Link To The Amazing Online BSOP Series: Spring Fundamentals By Ryan Neal From Mirai Live.

First here is the link to Ryan Neal’s BONSAI MIRAI LIVE website where you can find lots of wonderful Bonsai related video’s! And HERE is the link to the amazing video about Winter Preparation on Ryan Neal’s Bonsai Mirai Live! Thanks Ryan for helping so many Bonsai enthusiasts around the world!

Promo: Early Spring and days are getting longer, the weather is warming – spring is a pivotal time to maximize your bonsai’s development. Use this video to learn what to prioritize and where you should be placing your efforts in the month of April. Join us as Ryan covers different reasons for pruning, whether or not to repot, and how to approach fertilization at this point in the season.

This is what I wrote on YouTube after seeing this amazingly helpful video late yesterday night.

Wow! I have watched this 2-hour video totally captivated in one go until 3 in the morning! It is by far the best educational video around because Ryan has a way of teaching, explaining and showing that makes it all logical, understandable and stick! I have always been a big fan of his work….but his teaching easily equals his artistry. I will post a link on to my blog so that even more students of Bonsai can find their way to this uniquely valuable source of Bonsai information. Thanks, Ryan and all who made this Video possible! I can’t wait for the next edition!

I know of no other video or book that covers all the basics of Spring Fundamentals like this 2-hour video from Ryan, so please do your self and your Bonsai a favour and watch it!

Cheers,

Hans van Meer.

Bonsai Tutorials: downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature Bonsai version. PART II

This next post: downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature Bonsai version. PART II) has been posted here before on Juli 2009. But after using it again a few months ago during a workshop for my students and all the positive reactions that I got afterwards I decided to post it again here on my blog! I hope it will help those who struggle with the principles of downsizing the large image of a real tree into a Bonsai size.

Hi, everybody,

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 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.

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Above: 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 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 more 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.

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Above: 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 it those 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.

Tip: 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 imaginary size, age, 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 that 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?!

 

Thanks for listening,

Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Bonsai Tutorials: downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature Bonsai version.

 

 

This next post has been posted here before on Juli 2009. But after using it again a few months ago during a workshop for my students and all the positive reactions that I got afterwards I decided to post it again here on my blog! I hope it will help those who struggle with the principles of downsizing the large image of a real tree into a Bonsai size.

 

Hi, everybody,

I wanted to tackle the subject of downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature version. Off course Bonsai is not the simple copying of trees from nature, but to understand how it works can help you to realize your own ideas. I will use an imaginary example of a 50 cm/20 Inch high Bonsai and will, later on, use two of my own Bonsai of that same hight to make things clear!

After surging the web, I have found a wonderful dark silhouette image of a tree to use as an example. 

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The above silhouette gives use enough info we need to recognize what it is. Even without the wooden bench underneath the tree, we can figure out how tall, big and fare away from us this tree is. So if we use these same features that give us all that info in our Bonsai, we will at least end up with the right proportion in our little tree. And that is not a bad start, believe me!

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Above: So here is the silhouette of this tree more clearer to see. I have removed the two small branches that were growing low on the trunk, to make things clearer to see. And while I was at it, I planted the tree in a Bonsai pot. Looks good already, doesn’t it?

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Above: The yellow dots show the outlines of the frame/skeleton of this tree. This design as Bonsai would be about 20 inch/50 cm high and material with a trunk and branches like this can easily be purchased from any Bonsai dealer that imports Acer palmatum or Ulmus but for example, a Beech or Hawthorn would do just as easily! But the amount of foliage you see here would be hard to archive with the too large foliage of most deciduous species we could use to create this image with as a Bonsai. So we should divide the messy foliage into more compact and well-outlined foliage pads. Doing this, we will create more open spaces, that clearly open up the foliage pads from each other.

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Above: Here I created some clearer open spaces between the foliage layers. It is the same image, but this time it is doable to shape it as a Bonsai. In principle, you only have to fill those outlined foliage pads with the larger leaves of the species you use to create this image.

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Above: Here I filled these foliage pads with the foliage I borrowed from my own Carpinus betulus with exactly the same size as this imaginary Bonsai 50 cm/ 20 Inch. I placed the silhouette and a picture of my Carpinus next to each other and then cut and pasted the foliage onto the silhouette. So the size of this foliage in comparison to the trunk and height are accurate. So as you can see this could already be doable and believable as a Bonsai.

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Above: Here I filled those foliage peds with the foliage of my same sized Acer palmatum. Again the size of the foliage is accurate. So again, doable and believable!

Even though like in most Bonsai, the leaves are monstrously big in comparison to the tree image we have created, the outlines of the trunk, branches and foliage pads are correct, making it a believable image that reminds us of the trees we see in nature. Just like the painter, who only uses a few brush strokes to paint all the foliage of a large branch, we sometimes only use a few leaves to create all the imaginary foliage of a large branch.

Thanks for listening again,

Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Cutting back new growt on all my Yamadori Yews and how and why (with before and afters).

Hi, everybody,

last week it was time to cut back all the strong new growth on all my Yamadori Taxus baccata’s that I collected many, many years ago in Wales with my dear friends Tony Tickle, Terry Foster and Mike Sullivan. Last year they were all heavily fed and allowed to grow freely to build up their strength and that resulted this year in strong growth all over all of them! So like I mentioned before, last week it was the right time to cut back all the new strong growth! How do you know when the right time has arrived? Easy, when the new growth has become harderstiffer to the touch and has become a darker colour green! Then it is time to cut back into that new growth with a very sharp and clean scissors, leaving 3 pairs of needles on a strong shoot and 4 or 5 pairs of the weaker ones! But IMPORTANT: you don’t cut back the new growth on branches that are weak or the ones that you want to thicken or to extend!!!  But even on branches that need to grow, you should remove some/most of the old needles to promote back budding!!! After all, this is done, you give the trees at least a week time to recover from the stress and to close all the wounds from cutting them! Then you carefully pick/pull off the old needles from last season, making sure that you pull in the direction they grow! This reduces the chance of damage to the often thin branches! After all, this is don and all goes well than many new strong buds will start to appear at the end of this season, and for sure in the next growing season! The other advantage is that because most branches are now without needles sunlight can reach all areas better and it has become much easier to select and wire them all! All this will result in healthy and strong growth closer to the trunk and main branches and the fuller appearance that we seek in Yew Bonsai and Bonsai in general!

