If you have ever attended the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) Student Competition design viewing and award ceremony, you have noticed the strong perennial presence of students from the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Floristry Department. This Student AIFD (SAIFD) Chapter has won this competition five out of the past eight years, under the tutelage of instructors Steven Brown, AIFD, and Jenny Tabarracci AIFD. Yet once in a while, an extraordinary designer rises among all this great young talent. Mido Lee, a graduate of the Floristry program at CCSF, is one such budding star.

As the First Place Overall Winner and People’s Choice Award Recipient at the 2019 SAIFD Student Competition in Las Vegas, Nev., last July, Lee holds a bachelor’s degree in Curatorship and Visual Art Management from Dongduk Women’s University in South Korea, as well as master’s degree in Museum Education from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She is the founder and co-owner of floral styling studio bough twig, with fellow CCSF alumna Clair Han, in the San Francisco area. Born in South Korea, Lee has been working in the floral industry for four years, where she draws from her art background when creating floral designs.

What are your sources for creative inspiration?

I find inspiration in other art forms like ceramics, architecture and paintings. As a former educator in art museums, I like to visit and hang out in museums. Recently, I’ve been particularly inspired by sculptures and installations. Walking around them can dramatically change how you view the art, how you see the environment around them, and how you feel or interpret them. The way people perceive flower arrangements is also affected by the surrounding atmosphere. I find these interactions interesting.

Can you share an example of how something completely unrelated to floral design inspires (or has inspired) your design work?

On one visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I was really inspired by Richard Serra’s “Sequence,” an installation made of large, very tall “sheets” of rust-colored steel that curve around like ribbons. You can walk through them like a winding hallway. Some might say his work is minimalistic, rough, industrial, cold and almost emotionless. But when you walk through his artwork, you encounter unexpected views and framings of light and space. You notice surprising audio effects from the echoes of your footsteps bouncing off the forms. I love how, when you engage with his work from different perspectives, you start to find beauty in places you never saw before. I want to reflect this experience in arrangements. I like to imagine myself as a miniature me walking through my pieces, experiencing the floral forms in new ways.

How do you practice your creative development?

I have a great fear of an empty vase; it’s like a blank canvas to an artist. I face my fear by setting limitations. I find a vase I love, I buy it and try to create an arrangement with random leftover flowers from other projects and cut flowers blooming in my garden. I’ll see if I can use them to create something beautiful and appropriate for the vase. Then, I’ll try to use other props to create a context or mood around the arrangement and photograph it as if it is a still-life.