Sound Garden: Sea Change

Welcome back for another edition of Sound Garden. At the risk of suggesting that I have profoundly melancholy musical taste, this week I present Beck’s album Sea Change for your consideration. Released in 2002, this spectacular album is all about heartbreak and loss. Beck wrote the songs as a response to the breakup of his almost 10-year relationship with his fiancee. He pared down his usual style (typically full of wacky samples and layers of whimsical touches) to make Sea Change a bare-bones and highly emotional album. I have always loved the cover art, on which Beck’s face is so evidently raw with feeling. Contrary to the content of the songs, the cover art’s colors and shapes inspired me to create a bright and sassy arrangement.

Peonies, the last of the funky dahlia for the season (check out that star shape!), green trick dianthus, celosia (“brain flower”), ranunculus, lisianthus and rose hips seemed perfect for a strange and modern arrangement. Because Beck generally makes such weird and original music, the flowers seemed an appropriate mix of otherworldly and traditional.

Follow along after the jump as I demonstrate designing a pave-style arrangement with no greens (a more advanced technique that you, too, can master!) and provide some tips for cleaning thorny flowers. — Sarah

All photography by Karen Wise

For this arrangement, I decided to use an artisan glass vessel with a wavy mouth. This is the kind of container that you might have at home and not know what to do with. The key to designing in an unusually shaped vessel is assessing the width and depth from bottom to top. If you look carefully at this vase, the mouth seems wide and unwieldy and like it might require many, many blooms to fill. However, if you follow the line down, it actually tapers toward the bottom. This means the flowers will be more secure at the base and fan out at the top, assisting with the design. You can also use fewer blooms; the tapered shape will “grab” the stems and perch them upright.

TIP: When approaching a thorny stem, such as that of a rose hip or a rose, use a knife to clean thoroughly, even if you generally use clippers to design. Look carefully for a spot on the stem where you can safely grasp the flower with one hand. With your other hand, take your knife to the top of the bloom (or wherever the thorns begin) and hold the knife at a 45-degree angle to the stem. Place the knife just above each thorn, down on the base. Scrape down firmly to shear off the thorn cleanly. Try to avoid scraping lots of skin off the stem or peeling away stem with the thorn. Simply twist the stem around over and over (thorns tend to spiral down a stem) and remove each thorn one by one.

Because I did not use greens for this arrangement, I chose to create a structure from the rose hips, celosia and dianthus. The same principle applies when using flowers for the framework as using greens: Choose blooms that are sturdy and can act as the bones of the arrangement. Measure and cut them so they sit just above the neck of the vase. This will set the shape for your pave-style arrangement. A pave-style arrangement is a “flower-on-flower” look, where the blooms are all essentially on the same plane and designed cleanly. In a pave-style arrangement, you never see the stems of the flowers. The opposite of a pave-style arrangement would be a wildflower arrangement, where the blooms are designed in a airy fashion, using many greens and filler flowers with lots of space between the stems, and where you might have blooms at drastically different heights.

When you are designing without greens, you place one bloom after another in the vase, somewhat precariously at first. You simply balance them on the mouth of the vase and prop them up against each other until the arrangement starts to fill in. Do not be afraid of how “wonky” everything appears at first or if you experience a lot of movement from the blooms. As they fill in, they will begin to support one another.

You can see that I have practically filled the vase with just a few blooms and we haven’t even gotten to our face flowers yet. This odd-shaped vase ended up being surprisingly helpful to the design. The flowers easily stood up as I placed each one in the vase. Experiment with your own challenging vases at home. Designing in the pave-style, although often considered a very sophisticated look, can actually be easier for a beginning designer. Without worrying about complicated architecture, you can focus on a single plane, nestling the blooms next to one another. This way, you can more easily attend to color, shape and texture.

Et voila! A bright and sumptuous arrangement of sunset hues. And then it occurred to me that the turquoise bits across Beck’s eyes on the cover reminded me of feathers. So I decided . . .

. . . to add a flourish of dyed blue pheasant feathers. There are times when the campier you can make a design, the better :) You can find your own inorganic elements at any craft store — pearls, jewels, shells, paper-mache items — and play with adding them to your flowers. In a future post, I will demonstrate ways to secure various inorganic elements to a stem, incorporating them into the design. For this arrangement, I simply purchased dyed pheasant feathers that were already attached to a wired stem. I used the wired stem just as I would a flower.

I hope this happy arrangement combats the gut-punch you might feel after listening to Sea Change. Don’t get me wrong; the record is not to be missed, but you might want to park a box of Kleenex next to the speakers. Please join me back here in two weeks for another sonic and visual floral diversion. See you soon!

  1. emily says:

    I listened to this album on every road trip through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah- perfect for those great long lengths of roads and landscapes where you are the only human in sight .

  2. ale norris says:

    this is one of my most favorite albums! and your arrangement looks great – love the dahlias.

  3. I love ranunculus…something about the petite shape just grabs me some how. I’m not sure if my love for peonies is greater, actually I think it is given that it brings back some nice childhood memories of a neighbor who grew some fabulous pink peonies.

  4. jHill says:

    oh i used to listen to that album on long drives, train rides ect… so good. beautiful flower arrangement!

  5. bea says:

    Just *love* beck. Golden Age is the ultimate driving song.

  6. Bonnie says:

    This is my favorite feature of designsponge! I’m always blown away.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      thanks bonnie! I’ll tell sarah :)


  7. Katie says:

    So lovely! I’m a big fan of this album as well and love that when it came out there were 4 different covers. Maybe a new arrangement for each??

  8. Melody Sage says:

    I love that album. And the addition of turquoise feathers, brilliant!

  9. Very cool! love your connection from the album to the flowers! Love Beck too!!

  10. birdgee says:

    The cover art is by the late Jeremy Blake. His story is quite sad:

  11. Becky says:

    That bouquet is absolutely stunning, such a gorgeous and uplifting combination of colours.

    For anyone wanting to achieve a similar effect but unable to find flowers in the colour they want (or as a cheaper alternative) check out this flower colour customisation –

    And those crinkled-head flowers would have been perfect for halloween – they lok just like brains!!

  12. Catherine says:

    Flowers as beautiful as the music on the album. I love them! I’m seeing Beck in 2 weeks at Harvest Festival in Sydney. I’m so excited!

  13. sarah jane says:

    Sea Change is an amazing album…always breaks my heart. I love the inspired arrangement, it’s so funky and beautiful!

  14. I love your choice of flowers especially the pretty star shaped ones…beautiful :)

  15. Sarah says:

    Thanks, Everyone! Still getting back in the swing of things here in NYC and just getting a chance to read all the wonderful comments. Love being a part of this supportive and creative community :)

  16. D.U.R.A says:

    Beautiful arrangement. The flowers are blended beautifully and the feathers gave a fine touch :)

  17. Merridith says:

    I love Beck and Sea Change is one of my favorites. Your arrangement suits it to a tee, and the feathers are a particularly fabulous addition!


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