Here are my own Yew Bonsai as an example for how it is don.

Below: The first one that I like to show to you is a Yamadori baccata that was given to me as a present by Tony Tickle when he visited my house almost 20 years ago now! He had collected it himself a few years earlier and I remember him smiling when he gave it to me and said: “let see what you can make out of this”?! When I later took it out off its plastic training pot, I understood exactly what he meant when he said this! Underneath the wide base of the tree grew a 15 cm long thick root with only roots at the end….it looked like a lollypop! It took me the better part of 4 years to force the tree to make roots higher and closer to the trunk base so that I could finally shorten that long root and plant the tree in a more normal pot! But during those years I had already started to style the tree and found a solution to make good use of that bulging trunk section and the Jin that emerged from it on the left! And that solution was all the time lying on my garden floor! It was a viewing stone from Indonesia which, when I held them together, fitted like a clove! The small base of the tree fell exactly into a cavity in the stone and the Jin rested on top of it, like a big branch that had died back many years ago….amazing! 🙂 Then in February 2007, the Bonsai made it through the tough pre-selection of the prestigious “Noelanders Trophy” in Heusden/Zolder Belgium. The lollypop Yew had become a Bonsai! 🙂

Height 55 cm/22 Inch. Table, scroll and Shikishi Japan.

Below: The same tree 10 years later! Healthy…but in need of a haircut and compleat wiring!

Below: Side view

Below: After shortening all the healthy shoots! Next, on the agenda is pinching most of the old needles and then rewire the whole tree and cleaning the live section and the deadwood section and applying lime sulphur.

Below: Side view. Out of model….but he looks healthy enough!

Below: The second one that I like to show was in 1999 given to me (again) as a gift of Tony Tickle, when we said ower goodbyes at the end of the historic second “Ginkgo Awards” in Belgium. This next year picture was taken in my garden just after I repotted it. The left arrow points at the large Jin that you can see on the left in the second picture below. The bottom arrow points at the large branch that I removed completely so that I would be able to create a more compact middle size Bonsai (Chuhin)! The large Jin/Shari section that you can see in the middle of the trunk in that same second picture is all that remains of this large branch!

Below: September 2007. The same tree, but now as a Bonsai! It was earlier also shown in one of the “Noelanders trophies” together with another small size Yew that I will show you next! Height: 35 cm/14 Inch. Pot: Klika & Kuratkova  Table: CHR furniture (B)

Below: The same tree before cutting the new shoots. The right bottom branch has lost some thicker branches on the backside that need to be replacedfilled with new young branches in the next seasons! The ones growing from there are left alone to thicken and extend, so no cutting or pinching! The rest of the tree will be treated as explained before!

Below: Right side view of the tree. Note how the top leans towards the front…like in most my Bonsai designs!

Below: After cutting the new shoots. The length of the branches is like in the first tree too long and the desired silhouette is lost! But after the new buds that will appear have opened and grown enough, well then all these too long branches will be cut back so that the proper silhouette will return!

Below: 1999. Me and my dear old friend Tony Tickle on a collecting trip in Wales…good times! 🙂

Below: The third example. Here is one that I collected my self during one of those exciting trips late last century with Tony, Terry and friends!

Below: And this is how it looked in September 2007. In a custom-made pot by old friend Brian Allbright (UK) and another table custom-made by CHR furniture  (B). Height 28 cm/11.2 Inch. This Bonsai was shown together with the one before this in the Noelanders trophy.

Below: And this is how it looked before pruning began. It has outgrown its beautiful Tokename pot, where it has been growing in for almost a decade! So I have to start looking for a new beautiful and more spacious one!

Below: Right side view.

Below: After cutting the new shoots. It is obvious that the left side of the top needs to be wired and repositioned!

Below: In this left side shot it is even more obvious that the left side of that top needs to be filled up by lowering the branch above that big gap! This open space arose when a major branch died back!

Below: Collecting one of the Yews from this post!

Below: The fourth example. This one was collected by my myself during one of the collecting trips I made with Tony and friends during the late nineties in Wales. As soon as I got home it was planted in a hard plastic Bonsai container and then left alone to recover!

Below: After the first signs of recovery I removed all the useless growth of those long branches so that all the energy would go to the foliage that matters! And then the tree was left alone again to get stronger for its first real styling!

Below: The tree consist of a left and right sections with a strip of deadwood running in between from top to bottom.  A year later, when the tree was looking very vigorous, I decided that it was safe to perform a drastic pruning! So I cut off all the foliage and branches from the left section of the tree, leaving the stumps so that they could be turned into Jins. And I removed all the bark from that left section, creating a nice contrast between live (brown) section and the deadwood (white) section! The branches that were useful for my design were wired and then the tree was left alone (as long as it needed) to recover from it all!

Below: A year later it was doing just fine so I planted it in a proper Bonsai pot.

Below: And this is how that same Bonsai looked in September 2007. That same year it was proudly exhibited in the fifth and last edition of the now legendaries “Ginkgo Awards” in Belgium. I like the contrast of colours in this tree and the circular design! Almost like yin yang…live and dead! But what I like most is that I created a design with an otherwise big no no….the right bottom branch that grows directly out of the inside of that curve! And still, it works and makes you look twice because it is so unconventional! And that was just what I hoped to achieve with this design!

Height: 35 cm/ 14 Inch. Pot: Tokoname. Table: CHR furniture (B)

Below: The tree before shortening most of the new growth. And after that, it is time to rewire and restyle the whole tree again!

Below: Left side view showing the deadwood/Shari and Jins.

Below: After cutting most of the new shoots.

Below: It is thinned out a lot! Now it is time to remove most of the older needles from the strong branches so that light can reach in and new buds can appear!

