Tangents

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In another thread I mentioned tangents, and them being considered "bad" in visual art. I'd like to explain that concept a bit further and to show how it relates to bonsai. Perhaps I should also mention that tangents are bad because the tend to "flatten" the image i.e. avoiding them is another tool for creating depth.

Pic 1: These two circles (or balls if you wish) show an example of a tangent. Without a context or other objects to relate to is virtually impossible to determine wich of them lies in front/back of the other.

Pic 2 and 3: The two solutions solves the problem with the help of perspective. In the first picture it seems that the red circle lies pretty far behind the blue circle and in the other one can see the red circle sort of in orbit of the blue circle.

Pretty no-brainer thus far.

Anyway, it's very common when you look at 2 dimensional representations (such as photos) of bonsai to notice these tangents, even the ones considered world-class. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you would notice it IRL. Just changing the viewing angle a bit can remove or create these tangents so it might just be the photographer that got it wrong. One common place to find them is where foliage meets a trunk or deadwood areas.

This might not be very important for real exhibits, but might be another one of those details that will earn you another point or another glance in online ehibitions and contests.
 

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Tachigi

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Emil, I appreciate where your going with this. In your representation of trunks and foliage pad. The 1st and 4th image are one and the same in my perception. Difference being separation between the two objects. In a photograph I don't no if this would be considered a tangent. As it has no depth. Am I off base here?
 
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Thanks anttal!

Tachigi: I see what you mean and I thought about it myself for a while before using it as an example. My only point with the last picture is that it is better than the first one from a tangent point of view. You are absolutely right that is has no depth, but this is one of them "ifs and buts". If the whole composition would require an area of foliage in that spot it would be better to place it as in picture 4 than picture 1. And no, pic 4 is not a tangent even though is lacks depth.

Tangents aren't really a measurement of depth, it only a description of two objects that are close enough to be able to give the impression of depth but where the illusion is ruined because their positions aren't optimal. Kinda' like having a Ferrari with a Wunderbaum, most people won't notice but to some it might seem oddly off...and that's the worst metaphor I've ever written...:)

If people feel that this whole thing is genuinly interesting I'd be glad to post and disuss other aspects (rules, if you will) that are (IMHO) worth reflecting over that (IMHO) are seldom spoken of when it comes to traditional visual art vs Bonsai.
 
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grouper52

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If people feel that this whole thing is genuinly interesting I'd be glad to post and disuss other aspects (rules, if you will) that are (IMHO) worth reflecting over that (IMHO) are seldom spoken of when it comes to traditional visual art vs Bonsai.
I find these lessons genuinely interesting, and would love to see/hear more. Thanks.
 

BonsaiWes

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I am following the tangent discussion pretty well I think. I have been aware one can create depth or make objects seem larger in photographs by the placement of other static objects in the picture. For example placing the can farther behind the tree to make it (the tree) seem larger, fishermen use this type of thing often when photographing their "big" catch. I however never knew this had it's own language and thought using a tangent ment a to spur a conversation.
 

Tiny Lumberjack

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Keep it up!

If people feel that this whole thing is genuinly interesting I'd be glad to post and disuss other aspects (rules, if you will) that are (IMHO) worth reflecting over that (IMHO) are seldom spoken of when it comes to traditional visual art vs Bonsai.

I definitely find this discussion interesting!

Recently while looking at a tree in the Weyerhauser Bonsai Collection the curator and I were discussing aesthetics. This particular tree (a staghorn sumac, the 8th one over on the link I posted) works on the Golden Ratio, and follows the Fibonacci Sequence perfectly (1, 1, 2, 3, 5). It is an odd looking Dr. Suess-esque tree, but somehow "it just works."

Also, and not to threadjack here, (Hi all, I am new), we were discussing tree placement in the pot and how eyes line up in portraits... The head is usually off center, with one eye laying on the center line, but the nose and/or head being off center, much as the trees are not placed in the smack center of the pot, but with one edge of the trunk on center.
 

BonsaiWes

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Hmm, I just relised the "system" or "the rules" for making a forest bonsai are revolved around the theory of tangents. The #1 tree and it's relationship with the #2 tree for example, Cool stuff.
 
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Ok, next up is coherent designing (I'm sorry if coherent isn't the correct english word but I hope you all get my point).

One way to make a composition is to try and keep the whole thing harmonious, or in other words, to make all elements work together without anything sticking out. Lets imagine a clean piece of white paper. One could argue that the paper has a coherent design, is has the same color all over and there no objects that attract attention. Now, lets put a blue dot on it (pic 1) and we have a design that's not coherent anymore. Now lets try to make the design coherent again without removing the blue dot. One way to do this is to add more of the same elements. What this does is it takes away the ”specialness” of the original blue dot and therefor doesn't attract the eye as much (pic2). Now we could ”reactivate” the ”specialness” of the original blue dot by giving it another color, say red, and then add other red dots again to counter this.

Now how does that relate to bonsai? What the example above show is that if there's something that stands out, it attracts the eye and as long as that element is the only one with a special quality (different shape, color etc) it's going to be very hard to look at anything else. We countered that though by adding more of the same elements. (pic 3) Here we have a bonsai with foliage pads that are not coherent and as you can see it's hard to actually looking at the whole tree, your eye gets stuck on the part that stands out. Another example would be if you have a huge scar in the front of your tree, it may sound counterproductive but from a visual point of view one way to incorporate it into the design could be to add several smaller ones in the right places.

