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"Make Your Bonsai Look Like a Tree"

11/22/19

When you look at this Hawthorn by Brian Van Fleet, it's easy to imagine you're looking at a full sized tree


John Naka was a great Japanese American bonsai artist, teacher, author and font of bonsai wisdom. Like Mark Twain, another American font of wisdom, Mr Naka's words are often quoted (and no doubt misquoted ).

One of Sensei Naka's most famous quotes is "Make your bonsai look like a tree." Good advice, though there are always going to be bonsai that may only suggest a tree, but don't exactly look like one

This 'suggestion' of a tree is especially true with some carved, highly sculpted Junipers (see below), where it seems that no real attempt is made to make them look like trees
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This Japanese maple reminds me a lot of some of the massive old Sugar maples you see here in Vermont. It belongs to Walter Pall

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I'm not sure if Sensei Naka would agree with this, but if bonsai is an art, as many of us claim, then innovations like intensive carving and sculpting and other deviations from some closely held norms are to be expected. Perhaps even deviations from some of the norms set down by a brilliant teacher like John Naka

Deciduous bonsai are different from many other trees. Good ones often look uncannily like trees in nature. Especially when the trees in nature are grand old oaks or maples or other similar types that stand majestically alone on an open hillside or meadow

In these cases it looks as though the hand of man has played little or almost no part (this is often far from the truth), and it's true that you seldom see highly sculpted deciduous bonsai. They almost always look best when they mirror full sized trees

 

In marked contrast with the bonsai above, this before and after Shimpaku juniper might suggest a tree in nature, though I think you'd be very surprised to see a wild tree that looks like this, even on a collecting trip at high altitude. The artist is Naoki Maeoka. By the way, please don't think I'm criticizing this tree, I like it and admire Mr Maeoka's skill

If you'd like so see more from the three artists whose trees are shown here, we've got these links for you:
Naoki Maeoka, Walter Pall and Brian Van Fleet

 

John Naka's Famous Sketchbook

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