What are the rules/guidelines of bonsai design?

johng

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Like many of you I read several forums and there is almost always someone talking about the "rules." They say things like, "you have to know the rules before you can break them," or "rules lead to cookie-cutter trees." I realize everyone has their own opinion when it comes to the rules and that is the way it should be. But, the one thing that is always missing from these discussions is a list of these rules.

Let's start one!

I am think about things such as:
1. on curved trunks, branches should be placed on the outside of curves.
2. the inclination of branches on the lower part of a tree should represent their age.
3. the character of the trunk should be mirrored in the branches.
4. when planting in a pot that is not round or square the tree should be placed slightly off center.
5. when planting in a round or square pot the tree should be in the center
6. When shaping a branch it should look like a river system on a map...an image here would be helpful:)
7. Typically the trunk should be divided in thirds...the bottom one third exposed and without branches...or the bottom two thirds exposed and without branches
8. The spacing and diameter of the branches should decrease as you move up the tree.
9. Old trees typically have a soft rounded apex.
10. The apex of a tree should be positioned so that the tree leans slightly toward the viewer.

Are there others that come to mind as you read through that list? Let's hear them:)
Thanks
John
 

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It will be difficult to create a comprehensive list without writing a book :) Additionally, some rules apply to some species of tree while they do not apply to others. Here are some basic rules that I think people will agree are pretty universal:

1) Nebari (rootage) should spread in all directions and should give an impression of age and of firmly grasping the soil like a mature tree.
1a) Avoid trees with roots that go straight down.
1b) Avoid trees with roots underground and no trunk flare at the soil line.
1c) Avoid trees with roots on only one side.
1d) Avoid trees with coiled roots.

2) The trunk and all branches should be tapered to their points. Reverse taper, or long stretches of no taper, are to be avoided.
2a) Avoid bow-shaped trunks.
2b) Avoid s-shaped trunks.
2c) Avoid trunks that curve towards the front (have a "belly" that curves towards the viewer)
2d) Avoid "slingshot" trunks.

3) Every tree should have a clearly defined apex (and only one!). The apex should be perfectly vertical or lean towards the front or either side - but never away from the viewer.

4) Branches should taper evenly towards their tips and should have plenty of foliage from the base. Avoid branches that have "pom poms" of foliage only at their tips.
4a) Branches should alternate from one side of tree, to the other, to the rear, etc. Growth on branches should alternate in the same manner.
4b) Avoid branches directly above one another. In nature, the lower branch would die because it would not get light.
4c) Viewed from above, the foliage of all branches should be triangular (with the point of the triangle facing away from the tree), or diamond shaped.
4d) Branches should not bend back towards the trunk.
4e) Avoid "bar" branches - branches that project from both sides of the trunk at the same level like a bar.
4f) Avoid branches that project from the inside of a trunk curve.
4g) Avoid branches that project in numerous directions from the same point on a trunk like wheel spokes (common in pines).
4h) Branches should not cross the trunk.
4i) Branches should not cross other branches.
4j) Branches should not bend like a bow - i.e. start out growing up and then bend down.
4k) Branches should not have bends greater than 90 degrees.
4l) Growth on branches should never point straight up, or straight down.
4m) Branches should not have tangled growth.
4n) Avoid "eye-poking" branches that point directly out from the trunk towards the viewer.
4o) Branch angle should be consistent at the same level of the tree. Lower branches should hang down or project outward more than higher branches.
4p) Lower branches should be thicker than higher branches.

5) The tree should be designed so that the middle of the tree is at eye level when displayed.

6) Good design should take into account the elements of symmetry, balance, and proportion.
 

johng

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Excellent BN! Exactly the kind of information I was talking about!
Thanks,
John
 
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As we all know, for every rule listed, a great bonsai can be shown that pays no heed to it.

There is only one rule for bonsai, it must be visually appealing, artistically successfully, if you will. The rules above can help to achieve this goal, but following them all to the letter will not guarantee success, nor will not following them all.


Will
 

Bill S

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Agreed Will, this is and will probably always be an ongoing "battle", but for some of the beginners, and artistically challanged, it's a good list/book to have.

At the top of the list and again sporadically throughout the book/list fine print enlarged to read something as this.

These "rules" are typical and general guidlines, that may or may not apply to the tree, and or species you choose to work with. Following these "rules" will not garantee good bonsai results, if applied against good artistic, and horticultural principals. See the following books regarding artist principals and how to apply them. Insert book names here

Insert book names here should be an often requested resource on the boards, do you or anyone else have some good specific, sources or links, many (including myself), would find them usefull.

One obvious answer would be to view as many good / great bonsaias possible, but we find differing answers to that too.
 

