If You Have Bold, Beautiful, Innovative Bonsai Trees … You Might Even Win the $10,000 Grand Prize!


Photo by KForce Creative at the Gardens of International Bonsai Mirai.  From The Artisans Cup on facebook.

The Cup is coming and…. (in their own words)… “If you have bold, beautiful, innovative bonsai trees, we’d love to feature them at The Artisans Cup. Who knows, you might even win our $10,000 grand prize! But remember, trees must be submitted and accepted by our jury of experts to be shown at the exhibition. Make sure your submission materials are ready when submissions open. Submission begins April 1st, 2015, and ends June 1st, 2015. Submissions must be received by June 1st for consideration.”

If you are not inclined to show you bonsai, but are inclined to enjoy a ground breaking bonsai exhibition, here’s you link to The Cup’s website. The dates are September 25-27. The venue is the beautiful Portland Art Museum.


From The Artisans Cup on facebook.



Photo by KForce Creative from the Artisan’s Cup on facebook.



The work of Lauren Coulson. From The Artisans Cup on facebook.



From The Artisans Cup on facebook.



Photo by Travel Oregon from The Artisans Cup on facebook.


American Elm Bonsai – It Only Looks Like a Zelkova


At a glance, or even on closer inspection, you might think this is a Zelkova. After all,  Zelkova is the most common broom style bonsai and the leaves even look Zelkovish. However, it’s not. It’s an American elm that belongs to Suthin Sukosolvisit.

You don’t see that many American elm bonsai (or American elms at all for that matter, thanks to Dutch elm disease). And you certainly don’t see many, if any, American elm bonsai as well developed as this one. We have Suthin Sukosolvisit to thank for this.

Just in case you don’t know him, Suthin is one of the great American bonsai artists (Suthin is originally from Thailand, but has made the U.S. his home for a long time now). We’ve featured Suthin’s bonsai here many times and will continue to feature his trees until Bark draws its last digital breath.

Here are Suthin’s website and his facebook feed.



This fall foliage photo provides a better look at the individual leaves. One of the reasons you don’t see very many American elm bonsai is leaf size. Full size American elm’s leaves are about 5 inches (13 cm), so some serious leaf reduction* is in order. It’s a tedious task, but no problem for an accomplished and patient bonsai artist like Suthin.


elm3 On display (U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition?). The sparser leaves in the photo at the top of this post have the look of spring. Here the fuller flusher foliage look more like summer.

* The most tedious leaf reduction task is defoliation. In the early summer (here in the north country at least ) each leaf is individually cut off. A new crop of smaller leaves soon follows (this is true of Maples for example, but did Suthin really cut off each of the multitude of leaves on this elm? )

A Good Time to Introduce Yourself to Phoenix Bonsai


This and the other Kokufu photos in this post are borrowed from Phoenix Bonsai.

We’ve been borrowing Kokufu prize winning bonsai photos from Phoenix Bonsai for a long time. And just in case you don’t know Phoenix Bonsai, this is good time (any time is a good time) to introduce yourself. It’s rich with bonsai information beyond almost any other internet source. Somebody (Robert J Baran) has been putting a lot of energy into it for a long time and it shows.

This year Robert has teamed up with Bill Valavanis on Phoenix’ annual Kokufu pages. A match made in bonsai heaven. I won’t say more, except that it’s a click worth making.




Wire All the Way Out to the Tips and Don’t Forget to Take It All Off

Japanese white pine bunjin wired at Taisho en. From ‘The Art of Bonsai.’

Taking the first Sunday of spring (ha!) off today, so we’ll dig it into the vast wealth buried in our archives. The original is titled Wiring Tips: Take It All Off (but not too early). It appeared in May of 2011.

BTW: it’s no accident that it’s about wiring. Our Big Kilo Wire Sale ends tonight and I thought this might serve as a good reminder. It this light, I’ve added something called Wiring All the Way Out to the Tips from another earlier post.

