regimented vs chaotic designs

Jessf

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Curious to know how many people consider the bonsai process as a means to a final design that is then maintained from then on, or if people regularly restyle and rethink their trees. I ask because a lot of what I've been reading online and in books seems to lean towards designing a tree, growing the tree into that design, then maintaining that design. I've seen many great photos of bonsai that look like "bonsai" and not enough like the full sized tree in miniature.

It's ultimately a personal choice how one proceeds with growing their trees. How many see the art/hobby as a regimented practice of "perfecting" a design and maintaining it and how many view the process with a more naturalistic chaotic approach. I can't imagine many snapping the branches carelessly off an old and prized tree in an effort to simulate a natural wound. Maybe people do and I just haven’t come across it yet.

There are only so many ways of keeping a tree alive, and yet endless ways in which it can be styled.
 

John Ruger

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You actually see both at play. There are trees that have been changed very little over the course of decades and those that have undergone complete transformations. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to style a bonsai; that's up to the individual artist. Yet, there are styles that are more appropriate to the species.
 

Gene Deci

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You may be interested in the work of Walter Pall and the naturalistic school. His web page is at
http//walter-pall-bonsaiblogspot.com/
 

rockm

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I've pruned very large branches off of trees after many years of development to change a design. I'd say anyone who has worked with trees that have had some form of training, even advanced training, have done so in altering their designs.

There are some trees that I'm happy with as "finished" but as time goes on, I notice elements that have either outgrown their usefullness, or have simply bothered me. For instance, I have a large collected cedar elm that I have developed over the last 15 years that has a bothersome primary branch with two inch diameter leaders. Over the years, it's become apparent that ONE of those needs to come off. It so happens that it is most likely the one with the majority of the tertiary branching. REmoving it means I will have to spend another five years or more pushing more branching into the one left behind.

I've been considering this for a number of years. I've done similar things with other trees that I've worked on for more than a decade or so.
 

Dav4

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Mark pretty much nailed it. When I start to design a tree from rough stock, I have an "finished" image in mind. After a period of refinement and that image is achieved, I more or less maintain that image, realizing that the tree needs periods of unrestrained growth to maintain health and vitality. Eventually, as branches thicken or foliage density near the trunk decreases, more aggressive pruning, and/or restyling may be necessary. The next refinement phase may result in a very similar image to the first, or it might be vastly different if a new, potentially better front or style presents itself.
 

jk_lewis

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I'd guess most of us start out with a design in mind and work toward that. But, as your experience grows, as you see more and different kinds of bonsai, and as your tree grows, things can change.

Often, you can have a tree whose design you are quite satisfied with, but the tree itself "outgrows" the design. Branches get too thick, foliage thins here and doesn't there. Branches die for no fault of anyone's (except Ma Nature's). At that point you have to step in and the best solution may be a new design.

In the last few years of Bonsai Today's existence, I got very tired of reading articles about this or that Japanese master's re-designing a tree that -- in its pre-redesign form -- I'd have died to own. In my mind, the redesign was no better than the original, and many of them seemed to be a great deal fussier and less tree-like.

So, the answer might be yes. Re-design . . . but carefully.
 
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its a great question and consideration. means your thinking and thats what it takes to design anything good. questions and considerations keep the mind open. its true, there are a lot of ways to design bonsai and personal ideals are likely to change over time. i've noticed this happening to me.
 

GerhardG

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Hi

I'm probably still a few years away from at least one bonsai that just needs maintenance.

Your question made me think though, and I think since I'm in the middle of winter, it's an easy question to answer.....

Trees standing there looking nice is not enough for me, I need dirty hands and too much to do, or else I end up doing nothing.

I think with some species like ficus you have no choice, they force you into change as the years go by.
 

Jessf

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all interesting perspectives. I've been mulling it over in my mind for a while now and at one time my opinion was focused on "how the Japanese do it" but it never really felt appropriate. I think if pick up the paintbrush with the intent of painting something specific you're applying your voice to the final piece. You've made a decision to dominate the subject matter and depict it in a manner of your choosing; you've made it your own. There's a great deal of skill that goes into being able to do that effectively and there's a great deal to be learned from people like this.

On the other hand, I think there's skill in being able to guide a tree into a natural form, or to begin with a blank canvas and just let it happen. You don't apply your voice, but let the tree speak for itself. To do this effectively I think takes great skill as well and may be an exercise in managing the chaotic or understanding the subject matter to such a degree that you can recreate it without making it appear contrived.

