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The Mastermind Experience part 2

emc alumni emc core program emc designer floral education inspiration Mar 03, 2023

Conquering New Peaks of Creativity 

An insight story of the EMC Mastermind 2022 by Sara Marie Andrews, EMC

The story of the EMC Mastermind Experience, as seen through the eyes of the participants enfolds in a 3 parts blog, detailing every aspect of the journey our designers have embarked on in September 2022. Set up as an anniversary event to celebrate 10 years of EMC, it transformed into an adventure of creativity mixed with fun, challenges and growth all together.

Read the first part of the blog here

I must admit that my mind was buzzing with everything that we had done, and Tomas had said, and I wasn’t too sure that I really wanted to come down from this creativity high that I was on to attend the wine and cheese evening, but I knew I must – and I am so glad that I did.  It started, as this type of function often does, with everyone sitting in a circle around tables laden with the most beautiful cheeses, nibbles, fruit and wine, with a rather stilted conversation going on, but not everyone taking part until, out of the blue, Anahit suddenly said that she wanted to know more about everyone who was attending. She hadn’t yet been able to get to meet everyone and was really interested to learn about them, where they came from and what form of floral design they were working with. She felt happy to start, telling us when she had graduated, what she had been doing since and what she hoped to get from the time we were going to spend together. As each person spoke in turn, it was lovely to learn more about them and their floristry in their home country.  As we progressed around the circle, people relaxed and opened up in a way that I have never known before, and it became quite emotional sometimes, with the stories of how people had overcome the problems of the pandemic, politics and even travelling through a war zone to follow their dream. It was intense at times, but so moving and gave us all a greater understanding of the importance to us all of encouraging our creativity in the right atmosphere, with no recriminations. This was taken even further with another demonstration of differing cultures when Anjali gave each of us a gift of beautiful, hand-made, fabric napkins, beautifully packaged in handmade boxes – a permanent memento for me of a wonderful evening.

 As Anahit said afterwards, I liked the evening a lot. I enjoyed getting to know everyone and hearing their stories, it made us all more connected.” Ursula agreed with her, saying It was an incredible bonding and emotional evening. I am so happy to have been a part of it”. Sue felt that it helped her to understand those attending, as we often see who they are on the outside, but it was great to get to know a little about them on the inside too.  

I know that I went off to bed, still full of emotion and definitely admiration for my fellow attendees and the stories that had been told on that memorable evening, and so excited as to what the next day might hold. Knowing a little now of what to expect from the day and eating a good breakfast in readiness for the work ahead of us, we made our way once more into the back of the big classroom, to be transported by Tomas’ instruction through the complicated issues of duality, tension, emotions, and gestalt. Once again, it reinforced what I had learnt a year ago and, because I had been working again with it recently, I really began to understand how the knowledge could give added strength to my creativity and design capabilities. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that, probably unconsciously, I had really been adding these extra ‘tweaks’ to my designs for quite a long time, but now I must concentrate and fully recognise when, how and why I am using them. In the afternoon, we moved to the smaller room to complete the practical exercise, all of us working hard to really stretch our creativity with how to make a floral expression, using only one flower! We also had to be aware of how we were using gestalt and also showing some of our floral DNA.  This was also to be completed in a very tight timescale, ready for the trip to the local wholesaler. It was wonderful to see how our small group rose to the challenge, some not completely finishing in the time but producing something that showed the direction in which they were heading and producing the most wonderful critique from Tomas yet again.

“I don’t get it all fully because it was all felt new to me. The critique from Tomas was a real eye opener. I think when we came out of the room and the advanced students were there, watching us as we were excitedly talking about it, for me it was truly the best.” - Sue. 

“I learnt so much more from this session.” - Barbara. 

“Such a wonderful experience! I perceive feedback and critique from those I deeply admire and respect as a true gift. It is the gift of an opportunity to grow and rework any mishaps, misunderstandings, or mistakes. How amazing is that!” - Ursula

“I did a deep dive into Gestalt after graduating and did a presentation on the topic. I learnt about it first in Dental School in my psychology class, found it fascinating applied to design, and it was extremely important to receive Tomas’ feedback.” - Anahit

Still on a high, we changed very rapidly into our outfits to join the Advanced group’s ‘Red Soiree’, one of the special highlights of their week, in glorious surroundings.  This was the first time Sue had attended one of these wonderful evenings and she realised what a special occasion it was and is.  Discussing it later on in the week, although we had all really enjoyed ourselves, we agreed that this really should just be for the Advanced participants and that people taking part in the Mastermind experience could go out for a dinner in the centre of Bruges, to gel even more as a group prior to their trip which, for us, would be the next two days in Paris.