Take it all off (but not too early)
The following article by John Romano takes on a bit of conventional wisdom about wire scarring. The article originally appeared on the New England Bonsai blog, ‘The Art of Bonsai.’  I’ve taken the liberty of editing down a bit, but there’s a link below if want to see the whole article.

In John’s own words…
“Wiring is an essential technique to create beautiful bonsai…. However, many inexperienced enthusiasts, and even many experienced ones, make certain mistakes in wiring. I … want to mention one often overlooked… taking wire off too early. I know some practitioners are quick to point out wiring scars, however…..”

For the rest of this article, including more photos, visit the ‘Art of Bonsai.’


BT1wiringame Want to improve the quality of your bonsai? Try wiring all the way out to the tips of the smallest branches. You’ll be astounded by the results.


Bonsai Wire Sale
Kilo Rolls for as little as 13.90 each



Our Big Kilo Wire Sale
ends tonight, Sunday March 22nd at 11:59pm EDT
it’s a phenomenal deal, so don’t wait

Two Bonsai Critiques by Robert Steven

Yessi Ariesta-A

Robert Steven’s simulation of a Ficus that was submitted by Yessi Ariesta (see before photo below).

It has been a while since we’ve featured a Robert Steven critique and now, out of the blue, we’re blessed with two.

The first tree is somewhat dramatic as are Robert’s changes. The second tree is much simpler and that simplicity is carried over with more subtle changes.

For years now Robert Steven has been remarkably generous with his free critiques (the word free should be emphasized; what other world renowned bonsai artist and teacher offers something like this?). So why not take advantage of Robert’s generosity and submit a photo of one (or more) of your bonsai?


Yessi Ariesta

Before. The photo that was submitted for critique by Yessi Ariesta.

Robert’s Critique of Yessi Ariesta’s Ficus

Too much is too much
Looking at the line of the trunk’s movement, it is quite clear that this bonsai fits the literati style. One of the basic characters of literati bonsai is simplicity.

The aerial roots and the lower branch disturb the view of the flowing trunk line. On the upper part of the trunk, there are two competing lines, one to the left and one going up to the apex. This creates an unpleasant tension at the top of the tree. Last but not least, the foliage at the top is too heavy and the shape and size of the pot is too massive and masculine when compared with the feminine character of the tree (continued below).


Robert’s simulation is on the left in this image.

The solution is to chop off the lower branch and the aerial roots, and thin down the foliage at the top; and then cover the upward flowing line with foliage in order to create a clear continuous line that releases the trunk’s flow to the left.

Finally, the new container with its natural shape creates a counter balance and enhances the shape of the tree; a shape that suggests a tree growing on sloping land.


Critique #2
Ann Mudie- Picea-2

Robert Steven’s simulation of a Spruce that was submitted by Ann Mudie.


Ann Mudie- Picea

Before. The photo that was submitted for critique by Ann Mudie.

Robert’s Critique of Ann Mudie’s Spruce

I’m not sure if Picea* will bud back, so I will not suggest an extreme design solution. Instead, we’ll provide a simple solution on how to improve a bonsai composition using aesthetic principles.

In any art form, design is all about composition harmony. Focal point and visual balance are among the most important design principles. A good flow will create good visual balance.

In this regard there are a few issues with this bonsai. The focal point and visual balance are created by a bad view of the tree’s flow; it seems to have three trunks, so it’s positioned as a formal multiple trunk with the straight upright trunk’s base planted at the center of the pot (continued below).

mudie copy

Robert’s simulation is on the left in this image.

In fact, the two small ‘trunks’ are branches rather than trunks (they are too small compare to the main trunk to be considered trunks). Consequently the composition is not well balanced. The upper part of the tree drives the flow to the right, but there is no counter balance on the left. The gap is too open, the main trunk seems to separate from the left side, so the focal point is biased from the overall composition. Overall there are many contradicting movements.

My solution is very simple. I repositioned the tree by moving it to the right and then tilting it to the left so that the main trunk slants slightly to the left. By this simple repositioning, the main trunk’s role as the focal point is much better, and the leftward flow is clearer.

