Monday, February 8, 2016

Bonsai design or what I learned from watching a video of Ryan Neil

     Sometimes novice bonsai practitioners go online looking for information. A great video that helped me with some fundamentals was this one: The title is
2013 AABC convention in Canberra - Ryan Neil Juniper Demonstration by Bonsai Evolution Studios (Hugh Grant). Disclaimer time: The following is my interpretation of what I saw in the video. This is not endorsed by Ryan Neil, Bonsai evolution studios, or the AABC.
Like many bonsai rules the decision to implement them is yours. First when we set out to design a bonsai we must think objectively. Objectivity comes from choosing the best characteristics of five main points. Nature does not accommodate humans. It will be extremely rare to find a tree that nature has given all the best of the five points on the same side of the tree. You will have to make compromises.  Perhaps there will be a halfway point that will let you display some of each of the points if those points are all not on the same tree. The Main points to look at in respective order are Base of the tree, trunk movement, special features on the tree, branch location, location of the Apex. Then and only then do we take care of the flaws in the tree.

     I would like to say a word on balance in bonsai. I would say that a great majority of bonsai trees are asymmetrical. Asymmetrical means that if you split a tree down the middle the two halves do not look like mirror images. When you split a formal upright tree in half you get two trees that look like mirror images. That is called symmetrical balance. I will venture to say that most trees you will make will be asymmetrical. Asymmetrical designs are very appealing to the eye.  You can read books on asymmetrical balance and I suggest you do. Mr. Neil says that you should not rely on the pot as part of your overall design to achieve balance. The tree should look balanced strictly on its own.  

     How do we get movement in a tree? The flow of the tree is based on three parts of the tree. The three parts are the trunk line, the main branch, and the apex location. Typically on smooth barked trees referred to as feminine trees all three parts move in the same general direction. On rough barked trees referred to as masculine trees the three main parts of the tree move in contrary directions to each other. Ryan Neil explained that feminine trees are like romantic comedies where people get along and the ending is happy. Masculine trees are like an action movie that has twists and surprises.

     Mr. Neil says that the trees foliage is what we tend to look at first when we see a bonsai. If that is the case we need to position the foliage in a way that it moves the eye where we want it to be. Some trees will need foliage that accents specific things such as jinn, or a curve in the trunk, etc. Some trees will need the foliage to move the eye from one side of the tree to another.

     First, we start at the lowest visible part of the tree. That would be the base of the tree. The base is the part of the trunk that is directly above the soil line. The base should be the widest part of the trunk. This allows for a good taper up the trunk. The best case scenario is positioning the base so that the widest part is facing the audience.

Huge base on this Cypress

     Second, we will look at trunk movement. Is the trunk very wide or not? How dynamic is the trunk movement? Does the trunk move up or down? Does the trunk line move the eyes to where you want them to go?

Very dynamic trunk movement

     Third, The first branch has much weight in the composition. Where is it pulling the eye? Does it help the flow, or does it make the eye stop?

Yes it's the same tree, look at the first branches position. it counters the apex.

cover the main branch on this picture. I believe it is to big for this tree. to much weight to the right side

     Fourth, we have the special features. Each tree variety has unique characteristics. Example, Cork Oaks have a very distinct bark, fruit trees have flowers, and Ficus may have trunks with aerial roots. Perhaps you have a tree with jinn or shari. Whatever the special feature is this is when you plan to integrate it into the design.
The flowers are the special feature

This bark is the special feature

     Fifth, here is where you start moving those wired branches. The branches affect the flow of the tree and they form the structure for the foliage. All the removal of unneeded branches has been done prior to wiring. Now you place the branches to emphasize the overall structure.

     Sixth, you will fix the apex of the tree. The apex is important because it is where the silhouette comes to a point. Your eye will be directed there so it has a lot of weight in regards to the overall balance. Will the apex continue along the line of the trunk? Maybe the apex will be a branch and the old apex will be turned to jinn.

Great apex, branch position, special feature, main branch, trunk movement, and base. Just an amazing tree

    Well that is my interpretation of what I saw on the video. I hope it helps as much as it helped me. To me it was like coming out of darkness. 

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