Article 76 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 6

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we return to the subject of design due to the response we have received from our followers. Design has meaning and message conceived in the mind of the artist regardless of the genre.

Introduction – to remind you of two opinions from bonsai masters Utsubo Monogatari and his written work ‘The Tale of the Hollow Tree‘, (circa 970) ‘where the tree’s beauty can only appear when shaped by the hand of man‘ and John Yoshio Naka “Don’t turn your tree into a bonsai, turn your bonsai into a tree.” A tree that resembles its wild counterpart, but times have changed, although traditionalists will predominantly adhere to the old ways modernists will opt for another path; we now look at some other examples of design. Sokan and Shakan

Sokan – known as twin trunk is quite common in nature but it is said not so much in bonsai design, the two trunks derive from one particular root method, where they trunks may split immediately above the roots, (nebari) or rise as one from the soil and then split after a few centimetres. The two trunks will each differ in diameter and height, the dominant trunk is relatively upright, whilst the secondary trunk will develop away from the main trunk which can be slightly slanted. Each trunk will develop their individual branches and foliage with each having a single crown or canopy.

Sokan or twin trunk example

Styling two trees into a single composition does require some consideration as both have to rise in close proximity from the nebari. Therefore, the nebari has to be exposed to show that the two trees are actually connected failure to do this renders the style incorrect. In addition, there should not be reverse taper where the two trunks split, branch selection is another factor in reducing any potential voids in the overall composition.

In this next image we see a Rowan/mountain ash Sorbus aucuparia in training, a large tree in the ‘Omono Dai‘ class (the first category for large bonsai trees 100 centimetres or 40 inches) and because of its height styling is a little more difficult to attain compared to trees of smaller sizes due to branch placement and amount of foliage produced. The right hand trunk is secondary to the left the (primary) yet both trunks are growing in close proximation curving to the left then taking a different path.

This tree collected in 2015 did not flower and fruit until 2021 and then only on the left hand trunk did this occur, (orange berries) hence it might prudent to refrain from pruning the right hand trunk’s branches to see if it will also flower and fruit. As the image shows there sufficient branches available that can be wired towards the centre to fill the void. This is a deciduous tree that will take a number of years to reach its potential.

Shakan – or slanting is a style having many designers in constant debate of where the design begins and ends as the case may be. According to the book of styles Shakan should be tall to show the trunk’s shape and movement, which may be slanting either right or left. The foliage should be minimal and would be in accordance to give the appearance of balance, stability and strength as would be found in nature. (shown in the following image)

Shakan or slanting example

However, some contend that the leaning style of a tree should grow at an angle of about 60 – 80 degrees relative to the ground, but if this is the case then not only has the Shakan style been completely changed from the original concept. It can be argued that it is not in keeping with the true Shakan style, so where is the dividing line if there is one. A tree’s shape (apart from the artist’s manipulation) is the result of element onslaught for example.

A tree subjected to wind blowing from a constant direction will be bent low to the ground, but much depends on the wind’s severity and strength described in article 69 ‘Design: a discussion’ part 1, this style is classed as Fukinagashi, (windswept) it is not Shakan. Take a look at the image below, the tree is quite remarkable considering it is a ceramic product listed on the website of ‘Dragon Art Studios’ – Poland under the title Sztuczne drzewko bonsai Sosna wykonanw W stylu ‘shakan’.

What is it’s design? – The trunk although slanting left is straight with what can be determined as a ‘live’ vein starting at the base, curling upwards presumably around the trunk (light brown on dark brown) then bending down and slightly back descending into the foliage. Looking through the catalogue of styles this design has Myoggi (informal upright) traits but this is ruled out due to foliage characteristics, the only other style that could be applicable is Han kengai (semi cascade) as the foliage descends below the rim of the pot, but this is also ruled out because of the straightness, height and length of the trunk.

At this juncture all we can say is that it is a remarkable creation in a design all of its own that attempts to mimic the art of bonsai culture, what it is is yet to be determined but it is certainly not in the Shakan style. Bonsai design is constantly changing as we have stated previously, traditionalists are adhering to the ways of the old masters whilst modernists progress along their own path.

But if these new styles are accepted how can they be categorised and who has the mandate to assume such responsibility, one cannot change the historical art and horticultural practices that have been in existence for over 6 centuries; we leave you to ponder on this. Until next time, BW, Nik.

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