On Bonsai Presentation

Last weekend, I attended my first meeting of the Atlanta Bonsai Society. The guest speaker was Austin Heitzman, the renowned craftsman from Portland, Oregon, and he spoke about the bonsai presentation.

Bonsai presentation

Heitzman explained why it is important to choose a stand that meshes with your tree. It it enhances the story that the piece is telling. My favorite example was a juniper that was collected while a mountain lion was stalking the collector.

Bonsai presentation

He also explained how the stand can enhance the feeling that you want to convey with the bonsai. If it is a strong, thick tree you can use stark edges and a wide base to accentuate the tree’s strength.

Bonsai presentation

Or you can use delicate detail to highlight the intricate foliage.

Bonsai presentation

I really appreciate bonsai because of the attention to every little detail. Nothing is too unimportant to ignore with your tree. It resonates with me for the same reason that I like to write screenplays and shoot films.

I’ve heard people say, “What is the big deal with bonsai? They are just tiny trees,” and what I think they miss is the storytelling aspect. To me, bonsai is minimalistic storytelling at its finest.

 

The Summer of Bonsai

This summer I purchased a starter tree from a nursery. I have a vague memory of walking through a mall as a very young child and seeing a display with one or two trees. Bonsai has captured my imagination since that first encounter.

I had a starter tree once before, but it died from neglect, so I was determined to get it right this time.

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It's still alive! #bonsai

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Despite keeping the tree alive, there was still a disconnect. I read a book on the subject of bonsai care and aesthetics, then started to view the activity more as an art form than as a time suck.

The central tenet of bonsai is naturalism. You shouldn’t see the artist’s touch when you look at the tree. This seems paradoxical becuase you are shaping the tree through cutting, wiring, and stunting the growth.

Bonsai
Classic Styles

I started studying the art form in my spare time. Gradually, I gained more knowledge and became more confident.

To me, the scariest thing about bonsai is the wiring of the tree. I’m afraid that I will snap the branches or worse, the trunk. However, wiring is where the true artistry of bonsai comes into play.

Rather than going withthe present moment, I struggle against the task and contort myself unnaturally under the self-imposed stress. I want perfection. I know intellectually that bonsai aesthetics require naturalism and asymmetry, but I want perfection.

 

It came together when I saw this video of a man creating a bonsai out of a Chrismas tree. The tree was plucked from a local nursery and it was transformed into something special.

bonsai

I went outside and re-wired my tree. I was mystified. It looked so much better from a simple perspective shift. The tree was imperfect, but that’s what made it beautiful. 

Bonsai

My tree finally look right. It looked like a bonsai! A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could get more trees.

Thia breakthrough helped me look at all of my other projects in a new light. The perfectionism had tainted what would have otherwise been cause for celebration. Being so fixated on what I wanted, I overlooked the beauty of what I had.

bonsai

I hope to take the lessons I hae learned through practicing bonsai with me. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys nature and reflecting on one’s day!