It’s not always easy to see the bonsai in the material. As you gain experience, however, it does get a lot easier. You get better at seeing alternatives.
I posted this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, for sale the other day. It’s a solid pre-bonsai specimen: great trunk base with exposed roots, wonderful taper, and even some trunk movement. There’s a lot of roots in the pot, which means there’s a lot of growth waiting to happen next year (I chopped it when I acquired it from a fellow collector – it was quite a bit taller).
Despite all of these great qualities, it isn’t necessarily easy to see the “right” bonsai in the material. Do you make a flat-top or traditional style? Do you wait till next year for all the growth that’s going to happen down the trunk, then select branches? These are valid choices.
Here’s how I approached this basic question. I decided I really wanted to do the initial styling on this tree today. So what does that mean? Well, it automatically put a limit on the branches I had to work with. I also needed to figure out how best to present this tree to the viewer. This photo shows the tree from the front, more or less. The best choice, as it were. So where to go from here?
The first thing to take note of is that the exposed roots do not harmonize with the planting angle. The tree looks unstable, in other words. So let’s correct that problem.
And that was the easy part. Now I have to make a who design out of about a half-dozen branches, some of which aren’t even big enough to survive winter.
One thing about this tree that caught my eye as I studied it over the past few weeks is the long, strong branch on the left side of the tree way up the trunk. Surely something can be done with it. Not only that, given the nature of the exposed roots at the base of the tree, I think it can benefit from the creation of dramatic tension. What’s dramatic tension? When we think of bonsai, we have to think of struggle at some point. Not all trees are meant to give the appearance of struggle, but for those that do the trunk base and nebari, plus the curves of the trunk, plus the angles presented by branch placement must “shout” at us. So far with this tree, the exposed roots seem to be plunging into the soil as if to hang on for dear life against all odds. That’s dramatic tension. In order to continue this story, I’ve got to make the rest of the tree say the same thing. If I don’t, then there’s a disconnect that will register in the viewer’s mind without their even knowing it.
Here’s my solution. You may want to take a few minutes to study the before and after photos. I’ve stripped away all but two branches in the body of the tree. I don’t need a lot of branches. What struggle is satisfied by plentiful branches? But here, the elements have kept the tree to a mere two branches that have managed to survive. Does this continue the story begun at the root base? Is there dramatic tension in the way the branches plunge from their respective points on the trunk? Do the angles put into the branches show the struggle?
The final cut for today is to reduce the stub at the top of the tree. Might I have made a jin in the top of the tree? Certainly that was a choice, but I opted not to. Instead, I’m thinking of carving a shari into the top of the tree starting at the transition point. That’s a chore for next spring, along with building the apex.
Let me know what you think of this BC bonsai to be. I’ll post an updated photo at our Bald Cypress Bonsai page once the rains stop.