Article 71 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 3

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – in part 2 we stated that in bonsai there are no figurines, structures or independent rocks which is the correct interpretation of the guidelines of this art form nonetheless, rocks are used in bonsai if a tree is attached to them in some way or form. Styles describing trees planted on or over rock are referred to as Deshojo, but the relation between root and rock create different terminology for example. A tree with its roots wrapped around a rock where the rock is at the base of the trunk, with exposed roots descending into the soil, is called Sekijoju. A tree with its roots clinging to a rock is referred to as Ishizuke. (ishitsuki)

Sekijoju – ‘Root over rock’ – the rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to varying degrees as they traverse the rock and then descend into the soil below. Ishizuke (ishitsuki) – ‘Root clinging to a rock’ – the roots of the tree grow in soil contained within the cracks and holes of the rock. The rock may serve as a simple container with the tree escaping the container and forming its own shape, or may show a closer relationship to the rock’s shape, growing close to the rock and following its contours. The images below illustrate the difference between the two styles.

Sekijoju – ‘Root over rock’ Ishizuke – ‘Root clinging to a rock’

Creating these styles can be time consuming especially with young plants because the root ball has insufficient length and therefore, cannot be trained in this fashion due to the lack of stability. One way to solve this problem is to plant the tree in a large deep container to allow the roots to develop in length, alternatively planting the tree in the ground for a few seasons is another option. Once the tree’s root system has grown to the desired length it can be pruned and attached to the proposed rock. Here is a link to a video on root over rock.

Neagari – exposed root – The roots of the tree are exposed as extensions of the trunk free from soil, these can extend as far as one-half to two-thirds the total tree height, the image below depicts a tree that has gone through this process. Every second growing season the plant was re-potted but was elevated each time by 1.5 cm exposing the root system that hardened off until the desired effect was achieved.

Sabamiki – split or hollow trunk – this style portrays the visual effect of a lightning strike or other severe and deep trunk damage, which has been weathered over time. It is applicable to deciduous species, conifers, and broadleaf evergreens. The hollowed trunk is usually chiseled out, making a hollow that can range in size from a shallow scar to nearly the full depth of the trunk.

Sabamiki Maple

Sharimiki – driftwood – this style portrays a tree with a significant part of its trunk bare of bark. In nature, trees in the sharimiki style are created by disease, physical damage to the trunk, weathering and age. At least one strip of live bark must connect the leaves and living branches to the root system to transport water and nutrients. The bared trunk areas give a strong impression of age regardless of the tree’s conformation, so driftwood bonsai often fall outside of the conventional styles in shape and foliage.

Sharimiki by Sage Ross

Thus far we have given a few examples on different designs and how effective in appearance they can be to the viewer, but much depends on personal perception and concept. Our next post article 72 focuses on a serious pest that is devastating the Mediterranean basin – a problem of serious concern, but we will return to the design discussion in article 73. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 70 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 2

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – the term bonsai (bon ‘pot’ and sai ‘tree’) refers to the joining or marriage of the two components regardless of style be they single, twin or multiple trunked trees and/or forest plantations. There are no figurines, independent rocks or miniature structures, displays where such artifacts are used come under different categories. In Japan they are referred to as ‘Bonkei’ and ‘Saikei‘, but there is a distinct difference between the two ‘Bonkei‘ does not use ‘live’ material of any description whereas ‘Saikei‘ does. The Vietnamese version of ‘Saikei‘ miniature landscape is called ‘Hón Non Bộ‘. We will discuss the bonsai forest landscape first then move on to the other designs.

In bonsai Yose ue – Forest describes a planting of many trees, typically an odd number, the pot is shallow to emphasize the height of the trees, alternatively a flat slab of rock may be used. The trees are usually of the same species, with a variety of heights employed to add visual interest and to reflect the age differences encountered in mature forests. (For mixed-species plantings refer to the Japanese art of saikei) The aim is to portray a view into a forest with different perspective effects such as placing the smallest trees toward the rear to create depth.

If you are contemplating planting a forest you need to gather all the hardware materials before hand for example. The pot or flat slab of rock, wiring needed to anchor the plants, adhesives, wire mesh to create contours, moss, fertilizer pellets, drainage mats and correct soil medium. As for the design, a stroll in a forest with a camera will give you some idea, if this is not possible troll through the world-wide-web to get some inspiration; planning is vitally important to make the display work. (shown below)

A Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum) bonsai, North American Collection courtesy of Author Sage Ross

Bonkei – in Japan’s historical Shōsōin, housing seventh, eight and ninth century artifacts is an elaborate miniature tree display composed of a shallow wooden base, with carved wooden mountains and sand portraying a river and surrounding land. Small silver metal tree sculptures are placed in the sand to produce a table top design of a tree landscape. (shown below)

The earliest illustration of Penjing – Bonkei is found in the Qianling mausoleum murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, dating to 706.

A ‘bonkei’ display is a temporary or permanent three-dimensional depiction of a landscape in miniature, portrayed using mainly dry materials for example. Wire, artificial plant making material, rock, papier-mâché, adhesives or cement mixtures and sand in a shallow tray as shown below.

Utagawa Yoshishige (1848)

‘Saikei’ is a Japanese art form derived from creating miniature landscapes and is quite similar to the Chinese art form of Penjing and Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ wherein tray landscapes are made using soil, water and rocks on a single container or tray. The container is usually a large ceramic tray that has low edges and within are soil, rocks and pebbles arranged carefully to create a natural landscape. Some artists model their creations from actual landscapes such as a seaside, garden or mountain with living trees and forests. (shown below)

Saikei display courtesy of Wikipedia free encyclopedia

However, Saikei displays have become much larger and intricate through time and to give you some idea as to their creation, here are is a link where you can see Japanese master Masahiko Kimura creating one of his masterpieces. – 6:41 min.

Hón Non Bộ – is the Vietnamese version of Saikei and displays can be extremely large needing a small army to move them, but many table top varieties are in existence. Arguably Hón Non Bộ is the most sort after due to the Vietnamese attention to the finest detail, this is not to say that the Japanese version Saikei and the Chinese Penjing are not without the highest praise, after all it was the latter who were the first to create such works of art. Below are images of Hón Non Bộ.

Hón Non bộ

Are these designs a representation of reality or imagination what is conceived in the mind of the artist, there are many natural wonders in existence especially in the far east which entice designers to mimic for example, Vietnam’s islands and Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. Arguably it matters not from whence the inspiration came, because Penjing, BonkeiSaikei and Hón Non Bộ are marvels of design all having meaning and message. Until next time when we continue this discussion, BW, Nik.