Below: The fifth and last example. This Yew was actually the first tree that I ever collected and yes it was Tony Tickle again who made that possible for me! I met Tony for the first time in 1997 at the first-ever “Ginkgo Bonsai show” in Belgium and we have been great friends ever since and had some amazing Bonsai adventures together since then! It was during that first meeting that Tony invited me to come collecting with him in the UK! I could not believe my luck and sure enough in early 1998, I drove all the way to the north of England! And the next day, the first tree I ever collected, was the Yew that I am next going to show and discuss!

Below: Happy me with my first collected Yamadori ever!!! This Yew marks an all-important turning point in my Bonsai live….sins then on I decided that this was what I wanted to do Bonsai! And sins then I have nearly always worked exclusively on raw unstyled material that I often found and collected myself! I wanted to have all the excitement from the beginning to the end….I choose the long way…but my way! And this Yew started that all of, so you can imagine that it holds a warm spot in my heart! 🙂

Below: In my garden, it lost the whole top section, but luckily the bottom foliage survived!

Below: A not so good picture made inside my house in 2003.  As you can see that half of the dead top section was removed right up to the red arrow in the above picture, only a small Jin remains! The large upwards going Jin you see in the below picture is the dead upwards going branch that starts just above that red arrow in the above picture!

Below: September 2007. Just rewired, repositioned, live wood cleaned and Jins and Shari’s treated with lime sulphur. Table: CHR furniture (B)

Below: Early 2008 in its present pot. From here on it was all keeping it very happy, healthy with the main focus on fuller and better branch structure! Growing, cutting, pinching and wiring etc. ect…..ect. 🙂

Below: Just look how full the tree is today! Now there is more than enough foliage to work with and to bring the Bonsai further and closer to end image that I had in mind all those years ago when I gave it it’s first styling! This pot is by now a bit too small, but is in the style that I would like to use when the Bonsai is finally ready to show…so the search is on! And the tree needs to be tilted more to the right when it is repotted back in this or in its new pot!

Below: After cutting and pinching. The copper wire in the top of that Jin is there to prevent it from accidentally breaking it when I move it around! My garden is covered with galvanized iron gauze (normally used in concrete walls), so a mistake is easily made when lifting up a tree to high!

Below: Left side view of the tree. Again notice how far my Bonsai lean forwards! This, in my mind, creates a lot of depth and creates a feeling as if the tree leans over you. If I learned one thing from looking at hundreds of Japanese Bonsai in books and in real life than it is this principle! Depth creates a sense of reality…even in pictures!

In between writing this, I spent a lot of fun time with the all-important task of the branch and new growth selection and branch shortening or removing on all the Yews! And although it is a sign of good health, a lot of growth of small and larger branches is useless or unwanted. It blocks out sunlight for the new growth and the branches that are important in your design! So it should be removed or shortened! Then there is branch shortening to reduce the overall size and mass of your design! And last but not least, branch shortening to create better branch structure and ramification! By cutting back a larger branch right up to where there is a strong shoot or even bud, you will create shorter and better ramification branches and better taper! This should be one of the main objective of Bonsai and is in modern Bonsai often neglected! You should not be only proud of the outside image of your Bonsai, but also of your branch structure!!! And it is very important for the wellbeing of your Bonsai! For example the first Bonsai from this post was after this (long) branch selection round reduced by some 20% !! After all the here discussed Bonsai have gone through this same procedure, they will all be wired, styled, cleaned and treated with Lime sulphur. After that, I will make new pictures and show them to you! I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful and interesting?!

Now I will start to work again on my new Bonsai video that is almost finished…it only needs music underneath it! That might sound easy to some…but for a novice like me it all is a big difficult puzzle?! 🙂 It is Part I of the story of “the Elephant” my big Yamadori Larch. So watch this space!

Cheers,

Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Finally ready to give my old Yamadori Taxus it’s first styling (part II).

Hi, everybody,

here is part II of this Taxus styling story!

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First thing I wanted to do before I started to style the tree, is improving the major large Jin on the right of the tree! It needs a whoosh flow to the right without too much visual distraction into a different direction! Especially straight angular movement away from the flow are a no-no and need to be changed or completely removed! The straight upwards going Jin in the middle of this picture creates an almost perfect angle with the movement of the long Jin to the right side and is clearly obstructing and shouting for attention when we follow the visual direction of the long Jin! So it needs to be shortened considerably, but it needs to look like a force of nature had broken it off!

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With a little-controlled force, the branch is broken off in just the right place leaving a natural looking small stump that needs little or no more work to look completely naturally!

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Green arrow point at the stump of the Jin that just is broken off. The red arrow points at an almost strait Jin that distracts the flow and movement of the Jin just above and in front of it! So again: it needs to go!

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Again this Jin is controlled broken off by hand and again the Jin breaks right off at the desired place! In the background, you can already see just how the movement of that long Jin is now more clear and visible without any straight lines distracting it like before! 

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Much better all ready! But the red arrow points at a Jin that also grows upward in an angular fashion and obstructs at the tip of this long branch the eye movement, flow and natural tapering of that long Jin!

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So again it is carefully broken off by hand! Leaving a stump that afterwards needs some more work with hand tools to go along even better with that last part of the long Jin! That will be don when the major styling is finished!

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By now that long Jin looks much better and the eye movement to the right is without any obstructions! it is starting to look like a bolt of lightning! Just like I wanted it to look! It brings visual speed to the tree and that is in my eye very exciting for the future of this tree! the red arrow points at a section on that thicker Jin section that needs improving! It is too long in some parts and there are too many small Jins sticking out from it…like tin fingers!This Jin section is not a part off that long Jin and stands on it’s one! It goes off in a different and those not obstruct the movement of that long Jin!

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Like before the Jin that protruded straight into the air is removed by breaking it carefully off with my hand! Making that whole Jin less crowded and more open!

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As you can see in this shot that Jin is now much more open and less busy! In the future when the branches are brought in to their desired position and when that large, now still not worked on Shari aria is created, they might be worked on more and or shortened! But those important decisions can only be made when the can be compared with a more finished tree! 

