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Meet the EMC Team

emc alumni emc community emc designer emc team inspiration Jul 13, 2023

Sculptural botanicals

with Keith Stanley EMC, IMF

Keith Stanley EMC, IMF is a floral designer with an unwavering and ambitious desire to continually challenge himself. He possesses a strong will and eagerness to learn, as well as a passion for imparting his knowledge, skills, and love of floral design to others, motivating them to enhance their abilities and explore their own conscious creativity. It is these qualities that have allowed him to thrive as one of the coaches for EMC, quietly encouraging his students to discover their potential for achievement.

Keith grew up in a family on the East Coast of the USA, where education had been a tradition for five generations. While he admits he wasn't the best student in high school, he pursued a college education, majoring in music with a focus on wind instruments. This inclination toward the creative aspects of life, rather than academia, led him to explore opportunities for travel—a passion that fascinated him but wasn't of great importance to his family. At the age of sixteen, he had the chance to travel to Europe as part of a marching band on tour. Playing the bass clarinet, saxophone, and piccolo, he discovered that the piccolo, despite being the smallest instrument in the band, offered the convenience of easy packing and mobility. While others struggled with cumbersome and heavy instruments after performances, he could quickly pack his piccolo away in its box and put it in his pocket, giving him the freedom to explore and absorb the sights and sounds of the European cities they visited. This incredible and unexpected opportunity instilled in him a longing to return to Europe, immersing himself in its history and culture—a desire that has remained with him to this day, and one he indulges in as often as possible.

What sparked your interest in flowers and floral design?

Keith recalls always having an interest in nature and flowers as a child, although it was merely a passing curiosity. However, his journey into floral design began out of necessity as he sought to escape the stifling atmosphere of education on the East Coast. He moved to Washington DC and needed a job to sustain himself in the cosmopolitan city, leading him to work at a local retail florist's shop. This marked the start of his career in floral design, a path he remains fully immersed in to this day. It was also during this time that he experienced frustration and sought an outlet for his creativity. While his initial employer taught him the basics of retail floristry, they adhered to established methods and played it safe. Recognizing his desire for more, Keith moved to Baltimore, where he found additional work in retail floristry. However, he was primarily responsible for taking sales orders rather than creating designs. Although he found this role frustrating, he made the most of it by observing everything happening around him. Despite not being allowed to engage in hands-on work, he regarded his employers as skilled florists from whom he learned a great deal. Fortunately, this observational learning proved valuable because, as is often the fear for many florists, both of his employers fell ill during the busy Mother's Day season. Keith stepped up and successfully completed all the work, ensuring timely deliveries. He had hoped that this demonstration of his capabilities would earn him a chance to create designs, but he was disappointed when he was once again relegated to order-taking upon his employers' return. It was time for him to move on. Upon returning to Washington DC, he interviewed with a renowned florist who informed him that she would only hire someone she felt she could work with, and she asked him to create some designs for her. This new and refreshing approach delighted Keith, and she expressed that while he still had much to learn, she was willing to take him on. This marked the beginning of his transition from retail florist to designer, as he finally received an opportunity to nurture his creative side.

After working in retail floristry for some time, how did you transition to becoming a freelancer specializing in special events?

From this floral foundation, Keith eventually ventured into freelancing for special events florists in the Washington DC area. Although these opportunities were shop-based, he was no longer involved in retail but focused on producing designs as needed for large events. In some cases, he even had the freedom to provide input on the style of the work. He continues to work in this genre and insists on being paid in accordance with his skill level. If someone questions his rate, he easily demonstrates his worth by completing designs swiftly, drawing on the training he received in retail. He can also suggest techniques and mechanics that aid in successfully executing the work.

How and when did your interest in Ikebana develop, leading to your qualification as a teacher?

It was during this transition in his floristry career that Keith became interested in the historical floral discipline of Ikebana, specifically Sogetsu. Ikebana offered a stark contrast to the high-pressure, time-sensitive, and financially-driven nature of special events work. It provided him with the opportunity for self-expression and meticulous attention to the placement of each element, allowing him to fulfill the requirements of the design while exploring his own creativity. He excelled in this discipline, earning his first Sogetsu Ikebana teaching diploma, 4th Grade, in 2011. Since then, he has progressed through the tiered systems and obtained his 2nd Grade diploma in the spring of 2023.

When did you decide to pursue qualifications in floristry, and how did you learn about EMC?

