn from floral designing...)

Do You Continue To Dabble In Floral Designing?

Very much so. I believe that if a person is to get the kind of value in a flo-ral design school that they deserve, that the boss should be actively in-volved as one of their teachers. I am very accessible to my students be-fore, during and after our courses. That means that I have less time to self promote than other floral designers, but I feel it is allocating my time and resources in the manner that my customers deserve, namely to be there for the students who are attending our school. So I wear many hats...curriculum developer, administrator, web master and of course, floral designer......

Which Flower Do You Think Describes Your Personality Best And Why?

I am not a flower. I don’t think any one flower describes my personality. But I would say that floral designing in the 21st Century definitely is con-sistent with my personality. If I were to describe 21st Century floral de-sign in one word it would be "Eclectic."

We can enjoy bleeding edge floral art that is way out and a bit kinky. Yet at the same time floral designers are making and successfully marketing some floral art that is created the way Grandfather did (e.g. designs in water) or forms of floral art that can be traced back centuries (e.g. hand tied bouquets). What is important in 21st Century floral art is to meet the varied tastes of consumers with floral designs that draw from whatever approach or technique is necessary.

To designers who say that this or that design or style is "dated," or "con-temporary" I say, "Get with the program! Look at the range of possibili-ties of floral art as a whole. In a market environment that caters to di-verse tastes the concept of what is old fashioned and what is contempo-rary becomes less meaningful today than in the past. What is important is flexibility in tastes and designing and the desire to meet any consumer lifestyle or taste. If this means kinky designs, fine. If it means making things like Grandfather, fine too.

What is important is that people buy flowers and floral art, not fussing about how we attempt to define or label it."

I love this pragmatic eclecticism. It fits in well with my personality and view of life.

What Would You Consider Your Major Achievement To Date?

It’s been my responsibility to bring one of the finest educational pro-grams in professional floral design in the country into the 21st Century. We have added to the size of our school creating a comfortable new Flo-ral Design Lab. We have made upgrades to our Lecture Hall including the use of multiple monitors, linkages to computers for presentations, and the use of online resources. Students have wireless access to on-line resources anywhere in our entire facility.

The use of visual images is important in teaching floral designing. While we have an impressive file of many thousands of slides, digital photog-raphy has finally achieved the quality of resolution necessary to take great floral photos. We have moved over to digital floral photography with all of the presentation and backup issues that it would imply.

The computerization of our operations has resulted in a very sophisti-cate network throughout our facility. Our backup systems cover many terabytes!

Our Industry Resource Files as well as our Floral School Library of over four thousand items continues to expand at a very fast pace. (No. We have not given up on print resources!)

We are proud of our website (www.floralschool.com) and of our blog (www.floralschool.com/blog/) A section of our website provides free step-by-step lessons to the public in a huge number of floral designs ( www.floralschool.com/floral-ed-center.htm ) and we currently have por-tals on our website providing all kinds of backup resources for our graduates.

I am particularly proud of our distance education efforts (www.floralschool.com/Distanceeducationstartpage.htm) where we have over seventy pdf e-books available to buy at moderate price. These are like floral design cookbooks with a huge range of floral art ideas both classical and way out. They are profusely illustrated and lead the student through step-by-step instruction.

We enjoy the diversity of our classes. Our students come from all over the country as well as from overseas. Their range of experience and backgrounds are quite diverse. I am proud of the cosmopolitan atmos-phere that is common in our classrooms.

I am proud of all of these achievements, but I have to say that I am just as proud of one other achievement. When we finish a course many of my students tell me that their course at Rittners Floral School was won-derful, and that they enjoyed one of the nicest educational experiences of their lives. To me, that is every bit as important as the various things we’ve accomplished to support our school’s mission.

I think you can see that I view success not so much as doing this or that design show or industry function for my own ego, but rather view achievement from the perspective of a floral educator who works hard to improve the facilities and services of Rittners Floral School for the bene-fit of our students and graduates.

What is The Scope of Development For The Floral Design Industry?

Wow. This is another of those questions that I could write a whole thesis on. Flowers have always been desired and enjoyed by people for every-day and important life cycle events. They will continue to be enjoyed in this capacity. There will continue to be strong demand for trained and talented floral designers.

There is currently an enormous amount of change going on both in our society in general and in our industry in particular. Issues of sources of supply and the supply chain, concerns about industry organizations and their relevancy and role, and questions about our country’s economy and how that impacts upon all of us (regardless of profession,) are all topics of concern.

I tend to be optimistic. Our country and society have met challenges in the past and have become strengthened as a result and will continue to do so. It requires strong resolution and a refusal to panic in the face of change and adaptation. Just as challenges in our society as a whole will be met so too challenges in our industry will be met.

I think that it is important for all floral designers to continue to stress the positive benefits of flowers and floral design and to work hard to meet consumer concerns and needs providing exceptional service and design at affordable prices.

On the macro level our industry leaders need to do just that......lead.....in getting the message out to the public that flowers and floral art has an important positive impact upon daily lives. Industry organizations that claim to represent florists have to prove that they really are benefiting florists (and not just their own interests) to maintain florists’ trust.

It requires an enormous amount of effort by all segments of our industry from growers, to wholesalers to the retailer to get a beautiful arrange-ment of flowers to the customer. Most people are not aware of the amount of effort just in terms of conditioning flowers and moving them through the supply chain, ( in addition to the designing ) that is required. Our industry should do a better job educating the public about this fasci-nating but little known aspect of our field. It would add to the value in-herent in the final product.

A Few Words On Theflowerexpert.com

I want to thank the folks at theflowerexpert.com for inviting me to be in-terviewed, and giving me the opportunity to answer these questions. I feel quite honored, and appreciate both the folks at theflowerexpert.com for presenting this, and also you the reader for taking the time to read my comments.

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