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OK! Now it is time to make the final branch selections and then wire them and bring them into there desired position! First the left hanging branch! The green arrow points at the branch that will form the left front branch. The red arrow will become the more left orientated branch. The blue arrow points at the branch that will become the left backwards orientated branch!

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Top view of that left side hanging branch. The left thicker one and the one to the right of that grow from it are wired in a way that offers the best protection against breaking. Applying the wire like this with room between them covers more of the branch surface than when you apply the wire needle against each other! Although it looks messy, it was a precise work to avoid damaging all the buds and young growth! The tinner branches that grow from it on the right lower side are fanned out!  know it doesn’t look like much yet, but remember all branches in this first styling are still way too long (some more than 40 cm) and they will be shortened considerably when the now juvenile growth and buds on them have grown sufficiently! This fist styling is not to win any beauty contest, but to bring the basic shape and direction into all the branches so that the skeleton to later work from in more detail is solid!

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The red arrow points at a branch that is nicely placed but where I am still not sure of if it will be used?! that really all depends on how far the higher placed left side branch will come down?! So I leave it for now! Just above it, you can see a stump from a branch that was the same as the one below it so that could be removed earlier! The two smaller branches below the red arrow are up to now not necessary, but are left just in case! Just see how much new growth is all over them!

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The red arrow points at that same branch, It is a nicely placed one, but it is a bit too low on the trunk and to close to the bottom left branch! Imagine it bend down to the left…it would cover that first left branch….but still I keep it just in case! Better safe than sorry!

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Close up of the top branches that were left after removing two other once earlier. The wounds are covered with cut paste to prevent dieback that could harm the 3 branches that are left! The right one of the 3 is the one that might come down far enough to take the place of the one below it in the picture, the one we have just discussed in the picture before this one! The left one in the picture will become the back branch and the one in the middle will become the top.

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A layer of in water soaked raffia is tightly applied and held in place with little pieces aluminium wire, this is handy when you are working alone! When this raffia dries it will shrink and protect the branches even more from breaking or cracking!

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One the left the branch below the future top is also covered with a layer of raffia. It is always handy to have enough in water soaked raffia prepared and ready so that you can work on without having to stop in the middle because you have run out!

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Then two wires are placed on top of the raffia that is also held in place with pieces of wire. This wirer’s need to be placed tightly onto the raffia without any space under need them! These two branches will be bend down so the wire on top will offer protection from breaking where the most stress is occurring! You might have knottiest that the wires are too long and will stick out from under the raffia?! Well, this is on purpose…they are used to wire the rest off the branch with!  Clever or what!? 🙂

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The treetop branches have the second layer off raffia applied to them, to hold the wirer’s under need it as tight as possible! The red arrow points at the future top branch that will be severely bend up-wards so it needs protection from a wirer under need of it to protect it! That’s why a U shaped wire is placed (green arrows) under need that branch, to protect it and the branch below it, that will be bend downwards! That branch that goes downwards is here still waiting for it second layer of raffia to hold that U shaped piece of wire tightly into place!

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After that last layer of raffia is applied, just one single MM aluminium wire is used to cover it! I figured that this is enough to safely bend the branches because strong copper wires will be used to hold them firmly into place! A (too long) iron pipe is inserted into the ground and secured firmly (with pieces of rubber between it) against the trunk with strong copper wire. This iron pipe will be used to bring the future top (on the left) upwards.

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Here the future top is already on its way upwards towards the iron pipe! This is carefully done in stages…there is no rush when doing these major bends! Especially when working alone, you are short off 2 hands! It takes some force and technique to bend and turn and tighten the wire with a nipper!

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Top red arrow point at the future back branch that is brought down and to the left (in this picture) and is held down by a 3 MM copper wire that is attached to two screws that are brought into the Shari (bottom red arrow)! Just look how far it has already come down!

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Close up of the wirer’s that are connected to the screws that hold everything into place.

That is, with intervals, more and more tightened with the help of a short piece of thick wire (like you can see on the right off the top)!

In this way, the branch is slowly and as safe as possible brought into the desired position and at the end hold in its place!

In this shot you can also see just why in the future that large Jin on the left, were the screws are inserted into, needs to be largely removed and then naturally formed! It gives the tree a reverse taper (smaller at the base and wider at the top)! It also hides the view on the large Jin at the back!

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The red arrow points at the top that is finally into place, just look how fare it is bent upwards…amazing! the green arrow point at the top left branch that is about to be carefully bend down into it’s desired position! Things are so far coming along nicely! I am completely in my element again…I missed that feeling so long! 🙂

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The green arrow points at the new top. The red arrow points at the back branch. The yellow arrow point at the new right hanging branch after it is in stages brought down into its new position! The green arrow points at the top that is even brought more toward the iron pipe!

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The yellow arrow point at the top that is by now in it’s desired position, but is here still straight and therefore needs bending to create a more natural movement. The red arrow points at the back branch. the blue arrow points at the new first right side branch that also needs additional bending to create curves and the green arrow points at the left first branch that needs some more downwards bending!

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The red arrow points at the first left side branch that still needs to be brought down a considerable bit! This is done by carefully pushing it down with my left hand, while the right hand tightens the heavy copper wire! You have to be very handy when you work alone! 🙂

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The red arrow points at that same left-hand first branch. Just look how far it has come down when you compare it with the picture above! It still amazes me how far you can safely bend stiff branches when you protect them with raffia and wire!

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Red arrow points at the branch that is just brought down and hold in its new position with the help of 2 strong copper wires! Pieces of aquarium tubs and pieces off pot screens are used to prevent the wires from cutting into the bark of the branches! This is very important and must always be don!!!

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Red arrow points at the branch that was kept on with a question mark?! It could be a left branch, but it would hide the branch below it! And now the branch above it, that has just been brought down, has taken over the place of that branch in a better way…so it can be removed as well !!

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And this is, for now, the final resold after a day of work! Remember that all the branches are left way to long on purpose to protect the inner buds and small growth! This extra length with all its lush growth will work as sucking engines to maintain the sap flow and growing power and will only be shortened as soon as I am completely sure that there is enough growth on them closer to the trunk to maintain the branches! The long top will also be shortened in the future and one of its lower placed small branches will become the new leader and top! But again: only when there is more growth lower to maintain it’s health! I don’t want to lose any branch, they are all needed and health and growth are much more important now than the wild image of this very old tree!