I was looking at a beautiful tree the other day and I got to thinking "if I photo-shopped this tree into a scenery it would look silly, and nothing like a full sized tree, proportions would be off etc." Yet, as a standalone object the tree was amazing. Then I began considering some of the designs I've been scribbling down and I want to re-think it all. I believe I want to go in a more naturalistic direction, so perhaps I'll find myself saying "if I photo-shopped that, would I believe it?".
 

rockm

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The "Naturalistic" vs "Japanese" style arguments have kind of run out of steam. Even Walter Pall has given himself over to the "if it looks good, it's good bonsai" mantra these days, if I have read his blogs correctly.

It really doesn't matter if the plant looks good in a real landscape. What matters is if it looks good to viewers and they are able to relate. That opens up a wide range of "styles" -- for lack of a better word. All manner of designs can fit this bill, even Japanese styles, which can look very unnatural when placed against "real" trees but on their own are very compelling.

There really is no "chaotic" styling. There is no either or to "regimented" styling. Styles can't be chaotic and without thought. Styles or designs have to be thought through and organized or they won't appeal to the viewer. Chaos is a very visually busy place...
 
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just a personal opinion... The day that I am done with a tree and there is nothing left to do, might be the day that I either sell it or donate it, and let someone else mantain it... just because to me, I personally enjoy the art of creating the bonsai, rather than constantly polishing or dusting it off. I think it all again goes back to what one's taste and opinion's are, and they can change and often do over time... Maybe you are just reaching a "Mid-life Bonsai Crisis"??? only joking!!!
As far as natural / unnatural looking bonsai... That is like a red square being painted on a canvas and being called art... some will say it is, others say it's not... I think there is plenty enough room for both, one should just appreciate the art for what it is...

How can one compete with centuries of tradition??? Try pushing new boundaries...
 

PaulH

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I think its important to understand the difference between "chaotic" and naturalistic style. I'm a strong believer that each tree should be styled in a way natural to it's species typical form. However, the form of any tree is seldom chaotic. They grow the way they do for specific reasons and as adaptation and response to stimuli from their environment. I think it is the soul of our art to understand both what the species you are working with looks like as a natural tree and also how to achieve that effect in miniature.
Just the way I approach it.
Paul
 

Vance Wood

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I'm a strong believer that each tree should be styled in a way natural to it's species typical form. . I think it is the soul of our art to understand both what the species you are working with looks like as a natural tree and also how to achieve that effect in miniature.
Just the way I approach it.
Paul
I don't have a clue how long you have been doing bonsai but I disagree with your concept here. If you were to look at many of the favorite species for bonsai and how they grow in the wild I think you might be shocked at how different that tree as a bonsai becomes and how far it is from its natural counterpart. The word here must be plausible. The tree must look like it should, could, or would look like this bonsai under the right conditions.

Bonsai, unless it is dead, is not a static art form. It is always changing and always in need of refinement. Sometimes this means the tree must be restyled completely. This is especially true of those trees that have grown up with the owner/grower. As the skill and "eye" of the grower changes his/her assessment of a tree may change to a point the tree no longer floats their boat. This means the grower either relegates a now second rate tree to the back benches or the grower determines what is wrong with the tree artistically and does what is necessary to improve it.

Whether you mean a regimented design with branches by the numbers and well groomed foliage pads with muscular nebari, or-- a scraggly thing looking all the world like something for a dog to kick is up to you. But; as things go in the bonsai community, though it is acceptable to design a bonsai to your own tastes and shapes from extreme to sublime, and if you do not grade your work according to the reaction of others or consider those who do not like your work to be ignorant doodie heads do what ever you like. The truth and the worth of a bonsai for artistic purposes is to convey the image of a mature tree grown in a pot. That tree must somehow look the image of a tree that if it were big, people would want to look at it any way. Let's face it; a nude Rosie O'Donald will not attract as much attention as a nude Jennifer Lopez----at least not for the same reasons. Remember; even a train wreck will attract a crowd.

In the end you grow bonsai for your own sake. If others like the tree that's good, if they don't-- that's tuff.
 
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Smoke

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I think their butts are about the same size.

If Rosie giggled like Betty Ruble, she would win hands down.
 

Vance Wood

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I think their butts are about the same size.

If Rosie giggled like Betty Ruble, she would win hands down.
Yes, I am hesitant to use the words butts and tast in the same sentance but there you go, it all boils down to personal prefference; be it butts or bonsai.
 

Smoke

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Yes....beauty is in the eye of the buttholder...
 