Early the next morning, we were on the way by train from Bruges to Paris, via Brussels. To our surprise, the train wasn’t crowded, although we had been warned that a lot of people commute to Brussels for work, and also a lot of the schoolchildren and college students also use it, so we thought we were really lucky.  We were wrong. We were almost halfway to Brussels, enjoying the views across the Belgian countryside when the train suddenly slowed to a stop, and a very harassed looking conductor rushed through our carriage – there was a fault with the engine.  They managed, after about ten minutes, to get it going and we began to move slowly forward before it ground to a halt yet again.  This happened again and we were unsure what was going on, as the announcements on the train were only in Flemish, but there was a very helpful English-speaking lady in the next carriage who kept us updated. Eventually, the train reached Gent station, where we all had to get off the train and wait for the next one to come in.  Then our luck really ran out, as the next train was already full, and we just had to push our way on.  We had already missed our connection to Paris but were able to get our tickets accepted to get onto the next and finally arrived in the city, where we instantly headed for the nearest café to get a late breakfast, and it was at that point that we began to realise how the fact that it was Fashion Week was impacting on the city and would, ultimately, effect what we were planning to do.

We were staying in two different hotels, so it was agreed that we would separate and go to check in and leave our luggage, before heading off, either to the shops or to start the search for whatever piece of art we would be using as our inspiration for the design to be produced on our return to Bruges. We had already been told that we could visit any art gallery or museum, not necessarily the Louvre, but then we had also been told that we could choose any form of art, not necessarily a painting, which really excited us.

“I loved the idea of being able to choose any form of art, but it could be very interesting if someone else were to choose something for you to interpret” - Sue.

“I felt liberated! True artistic freedom! It also went with my intention of having fun with my designs during Mastermind! I loved it, don’t change it.” - Ursula.

“It was a great idea, I loved it. I know I chose a painting but the fact that we had the freedom to choose from other museums and other disciplines like sculpture made it more challenging” - Barbara.

“I loved it” - Anahit.

Having dropped our luggage off at the hotel, we went off to find a Louis Vuitton shop that was supposed to be close by.  It was then that we realised that Sue and her maps on her phone did not always agree!  Having gone round in one large circle, we eventually found it, and I left Sue and Barbara to shop.  Ursula and Anahit had purchased tickets to visit the Christian Dior exhibition, and then they all planned to meet up to visit the Pompidou Centre.  It was agreed that I would meet them back at our hotel in time to go out for the special evening that had been arranged by Tomas and Christi to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of EMC.

I made my way across to the Musee d’Orsay, as I really wanted to see the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, but the Van Gogh that I had been interested in wasn’t on display at the present time.  I took some photographs of work by other artists that did inspire me a little.  I then went and visited the Art Nouveau area, falling in love with a lot of the beautiful creations there, right from small pieces of glassware to beautiful furniture, and wondering if there was anything there that I could use as my inspiration. I left the Musee d'Orsay to walk back over the relatively modern and very beautiful wood and metal bridge, crossing the river Seine, that leads to one of the entrances to the Jardin de Tuileries. As I walked into the gardens, I glanced up and my attention was grabbed by the sight of something that appeared to be a large tree that had been blown down in a gale, with the roots remorselessly torn from the ground and left open to all the elements.  It was a sight that moved me deeply and drew me nearer.  It was at this point that I noticed a small sign on the ground near the melange of those roots and learnt that this was actually a bronze sculpture known as the ‘L'Arbre des Voyelles’ by Giuseppe Penone and had been in the gardens since 1999, in a space called the Bosquet du Vase intimately linked to the sculpture, where there is vegetation, shrubs and trees. This amazing piece of art resonated deeply with me, and I was sure that, somehow, I had to use it as my inspiration.  It had spoken to me far more then all of the items that I had already seen, I needed to do something with it in whatever way I could.  Having made that decision, I relaxed a little and made my way back to the hotel through the throngs that were beginning to accumulate around the city in readiness for the evening catwalks and the parties to follow.