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I made this picture at 5-5-2016 just to show and prove to you what I mend by tons of buds and new growth all over the insides of all the selected branches!  This is a close up of the first hanging branch on the left of the tree! I placed yellow dots next to each bud and new growth to make it more clear for you all to see! When this new growth has grown sufficiently on all the now still way too long branches, they will be all shortened considerably! Some by more than 35 cm!

I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did making it?! I will keep you all updated on the progress of this future Bonsai and hope you come back for my other Bonsai stories and adventures?!

Cheers,

Hans van Meer

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Finally ready to give my old Yamadori Taxus it’s first styling! (part I)

Hi, everybody,

I would like to share the story in pictures and words of the first styling of my old Taxus Yamadori! It was ready for it’s first styling at least 2 years ago….but because of my poor state of mind during that time, I did not dare it somehow!? I just could not make up my mind those day’s and my natural ability to see a Bonsai in even a piece of straight wood seemed to be completely gone! So the tree grew and grew and without really realising it, it got better and better! Mind you, this was never an easy tree to design! There was so much going on in this ancient tree and so many thing and possibility are to consider and the longer I waited, the harder it seemed to get to find the tree among all those branches, foliage and amazing but difficult deadwood?! But about a month ago my shutters were finally opened and more of the old me came back…and one of the first things I did was creating a workspace in the open air and pick up this Taxus and without any plans, I started to work like I use to do in the old days! And this is the story of that amazing afternoon in my garden and the birth of a future Bonsai! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did?!

31-3-2012 verpoten Taxus 005 Hans van Meer 500

Here are some old pictures from 31-3-2012 when the Taxus was repotted into its present pot. It had grown an amazing amount healthy fine roots and I had no problems repotting it!

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Here it is already planted in its new home. I used a mixture with Akadama, Kiryu and Bims. This is what I use with success for all my Taxus and other evergreens! When I was sure that all possible air pockets were filled with soil, I watered until the water that came out from the holes in the pot was clear! 

31-3-2012 verpoten Taxus 048 Hans van Meer 500

Here it is in its new home just before watering it. Just look at that amazing and unique deadwood that was created when the poor tree was almost cut in half by a large boulder that still covered most of the tree when I found it all those years ago! That covered section amazingly stayed alive for many decades, before it finally died back to leave all this natural deadwood! No matter what, I wanted this artwork from mother nature somehow in my future design…but it would not be easy! In this picture, the branches on the left were not bigger than my pinky and one of them was brought into place to the right to later form the trunk and top out of! And one branch on the bottom left was bend behind the trunk too, in years, end up as a branch just above the long jin on the right side! My plane then was to somehow create a windswept tree! In the following pictures from a few weeks ago, you will see just how fast a healthy yew can grow!!!

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The present front side of the tree. How amazing is that?! It has grown into a bush! Some of those branches were almost a meter long and the former pinky thick trunk/top branch is now almost as thick as my wrist! That new trunk needed over the past years a lot of force and heavy copper wire to be bought and held into it’s desired position!

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The right side of the tree with a view over the long jin. Just how amazing are all that beautiful deadwood and all those healthy branches to choose from! I can’t wait to go in there to find out!!!

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Backside view of the tree. The red arrow points at the back branch that I had let grow from the (here right) front side to end up as a branch over that long jin (here on the left of the red arrow)! That branch had grown at least 50 cm in the last 4 years!

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Close up from behind the tree of that same long branch (red arrow). The right red arrow points at were this branch originates from at the front left side! By now I already had my doubts about this branch?! It those not looks naturally and it those not fulfils the purpose I had in mind when I came up with that idea! By now I realise that it would always look man-made and strange…so!!!

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Front view. Red arrow: this is the point on the left front side were that same branch grows from, you can just see it disappearing behind the trunk. It just those not look right…right?! The small branches that grow toward us from just below that red arrow look just fine to create the first hanging branch out off!

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Red arrow: here that branch is already cut off, leaving a stump to allow die/dry back so that those promising small branches won’t die! Better safe than sorry!

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Front side view. Red arrow points at the point were the cut off branch used to be, just above that long Jin. Now there is a more natural open space and a clear view of that unique long Jin!

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Red arrow: these branches that grow on the left middle side of the trunk just above the branch that I just cut off, are too straight and grow directly upwards and therefore impossible to bend in a believable way! And they were not needed, there were other branches to fill that gap! So off with their heads!!!

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Backside view: The branch I am holding is a useful left or front branch. The left red arrow point at a stump left from the middle right side branch that was already cut off because the right side branch where the right side red arrow is pointing at was better placed on the trunk to fulfil that same purpose! The middle red arrow points at a Jin that is in the way of just that branch and feels very weak …so!!!

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Red arrow: Here that Jin is already broken off by hand. As you can see it was just hanging on by a small piece and would probably have been broken in the future anyway!

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Front side view again. White arrow points at the future top left branch. Green arrow points at the future top branch. The yellow arrow is pointing at the first right-hand branch. The red arrow points at an in the way front branch stump that was removed. Blue arrow points at a better placed front branch. And the purple arrows point at the long Jin section that is beautiful but in the way of the branches that need to fill that space!

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Purple arrow points at the place were the Jin will be cut off with a saw! Leaving enough off it to bring in some strong screws to support the thick copper wirer’s that will be needed to hold down the branches in there place when they are bent down with great force! I know that this is a great looking Jin, but removing it is necessary so that the branches can be brought into their desired position! It will also open up the view to the rest off the dead wood in the back and the branches that otherwise will be hidden! And open space is very important in my Bonsai designs so .. some time you have to break the egg to make an omelette!

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So the thick Jin is sawed off with a hand saw. That took some force because Taxus wood is very strong and this piece was very old. Big decisions, but necessary for my design!

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Cut off after hard work. Amazing that just a few weeks ago I could not make any decisions or had any ideas or even interest in this work…now I  am very happy that this period is behind me…I missed this so much and it was so far out of reach at one point! I’m a happy man!

