Where does the first branch go?
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.
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?
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.
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?