The rest of the job is just refining the ramification (branching) and foliage. The small branch on the right is bent slightly upright to fit the others (or it could be cut off).

*Picea is the Spruce genus. In this case it looks like a Picea glauca ‘Conica’, a North American tree commonly called Dwarf Alberta spruce (ed.).



Before before.

Robert’s general comments
There is more than one way to design any bonsai and my critiques and recommended solutions might not always fit your taste and personal preferences, but I always try to give my opinion based on artistic and horticultural principles.

To understand my concepts better, please read my books Vision of My Soul and Mission of Transformation which is available at Stone Lantern.

My new bonsai blog


Nothing but Eat, Sleep and Bonsai for Two Weeks


In Jeremiah Lee’s own words … “Here are a couple trees that Juan recently worked on.  I got to see him clean up and style this bad ass twisty Shimpaku.” From Jeremiah’s two week apprenticeship at Aichi-En Bonsai Nursery. Juan is Juan Andrade, a soon to be famous international bonsai artist (if he isn’t famous already). This and the other photos in this post are by Jeremiah.

I’ve been a fan of  Jeremiah Lee’s Yenling Bonsai blog for a while now (here’s an earlier Bark post that owes its existence to Jeremiah). Not only does Jeremiah take very good photos, but he writes with an infectious enthusiasm that expresses loud and clear his love of all things bonsai.

If you’re not familiar with Yenling Bonsai blog now is a good time to correct that oversight. Not that he previous posts aren’t good, but now he has outdone himself with his first installment on his mini-apprenticeship (my expression, not his) at Aichi-En Bonsai Nursery in Nagoya, Japan, where in his words it was “Nothing but eat, sleep and Bonsai for two weeks.”

Here’s more in Jeremiah’s own words: “Here I am at Aichi En on my first day.  I was blown away by the nursery and trees. The nursery itself is bigger and more beautiful than I imagined, owned by Mr. Junichiro Tanaka a 4th generation Bonsai professional” (more just below)…


“The first tree I worked on was selected from the field above.  There were maybe fifty or so trees similar to the one below in the field.  This red pine was a good pick for practicing wiring, styling, bending and selecting the best front.  I received a ton of help on each project I worked on at Aichi-En.  Generally, Juan (Andrade) would give me pointers throughout and then help me to make adjustments to improve the overall final appearance.

I frequently followed Juan around the garden, trying to steal his knowledge whenever possible ;).” (more below)….



… “In order to bend down the tallest branch growing up, we used a jack,  stainless steel wire and a stainless steel screw in the trunk.  The jack helps to compress the branch/trunk at a slow and even speed, while the wire was tightened to hold it into place.  I gave the jack three slow half turns at a time, watching and listening.”



More in Jeremiah’s own words…“When we were not working on trees, he (Juan) would often stop to point things out to help teach me.  Like with this massive Trident.”

Above are just a few of Jeremiah’s photos and small pieces of his writing.  I encourage you to visit his blog and enjoy the whole story.

Robert & the Tao of Bonsai


Another Robert Steven bonsai masterpiece. He doesn’t say what kind of tree it is but it looks a lot like a Pemphis.

This morning I set out to post two new critiques by Robert Steven, but was foiled by a computer glitch (hopefully temporary).* Meanwhile, I discovered a new photo (above) that Robert just put up on his facebook feed.

Because Robert only put up one new photo, I’m posting some photos (below) from an older Bark post (February 2011) that features a small sampling of Robert Steven’s great bonsai and some strange text from a day when I must have been reading poetry and imagining I could write. Enjoy the trees, and even if you already seen them, I think they’re worth a second look.

* I expect to have the glitch fixed soon and the new critiques up any day now.

robert680Movement and stillness. Robert Steven’s skill, energy and enthusiasm have done much to move the art of bonsai forward (even though there’s nowhere to go).

A little taste
These three photos (one above, two below) are from a facebook album that presents some samples of Robert Steven’s bonsai.

robert3-680A simple tree with its gnarled time-twisted trunk, leans into the darkness.

robert2-680Sentient trees in a ancient forest, a floating world.