Having unpacked and showered, I made my way to the reception area to meet up with Sue and Barbara. I had also expected to see Christi and Tomas, but later we learnt that they had also experienced problems with the trains from Belgium and would be taking a taxi direct to the meeting point.  While I waited for the others, I sat and ‘people-watched’ with great enjoyment as taxis drew up to take models, their escorts, and other partygoers off to their evening’s entertainment.  It was then that we discovered how difficult it was to get a taxi! Thirty minutes later, we managed to get one, and we joined the traffic jams that were all around us. I had got used to the noise of the police sirens and the taxi drivers with their hands permanently on their horns during the day, but in the evening, it was deafening and the whole cacophony of sound resounded back off the buildings, and we were hardly moving. We were supposed to be meeting everyone at the Arc de Triomphe to go on a bus trip around the city, but it was now the time that the bus should be leaving, and we were still some distance from the meeting place, but we were not the only ones. 

Tomas and Christi were still in their taxi and Ursula and Anahit were only able to get to the Place de Concorde. However, the ‘Bustronome’ staff were so good in waiting for us and other ‘guests’ to join them, and then made their way through the throngs to pick up Ursula and Anahit, before moving off properly for the evening’s trip.  We were so privileged to be sitting at tables right at the front of the upper deck, with a glass roof over us. It was an unbelievable trip around all the beautiful, picturesque areas of Paris, lit up with amazing lights, whilst eating a marvelous meal cooked for us in the purpose-built kitchen on the lower deck, complete with silver service. What a superb way to celebrate the 10th anniversary and the inaugural Mastermind Experience. It is certainly an evening that I will never forget.  We even managed to get taxis back to our hotels relatively easily and remarkably quietly, compared to the outward journey.

Still buzzing from the excitement of the night before, we met up over breakfast in the hotel, ready to make our way to the Louvre to meet up with the Advanced group who were travelling down from Belgium by bus.  Sue and Barbara had been to the Pompidou Centre during Wednesday afternoon, and thought they had both decided on their inspirational pieces of art, so were going to have a free day to do whatever they felt that they wanted to; Tomas and Christi were going to return to the hotel to carry on with work whilst they had the time to spend together, and I decided that I would make a decision on what to do, once we had all met up at the Louvre. It was good to see all the advanced group with Diana and Francisca, and we all joined together for the ‘family’ photograph before making our way down to the entrance to the Museum, where the Advanced students disappeared off inside to find their inspirational paintings. Diana and Fran were desperate for a coffee, so Barbara, Sue and I joined them as we headed back out onto the Rue de Rivoli, to one of the lovely pavement cafes.  We all had coffees and croissants, with some having a little more and we all started to relax in the warmth of the morning sun on us and began to ‘people watch’. There were more models and their entourages walking down towards the Jardin de Tuileries, where the work of students was being shown as part of the Fashion Week.  There were some stunning outfits and also some very conceptual designs too, showing the breadth of the ability of the young designers.

Having sat happily for quite some time, we decided that we should make a move and four of us headed off into the gardens, whilst Sue made her way off to locate a bigger branch of Louis Vuitton, in which she might be able to find a wallet for her husband. As I had already experienced when I was on my own the previous day, you were still aware of the never-ceasing sound of sirens and horns, but it was happening in a world faraway from the peace and tranquillity to be found in the gardens.  There were gardeners working, a mason working on a statue, and people from all over the world strolling around and admiring the flower beds, plus the very surprising sight of two goats tethered down in a dip, being used to keep the grass cut where it would have been difficult to mow. Diana and Fran were very amused at the two English women getting excited about finding two goats in the centre of Paris, but it just highlighted the difference between the atmosphere within the gardens to that of the hustle, bustle, and noise outside. I had been talking a little bit to the others about the ‘statue’ I had found, and Fran was keen to see it, so we walked over to where the ‘fallen’ monster lay, in its quiet, verdant, personal area. Diana went round to the far side of it, believing that it was a real tree but, by that time, I had shown Fran where the sign was, and she drew Diana’s attention to it. I believe, maybe erroneously, all three of them realised why it had ‘spoken’ to me so strongly and Fran especially was very strong in her encouragement that I should use it for my final piece.

