Simple Changes with Profound Results

 

Kian-Simulation-1One of Robert Steven’s two simulations of a tree in a rock-like container that was submitted by Kian (no second name given). In spite of the somewhat fuzzy images, the general ideas come through loud and clear.

It’s Labor Day weekend here in the States, a good time to relax and enjoy family and friends, so we’ll take the easy way out (once again) and dig into our archives. This Robert Steven critique was originally posted back in December, 2010. It contains useful tips for planting on rocks and slabs and is well worth another look. Especially considering that 90% of you have never seen it, and 100% of you who have seen it have forgotten by now.

Simple changes with profound results
Sometimes an adjustment to the position of a container (below), or a new container (above), can radically transform a planting. Neither of Robert’s simulations involve any changes to the tree, yet both transform a somewhat stagnant planting to something full of natural movement and interest.

 

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Robert’s second simulation.


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Kian’s original submission.

I changed the order of Robert’s two simulations (above) which explains why the second appears first below.

Robert Steven’s Critique
The main purpose of using these types of containers** for bonsai is to create a theme that suggests a captured moment of a natural scene.

Kian, the bonsai artist is trying to show a tree growing on a rocky hill, but he fails to do so because the container too symmetrical. It looks unnatural, bulky and monotonous. The result is that the tree and the container are in competition to catch our eye; they look separate, without integrated unity. This is because the wide green moss is too much in contrast with the straight line of the container’s edge without any “third element” to bridge the two elements.

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The second solution: Correct the container shape and overall effect by changing the position of the container and replanting the tree. Now the container’s edge has a natural irregular form and the image created is of a tree growing on a rocky hill. By placing some small rocks as a the third element, unity between the container and tree is enhanced.

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The first solution: By using a shallow and wide container, a more panoramic view is created. The container’s edge is irregular which gives a natural look, and the small rocks help tie the container and tree together into a unified whole.

Same tree. It’s the containers and the repositioning of the three that create more natural themes and nuance. You make your choice….

**These stone carved pots are by Prayogi of Tulung Agung Indonesia. They are his first generation shapes. I offered him some advice on natural looking containers for bonsai purposes.

General comments
There is more than one way to design any bonsai and my critiques and recommended solutions might not always fit your taste because of 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 are available at Stone Lantern.

You can also visit my bonsai blog.

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Robert’s Mission of Transformation.

The Future of American Bonsai

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This photo and the other photos in this post are from Ryan Neil’s Mirai, American Bonsai.

Ryan Neil’s International Bonsai Mirai has transformed itself into Mirai, American Bonsai. As you can see, it’s mostly Mirai, with American  Bonsai as a small tag line.

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This transformation is accompanied by a new website. What’s distinctive about this new website is that it’s flat out luscious. Luscious and also highly professional with an abundance of great photos and informative, easy to read text. I won’t say much more (better if you just go and see for yourself), except that Mirai means ‘future’ in Japanese.

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All the photos in this post are from Mirai, American Bonsai.

Deadwood & Much More at North America’s Signature Bonsai Event

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Going down? There’s a lot to love about this old tree: that little piece of wood that hangs over the edge of the pot, the remarkable texture and color of the bark and the way the powerful old trunk seems to cling to the pot. There’s also the fact that the tree is a Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis), not your everyday bonsai species. And then there’s that remarkable jin that seems to be unconcerned if it fits or doesn’t fit with the rest of the tree. The tree belong to Greg Brenden. The photo is from the 2010 2nd U.S. National Exhibition Album.

The first two photos in this post are from our archives. June of 2012. It was just before the 3rd U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition and now it’s almost time for the forth  and there’s still time for you to make your plans and sign up (sadly, we’ll miss seeing you all as circumstances prevent us from being there this year). 

What they have in common
Aside from their unique jin, what these first two trees have in common is; they were both on display at U.S. National Bonsai Exhibitions in Rochester, NY. This is good time to mention this excellent, world-class exhibition, as the 4th one starts in three weeks.

