Last month, we switched gears and turned our attention, (yours and mine), towards saikei. Having little experience on the subject I was asked to take us all on a journey. Therefore, we have our work cut out for us. The first step, as it is in Bonsai is the planning stage. This month we will work a plan David came up with that originated from my 360-degree rock project. I would hate to let a good design go to waste even though it does not fall into traditional saikei. This month I will cover ideas on the basics for developing a plan, which we will take all the way to completion in later issues of this Journal.
Yes, like bonsai saikei has styles and rules. I guess this is a good place to talk about rules.
These rules or as I like to say guidelines, are in place to help us create a more interesting composition that appeals to a larger audience. My feeling is, you are the artist, it is your composition, and you have to be the one who loves it. Why not make it the way you want, it is your vision after all. I personally try to follow the established guidelines. However, I will not panic because every branch is not exactly, as the rules\guidelines say they should be. In addition, more bonsai artists are moving toward designing their compositions to reflect a particular species natural growth habit.
For example, Elms do not normally have branches that resemble clouds like the ones you would find on a pine type bonsai. Elms and many other deciduous trees naturally grow into more of a modified broom style. David also takes the natural growth habit approach with the True Tropical indoor dwarf schefflera (except when he's creating "Hawaiian Dragons"). For my work, I will try to follow the established guidelines for saikei but, more times than not, I will wonder trying to piece this puzzle together. I hope it will be a fun ride and look forward to your feedback and designs.
Over this past month, I have been trying to gather as much information as I can about saikei. One article I came across stated that saikei is the easiest of the bonsai art forms to achieve satisfactory results, with the least amount of effort, time and knowledge. Sounds like David found the right person for this job.
I found that saikei has five major fundamentals that also seem to apply to bonsai and penjing. I will describe each starting with FLOW. All of the elements in the composition have to look like the same natural forces such as, wind, water, and snow acted upon them all. For example, if your composition has jagged rocks and distorted trees with lots of jin, then a straight lush green tree might look out of place.
Compositions need to provide the viewer with some visual STABILITY. Bonsai, penjing, and saikei provide this stability by placing the compositions center of gravity 1/3 of the way from one side of the container. The movements, size, and color of the plants and rocks all affect the visual stability of the composition and should be taken into consideration.
The next fundamental on the list is SCALE. If you have been practicing the art of bonsai or penjing you are all too aware of the importance of scale. An example that comes to mind is using an English Oak for a bonsai with a trunk the size of a pencil. One leaf would be four to five times larger than the trunk is thick.
A composition has to invoke INTEREST on the part of the viewer. Otherwise, what is the point of creating the composition in the first place? You are trying to convey a message or feeling to the viewer. Now is the time to catch their interest and pull them into what you see in your head and heart.
The article I was reading did not mention another fundamental that needs to be added. Compositions should look three-dimensional, so DEPTH is my addition to the list. If you have been doing bonsai for a while you have an idea how that is accomplished, painters also employ these concepts. Bonsai, penjing and saikei also manipulate the eye and mind with the careful placement of objects. Ever notice in a forest planting usually the largest plant or rock grouping is closest to you. The smaller trees are set behind this first group to give the appearance of size and distance. Usually there will be a third set of rocks or trees that are somewhere between those closest and furthest from you.
Now onto designing our first project utilizing a teaching protocol pioneered by Saikei master Toshio Kawamoto in Tokyo in the 1960's and 1970's. I will be utilizing a design I had started and desperately needed David to salvage during our 360-degree rock project.
EVOLUTION OF MY WORKING PROCEDURES
During the process of using my rocks like chess pieces, a few issues continually occurred. If the design needed to change, I would have to cut out another sheet of oval paper. The other important issue was knocking over the rocks and risk damaging them or my marble slab. David suggested I make “footprint” patterns of the largest stones and the plants. Now we have puzzle pieces to move around instead of moving the actual rocks and plants. Then we could save the plants and rocks for when we have an interesting plan, and want to bring in the rocks and plants for a peek, to see how the composition would look.
At that point, we could make adjustments to maximize the visual impact of the plants and rocks. If you noticed the 30, 60, 90-degree triangle on the two layouts in the background in the above picture, then you noticed a tool David shared with Ryan and me in February. Since three element arrangements whether they are rocks or trees are the hardest to compose. Using this approach with the 30, 60, 90-degree triangle keeps our compositions from looking flat and gives them depth. The plan calls for us to place the center of gravity of the anchor stones (1, 4 & 5), at the points of the triangle.
Now with the puzzle pieces, changes in the layout and design are much simpler and faster. This is the same layout as above but now no rocks to damage. You can see in the second photo I had to correct my placement to line up with the 30, 60, 90 triangle. Also, notice I maintained the straight sides of the rocks along the same parallel path as the diagonal lines in the design at the beginning of this article.