Smoke

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As we all know, for every rule listed, a great bonsai can be shown that pays no heed to it.

There is only one rule for bonsai, it must be visually appealing, artistically successfully, if you will. The rules above can help to achieve this goal, but following them all to the letter will not guarantee success, nor will not following them all.


Will

Rules govern most everything we do as humans. There are even unbreakable rules to fly to the moon. The best trees do not defy the rules, their artists have just made the best use of them by applying them differently than someone else. Even a first styling by Kenji Miyata here in the valley will be done to basic rules of bonsai. First branch will be chosen based on trunk movement and nebari (bonsai 101)as well as which branches will be removed based on rules of asthetics such as those shown here.

The rules are almost always followed, it's just in the execution.

Al
 

ghues

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Mother Nature = breaking the ules

I think that most artists are educated in their discipline to understand some basic rules but these soon turn to guidelines only as they explore their own paths of expression.

For me and many others guidelines are the driving factor ….BUT…….......if you go for a walk into your nearest forest where you can find examples of mature or even "old growth", you will see examples that break almost every "rule" on these lists….and yet they are awe inspiring….are they not?
 

johng

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As we all know, for every rule listed, a great bonsai can be shown that pays no heed to it.

There is only one rule for bonsai, it must be visually appealing, artistically successfully, if you will. The rules above can help to achieve this goal, but following them all to the letter will not guarantee success, nor will not following them all.


Will
Will,
I would like to respectfully say that your response does not apply to what I asked in this thread. If you would like to discuss that please start another thread. If you would like to add any rules/guidelines that you follow as you create trees please feel free.

Thanks,
John
 

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As we all know, for every rule listed, a great bonsai can be shown that pays no heed to it.
Let's not talk about bonsai then :) Let's talk literature. While I agree that many of the best novels break many rules of grammar, where would we be if authors did not learn grammar first, BEFORE attempting to write?
 
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Will,
I would like to respectfully say that your response does not apply to what I asked in this thread. If you would like to discuss that please start another thread. If you would like to add any rules/guidelines that you follow as you create trees please feel free.
You asked for a list of rules, my addition was:


"There is only one rule for bonsai, it must be visually appealing, artistically successfully, if you will."


If I think of others, I will add them.


Will
 
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Let's not talk about bonsai then :) Let's talk literature. While I agree that many of the best novels break many rules of grammar, where would we be if authors did not learn grammar first, BEFORE attempting to write?
Good point, however, one could argue that many of the greats did not bother to learn grammar at all.... ;) The break from the rules did not stop the masterpiece from becoming, so strict adherence to the rules is not mandatory for success.

The rules have a purpose and one would be wise to study them, however, the term "guidelines" is a better choice, "rules" must be followed and suggest no deviation is allowed, while "guidelines" suggest a path which can be deviated from.

According to popular definition, a rule is a principle governing conduct: an authoritative principle set forth to guide behavior or action, while a guideline is official advice: an official recommendation indicating how something should be done or what sort of action should be taken in a particular circumstance.

The bottom line is a rule governs conduct, it tells us what we must do, while a guideline recommends a course of action. I think the whole rule debate could be ended by simply tossing the word "rule" out the window and replacing it with "guideline" which far better illustrates the point anyhow.

Rule or guideline, in bonsai the end certainly justifies the means.



Will
 

johng

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You know, its no wonder that hardly anyone posts on this site anymore...
between the folks stirring the pot and the folks trying to be funny its just not worth it...
 
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You know, its no wonder that hardly anyone posts on this site anymore...
between the folks stirring the pot and the folks trying to be funny its just not worth it...
With all due respect John, could we stick to the topic you created and not stir the pot?


Will
 

irene_b

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John the Ignore feature is a great place to Start! It works great!
Irene
 

king kong

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love is in the air

I try to be funny, does that put me on the "S" list? lol's Wipe that grin off your face Harry!
 

pauldogx

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You know, its no wonder that hardly anyone posts on this site anymore...
between the folks stirring the pot and the folks trying to be funny its just not worth it...
I seriously dont see anyone stirring anything on this site or thread. I dont know Will Heath from Adam---but the minute he posts anything whatsoever--someone finds a reason to get their knickers in a twist.

Will's posts are well thought out and backed with examples most of the time.

I am not pointing the finger at anyone in particular but how long are people gonna drag this crap out???
Did Will come and p*ss in all your trees??(that's called humor).

As far as the humourous posts go---bring em on!!! KK and greer's posts bring a little levity to the party.

People tell me Naka had a great sense of humor.

Bonsai doesnt have to dull and serious.
 
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