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Going up? This complex sculpture/bonsai will no doubt delight the sensibilities of some and offend the sensibilities of others. I’ll put myself on the delight side. When I let go of my notions of naturalness and try to look with unprejudiced eyes, I’m struck by the way the whiteness of the deadwood sets off the delicious slick live vein. Then there’s the story behind the partially hidden twisted deadwood stump; something strange and wonderful happened to this tree before it was discovered clinging to its little patch of soil somewhere in the eastern part of North America (it’s a Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) that’s most often called an Eastern red cedar). Oh yeah, and there’s the jin. The tree belongs to Juan Calderon. The photo is from the 2008 1st U.S. National Exhibition Album.

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A page out of the 2012 Album. As you can see, this Japanese black pine by Scott Elser was the National Award winner at the 2012 Exhibition.  

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The 2012 Album is still available (on special) at Stone Lantern. We also have 300 other items on special right now at Stone Lantern, including much of our remarkable selection of books, bonsai tools and numerous other bonsai items.

A Magnificent Affront to Bonsai Orthodoxy

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This magnificent old yamadori Shimpaku, with its self framing deadwood has to be one of the most outrageously unusual bonsai we’ve ever posted (ever seen, for that matter). It’s from Taisho-en in Japan. I originally found this image here.

Trees as unusual as the one above are often controversial. I think some of this controversy is a human tendency towards orthodoxy. We get used to things a certain way and next thing you know we’re defending that way as the correct way.

All three photos shown here are of trees that live at Taisho-en. Here’s a short discription I lifted from Bonsai in Japan: “Taisho-en is a working nursery in Shizuoka (the foot of Mt. Fuji). It is run by Mr. Nobuichi Urushibata and specialises in Shohin bonsai. That being said there were numerous examples of fine medium and large bonsai as well.”

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Another magnificent old Shimpaku. Unlike the tree above, it has a classical bonsai shape. Still the deadwood is magnificent. One thing that is unusual about this tree is how the live vein is completely hidden (at least in this view). This photo is from Bonsai in Japan.

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Another classical bonsai shape, but if you look at the negative space you’ll see something unusual going on. This photo is from the Taisho-en website.

Magician on the Rocks

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The mature look. It helps to start with well developed trees. I think most of us would be happy to have trees like these Shimpaku as single bonsai, let alone as parts of group plantings.

Summers are short here in Vermont, it’s Sunday morning and the sun has decided to make an appearance. Time to dig into our archives and vacate this office before petrification sets in.

We just mentioned Kimura (last post) so why not show some of his remarkable bonsai? This post originally appeared last summer. To shed a little more light, you might want to visit the original and take a look at the comments.

Kimura’s rock plantings. These photos are all from a facebook posting by Alejandro Sartori that he took during a recent visit to Masahiko Kimura’s nursery. I’ve chosen to pick out some rock plantings from a much larger selection of Alejandro’s photographs of Kimura’s trees. I think they represent an aspect of Kimura’s revolutionary bonsai journey that may not be as familiar as some of his other bonsai, particularly his famous dramatic large bonsai that he sculpted using chainsaws and other power tools.

I believe that the rocks in these photos were constructed by human hands. Quite possibly even by Kimura’s famous hands. There is a chapter in The Magician, the Bonsai Art of Kimura 2 that shows how to construct a layered vertical rock. The second photo down features one of these.

By the way, all of the plantings shown here are root-on-rock style as opposed to root-over-rock style.

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Are these trees Hinokis? It’s hard to tell for sure, but that’s my best guess. It’s also hard to tell the size of this planting without something to contrast it with, though you might imagine that it’s quite large. My guess is that the pot is somewhere around 30 inches (76cm), which would make the planting about 40 inches (100cm) across, but that’s just a guess.

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Another Shimpaku planting. The trees aren’t quite as developed in this one, but they’re still pretty good. It’s fairly easy to see that the rock was constructed in layers. There’s an excellent chapter in The Magician, the Bonsai Art of Kimura 2, where he shows how to do this.

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I like the way the trees (Hinokis again?) grow straight up along the side of rock on this one. This serves to help create a dynamic sense of vertical movement (something like that anyway). This is further enhanced by the way the crown of the rock reaches up to the sky.

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The eccentric. I think this one is the most unusual of the lot. Perhaps a big part of that unusual feel is the distinctive shape of the rock. In contrast to the planting immediately above, these trees (Hinokis again?) create a whole different feel by growing down and away from the rock.