PaulH

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"In the end you grow bonsai for your own sake. If others like the tree that's good, if they don't-- that's tuff."

Vance

I've read your post several times and I can't find any thing about your post that I disagree with. Nor can I understand where you disagree with me. (especially re Rosie)
I hope you'd agree that boxwoods shaped like pines and pines shaped like pyramids fail as bonsai. That's what I'm trying to say.
I've been learning this bonsai thing for 30+ years and have seen a lot more bad bonsai than good, including my own. I've also seen people spend incredible sums just to own an "ideal" bonsai species imported from Japan only to ruin it. This, along with personal taste, has led me to working almost entirely with native trees. That's just my preference, and I'm not evangelical about it.
As far as the necessity for major changes and restyles during the life of most trees, we don't disagree. I've done it to many trees myself.
Your last line says it all for me. I do bonsai for me. If others get it and like it, so much the better.

Paul
 

Vance Wood

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"In the end you grow bonsai for your own sake. If others like the tree that's good, if they don't-- that's tuff."

Vance

I've read your post several times and I can't find any thing about your post that I disagree with. Nor can I understand where you disagree with me. (especially re Rosie)
I hope you'd agree that boxwoods shaped like pines and pines shaped like pyramids fail as bonsai. That's what I'm trying to say.
I've been learning this bonsai thing for 30+ years and have seen a lot more bad bonsai than good, including my own. I've also seen people spend incredible sums just to own an "ideal" bonsai species imported from Japan only to ruin it. This, along with personal taste, has led me to working almost entirely with native trees. That's just my preference, and I'm not evangelical about it.
As far as the necessity for major changes and restyles during the life of most trees, we don't disagree. I've done it to many trees myself.
Your last line says it all for me. I do bonsai for me. If others get it and like it, so much the better.

Paul
In view of the context of this thread, chaotic versus regimented I took your comment to mean not styling any tree beyond it natural form. There are people that are that naturalistic about this issue. This would mean that most Junipers would not be styled in anything but a prostrate form for things like Procumbens and needle Junipers and at the same time disallow styling Shimpakus and Eastern Red Cedar to upright forms only.

I now understand that you were referring to what I believe concerning the styling of conifers into deciduous forms like the broom and deciduous trees into forms like drift wood and formal upright. Though there have been successful designs of Maples, Beech and Elms that have the same configuration as formal upright Pines and a European Pine that grows naturally into a broom form. The bottom line is as it always is; if it doesn't look right it probably is not right. Remember in any art the results must look plausible and without excuses.

Years ago there was this great debate about The Elusive American Bonsai style. What it boiled down to, as things played out, there were those who defended a really bad bonsai claiming it to be an American Bonsai. In the end and for the most part it was an excuse to design really bad bonsai and deflect criticism by the claim of a unique style. Finally good sense took over and people decided that if Crapsai was analogous with American Bonsai, Americans needed to find a better example for their art and stop making excuses.

I heard a comic make a statement about jokes a number of years ago that is appropriate to bonsai. Having to explain a joke is like dissecting a frog; in the end you have all the parts but the frog no longer works. I view the success of a bonsai in the same way. If you have to explain what you have done then it doesn't work. Any style or form or shape or species of tree must stand on its own merits and not invite questions as to tactics and execution. In short the tree should say WOW, not WHY.
 

rockm

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"Having to explain a joke is like dissecting a frog; in the end you have all the parts but the frog no longer works."

LOL. That's one of the best explanations of how bonsai design works that I've seen.:D We're all trying to "get the frog to work."
 

Gene Deci

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"I heard a comic make a statement about jokes a number of years ago that is appropriate to bonsai. Having to explain a joke is like dissecting a frog; in the end you have all the parts but the frog no longer works. I view the success of a bonsai in the same way. If you have to explain what you have done then it doesn't work. Any style or form or shape or species of tree must stand on its own merits and not invite questions as to tactics and execution. In short the tree should say WOW, not WHY."

Vance

That is wonderful, Vance. Philosophers, art historians and even psychologist have been trying for eons to define art. The consensus is that there are only two useful definitions: 1. Art is whatever the community of knowledgeable practicioners say it is. 2. Art is whatever its creator puts forth as art for public appreciation. The first leads to elitism and often weird evolution of the art form but the second leads to just the phenomenon you describe in your comments about "American bonsai" But the bottom line has been well stated in this thread already. Most of us do bonsai more for the inherent joy of it than to try and win blue ribbons.
 
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