Article 75 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 5

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 Tanuki – is the Japanese word for Raccoon dog or Badger an animal known as the arch deceiver in Japanese folklore, meaning nothing is quite what it appears. The Tanuki technique is the marriage of a living tree affixed to an interesting piece of deadwood (often from an entirely different species) with the idea of creating a driftwood style composition, which is completely false.

This technique often known as ‘Phoenix Grafts’ (after the mythological Phoenix, which arose from its own ashes) is not currently accepted as part of the Japanese bonsai tradition and would not be displayed at a formal Japanese bonsai show. Nonetheless, many bonsai growers outside Japan consider Tanuki as an acceptable technique, because it reduces the amount of years to produce a deadwood bonsai specimen in the traditional way.

The combination of live and dead wood was usually restricted to coniferous varieties resulting in some surprising and effective displays, but now is a common practice with deciduous varieties. Yet combining live and dead wood is not that easy to accomplish if one wishes the outcome to have a natural appearance. There are two common approaches of how this technique can be achieved, (a) by surface fixation and (b) insertion method.

Surface fixation – the deadwood or host is cleaned, prepared long before hand to allow it to become weathered. The ‘live’ wood can be wrapped around the ‘dead’ wood and either screwed using stainless steel screws, brass nails, wire, raffia or plastic cable ties to make a permanent bond. But problems can arise using this method (a) infection from pathogens to the wounds made by the fixings, (b) ugly indentations in the ‘live’ wood made by wire, plastic and cable ties. Moreover, this method attaching ‘live’ wood to ‘dead’ wood takes some considerable time for the ‘live’ wood to conform to the contours of it’s new host.

Insertion method requires a more delicate approach as it involves the use of extremely sharp carving or power tools and one mishap can result in catastrophe. Once a ‘dead’ wood candidate has been selected, it needs to be treated to remove any decaying material and bacteria potentially harmful to the ‘live’ wood partner. The deadwood in the images shown below are roots from dead pines that were boiled for approximately 20 mins, allowed to dry and left to the elements for 2 years.

Tanuki deadwood

The left picture depicts the front and the right the rear in which you will notice a groove has been made via the use of a Dremel. The groove using the ‘keyhole’ method meaning wide enough to insert the ‘live’ material, but enlarged within to allow the plant room to expand and lock itself in place once inserted. Once both ‘dead’ and ‘live were aligned correctly wet raffia was used to secure the ‘live’ material in place that will eventually swell producing a rigid seam at the rear giving what can be deemed in all intents and purposes a natural entity although we know it is not. (Shown below)

Tanuki left = front right = back

A point of view – if we follow the guidelines of the Japanese masters the meaning of bonsai ‘bon’ – pot and ‘sai’ – tree is the marriage or coupling of the two components and nothing more. Thus we can argue that Bonkei (no ‘live’ material) Saikei (which has) and Hón Non Bó are not bonsai, they are landscape designs using figurines, rocks and structures. Moreover, Tanuki is not bonsai it is a combination of ‘live’ and ‘dead’ wood material often from different species, a fake composition set to deceive the viewer and many purists will concur with this viewpoint.

However, there will be arguments to the contrary some will contend that BonkeiSaikei, Tanuki and Hón Non Bó the latter modelled on the Chinese Penjing style are simply other art forms in the heady world of bonsai. (which is the umbrella term for miniature tree horticulture) If we had stuck to the purist points of view then would this ‘living art’ form have progressed in the way that it has.

If we think back to the first article in this discussion we note that many aspects in life, art, music, architecture and various other entities have radically changed through the eons. Is this the natural course of events of life’s rich tapestry that we are confronted with and should accept as we progress along the highway of a lifelong learning curve. The perception and/or concept of the artist/designer is what it is and we have the freedom to accept or reject what is presented.

This article on Tanuki is merely a discussion – ‘food for thought’ but, Tanuki is the arch deceiver in Japanese folklore meaning nothing is quite what it appears, thus the meaning of ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ comes into being; to be discussed at a later date. Meanwhile bonsai artist Peter Chan of Herons Bonsai gives a good explanation on Tanuki (link below) until next time, BW, Nik. – 1:06 min.

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.