Design - a few thoughts

By Deon Arangies

For some years now, I have been following developments on the European bonsai scene and I am fascinated and a little jealous of the progress they have made in recent years. It is not enough to just admire these artists' work, but by studying their designs you can learn a great deal. It helps a lot if you have pictures of these trees and try to draw the basic structures (trunk, primary and secondary branches) to see what the bonsaiists have done in their designs. Often faults are hidden in the foliage. Here are some of the insights that I have gained.

bonsai-tree-design-figure-1Figure 1

A lot of the tree's design is based 011 the midline (Fig. 1). As the trunk deviates from the midline branches and foliage should still be arranged to be in harmony with this line. This takes practice and studying design will help. The ideal position of the crown/apex is directly over the roots. The vertical axis is very important in bonsai design. It is this factor that determines how the tree will lean when you move away from it. The tree's natural upright growth habit tends towards this vertical axis so foliage and placement of branches must be arranged accordingly.

Another point is that we must always try to get the balance right diameter of the trunk to the height of the tree. As we all know the ideal ratio is I :6. The smaller the ratio ie. the shorter the tree and the thicker the trunk, the stronger the tree will look.

bonsai-tree-design-figure-2Figure 2

Salvatore Liporace is certainly one of the best European artists and he loves to use the following technique to shorten and compact the tree visually, however, if done too often it can become repetitious and boring. By bending back towards the vertical axis/midline you visually shorten the trunkline and the foliage will also convey an effect of compactness (Fig. 2). By bringing the crown of the tree directly over the roots as far as it will allow you and by creating a green triangle of foliage which you then bend towards the roots you shorten the trunk visually.

As you can see in the above two sketches, he manages to make the tree seem compact and strong. The triangle of foliage is still small in relation to the rest of the tree and the tree itself needs to develop more, but the basic structure has been created. I find the jins and sharis a bit awful; work certainly needs to be done on them.

bonsai-tree-design-figure-3Figure 3a

bonsai-tree-design-figure-4Figure 3b

bonsai-tree-design-figure-5Figure 3c

In the sketches of the semi cascade in Fig. 3, you have two options of bringing the green triangle of foliage closer towards the midline.

Most often we allow the branches to be too long to be in harmony with the trunk. Well, the books say that the first branch must be as long as a third of the height of the tree. Sometimes though, it looks better if the branches are kept shorter and thus a look of compactness along the vertical axis is achieved.

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Distant mountain heights...

Lonely trees clinging...

In the hollow of my hand

Random Bonsai Tip

You can bend thick, hardened branches by undercutting. A wedge is cut underneath where the bend is needed and then the branch is eased down anw wired into place. Thick, coarse branches could also be removed completely and replaced with new branches by thread grafting or approach grafting