Note: This has been posted before in Juli 2009
today, while chilling in the warm sun, I thought a lot ( again) about what I wrote the night before about the importance of empty spaces in Bonsai design. And I came to the conclusion that I wanted to share some more of my ideas on this subject with you.
Bonsai is an illusion, a fantasy. Some one’s impression of a full grown tree in nature, that is living in a small pot. The size of the foliage of any plant or tree, in comparison to the height of the Bonsai, will always be way off. No matter what species you use. Still, if the overall appearance of this small tree gives us the impression that we are actually looking at a tree growing in the distance, we all gladly overlook this oddly oversized foliage. And that is because the artist is creating a believable illusion! He downscaled the tree, making sure that were possible all the proportions between the trunk and the branches mimic the growth of a large tree! And that is just the area were empty spaces play such a prominent part! As long as the silhouette or outline of your Bonsai tells a believable story, you can get away with a lot of illogical things, like oversized foliage.
Top left: I have drawn a silhouette of a branch to make things clearer. But off course, the same thing goes for a whole tree! Imagine that this is the outline of a branch that fits perfectly into your Bonsai design. It has some very beautiful and informative open spaces, that divide the foliage layers in a way that is very pleasing to look at. And at the same time. they give us a lot of information about the size of this branch. It is a well-balanced branch, compared with the overall image and size of your Bonsai and it shows the story you like to tell!
The light green open space, tells us that this branch is growing down from the trunk. Giving us clues about the size and age of the tree and what species it is or style it is shaped in.
The darker green open space, tells us there are separate layers of foliage in this branch. A sign of maturity and age. But they also give us a clue of the distance, between us and the tree we are looking at, making it easier for us to calculate how tall this Bonsai image is meant to look in comparison to a tree in nature!
The top brown open space, almost pushes the branch down, like a load of invisible snow. Emphasizing the downward movement of this branch. While the bottom brown open space is supporting the weight of this branch.
Top right: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the foliage of a Juniper Itoigawa. This foliage is very small and allows you to bring much detail in this branch.
Bottom left: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the foliage of an Acer Buergerianum. These leaves are relatively small and show great detail.
Bottom right: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the relatively short needles of a Pinus Sylvestris.
Top left: Your perfect branch silhouette.
Top right: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the relatively longer needles of a Pinus Densiflora. with foliage of this size, you only use a few needle clusters to fill out your wanted silhouette. With a lot of trans parity, to keep it light. But even in this case, where the size of the needles is way out of proportion, the all-important outline of the foliage ped tells the same story as with the smaller foliage!
Bottom left: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the very small foliage of a Buxus, Ulmus or Olive. Again this means you can bring more detail into your branch, but the outline stays the same!
Bottom right: Your perfect branch silhouette filled with the relatively larger leaves of a Fagus.
Peaking through your eyelashes helps to see the outline of your work easier!
The outlines of this branch give us a lot of information about what we are looking at, like size, height and type of tree or style. They help us to understand what the Bonsai artist wants us to see. So Bonsai is a lot of silhouetteisme (if that’s a word?). And empty spaces are vital to bringing detail and info into a silhouette!
I hope this all makes sense? It is not an exact science, they are just my thought and it is so hard to explain my ideas like this, so I sure hope they come over a bit?!
Again it is 4 in the morning, I spent 3 hours on this PPFFFF! I am off to bed!
I will try to write some more tomorrow!
Thanks for listening,
Hans van Meer.