Picea Abies - Nursery Stock styling and (lack of)skill-building

Brad in GR

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Have been on another Ryan Neil kick lately (goes in cycles during the last two winters when time is had to view 1.5 hour vids). Notably, the Fraser Fir nursery stock styling session.

Despite acknowledging this not being the best time of the year to work this species (gathered from Bnut this would be between summer solstice and beginning of August, or early spring), I am desperate to build skill in styling, wiring, branch selection and composition overall.

Zone 6a (Grand Rapids, MI): early snowstorm beginning of November with sub 20 degree temps for few days, now leveling out high 20's at night and low thirties during day, deciduous have had leaves off for a few weeks now.

Nursery stock Norway Spruce picked up for $20 on sale locally. Liked the base of this one and flare at/below ground level.

Slip potted after major (too much) foliage removal - roots are completely bound but healthy, soil not horrible, added loose peat based/conifer bonsai soil in slightly larger pot. If the tree survives, plan to wait at least 2 seasons before attempting root work assuming healthy.

Self critiques:
1) timing/seasonal: sub-optimal. Accepting this risk, dangerous as may not yet be dormant and removing many of buds via foliage.
2) Foliage removal was too extreme (channeling Ryan's significant removal of the Fraser fir around December per his video) - did not research
 

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Brad in GR

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lot of issues with my posts the last 24 hours .. got cut off.

Self critiques:
1) timing/seasonal: sub-optimal. Accepting this risk, may be irresponsible.
2) Foliage removal was too extreme (channeling Ryan's significant removal of the Fraser fir around December per his video) - did not research Picea Abies foliage removal deeply enough before excitable enthusiasm with shears.
3) Wiring: couple of wires approach the branches from the wrong angle (i.e. approach from top if wiring down, bottom if wiring up per Ryan)
4) Wiring: excessive wrapping around base, need to attempt to balance one single wire across crossing branches on either side for leverage
5) Wiring: invest in copper since Bnutters seem to agree on copper optimal for conifers, if possible
6) Foliage removal: too many branches removed for composition. Should have left at least one more major branch on each side.
7) cuts too close with concave cutter - leave stubs for dieback. (didn't want to try jin for the record)
8) need to improve styling choices: specifically branch balance/length in relation to tree
9) spend more time attempting tertiary/small needle/branch wiring, closer to main branches to accentuate style next time
10) invest in backdrop so Bnutters can more clearly see form on workbench in winter :)
11) less “2D” design. Leave a back branch. Did try with sides to create multiple planes with those branches on each side.

The spirit of this effort was per Ryan: to try. To get 'reps' in order to build skill on a cheap piece.

Thanks for any comments/critiques.
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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I'm all about bad timing, if there is such a thing. When do spruces naturally break and snap under the pressure of packed snow and avalanches? Not in summer.
The two-branch wiring principle would work well for this one.
I think this tree has too little foliage to either stay alive, or do anything before 2023. I know, because I have spruces like this.

I would not cover stubs with paste. I would want them to die, not try to heal over and waste energy that could be spent on regrowing foliage. Personally I would have given the remaining branches more wiggles to add more feeling of depth.

I think your critique is sound. You'll probably learn fast enough, so I'm not going to be a nitpicker here.
 

0soyoung

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Since you were hacking away, why did you leave the branches so long?

I get no sense of a design objective beyond slash and wire. Just what image were you trying to make? The trunk seems to long/tall --> that ole bonsai 'rule' that the trunk length should be 6x to 12x the caliper. Alternatively, you may have wanted to make an image of a forest tree (minus the forest) which is a long, tall straight trunk with foliage only near the top with jins of old branches below.

If it was a wiring and branch placement exercise, why remove any branches? Wire them all, doing the best you can to create pads and placing pads to not shade foliage below (this would involve some branch shortening).

Every design needs a branch or light/thin foliage in back to give the composition a sense of depth --> I don't see anything serving this role. The basis of an upright tree design is a trunk and three branches, one low on the right, one low on the left, and one in back for depth. The two front branches ought to come somewhat forward (as though embracing the viewer) as should the apex (as though bowing to the viewer), the lower one should be heavier/thicker and appear to be the longest. For a taller tree with more branches, it is basically rinse and repeat (1, 2, 3) though it is more interesting to not repeat exactly.
 

Brad in GR

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Since you were hacking away, why did you leave the branches so long?

I get no sense of a design objective beyond slash and wire. Just what image were you trying to make? The trunk seems to long/tall --> that ole bonsai 'rule' that the trunk length should be 6x to 12x the caliper. Alternatively, you may have wanted to make an image of a forest tree (minus the forest) which is a long, tall straight trunk with foliage only near the top with jins of old branches below.

