Thinking About Signature Style

Huggz13

Mame
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I’m new to Bonsai, so everything I’m about to say might be total rubbish. Nevertheless, I’m interested to hear the thoughts of folks with experience, and also the thoughts of those without experience.

I have been thinking about style lately and about “signature styles” in particular.
Do Bonsai artists have a “signature style” per se? Surely they do.
I can’t, but surely someone with more experience can look at a tree and say “oh, that’s definitely a Kobayashi, or Kimura, or Bjorn, or Boon, or Tran”...you get the point.

When people think of Florida, they think of citrus trees, palm trees, tropical plants, and the Art Deco architecture of Miami. They think of South Florida.
But tropical South Florida is not the Florida that I know and love. I live in Northwest Florida on the Gulf Coast. The landscape here is dominated by massive, majestic oaks and towering pines. And our sugar-white beaches and emerald green waters are far superior to those in South Florida... and it’s not even close.

The trees here have been through countless hurricanes, and it shows. Most trees have multiple battle wounds and scars and have been wind swept into all manner of contorted shapes and brokenness.
And yet I see beauty in those wayward branches and holes and callouses and broken limbs. To me it demonstrates the resilience and toughness of nature. But it’s also a reflection of the resilience and tenacity of the people in this region. The people and the trees here are survivors. We get beat down year after year by Mother Nature and we keep coming back and rebuilding.

So I want to not only use native species (as much as possible) to create Bonsai, but I also want what I create to be distinctly Northwest Florida. I want to look at what I’ve done and see my home in it.
I want to develop a signature style that tells the story and reflects the history of this region.

Perhaps I’ll never be skillful enough to do that, but I’d like to try. Of course some others would look at it and scoff and say that it’s not Bonsai. It’s not elegant. It doesn’t follow the guidelines. And that would be true to a certain extent. But it would be truthful if nothing else, and that’s something.

I’m just discovering Bonsai and I don’t know enough about the traditions and forms to know what is right and what is wrong, and what is considered beautiful and what is not, and who is considered a master and who is not. But I was watching some videos on YouTube and I was really pleased to find @Walter Pall talking about the naturalistic style and how there is character and beauty in the warts and scars of the tree he was talking about and I related to it immediately.

So is this all a bunch of nonsense?
Is it possible to have a “Northwest Florida Style” that not only uses native trees but also reflects the region?
Who are some other Bonsai artists who have a regional approach?
Who are some Bonsai artists that you would describe as having a naturalistic style and approach?

Here are some pictures of trees in my hometown (and some that are not, but are like those we typically see) that might illustrate my point.
“But trees like that wouldn’t be Bonsai”, you say.
Yeah... I know. But they’d be home.

73D12C0E-7188-4026-B79E-072DD06A53D9.jpeg
 

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Wulfskaar

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I'm also new, but absolutely, people can have signature styles. Every person has unique experiences in life, including what trees they grow up around and which ones they admire the most. I imagine that helps forge a person's sense of beauty and the vision they are ultimately trying to accomplish with their bonsai. A person raised in New England will see things differently than one raised in Los Angeles, not to mention the differences in species.

Looking at your pictures, you are probably inspired by the trees of the south. Very cool.
 

Huggz13

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I'm also new, but absolutely, people can have signature styles. Every person has unique experiences in life, including what trees they grow up around and which ones they admire the most. I imagine that helps forge a person's sense of beauty and the vision they are ultimately trying to accomplish with their bonsai. A person raised in New England will see things differently than one raised in Los Angeles, not to mention the differences in species.

Looking at your pictures, you are probably inspired by the trees of the south. Very cool.
Definitely inspired by the trees of the south.
Most of these pics were taken in my hometown.

I love the twisted shapes and old wounds.
 

rockm

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A few things to consider--

The vision of "North American" or "choose your locality" style of bonsai has been around a very very long time. Largely it is not defined by an artist, but by the material they're working on. For instance, Ryan Neal uses western alpine conifers almost exclusively. The trees define him, not the other way around...Also personal stamps on tree happen without any real effort from the grower. It just happens though everyday care, maintenance and styling capabilities. A conscious effort to put a personal mark on a tree can wind up looking well, silly and inept...The tree should dictate the path to styling, not the stylist.

Developing a "personal style" is a very tall order. It requires mastering practices and techniques that lead to consistency in technique and vision.

"Naturalistic" style requires even more understanding of bonsai cultivation and styling. Far too often it's used to describe inferior work done on inferior trees by people who don't have the skills to do it.

FWIW I love southern species. I have Texas native trees in my collection here in Va. I love live oaks (and have had an actual live oak bonsai for going on three decades). I also have styled "live oaks" from kingsville boxwood--which offers more options than actual live oaks.