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If you want to see how Kimura does it, this is the right book. And, it’s now on special at Stone Lantern.

A Remarkable Transformaton by a Bonsai Artist Not Named Kimura

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We don’t usually feature such grainy shots for our lead photo, but this is the best we could find of this remarkable tree (plus we blew it up to fit our format). It’s an ‘after’ photo of a Kishu shimpaku juniper by Steve Tolley.

When I first saw the before and after shots of this remarkable Kishu shimpaku, Master Kimura’s revolutionary transformations immediately came to mind (some examples of Kimura’s transformations are here, here and here). I won’t say much more; we’ll let the photos and Steve Tolley’s text (below) do the talking.

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Before.

Here’s some of what Steve Tolley has to say about his extraordinary transformation of a somewhat ordinary tree:

“This is a juniper that had sat in my nursery for some time. Just an average piece of material sitting between many wonderful bonsai and yamadori material trees and going virtually un-noticed.

A number of visitors commented that it looked out of place in the nursery. I guess that they did not take the time to look at the trees styling possibilities with so many other seductive trees around.

It is the sort of tree you see in many nurseries. Quite tall and straight with a blob of foliage far away from the nebari. However it did offer several obvious styling options, and what follows is what we chose for this particular tree.”

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Here are some ‘during’ photos. You can see all of photos and text here.

All of the photos in this post are from Steve Tolley’s website. You can also enjoy Steve’s bonsai on facebook.

Technical Skills, Great Vision & An Unsolved Mystery

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After. By Salatore Liporace. It’s not in a bonsai pot yet, but in this case, who cares?

There are at least five things that struck me almost immediately about this tree. First, it’s a great example of a before and after bonsai. The before is full of challenges and promise (good stock is half the battle) and when you look at the after, it’s obvious that the artist (Salvatore Liporace) has done a masterful job of rising to the challenge.

Second, there’s the exceptionally strong and vividly colored living vein and the way it wraps around and contrasts so well with the deadwood. This is the type of distinguishing feature that sets a great bonsai apart from an ordinary bonsai.

Third, in the after photo the tree looks like a Juniper procumbens. The foliage even looks like a Procumbens ‘nana.’ If you know this type tree you know how rare good Procumbens bonsai are. And you know that such thick trunks are even rarer on Procumbens ‘nana.’ Was there grafting involved (see below)?

Forth, there’s the foliage. In the before photo all of the visible foliage looks mature. In the after photo, all of the visible foliage looks immature, Counter-intuitively, and unlike other junipers, immature foliage is a sign of good health on a Procumbens, while mature foliage is a sign of stress. Was the foliage grafted (and the stock isn’t a Procumbens at all*)? Or was it time and good care that caused the reversion to immature foliage?

Finally, if you look at the before photo there are no branches on the left side. If you look at the after photo it looks like there are three branches and part of the apex on the left side. The requires good vision and a bit of wire wizardry. Or, as mentioned above there could be grafting involved. Either way, the technical skills and vision that accomplished all this are undeniable.

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Before. *The more I look at this tree, the more I think it’s not a Procumbens at all. There doesn’t seem to be even one shoot of immature foliage anywhere, something you would expect on any Procumbens.

Bunjin Creds

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Caption from 2012: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bunjin style bonsai in such a deep pot. You almost always see them in shallow round or near-round pots. No problem though, this one works to perfection; a spectacular tree with a lustrous pot. I think the heavy foliage (unusual for a bunjin) helps balance the heavy pot (Message from 2014: I think it’s a stretch to call this tree a bunjin. Mostly because of the very robust foliage and the deep flashy pot. More below…).

It’s time to dig into our archives. This is one of our earlier Peter Tea posts, from January 2012. It’s titled, Eighty Two and Still Going Strong.

It occurs, from our sophisticated 2014 perspective, that you might question the bunjin creds of two of the trees shown here. Trees that we blithely referred to as bunjin at the time, without even a second thought. But those were more innocent days. Now, thanks to time and a little prompting from our friends, we might pause before we throw words like bunjin around (for more, you can check out the comments from the original post, one of which is copied at the bottom of this post).

