There are some tried and true bonsai design principles. The reason they’re tried and true is because they conform to fundamental design principles that are not strictly endemic to bonsai. Balance, proportion, perspective, positive and negative spaces, all of these are valid across the visual arts. So if we can learn and apply them to our bonsai, it’s hard to go wrong. This is a small Water-elm specimen with a trunk base of about 1″. It will, once designed, make a nice smaller bonsai not more than 12″ tall. You can see from this photo that the trunk tapers, and this automatically produces perspective. Now we have to strive for proportion and balance, and positive and negative spaces.
First I cut away all of the extra branches. The best bonsai are those that use the fewest branches possible to execute the design. For a small tree such as this one, the main body of the trunk will have only four or five branches. More would not make it better. So with the attitude of this tree slanting toward the right of the viewer, I know my first branch needs to be on the left. After that I need back and right branches, and so on until I reach the leader. You can see that I’ve trimmed away everything that does not fit with that plan.
The rest is wiring, positioning and trimming to shape, and that doesn’t take long at all. I have branches that, once they develop, will fill out the body of the tree. I have a leader emerging at the stub of the trunk, and this part (along with the lower branches, in time) I can develop using the grow and clip method. So with just a little study and then execution, I have created perspective, proportion, balance, and positive and negative spaces on this specimen. All I need to do next year is to move it to a bonsai pot and continue trimming to shape.
Here’s another specimen. It’s similar but different, as they say. There’s good trunk taper and movement, and I have plenty of branches to choose from. The first step is to visually determine where I want branches, then cut away the ones that I don’t need.
Some quick snipping, and I’m down to the bare bones which is all I need.
And now I have another bonsai in the making that has very good styling. This tree will be ready for a bonsai pot around next May or June. Let me know what you think. Has this been helpful? For those of you who are already planning your 2020 bonsai learning events, we will once again be conducting one on one workshops for both beginners as well as more advanced enthusiasts, starting in April. I’ll be announcing the schedule early next year, but if you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll put you on the list.