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The cutoff Jin. It was necessary to be removed, but now I find it hard to throw it away!!! Yews make such beautiful deadwood and this piece is so stunning! I will keep it at least for a while to hold it every now and then and use it as a model for my deadwood work or students! I must be getting a bit sentimental at my old age !!! But seriously it those not becomes any easier to decide to remove something old that mother nature has created so wonderfully!

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Backside view again. Red arrow points at the just cut off stump. The green arrow points at a nice branch with a large Shari running over the full length off it. Blue arrow point to the spars little tin branches that grow only on the tip of this old branch! Although it is a great unique branch, it can not be used in any way in the design and would even look silly seen from the front! It would always be a long bare branch with some foliage on the tip of it! And bending it is also not an option…believe me, I thought long and hard if there was a way to use it, but there wasn’t! So then you have to make a decision and I did!

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Left red arrow: Here you can see from the front how awkward this branch is placed and how strange it looks, it dwarfs the trunk!  The top arrow point at the only small branches that grow on the tip of it!

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Here the branch is sawed off. I leave a long piece that might be shaped into a Jin, I can always remove it more or completely in the future if necessary!

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The sawed-off section. As you can see: it only had a few tin branches growing on the thick tip…but still it wasn’t an easily made decision! Creating a Bonsai often means that you have to make big decisions! If you don’t do that it will bite you in a few years time and life is to short to do that!

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Red arrow points at a branch that grows directly opposite to the other one! The other on is important to the design, so this one looses and needs to be cut off!

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This Jin is half rotted and loose! It is broken off by hand, this leaves a natural look as if it was always so! this tree has beautifully deadwood everywhere…I am so lucky with this material!!!

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Front side of the tree. Most branch selection is now don and I shift my focus for a while to the deadwood sections! There are a lot off distractions in the flow of that long jin that need to be dealt with!

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Right side of the tree, looking over that long Jin. Here you can clearly see just how much branches and foliage is removed from the tree! But still there are one or two branches that might have to go when I am bringing it all into the desired positions!?

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Back side of the tree. Now that all obscuring stuff and branches are more or less removed, all becomes much more clearer! It now is so much more obvious were I am going to with my plans!

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Left side of the tree. In this shot the branch structure is very clear and even the open spaces are nicely visible from this angle! The branches are way to long now, but they will be shortened in the future when there is enough foliage to work with closer to the trunk on those branches. For now there is more than enough foliage removed to keep it safe…the trees health is important now!

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Wow just look how much branches and foliage is removed…must be more than 75 %! Now light and air can reach the hundreds of tiny buds and small branches that are on the branches that remain on the tree! I am sure she will do just fine and will recover quickly! Next is the styling of this great tree…but that is for part-II! I hope you enjoyed it so far and join me in the next edition?!

CU soon!

Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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RESTYLING MY OLD YEW.

Hi, everybody,
I would like to show you some pictures that were made a couple of days ago during the restyling of my old yew! This yew is very special to me because it is the first Yamadori that I ever collected. And this is how I was able to do so. During the first Ginkgo Awards in ’97, I met Tony Tickle and the gang for the first time. And let just say that it clicked from the start and leave it at that! Very Happy We had so much fun! So much that we all together made the Japanese guest of honour faint during the prize presentation after the gala dinner! True story this! Anyway, during that same weekend, Tony had invited me to come and stay at his place for a weekend of fun and Yamadori trips! I gave it some serious thought for 0,009 off a second and then sad in a high pitched voice YES!!!! So in early 1998, I drove all the way to the North of England. And the Yew in this story was the very first tree that I collected on the first day! And you can see on the picture below that I was pretty happy and excited! Collecting this tree changed my future in Bonsai because it was the one that got me hooked on this way of doing Bonsai. So this tree holds a lot of warm memories in it! Not in the last place because all the fun that I had with madman Tony!

Below: At the end of that same year, the upper part of the tree sadly died. Of
the few branches that survived on the lower part of the tree, only two strong
young branches were usable in my design! So I would try to shape this future
Bonsai out of only two branches! And the part that died will also be incorporate
into the future design! It is after all a sign of this tree’s past! But my first
care was to get the poor Yew back to health!

Below: And by 2003 it looked like this. The picture is not that good, but it is
the best that I have from that time. The tree has recovered well from it’s
ordeal! The higher off the two remaining branches has grown into trunk from
witch new branches has grown. The second lower left branch is styled as a
cascading branch to fill that empty space. This hanging branch pushes the whole
tree upwards, making it more balanced!

Some 2 years later the tree started to lose it health and became very weak. It
took me up to now to get it back in to it’s usual form! But it had sadly lost
most of the important left hanging branch. Only the back part of that branch had
survived those bad years!

So today I am really pleased that this special tree is still with me and that after it had these few rough years it is healthy enough again for me to restyle it!
Below: The tree before styling. The live part of left bottom branch is wrapped with a layer in water soaked raffia. Than two lengths of 2.5mm aluminium wire were applied lengthwise on the outside of the future new curves. I need to bend this now backward growing branch as much to the frond as possible. These two lengthwise placed wires will prevent the branch from breaking on the greatest stress point, the outside of the new
curves/bends that I will bring in to the branch! That was followed by another layer of tightly applied raffia. And than finally two normal layers of 3,5mm aluminium wire were brought one! This should be enough to protect the branch from breaking, hopefully! Smile The long Jin you see in the front of that branch will be used as a anchor point for the
guide wires that I will need to hold that heavily bend branch in to its new place.

Below: side view, red arrow shows the remains of the part of that branch that use to grow towards the frond. The yellow arrow shows the branch that now needs to get as close as possible to the former place of that important missing branch!

Below: Well it worked even better than expected! From were the branch is now it is possible to give that branch enough weight to balance the design. So I was really happy with that result!

Below: Basic outline is there. I like the bottom left branch, but the branch above it is overpowering it. It is to long and most of the smaller branches at its tip are long and weak with not much change for future new buds. So why wait for something that probable will never come?! So the branch was cut back drastically to change it appearance but also to redirect more energy in to the strong zones!

