How often have you sat staring at a pre-bonsai specimen, wondering what the heck to do with it? You’re certainly not alone. Even seasoned pros sometimes have to study at length before the design becomes apparent. I always counsel that the trunk of your tree is where everything begins. Is it stout, or feminine, or hunky, or gnarly, or curvy? There’s infinite variety out there, and it’s a sure bet that along the way trees will catch your eye that produce an immediate “Ah ha!” kind of reaction. As you get more experienced making bonsai, it does get easier to see the bonsai in any given piece of material. You never get past being stumped on occasion; but it’s really nice when you know just what to do.


This is one of those cases where “Ah ha!” happened pretty quickly for me. As I studied the tree, I just saw a spreading bonsai that was less tall that it was wide. “Low-slung” came to mind. And for this sort of tree, you need a shallow tray to pot it in. I happened to have this Shawn Bokeno oval on the shelf, and it was just the right size.

Speaking of size, can you tell how big this tree and pot are? Well, the tree is only about 12″ tall from the soil surface. The pot is 6″ wide and only 1″ tall. Isn’t that something?


So, in case you were having some difficulty seeing where this tree might be going, here’s a better way to view it. You can’t see in this photo that the base of the trunk emerges from the soil in a curve that continue on up into the trunk. When you see angles like these, you’ll also see the harmony that either exists on its own or that you can create or enhance. In this case, I’ll be using wire to enhance the curviness of the trunk and major branches.


Now the unneeded branches have been trimmed. It’s easier to see in this photo what the ultimate design is going to be. As you gain experience making bonsai, you’ll be able to see these designs almost immediately in your material. Then it’s just a matter of cutting away the stuff you don’t need and wiring the rest.


Now the wire is on, and the shape of this bonsai-in-the-making is just about done.



Potted and given its finished shape (for today).

The long branch on the right can stand a bit of trimming, and this will happen as the tree recovers from today’s work.

But the important thing to take from this sequence of photos is the process of going from raw material to potted tree. I “saw” this design as I studied the raw material. The important thing about this is it only left me with some training techniques to perform. Ultimately, when we make bonsai our job is to spot the design in the material and bring it to fruition. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always happen on the first go-round. But with time and practice, that happens more and more frequently.

Let me know what you think of this neat bonsai-to-be.