Most people don't find an image where there's nothing to really look at very interesting, so the whole point of making a composition is to create a unity that leads the eye around the whole image. There are many ways to do this but just to keep it simple lets go back to the blue dots. If we add a couple of red dots we should be able to lead the eye around the image (pic 4). If it is successful your eyes should now travel in the shape of a triangle. If the red dots were placed in the shape of a square, your eyes should be traveling i the shape of a square etc. Like I said there are many ways to do this and a composition can be extremely complex but this is just one basic perspective. As we all know there more than two elements in bonsai and one way to add more element without them attracting to much attention is to arrange them in groups (pic 5). As you probably can see, the blue circle in the top right corner attracts too much attention and need to be smaller for the composition to work (not saying it's a good composition, just making a point). Like I said, a composition can be extremely complex and with a lot of details. I can imagine that one day we'll be manipulating the roughness of the bark (adding ridges and stuff) to have shadows in the right places. Or why not arranging individual needles.

While I'm at it, a common mistake is to lead the eye out of the ”picture” to a point where nothing happens (pic 6). The diagonal wedge-shape leads the eye of of the picture. This can be compared to a three point display where the tree leads the eye to the right while the scroll and accent is to the left.
 

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Ok, so was that last bit BS, too much "yeah, we know, silly!", or maybe "hmmm, I don't get it", perhaps a bit "jeeez, you have no idea what you're talking about" or just "ok, what's next"?
 

irene_b

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Ok, so was that last bit BS, too much "yeah, we know, silly!", or maybe "hmmm, I don't get it", perhaps a bit "jeeez, you have no idea what you're talking about" or just "ok, what's next"?

Do go on Emil! I understand where you are taking this ;) ....
Mom
 

Bonsai Nut

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Great thread, though I don't wholly agree with the final point. Just because you don't resolve your design within your work doesn't mean that it is an inherently bad design. For example a design can take advantage of void space to suggest emptiness, or sadness, or distance. You can specifically create an off-balance composition to give a sense of motion, anger, distress, or energy. Not all bonsai design has to give a viewer the impression of a peaceful walk through the forest.

Similar guidelines apply to music composition. There are tools like incomplete phrasing, use of a minor key, use of a non-repeating sequence, etc, that are used as mental levers to manipulate the mind. Because you are familiar with balanced musical composition, you anticipate it. The use of abstraction within a composition jars with your sense of balance and can (if used properly) cause a stronger response than if you tried to communicate the same thing via standard musical structure.

So if you see an interesting bonsai composition, that has a perfect design with the exception of one obviously missing piece, you have to ask yourself the question: "is the piece missing because the artist did not KNOW? Or is it missing because the artist was trying to communicate something through its absence?" This is similar to the discussion we were having recently about some bonsai displays at a show in Japan where the accent plant was obviously positioned on the weak side of the tree. The positioning seemed to make the bonsai lean into void space, and made the entire composition feel strangely out of balance. Now this composition was created by a bonsai enthusiast with 40+ years of experience who belonged to a top Japanese club. Did he do so because he didn't understand the basics of placing accent plants in a display? Or did he do so to create a strong emotion?

For example, If I do not complete this sentence
 
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While I'm at it, a common mistake is to lead the eye out of the ”picture” to a point where nothing happens (pic 6). The diagonal wedge-shape leads the eye of of the picture. This can be compared to a three point display where the tree leads the eye to the right while the scroll and accent is to the left.
Actually, it is common in visual arts to indeed give the eye a means of escape, you may find Carl Bergstrom's article, "The Tokonoma Window" interesting.


Will
 
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Great thread, though I don't wholly agree with the final point. Just because you don't resolve your design within your work doesn't mean that it is an inherently bad design. For example a design can take advantage of void space to suggest emptiness, or sadness, or distance. You can specifically create an off-balance composition to give a sense of motion, anger, distress, or energy. Not all bonsai design has to give a viewer the impression of a peaceful walk through the forest.
Relax, I'm not there yet! It's hard to cover all the aspects in a couple of posts! Glad you like the thread so far though!
 
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Ok, moving on.

Since UberNut himself brought it up, let me clarify my intentions for this thread. This thread is NOT to make the claim that I know how to design a good tree. Believe me, I don't. It's NOT to make the claim that anyone should believe that what I say is the only truth, and that what I say is THE way to design bonsai.

This thread is about hinting at different aspects that can be UTILIZED if one wants to, in order to gain a larger amount of CONTROL over the design progress.

For example, my point with the first post is to suggest that if you have elements that are tangents, in general, they will flatten the image and spoil some of the depth and perspective you might have worked hard to achieve.

My point with the ”coherent designing” is to show how different elements and their shape/color etc. can be used to either help or counter a certain aspect of your tree. What I mean is that sometimes you may want to use elements that visually really brings out a slant for example, and sometimes you may want to counter that slant visually. Neither would be (in)correct, just different ways to design a tree.

Furthermore, my approach is pretty ”down to earth”, I will not go into things like what makes design suggest ”masculinity”, ”weakness”, ”solitude”, ”energy” and that sort of stuff. This is because all those things are very individual and you interpretation might not be my interpretation. Besides, they are all pretty relative and all the aspects can be discussed without labeling them in that manner. If someone wants to discuss them anyway my suggestion is to make a new thread.

Next up is void space, but that will have to wait for later...
 
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grouper52

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Thanks for the posts so far. I find them stimulating and educational, and hope to see more.
 

Martin Sweeney

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No, it's not...,

I agree with Grouper52. I am finding this helpful and enjoyable at the same time!

Regards,

Martin
 
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