As we moved further down through the gardens, we became more aware of noise and workmen preparing areas for different purposes and, walking around a corner, we discovered that they were working on the setting for the Dior show, which was due to happen that evening, right by the Place de la Concorde. There was a certain amount of levity between the four of us as we imagined ourselves walking up the red carpet to enter the building to attend the evening’s spectacular festivities.  Having decided that it was unlikely to happen, we took ourselves off to look at the window displays of the Haute Couture houses, including the extraordinary sight of the building housing the Versace collection totally covered in pink fabric.  We also saw the length of the queue to enter the Louis Vuitton shop but were unable to see if Sue was one of those waiting to go in.  We found out later that she had been queueing for two hours, some of the time in the light drizzle that came down from time to time.  By this time, the traffic was once again at a standstill, the noise from the taxis was deafening and the police sirens were more and more prevalent. 

We decided to take ourselves off to one of the slightly quieter one-way streets, with tables outside, where we could stop for a drink.  Very quickly, we returned to the favourite pastime of the day, people-watching.  We were totally fascinated by the sights around us and eventually realised that we were actually seated on the side of the road opposite a model agency or something similar!  We decided to have a meal there so that we could continue with this amazing free feast of entertainment.  Finally, we decided to make a move back towards the area near the Place de la Concorde, where we could sit in the last of the sunshine and await the arrival of the other groups in preparation for boarding the bus back to Bruges. Sue eventually appeared, triumphantly bearing large bags sporting the Louis Vuitton branding; as we all made our way to the bus, and the long haul back to Bruges.

Compared with the trip back in 2021, the passengers were very quiet, and many were preparing ideas for their designs based on their located paintings, sketching and listing materials that they would need, whilst others slept. 

In discussion later on in the week, we all agreed how much we had enjoyed the trip to Paris, but the suggestion was made that, in any future Mastermind Experiences, it might be really good to visit another city. The Advanced Students always go to Paris, to give them the opportunity to visit the city and especially the Louvre Museum. Suggestions of Brussels, Amsterdam, possibly London or even Vienna, each one having wonderful art galleries and museum, were put forward for consideration by Tomas and Christi.

As the next day dawned, we were busy preparing for a busy day ahead of us.  As we travelled off to Euroflor, the fabulous wholesalers, to purchase sundries and botanicals for our designs, I discovered that Sue, Ursula, and Barbara had all chosen paintings in the Pompidou Centre, whilst Anahit had been inspired by the method of exhibiting items in the Christian Dior exhibition.  With what I was hoping to be able to achieve with my tree, we were really concentrating far more on the sundries than the botanicals, which was very interesting compared with what had happened during the Advanced course.  On our return to the hotel and having conditioned my botanical materials, I rushed around to the craft shop to purchase a few more items that I hoped would help me, both for the collage I still had to make and also the design I was hoping to complete, which was very definitely going to be 3D, whether I decided on an abstract interpretation or a more representational version. 

The remainder of the day we were working away on our collages, sketches etc and then discovered that we were not having any time on the Saturday in which to finish our pieces, so we made a start on them towards the end of the afternoon.  The word came through to us that we didn’t actually have to finish it; it was the process that all would be interested in.  However, I think it became a matter of pride and also the need for the creativity to flow for each of us, to endeavour to finish the expressions as far as we possibly could. It was amazing to be involved in that very special and living creativity being produced by each person in that room that night. Collages were completed, relatively quickly; some sketches were produced, especially when we realised that Diana and Fran were coming into see how we were progressing, and the most beautiful pieces of art were produced to a very high standard by the time we had to shut the room up at 11.00pm!  Mine was still a work in progress, but I now had a real idea as to how I could complete it in the future. I had roughed out my words for my explanation in the critique session when I was travelling back from Paris, so I needed to type that up, label up my sketch and also do the analysis, so that I didn’t make the same mistake as I had the previous year when I had forgotten to prepare it! It was interesting to know how the others felt about that day too, as we had worked really hard on our own designs but had also been very happy to share our thoughts on each other’s, almost working as a team to bring out the best in each of us by encouraging, supporting, and admiring, with added support from Fran, Diana and even Tomas and Christi popping their heads around the door.

“I felt really good! Way more focussed than last year during the Advanced.” - Ursula.

“I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do but after some time, I figured it out. I needed time to get into the groove of it.  I know most knew but for me…I was distracted by the fun stuff!” - Sue.

“I would want the trip to the wholesalers in the morning to stay, and it was good to have the flexible day in which to design” - Anahit.

“Love this wholesaler, always a great choice of goodies available and yes, `I had an idea of what I needed prior to the visit.  Going in a small group in the morning gave us a good amount of time to make headway on our designs.” - Barbara.

To be continued....


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