Back to the basic’s of Bonsai.

I was so inspired by a blog that @daniellozada wrote two days ago. That I thought it would be a great idea to write a blog on the characteristics of a good bonsai. I know I mentioned a few times in my previous blogs that I do not follow rule or guidelines. But I do think that it is good to understand what it is that you are striving to recreate before you colour outside the lines.

Charles S. Cenronio has a beautiful Japanese Philosophy that he quotes as part of his introduction of his book called practical guide to bonsai styles of the world:” Respect all the rules under the sun, but use all the freedom under the rules”. This is one of the best books I have read on bonsai styles. He explains all the styles in-depth. The book is only 216 pages thick but it takes you a few months to work through.

We all know that bonsai is a living art form and that we are trying to recreate the stories of trees that we see in nature. Before I go into the five basic bonsai styles I just want to cover the characteristics of a bonsai. I have read numerous books on this topic an all of them have different points that they describe as the main features that all bonsai should have. The best way this was explained to me was by my teacher with whom I have been apprenticing with for the past two years now. He explains it like this: A good bonsai is a tree that has one specific feature as a focal point with all the branches in proportion to each other with nice movement and a balanced outline. This is a summary of all the principles of bonsai.

Here is a list of the principles in the sentence above:

  1. Focal Point
  2. Proportion
  3. Movement
  4. Balance

If you get these four principles right then your half way there. I will try my best to explain what I think the best way of using the four principles on a bonsai tree is.

Focal Point
Every tree is designed around one focal point. This is normal something your eye is drawn to. The reason for this being that the branches and everything else is placed to frame this focal point. The focal point of a tree can be anything from a nice big trunk to a piece of deadwood in the tree. It is also important to try and have only one focal point in the trees design as this will keep you eye from wondering up and down the tree. You want the viewer to be drawn in by the tree not looking at the tree trying to find a place for their eyes to rest.

As I mentioned earlier @daniellozada wrote a wonderful piece on propotions two days ago. If you need an in-depth view on that please go and read his blog. When we looking at the propotion of a bonsai tree it is easy to see when everything is in proportion. How do you see this? Well if you look at the tree the easiest way to judge this is to see if the tree is shaped like a triangle. This means that the lowest brunches will be the longest and the length and width will reduce the higher you go up the tree. This is always a good measuring stick.

This can be described in two ways. The one way is to look at the trunk movement from left to right or back and front. The other way is to talk about the over all movement of the tree. What this means is the way you eye flows when looking at the tree. So if the tree leans to the right and all the branches point to the left it would feel as if the tree grew to the right and was forced to grow to the left by an external force. In this case the movement will be to the left. In bonsai it not just about the trees movement, it’s also about all the other elements in the pot or container. It is always good to get all the trees or elements in one display moving in the same direction.

Balance is the one principles that can make or break a design without you knowing what the cause might be. Balance can be created by changing the angle of the tree, changing the placement of the tree in a pot or by using negative and positive spaces as part of you design. These points can sound a bit foreign but it’s not to hard to understand. If you look at a tree it must look stable and feel like it can stand on it’s own. The right side of the tree must be able to support the left side.

This is just a short intro to the basic’s of bonsai. I will be posting more on this topic on a later stage.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please feel free to leave you comments below.


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