Thanks again to Mr. Tea
The photos in this post are all courtesy of Peter Tea, our current favorite bonsai apprentice (nothing personal to the rest of our apprenti in Japan, it’s just that Peter keeps sending great stuff).

Meifu-ten, a show for hobbyists and collectors
It seems like most Japanese bonsai shows are for collectors and professionals, so it’s refreshing to see photos from a show that features collectors and hobbyists’ trees. Here’s some of what Peter has to say about the show: January 14-16 was the 82nd Annual Meifu-ten Bonsai show in Nagoya Japan. Meifu-ten is the second oldest show in Japan behind Kokufu-ten and this year exhibited over 170 trees. All the trees belong to hobbyists and collectors. The average attendance of for the three day show is about 7 thousand (Not too shabby!)…. here’s the rest.

7,000 per day!
In case you were wondering, bonsai is alive and well in Japan.

A very distinctive Kokonoe Japanese white pine. I’ve seen other trees with dominant first branches that seem to break bonsai conventions. but this one really goes out on a limb (so to speak). And then there’s that extraordinarily powerful lower trunk.

The original caption: Too sweet! It’s a Japanese red pine (in a traditional style bunjin pot). Updated now (2014): No doubt about this one’s bunjin credentials.

It’s not that most of the trees in the show are bunjin, it’s just that we’ve got a soft spot for them. This one’s a Shimpaku juniper. All the deadwood action around the base (and perhaps another feature or two), makes for a very unusual bunjin. (2014: this is the other one).

“What you call a bunjin style doesn’t pass the test for me as bunjin.
You are right to call attention to the too deep pot.
It almost works, because the foliage mass is also sizable.
The pot is nice.
The twisted trunk is great.
The foliage mass is well groomed and looks great.
My problem with it is putting them all together.
The trunk is too thin to visually support the mass of the branches and foliage.
The trunk is too thin to visually support the mass of the pot.
I would love to have this bonsai and would scratch my head over how to solve the dilemma.
A pot about half the depth would solve half of the problem.
How to manage the other half without ruining the bonsai would be the harder problem to solve.”

Alan Walker, from the comments to the original post.

The Time of Your Life (In Chicago)

C7Usually I don’t like distracting backgrounds, but the vertical lines in this display aren’t too bad. It doesn’t hurt that the tree is so powerful. It looks like a Yew, but there’s no verification with the photo. I found it at Michael Bonsai on facebook.

Time to head to Chicago. Speaking of, you might be too young to know the song Chicago. It was written in 1922 and was recorded by a number of artists. The most famous version is by Frank Sinatra (1957). Anyway, whenever the I hear about Chicago the song immediately pops into my head. Fortunately, there are a lot worse songs, so no complaint.

All this has little to do with bonsai. Except the part about Chicago. Turns out the Midwest Bonsai Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden starts this weekend. All the photos shown here are from the show setup. I took the liberty to crop and fiddle with the brightness/contrast. My apologies to the photographers.

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This has to be one of the most powerful trees in the exhibition. It’s a formal pine that belongs to Bill Valavanis. I couldn’t find a mention of the variety. The photo is also Bill’s.

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Is this two headed monster a Korean hornbeam? Or…? Anyway, it’s a great tree. Like a lot of bonsai it’s got that very low branch that some people might remove. Photo by Michael Bonsai.

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Good Ginkgos are few and far between. This is the second one we’ve featured in the last few days. Photo by Michael Bonsai.

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If you visit Japanese or European bonsai exhibitions, you almost never see tropical bonsai. Here in the U.S. we have some subtropical zones where it’s easy to grow tropical trees. Most notably much of Florida and parts of California. My guess is this Willow leaf ficus is from Florida. Photo by Michael Bonsai.

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I don’t know what kind of pine this is but the bark could be Ponderosa, though I think the needles are a little small for Ponderosa. Maybe it’s a Lodgepole? Photo by Mark Field.

 

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Nice Shimpaku. Photo by Michael Bonsai.

FREE Bonsai Wire & Fertilizer…

FREE Wire & Green Dream It’s been a while since we got stupid and gave stuff away. So, because it’s impossible to be smart all the time, we’re going to give you…

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