Robert Steven is a frequent contributor to Bonsai Bark. In addition to being an acclaimed bonsai artist and teacher, Robert is bonsai author, with two very notable books under his belt (Vision of My Soul and Mission of Transformation) and a couple more in the works.

A Fabulous Fake


Whatever it is, it’s wonderful. We just featured this ‘bonsai’ in our last post. Turns out it’s a fabulous fake. Or, maybe fake isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s a wonderful clay representation of a bonsai. The artist is Paul Finch, according to Nik Rozman.

Running behind today so we’ve dipped into our archives and come up with this hodgepodge post from January 2012. Some dated events were removed for obvious reasons. Some unnecessarily wordy copy was also removed.  



Before and after. It helps to start with great stock. Still, it takes a skilled hand to successfully tackle such powerful tree. The skilled hand belongs to Marco Invernizzi. It’s a Japanese black pine. It’s from the ‘before and after’ section of Marco’s website.



Bonsai Tonight. This sweet Kifu shimpaku is from Bonsai Tonight. Rather than say more, I’ll just encourage you to visit this exceptional blog for yourself.


There’s something afoot in Nebraska. The Nebraska Bonsai Society website  looks pretty good. Maybe there’s something afoot in the great state of Nebraska.


This book is the best tree book I’ve ever seen and almost the only tree book I ever use (I even read it for entertainment). It features over 700 varieties with over 2,000 color photos. It’s chock full of great info, including identification tips, range maps, abundant general info on trees and tree identification. And it has a waterproof cover! It’s a remarkable deal at 19.95 and an even more remarkable deal at Stone Lantern’s low price of 17.95.


For those of us who make mistakes. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth at least one more mention: Andy Rutledge’s thoughtful and thought provoking Artistic Foundations of Bonsai Design is work a look. In fact, it’s worth repeated looks. The photos above are from a section titled ‘Compositional Mistakes.’


San Antonio. I don’t know why San Antonio popped into my mind, but it did. Here’s what I found after a five second search. I couldn’t tell how current the site is, but it’s a start if you’re interested.

Just a little taste. The two spreads below are from the tree book (above).


Two Pines Before & After, plus a Short Treatise on Bunjin


After. Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) by Naoki Maeoka. Not to be confused with our native Red pine (Pinus resinosa) which are common here in Vermont, but alas, are not great bonsai subjects (unlike the Japanese red pine). If you look at the trunk it’s obvious why they call them red pines (the same goes for our native red pine). On a more frivolous note, I can’t help but think of a ski jumper every time I see this remarkable tree.

A talented new kid on the block. Both of the trees shown here are from Naoki Maeoka’s face book photos. We’ve never featured Naoki on Bark and it’s always great to welcome new faces (well, new names at least, we tend to stick to bonsai photos here).

Due to their long somewhat narrow trunks with no low branching, most people might call both of these pines bunjin (aka literati). The only thing that might give pause are the relatively heavy, robust crowns. I say ‘relatively’ because the most ‘bunjin of bunjin’ reflect hostile growing conditions and therefore have very sparse foliage.

I didn’t set out to write a treatise on bunjin, but we’ve come this far, so why not? Here’s a quote from an essay on bunjin by John Naka: “It looks like it is struggling for its survival, or a form of agony. The tree itself should not be in this condition, in reality it should be healthy. The shape or form may indicate struggle but not health. It seems to be a very cruel method but it is only concept. Its appearance should not be too serious nor easy, it should be free, unconstrained, witty, clever, humorous and unconventional. A good example for this is a study of any of nature’s tree that has survived some sort of problem or disaster.”






After. Japanese white pine by Naoki Maeoka.



Our sponsor has informed me that you might be interested in these two ‘on topic’ books and even though I am loath to clutter Bonsai Bark with ads, who am I to argue with the man who signs the checks?



Our famous Pine book


John Naka Sketchbook by The National Bonsai Foundation
available at Stone Lantern