During this period of transition, Keith's educational background began to manifest itself. As Barbara Kingsolver said, "The harder you try to get away from something, the more it pulls you back in." The need to learn and educate himself to advance in floristry prompted him to seek opportunities to observe other designers demonstrating their techniques or attend workshops where he could learn new skills. It was during this time that he came across an advertisement in a top floristry magazine for the upcoming Foundation course offered by EMC in Connecticut in 2015. Intrigued, he enrolled in the course and was profoundly impressed by its content, particularly the depth of theoretical work involved—an entirely new experience for him, which he thrived on, satisfying his inherent thirst for education and creativity. He openly admits his love for being in a classroom, where he can challenge himself and learn from everyone around him, whether it's the education team or fellow students. After completing the foundation course, he immersed himself in the Practicum and was subsequently invited to the Advanced course in Bruges in 2016. This opportunity allowed him to fulfill a lifelong dream since his teenage years when he toured Europe with a marching band. Not only did he successfully graduate from EMC, but he also reignited and deepened his passion for Europe, its history, culture, and museums. It was the first time he had traveled on his own, flying into Paris—an enchanting city he feels deeply connected to—and journeying to Bruges. As he departed Paris to return to Washington, he couldn't help but shed a tear, yearning to return as soon as possible.

After graduating in 2016, did you immediately become a mentor? How has the experience been for you?

Following his graduation, Keith took on the role of mentor before progressing to become a teacher and eventually a coach. He finds great joy in helping those who are eager to learn. However, he acknowledges that it can be challenging when students are reluctant to seek assistance or believe they don't need it. The real delight comes when he feels he has guided someone in discovering their inner creative self, and they begin to gain confidence, knowledge,and skill. He takes pride in the opportunity to be deeply involved with the initial EMC Foundation and Practicum courses in China in 2018 and looks forward to teaching Techniques classes in San Francisco in the near future.

You are now known as a Sculptural Botanical Artist. Could you please explain more about how this applies to your floral work?

While Keith still actively engages in special events work, he now describes himself as a Sculptural Botanical Artist. This title may be attributed to his love for Ikebana, as he derives great pleasure from constructing various forms and intricacies, incorporating a few botanical elements afterward. This approach allows him to showcase both the sculptures and the botanicals to their fullest effect. Nonetheless, special events work remains significant to him, and he successfully strikes a balance between Ikebana, sculptural design, and the demands of special events in his floristic endeavors. Interestingly, Keith seldom discusses his qualifications and aptitude for learning with those who employ him for special events. Many individuals in this field may feel threatened or vulnerable if they lack formal training beyond their success in their specific roles.

I understand that you continuously challenge yourself by pursuing further qualifications and attending courses with established floral masters. What drives you to keep learning?

While some of his employers may be aware of his EMC accreditation, Keith hasn't mentioned to anyone that he successfully completed the first cycle of the International Master's Certification with Gregor Lersch in the Netherlands. For him, the opportunity to take a course with such a remarkable designer was simply too valuable to pass up, and the accreditation itself took a secondary position. He has an insatiable desire to learn and consistently challenges himself by collaborating with numerous top European designers, including ongoing work with Gregor Lersch and Tom de Houwer. He eagerly anticipates engaging in large structural projects with Tom at the Hoogstraten Festival again this year, and he looks forward to attending a course with Mark Pampling prior to the festival.

I'm aware of your deep appreciation for various forms of culture and your belief in opening your mind to different aspects of creativity. How do you incorporate these interests into your floral designs?

True to his identity and his affinity for European culture, Keith always makes a point of visiting a new museum during each of his trips to Europe. His love for museums and art has influenced him to mark a date in his calendar each year for the Art in Bloom exhibition at Anderson House, where he selects an artwork as inspiration for a floral expression that delights visitors.

Do you feel that you have now developed your own signature style?

In our discussion, Keith acknowledged that he likely possesses a distinctive signature style that would be recognizable to others. He continuously seeks innovative methods for mechanics, structures, constructions, and techniques, all while emphasizing textures. He consistently strives to enhance the technical aspects of his work, dedicating ample time to learning and challenging himself to concentrate on this facet of conscious creativity.

For those fortunate enough to have you as their teacher and coach, they are learning from one of the best who understands their needs, thought processes, and learning concerns. You wholeheartedly strive to assist them in achieving and exploring their potential for conscious creativity.

by Sara Marie Andrews, EMC


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