Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Study of Shapes for Bonsai

Pine in winter makes a neat literati model
By Michael Rusnak
Many bonsai sources point to nature as inspiration for bonsai--as well as models for styling a project.  So while this winter has left many of us in North east Ohio wondering if we'll be growing anything but icicles, and with our hardy trees tucked away, there's not all that much for the enthusiast to do.

Still, there is one thing that Northeast Ohio is famous for in the winter-- its eternally gray skies.  About November each year the gray curtain above us closes, and pretty much stays that way for the next several months.  The gray covering is infamous as a contributor to our seasonal depression as well as our deficiency of vitamin E.

The upside is this-- the gray sky is an ideal neutral and uncluttered background for study tree shapes.
Nice neatly rounded crowns

Often you can spot the oldest trees from a distance.  The neatly rounded crowns, curved umbrella-shaped outlines, or even flat tops in some species illustrate what the bonsai artist is attempting to achieve. These natural specimens show us the way. Plus the branching can be easily seen without a lot of clutter and interference.

When someone new to bonsai attempts to style a new project, it can quickly become apparent that creating a believable apex is is a skill
Apple tree in Ohio school yard
in itself.   Such apexes can help you visualize how your tree will look after a few years of training.

Similarly, the angular directions and down ward turns of old branches provide a details on what
to keep in mind for wiring.  It is also interesting to see just how amazingly intricate the ramification can become in a full sized tree. Something to emulate.

Also, I enjoy looking at the amazing shapes that some individual limbs can take on.  The very old oak tree pictured at right is an example. Look closely at the lower limb on the left.  The wonderful and abstract shape of this lowest branch tells a story of survival, survival of many storms of many seasons.  Still it endures.

Another opportunity to study shapes comes with travel.  And in a few past winters, I've been lucky enough to be in other parts of the country.  I put two photos below-- one from Washington DC where this amazing weeping cherry showed its structure in one of the town squares.
If you are lucky enough to be in Florida or Georgia in the winter, don't forget to take notice of the flattened tops of the bald cypress groves.  They can be seen from miles, lording over the young trees.  

Winter cherry  in Washington D.C.

Flattened crowns of mature Florida bald cypresses

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