Below: Here the branch is cut back to a intersection with a smaller side branch (yellow arrow). This branch will replace the cut off branch as the new leader.

Below: Branch more or less in place and I am glad with the resuld of cutting that thick branch off!

Below: Look at the difference open spaces and more separations in the foliage makes!

Below: And after a lot more work! This is the finished result for now! I had plenty more pictures, but I had to stop some were and it is getting very late over here! Smile I am glad that I was able to bring back some of the trees original image back in to this new design!

In the future when new buds have appear higher on the newly formed branches they can be shortened just that little bid more to make the tree look just that little bit more compact! And the Jin that now holds the wires for the bottom branch in place will be shortened and restyled as soon as those wires can be removed! But for now I am glad that my old friend is back with his new haircut! Very Happy
I hope you enjoyed this little story!
Cheers,
Hans van
Meer.

 

PS: That little fern that you can see growing in that last picture, on the right side of the trunk, has landed there by pure change! I find them all over my garden and in many Bonsai pots as well! Normally I remove them and make them into accent plants, but this one…well it looks all right for now. And they play chess and poker together..so I really did not have the heart to separate them! Sad Very Happy

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comment number 1 by: lacike

September 6th, 2011 at 6:07 pm e

Beautiful tree!

It might be a off-topic, but what was the cause of the die-off problems and how did you solve that?

Thanks

 

Hi Lacike,
I think that it was a combination of two things that weakened this tree. First : underfeeding and second: standing in soaked ground for to long! Last season
I started to feed most of my trees weekly with a liquid Fertilizer and several times
during the growing season I sprayed the foliage of my yews with fish emulsion.
That worked wonders on the weaker trees! I discovered the soaked ground problem
two years ago. I had repotted two trees, a fat trunk Acer buergerianum and a
Acer palmatum twin trunk in a shallow pot, because the water did not run out of
the pots like it was supposed to do. I shortened the well established flat roots by
more than half and planted them back in there original pots. With, like always,
a bottom layer with large grain sized akadama, kiryu and bims. Than a thick
layer with smaller grain size in which the bonsai is planted. And than a thin
layer of smaller grain size to fill the pot up. Now you would normally expect
that the water would run right trough using a loose and open ground mixture like
this. Well it didn’t! At least, not all off it! After repotting I watered both
trees and I placed them in a sheltered spot. Next day I tilted the pots and
placed a piece of wood under need them. After just a few seconds water started to
run out the drainage and wire holes on the lower part of the pot. Now I could
imagine that this would happened with a wide and shallow pot, but not with a
regular pot with 3 large draining holes in them! So I started to test this on
all my bonsai, who all have more or less the same open soil mixture. And more
than half had the same problem! There was more water left in those pot than I
could ever believe. And one of the Bonsai that suffered from this drainage
problem was the yew in this story. So now every time after watering or when it
rains, I will put a small wooden block under one side of all the trees that
retain to much water! Tilted in this way much less water will stay behind on the
bottom of the pot and the water that stays behind only fills the corner of the pot
and not the whole pot! It is wise to check the drainage of your bonsai/pot every
now and then. Roots grow and fill out the pot, so things change all the time! I
know that those small blocks under need my problem trees/pots make sure that
they don’t drawn any more and to prevent root rot!
Hoop that this answers your question?!
Cheers,
Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Bonsai Tutorials: downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature Bonsai version.

Hi, everybody,

I wanted to tackle the subject of downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature version. Off course Bonsai is not the simple copying of trees from nature, but to understand how it works can help you to realize your own ideas. I will use an imaginary example of a 50 cm/20 Inch high Bonsai and will, later on, use two of my own Bonsai of that same hight to make things clear!

After surging the web, I have found a wonderful dark silhouette image of a tree to use as an example. 

sil12-hans-van-meer

The above silhouette gives use enough info we need to recognize what it is. Even without the wooden bench underneath the tree, we can figure out how tall, big and fare away from us this tree is. So if we use these same features that give us all that info in our Bonsai, we will at least end up with the right proportion in our little tree. And that is not a bad start, believe me!

sil-3-hans-van-meer1

Above: So here is the silhouette of this tree more clearer to see. I have removed the two small branches that were growing low on the trunk, to make things clearer to see. And while I was at it, I planted the tree in a Bonsai pot. Looks good already, doesn’t it?

sil-2-hans-van-meerkopie

Above: The yellow dots show the outlines of the frame/skeleton of this tree. This design as Bonsai would be about 20 inch/50 cm high and material with a trunk and branches like this can easily be purchased from any Bonsai dealer that imports Acer palmatum or Ulmus but for example, a Beech or Hawthorn would do just as easily! But the amount of foliage you see here would be hard to archive with the too large foliage of most deciduous species we could use to create this image with as a Bonsai. So we should divide the messy foliage into more compact and well-outlined foliage pads. Doing this, we will create more open spaces, that clearly open up the foliage pads from each other.

sil-5-hans-van-meer

Above: Here I created some clearer open spaces between the foliage layers. It is the same image, but this time it is doable to shape it as a Bonsai. In principle, you only have to fill those outlined foliage pads with the larger leaves of the species you use to create this image.

sil-6-hans-van-meer

Above: Here I filled these foliage pads with the foliage I borrowed from my own Carpinus betulus with exactly the same size as this imaginary Bonsai 50 cm/ 20 Inch. I placed the silhouette and a picture of my Carpinus next to each other and then cut and pasted the foliage onto the silhouette. So the size of this foliage in comparison to the trunk and height are accurate. So as you can see this could already be doable and believable as a Bonsai.

sil-7-hans-van-meer

Above: Here I filled those foliage peds with the foliage of my same sized Acer palmatum. Again the size of the foliage is accurate. So again, doable and believable!

Even though like in most Bonsai, the leaves are monstrously big in comparison to the tree image we have created, the outlines of the trunk, branches and foliage pads are correct, making it a believable image that reminds us of the trees we see in nature. Just like the painter, who only uses a few brush strokes to paint all the foliage of a large branch, we sometimes only use a few leaves to create all the imaginary foliage of a large branch.

