The journey that a bonsai tree and bonsai artist embark on is one of the things that we do not talk about a lot. The main reason for this in my humble opinion is that we as bonsai artist are ashamed (may be to strong of a word, scared of being judged might be better suited) of some of our previous works. Looking back at some of the work I have done is a good way of improving my technique.
Choosing my cedar
This Cedar is one of my first trees that I got after moving back into a house after living in a flat for four years. You can say it is the tree that I started my new career with. If I look back at why I bought this tree, I can honestly say that I got it because it was the first time that I have seen a cedar in a nursery. I had no idea of what I was going to do with the tree. I just knew that they made good bonsai. I picked out a suitable tree. I then went and selected a bonsai pot from the collection on display at the nursery. I picked the pot that I could afford.
Developing my tree
As soon as I got home. I rushed my wife and daughter into the house with the groceries. Then I prepared my work station so that I can transform this tree into a “bonsai”. I memorized the rules of design, so this should not be a problem. I started to remove all the unwanted branches. I made sure there was a left branch, right branch and a rear branch. They vary in thickness and length. The longest/thickest at the bottom and the shortest/thinnest at the top. I followed all the rules so I was happy with the tree in front of me.
After reading a few more books and watching more videos. I looked at my tree once more. One thing stuck in my mind: “MOVEMENT”. There is some movement in the trunk but none in the branches. I decided to change this. I also read some where that one should not rewire the tree to much and that you should leave the tree to rest for a few months in between styling. I was young and restless. I came up with a work around this rule/recommendation. I used guy wires to bend the tree in shape as the wire is not going around the branch it doesn’t count as wiring…
As you can see I toke the word movement to the next level. I look back at this and I am astonished at the work that I done on this tree. Firstly I will say it if no one else will. It looks like torture. If I look at this now l laugh as this in my mind was the best anyone could do with the given tree. Finally the reality struck me. I did not know what I was doing. I had no plan for this tree, it kept bouncing back to the original shape after I remove the wire (probably because I removed the wire to early!), I wanted the tree to be fully developed and look like the pictures that I see online NOW! I wanted a tree that I can up on a coffee table and people would comment on it and I can feel proud on my hard work. The only problem was I did not want to put in hard work. I gave up on this tree. I removed all the wire and left the tree to grow, I pruned it when needed, Water it and Fertilized it.
Here is that same tree two years later on a display stand at my house. I toke it to a bonsai show in November 2016 like you see it here. I got back home after the show. I off loaded all me trees. I looked at the tree with “open eyes” for the first time and realized that there is a beautiful tree trapped inside screaming to be freed. I have improved my wiring and styling technique at that stage. I gave the tree another go. Seeing the finished tree in my mind I knew what to do. I styled the tree in front of me to get as close to the tree I see in my mind. I did not need to cut of one branch. I just moved branches in place and the tree did the rest. The moment I got to this realization designing trees came easier. How I work on a tree now a days is like this: If I look at a tree and there is nothing that jumps out at me as interesting. I do not work on that tree. I’m not saying that only certain trees can be made into bonsai. I just choose to work on trees that has the potential to be a good bonsai in as short a time as possible.
I have featured this tree in a previous blog of mine. The result was this.
You need to understand that caring for a bonsai and designing a bonsai are two completely different things. You will very quickly discover whether you are a grower or a designer. I know many people that are growers and they have great trees but they tend to keep them the same, trim here and there, re-pot and fertilize. On the other hand designers are people that see more in trees. They push boundaries and produce master pieces.
The reason why I share this story with you is: There is no short cuts in life so why should understanding the art of bonsai be any different. It’s a journey that you need to enjoy. There will be ups and downs.