Bonsai Tonight

Where does the first branch go?

Posted in Reflections by Jonas Dupuich on April 28, 2009

At our last Bay Island Bonsai meeting, Boon had us complete one of my favorite exercises. He passes out a worksheet with the trunks of trees and has us draw in the primary branches and the outline of the tree.

drawing bonsai

Pine, Pine, Azalea, Pine? (anonymous)

It’s a super exercise that forces one to think about what variety of tree the trunk might likely represent. If the trunk has dramatic curves, will I style it like a zelkova or like a juniper?

It also forces us to consider the direction of the tree. If the trunk leans left, will the apex go left or right? Either may be appropriate, but if left, where will the key branch go?

Drawing bonsai

Pine, Cryptomeria, Pine, Maple? (anonymous)

The same goes for foliage mass. Does a tall thin trunk with subtle curves get the same silhouette as a short trunk with fast taper, or do I instead draw in a few slender branches in the bunjin style?

It’s fun to mix it up a bit – but not too much. Despite one’s drawing ability, it’s fairly easy to identify which elements look more natural than others. I can place the primary branches at the inside of every curve, but it may not produce the most natural or aesthetically pleasing effect.

Drawing bonsai

Hard at work – as solemn as you’ll see these folks

If you can’t make it to one of our meetings, you can try this by pulling out an issue of Bonsai Focus, Bonsai Today or Kindai Bonsai and tracing the trunk lines of trees that strike your fancy. Better yet, if you have books from exhibits like Kokufu, Sakufu or Gomangoku, trace these and compare your results with the masters’. Can you improve their work, or are a few more practice sketches in order?

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6 Responses

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  1. thenewgirl said, on April 29, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Hi Jonas, This was hard. I placed branches and a general outline of each tree but then I made the huge mistake of comparing myself to others and felt like I did it all wrong. When we got dear sensai’s sketches I felt much better. I didnt attempt any particular species. Being my first time I wish I was more forgiving to myself. m

  2. xwires said, on April 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Fortunately you’ll have many opportunities to work on this. And really, better to learn these lessons on paper than with a real tree!

  3. thenewgirl said, on April 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    thank you :)

  4. AlexV said, on May 3, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I dug this exercise, it made me want to start sketching again. Making a pretty picture is secondary though, heck, i drew most of my trunks with no foliage at all, just branches.

  5. Howard Smith said, on May 5, 2009 at 8:07 am

    The first time I worked with Boon in a study group, he gave us this exercise – it was very helpful not only to the students, but it also helped Boon see where we were in our styling progress. It can be quite intimidating but a very worthwhile exercise. It might be fun to do the same exercise again eight years later and hopefully see some improvement.

  6. [...] we get to see videos and slide shows, practice evaluating trees and complete various bonsai-related exercises, but the core of our bonsai theory is expressed through the talks and practice [...]

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