If it was a wiring and branch placement exercise, why remove any branches? Wire them all, doing the best you can to create pads and placing pads to not shade foliage below (this would involve some branch shortening).

Every design needs a branch or light/thin foliage in back to give the composition a sense of depth --> I don't see anything serving this role. The basis of an upright tree design is a trunk and three branches, one low on the right, one low on the left, and one in back for depth. The two front branches ought to come somewhat forward (as though embracing the viewer) as should the apex (as though bowing to the viewer), the lower one should be heavier/thicker and appear to be the longest. For a taller tree with more branches, it is basically rinse and repeat (1, 2, 3) though it is more interesting to not repeat exactly.

Many thanks for the feedback! Yes with regard to a forest tree or slanting style as if at the edge of a forest. Needed more thought on that front.
Saved your comment for caliper versus height rule.
Much too ‘2 dimensional’ and great point on the wiring exercise as intended, yet not having many branches to wire. 🤦‍♂️

In the future I will wire all branches and THEN select those that do not add to the composition. If I’m picking up what you’re saying correctly.
 

Brad in GR

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I'm all about bad timing, if there is such a thing. When do spruces naturally break and snap under the pressure of packed snow and avalanches? Not in summer.
The two-branch wiring principle would work well for this one.
I think this tree has too little foliage to either stay alive, or do anything before 2023. I know, because I have spruces like this.

I would not cover stubs with paste. I would want them to die, not try to heal over and waste energy that could be spent on regrowing foliage. Personally I would have given the remaining branches more wiggles to add more feeling of depth.

I think your critique is sound. You'll probably learn fast enough, so I'm not going to be a nitpicker here.

Thank you! good note on the paste - I see differing opinions across Bnut and should try each approach and compare.
 

0soyoung

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In the future I will wire all branches and THEN select those that do not add to the composition. If I’m picking up what you’re saying correctly.
I'm just saying that you should have your objective(s) clearly in mind. If it is fundamentally a wiring exercise, then yes.

On the other hand, if it is a styling exercise, focus on creating something interesting.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Good self analysis, good for the effort to learn.

Thought,
Trunk is ramrod straight, the branch wired up wiggles about, creating a jarring switch up in theme. I would keep the next segment of trunk as straight as the first, get rid of the wiggles. Just the one curve to get the new segment more vertical. That is my thought. The forces of nature that shape a tree usually don't change over time, so if the first few inches are straight, then the next segment should be straight. Make sense?
 

Brad in GR

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Good self analysis, good for the effort to learn.

Thought,
Trunk is ramrod straight, the branch wired up wiggles about, creating a jarring switch up in theme. I would keep the next segment of trunk as straight as the first, get rid of the wiggles. Just the one curve to get the new segment more vertical. That is my thought. The forces of nature that shape a tree usually don't change over time, so if the first few inches are straight, then the next segment should be straight. Make sense?
Absolutely. Thanks Leo!
 

0soyoung

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Another thought @B-rad in GR, is to try foreshortening the branches. To do this, you make them wander back and forth, front to back in the view, along their length. This pulls the foliage closer to the trunk and makes the branches appear to be shorter = a good thing to know how to do well.
 

Brad in GR

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Another thought @B-rad in GR, is to try foreshortening the branches. To do this, you make them wander back and forth, front to back in the view, along their length. This pulls the foliage closer to the trunk and makes the branches appear to be shorter = a good thing to know how to do well.
Just rewatched the Mirai video and had noticed this technique, but didn’t have it front of mind. Greatly appreciate the guidance - I plan to try one more nursery stock this winter and will give this a try.
Is there any worth - as Ryan does in the video - to finishing out the finer/tertiary branches with wire, including having those fine branches run alongside the larger branches? or is structural a good ‘minimum?’ since the material is still far from finished?
 

0soyoung

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I think you should do the works --> including the finer/tertiary branches.

Foliage positions command most of my attention, even with deciduous trees. Interest comes from places where one can see through the foliage and the obscurement of distractions/flaws. A long straight trunk, for example, is usually, boring. A little bit of foliage crossing the trunk can change that. Likewise, there may be a really ugly thing that can be eliminated from view by a bit of foliage in the line of sight. For me, interest arises from seeing things (even nothing) through the gaps. It is near impossible to do without wasting a lot of fine wire, IMHO.

The whole point is to put the foliage where it will frame or focus attention on 'the feature' of the tree. Make the prettiest thing you can. Then you will be learning 'structure'.
 
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