The "signature" tree in bonsai for America is arguably the Bald Cypress. It's style of growing is unique--flattops in particular. The Japanese have no idea how to use it, but Americans in the South do because they live with it all around. That local nature means a lot of bonsai growers around the world kind of dislike the style.
 

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PA_Penjing

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The first few years I was into bonsai I was always thinking about what my style/signature would be. In the end it was impossible for me to define and decide because I didn't even have "bonsai" trees. I had rough material and not even the basic skills I needed YET to get it to a finished tree. There's an old saying something along the lines of - you have to learn the rules before you break them. But the same also kind of applies to "you have to learn to bonsai before you can put your flair on it". I would still say that I don't have any true "bonsai" trees but now I have things in the refinement stage. And while I still don't have a signature style I have learned from years of reading, days of workshops and many trees styled with my teacher, what I do and don't like. I personally have a huge appreciation for modern Chinese penjing (and some classic styles) but my love for bonsai stemmed from my native forests. Marry that together and you get Pennsylvania native penjing. After years of work I'm heading toward a focus or signature (that could evolve yet). Once I log a few years maintaining my future "finished" trees I'm sure I'll find more ways to add my personality. But it's not something to rush. "the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step". No point in despairing about how far 1,000 miles is before you've walked 1 mile. You'll learn what you like 1 tree at a time. Some folks like tortured twisted dynamic trees that hold a ton of tension, they are very striking. Some people like tall trees or deciduous that seems like it grew in an open field for a long time, that gives a feeling of calm and serenity. A lot of people just want some of everything because variety is the spice of life for them. As your appreciation grows and knowledge increases it will be easier to identify what you like and what you want. I'm only half way there myself but wanted to offer this.
 

rockm

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"But surely someone with more experience can look at a tree and say “oh, that’s definitely a Kobayashi, or Kimura, or Bjorn, or Boon, or Tran”...you get the point."

That's true, BUT if you are left guessing who the artist was, the tree becomes secondary. The best trees don't make you guess who made them. They speak for themselves...
 

Huggz13

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As I was searching the internet to see if there was such a thing as Florida Style Bonsai, I found this and thought it was quite interesting.
It’s these mangled and twisted trees that I see so much of and find inspiring.

 

rockm

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As I was searching the internet to see if there was such a thing as Florida Style Bonsai, I found this and thought it was quite interesting.
It’s these mangled and twisted trees that I see so much of and find inspiring.

yeah, well it's a great article about the species and landscapes in Fla., but short on actually using those species as bonsai. Just sayin... Do a search on Vaughn Banting, or Gary Marchal if you want to see actual southern species/environment bonsai 😁 . As for Florida style, where does it stop? Gulf Coast goes all the way to Southern Texas. The south goes up into Virginia...All of these places share species...

FWIW, one of the side benefits of bonsai is that it gets you to notice the diversity of landscapes, species and habits of trees overall.
 

Huggz13

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Florida goes from Pensacola to Ocala as far as I’m concerned. Everything south of that is Disney World and water parks fantasy land 😝

Thanks, I’ll check those guys out.
 

HorseloverFat

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ABSOLUTELY!
You will keep adding techniques/methods/knowledge.., until you have an accepted comfort range..

When comfortable, you will find certain methodologies,strokes, orders of operations that YOU really enjoy.. and let you project your vision..

As you hone these specific skills and forms of expression.. your own style becomes even more defined.

Many Draw from experiences/trees they've experienced AND pull from the 'artistic ether"..

Like any Art/Craft.. there is a balance..

I, personally, say, "Contrive less, Create more."

🤓
 

Huggz13

Mame
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ABSOLUTELY!
You will keep adding techniques/methods/knowledge.., until you have an accepted comfort range..

When comfortable, you will find certain methodologies,strokes, orders of operations that YOU really enjoy.. and let you project your vision..

As you hone these specific skills and forms of expression.. your own style becomes even more defined.

Many Draw from experiences/trees they've experienced AND pull from the 'artistic ether"..

Like any Art/Craft.. there is a balance..

I, personally, say, "Contrive less, Create more."

🤓
Thanks... good stuff.
 

Huggz13

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Huggz13

Mame
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For Florida, there's also the AdamAskWhy blog. I actually feel like Florida is really well represented, at least in terms of Bonsai Professionals. Not many I know of in my area of the Midwest.
Thanks I’ll check him out.

They must represent the rest of Florida because I can’t get a reply from the Pensacola Bonsai Club and they haven’t posted on their page or met since 2019.
Kind of disappointing.

From looking on their FB, there was never more than 2 or 3 people anyway.
 

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