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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mid-America Bonsai Show 2013, Part III. Bjorn Bjorholm's styling demo.

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection
not when there is nothing left to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

     I don't know the context in which Saint-Exupéry said that; but Bjorn Bjorholm's styling demonstration at the 2013 Mid-America Show was well enough done to bring this quote to mind!

Bjorn's demo tree was a Juniperus communis collected in the wild by Andy Smith. J. communis has the largest native range of any woody plant on earth, found around the globe in the north-polar and north-temperate zones. (I was surprised to hear Bjorn refer to J. communis as a "needle juniper:" I thought that moniker was applied only to J. rigida. But I learned that it is used for any juniper that produces only the awl-like juvenile foliage.)

Please be aware: the foliage is not silver-frosted, as it appears in my pictures. That is an artifact created by my camera's flash, somehow.

Bjorn's demo tree, before work began. August 17, 2013.
This tree's greatest design challenge is evident in this picture: the long straight section of the main branch (yellow lines.) Bjorn explained that on junipers, a branch this thick can't be bent without serious risk of breaking, unless it is split first. But, on this species at least, it is difficult to split a branch this heavy in the first place! So his plan was to hide this flaw with carefully-placed foliage masses.

To no one's surprise, Bjorn styled this juniper as a semi-cascade. (As more than one teacher has said, "Let the tree tell you what it wants to be.") The tree's structure allowed a two-line cascade, with an upper trunk ("line") and a lower cascading one. There were three possible candidates for the upper line, major branches that arose from the general area of the first bend. The strongest of the three had much to recommend it, including the fact that it was leaning gently toward the viewer after Bjorn reversed the front. But its point of insertion was terrible: just above the soil line, so that its lower length blocked the view of the tree's base! So it became a jin, and the next-best candidate became the upper apex. While not quite as good as the first branch, it was certainly good enough.

Working on wiring. You can see the large jin created from the rejected upper line.

I was very impressed with the finished product! Even tho refinement will continue for several years, an arresting, self-consistent design has been well established. You can see how the straight section of the main trunk has been disguised. And I hope you can see why the above observation by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry came to my mind!

Creation styling finished. Nothing extraneous is left! The cameras come out.

   Like most demonstrators, Bjorn talked as he worked, sharing a lot of helpful information. Here are some of my notes on things he said that caught my attention.
On cascade bonsai:
  • On a semi-cascade, the lowest foliage shouldn't fall below the bottom of the pot. (Which gives a quick and simple way to distinguish a semi-cascade from a full-.)
  • On any cascading bonsai, semi- or full-, don't make the cascading branch too long: that makes it look weak. Never let the cascading branch look floppy. (This was a repetition from the evening before.)
On wiring:
  • He recommends holding wire in place with your non-dominant hand and letting it run thru the palm of your dominant hand as you wrap it, guiding it with your index finger. (Once this technique is mastered, he said, you'll be surprised at the thickness of wire that you can handle!)
  • When wiring a major branch, be consistent about wrapping the wire either before or after lesser branches. It doesn't matter which you choose -- before or after -- but make them all the same. That way, if you have to lay down a second wire beside the first, you won't have to cross wires anywhere.
  • If a branch is to be moved to the left, wrap the wire clockwise (as seen from the tip of the branch looking inward.) If it is to be moved to the right, wrap counter-clockwise. The wire will hold better.
  • The pitch of the wrapped wire can vary somewhat from the "orthodox" 45° if circumstances warrant. For instance, if the available wire is stronger than is needed for a given branch, the wraps can be spaced further apart.
From his continuing apprenticeship at Kouka-en bonsai nursery:
  • For most trees, they use a mixture of akadama, kiryu (a pumice product,) and fujizura (scoria.) Average particle size is from 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch. (Those were estimated sizes.) They do not use organics. This all allows for finer control over water and nutrient retention in the mix. (And someone please correct my spelling if I got the second two Japanese words wrong.)
  • "It takes three years to learn to water properly" -- and Bjorn has learned that this is true! Not only do different species have different watering requirement, but individuals differ within a species. There are also seasonal and daily weather changes to take into account.
  • At Kouka-en the trees are checked for dry soil four times a day during the growing season. Typically, the apprentices go out with watering cans around 8:30 AM, and water anything that needs water right then. About 10:30, they go out and check again, this time with hoses. Then around 1:30 and 3:30 PM, the same pattern is repeated. Not every tree needs water every time, or even every day; but this schedule ensures that each tree's soil stays as moist as it needs to be. (NOTE: What I first wrote under this point did not sound right to me, so I found Paul Stokes' video of this demonstration and listened to the appropriate section. This information has now been corrected.)
General comments:
  • If you split a trunk or branch in order to bend it, don't expect the wound to heal fully. It won't. Instead, plan to develop a shari there.
  • An apex that leans slightly toward the viewer not only looks inviting, but increases the impression of size and power.
  • Space out heavy work on a juniper, doing only one major operation per year.
  • Remember that raffia will suppress bud development while it's in place.
  • The first crack, when you're bending a branch, is nothing to worry about. That's the heartwood, which is biologically inactive. It's the second crack that's the "Oops!" (That's the sapwood.)

Next post: Pictures of some of the other trees in the exhibit.

(Note: Paul Stokes recorded this demonstration, and has now posted the videos on ofBonsai. To see them, start here.)

:-)  :-)  :-)

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