More tomorrow, I really have to get some sleep now! 🙂

Thanks for listening again,

Hans van Meer.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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Bonsai Tutorials: downsizing the image of a full-size tree into a compact miniature Bonsai version. PART II

 

Note: This has been posted before in Juli 2009

Hi, everybody,

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.

foliage-size-1

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.

foliage-size-2

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.

Info: karamottobonsai@hotmail.com

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A ROCK PLANTING THAT SHOWS IT ALL!

 

Hi, everybody,

I like to make/create new things out of everything that lies or grows around in my garden. In early March I planted a small Alpine plant on a beautifully shaped rock from the U.K.  HERE 

A couple of night ago, it must have been around midnight after a long and hot day, I was chilling in the back of my garden, laying on a sunbed listening to some roots reggae. It was pretty dark and because I only had a small lamp burning behind me, only a small part of my garden was visible against a dark background. Then I found my self looking for a long time at the rock planting from this post. Because I was lying down, my eyes were at the same height as the rock planting. That stood, only 2 meters away, on my workbench in front of me. There is so much to see in this simple composition, things that are so important in a successful Bonsai design as well, that I could not stop looking to analyse it all! Here are some of the things that struck me, that I would like to share with you all.

 

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Maybe it is a nice idea to look at this picture for a while for yourself and analyse it before you look further! And remember this is not an exercise in beauty or anything like that, it is more a study of principles that are very useful and of great importance in Bonsai design. If you learn to recognize those principles in any design you look at, be it in Bonsai, painting, sculpture or architecture! It will be easier to create things of beauty your self and you will appreciate and or understand the work of others much more. I am not a big fan of over-analyzing Bonsai, but sometimes it is very interesting to find out why certain things work and others don’t! Being accustomed to these principles, that you can find in this simple rock planting, will help you in better understanding and creating your own Bonsai as well as analyzing others their work!

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To make things more visible and clearer I have drawn an outline around the subject. Immediately curtain things become more visible and obvious. Do you see them?

But first, this: I don’t know if there is any proper word for it? But I like to call it “the natural viewing direction”. If you look at the above picture, what do you see first? If you learned to read from left to right, most likely the plant on the left side! Now you might think, so what?! Well, now look at the picture below that is flipped over horizontally. 

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Well, what did you see first now? The arched part of the stone on the left, right? We tend to look at everything from the left to the right, but why is that important to Bonsai design? Look at the next two pictures and see how our visual habits play tricks with us.

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This above original image of a stunning cascading Pine is a perfect example of a tree that is in perfect balance with the pot it grows in. The table ( in real life longer than in this picture) and the pot on the left, are the first thing we see when we look at this Bonsai. They together occupy the same space on the left half, as the foliage mass of the tree those on the right side. Even the empty space ( green arrow) on the left,  is about the same size as the empty space under need the right bottom branch. Like I said, perfect balance! Now, look what happens when I flip over the image of this perfect balanced Bonsai!

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Some difference Huh! The first thing you see now, when you look at this tree, is the now to heavy, foliage mass. And even though everything is the same as in the original picture, the balance seems to be lost. It almost seems like the pot is too small to hold the tree upright! So knowing this phenomenon helps us when we decide in what direction we wish to style a Bonsai or what size and style of pot to use to balance the image or when we are working on our Bonsai display for an exhibition. Imagine a tall slanting tree, that can be styled, growing to the left or growing to the right. If we want the foliage of this future Bonsai to be the focal point, from where the eye travels downwards the trunk to the pot. It should be styled growing to the left side. If we want the pot to be the first thing that is knottiest, from where the eye follows the trunk upwards toward the foliage of the Bonsai, it has to be styled growing to the right side!

OK back to the rock planting and its empty/negative spaces!

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That same night in my garden, but one beer later, I started to admire all the empty spaces surrounding this stone, that make it so special! If you divide this image, from top to bottom into the half, you could see how similar both halves are, yet the left side has a plant growing, where the right side has nothing but empty/negative space! Still, the empty green space on the right side is occupying the same space as the plant on the left balancing it out. Even the empty/negative space on the left bottom side is similar to the one in the right top side. So if you look at all these empty/negative spaces surrounding this rock planting,  you can see how important this often misunderstood and a bit abstract principle really are! Is it the actual shape of this stone itself or is it the empty/negative spaces surrounding it, that gives us a true sense of what it looks like? A specially when used properly in Bonsai, these empty spaces will give us so much information about vital things like size, distance and age of the tree we are looking at, that I dare to say that they are properly the most important part in Bonsai designing.  Picture this: you have just reached the top of a small hill (green arrow), and in the distance growing slightly below you, you can, despite the fading light, just make out the silhouette of a distance tree. You are looking straight ahead at this distance tree,  and your eyes are looking at a point about 20/25% from the top. Just like we are used to doing, when we look at a Bonsai, only on a smaller scale! 

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Above: So what can this silhouette of a distance tree tell us? The empty spaces in this silhouette show use were the branches are placed and how long they are and how they grow and how many there are and from what height they start growing and how much space is between all the branches in comparison with the thickness of the trunk. In an instant, all this info is then sent to the brain. And this brain will compare this to all the memories we have of trees similar to this silhouette we see in the distance. The link is quickly made and then we have a pretty good idea of what kind of tree it might be, so we then know how long it probably is, from which we can deduce how far away it is growing from the point where we are standing! Do you get my point? If these similar empty spaces are well used in your Bonsai design, the brain of the viewer will recognise them, just like in the open field and it will tell him exactly from what distance and height he is watching your Bonsai image of a distant natural looking tree! Because they give us important information about the scale the artist is working in, a Bonsai should never be without some empty spaces among the branches and foliage. The proper use of empty spaces is invaluable for a believable and natural looking Bonsai!

It is not one good branch, nor is it two. It is the space in between them that is important!

I hope you don’t mind me rambling on like this, but I have a lot of time to kill and not much else to do than thinking! So why not share my thought with you all! It is half past 3 in the morning now so I will finish my “Screwdriver” and then it is off to bed! I will share some more of my idea with you tomorrow if that’s OK that is?  

Hans van Meer.

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