This is the same layout but the island (rocks 5 & 6), are moved closer to the main grouping. This was an option in case we had to utilize a smaller pot. Originally, this design was going to be two separate concrete islands that could be moved closer together when I utilized my 12 X 24 inch marble slab for other compositions. This arrangement should fit nicely into my 17 X 12 X 2 inch oval pot. After further review of these photos, I noticed what would be the visually heaviest part (main rock group) of this composition is not quite far enough right. Remember visual stability was one of the five elements in a good saikei design. Bet you did not know there was a quiz.
Now that we have experimented with the puzzle pieces for the rocks, now let us add the plants.
You can see from this overhead shot, I have added the puzzle pieces for the trees and moved the major rock grouping to the far right 1/3 of the display pot. The design is shaping up nicely. Can you imagine what this would look like with rocks and trees?
Here it is, in the first photo we have the rocks standing on their respected puzzle pieces, ready for the addition of the plants. The second is the same layout from an overhead prospective.
The three photos here are the front, top and back views of this composition with wood blocks to give an approximation of the overall height. I can see that from the photos the smaller trees need to be refined. Which by the way is a subject Ryan and David are covering this month. The smaller plants need to have their leaf sizes reduced because those are out of proportion (scale) to the largest tree in the composition.
I think from the front the heights and spacing works well, but the back is a different story. While I can see the trees from the front “peeking” out, the tree on the small island needs its placement adjusted so it will also be “peeking” out. This could be corrected by allowing the plant to grow further to the left when viewed from the front. One of the fundamentals I spoke of earlier is not being adhered too. I am sure David will see more, I can see one. I will give you a hint it is flow. Can you see where the flow of this composition is divided from the front view photo? I will give you my guess later in this installment.
In another break through this month, David has revised the methods used for the 1:10 projects, using cut down nursery containers instead of Plexiglas. The plant is still tied down as flat as possible, just like when it was on the Plexiglas. The cut down nursery containers are easier to cut and less expensive than Plexiglas. It also has the advantage of having sturdy walls versus softer keto-tsuchi to keep the soil in place when moving the plants around. David asked if I could get the 7-inch roots bonsai I planted on Plexiglas last month planted per these new guidelines. I thought I would give it a shot.
I believe my results were successful and if a cut down nursery container was a better and less expensive way to achieve the same results. Then my hydro pots cut down to the right height should be even better. These pots should still allow the tree to grow into the soil media of the composition, or my “mix and match” True Indoor Bonsai storage/travel container. This would allow the tree to extend its roots and insure it stays “happy and healthy”. Rewarded we were with these fresh roots extending out past the hydro pot. I thought it would be a few months, not weeks, before I would see growth like this.
With a little time and using the refinement practices that Ryan and David cover, the leaves on my smaller tree should reduce to the size of my 7-inch roots pictured above.
It has been a busy month. Spring has finally sprung in Michigan. My outdoor temperate climate trees required repotting. They have all leafed out, so happy to see the green. The nights here have also warmed to above 55 degrees, and my tropical & True Indoor Bonsai have graduated from my 600-watt metal halide grow light to the fresh air and sunshine. Remember when bringing indoor plants outside for the summer to take at least a week or two to “wean” them onto sunshine. While some of my trees were directly under my light, the sun will still scorch the leaves. Slowly increase your plants exposure to natural sunlight daily. I know this seems a tedious task but your trees will rewarded you.
Next month, I will get the wild junipers and a few miniature nursery plants I bought into cut down hydro pots, and collect some local rocks, so they will be ready to use in new designs. Also, I'll continue with the design I have been working with and maybe start on a design provided by you! Please email me if you have designs to try or comments or suggestions regarding this article.
Best regards, - - - Jay (Bonsaijay@outlook.com)
SOME CLOSING COMMENTS FROM DAVID
The editorial team is moving in a number of different directions that may seem chaotic, but really makes a lot of sense. Bonsai is complex and each part of the team supports and assists others. Jay has had amongst the most challenging assignment to work with rocks available in Michigan and it required a lot of really hard work and power tools! He put so much work into creating the individual pieces that it really seemed a shame that if he planted it using standard bonsai methods the he would have just one result. So being able to create a range of designs became the goal.
But Jay's trees were mainly in the growing on stage and would not photograph well in his photo trials so I sent him a 7" Roots that had been a part of a 1:10 Project that reduced the size of the leaves and this worked well. Besides exploring different landscape designs, Jay has the challenge of reducing the size of the Dwarf Schefflera leaves.
Jerry Meislik wrote a nice piece discussing the movement to smaller size bonsai which is closely related to panoramic scale landscapes --- but also mini bonsai. In a year and a half Ryan has made amazing progress in learning the basics, obtaining good optimum growth and was about ready to make the next major move in his bonsai education --- to learn the basics of REFINEMENT. So as he starts to master this major bonsai challenge, what better way to learn but to write an introduction to help to teach others (and to prove he has a basic understanding of his next stage of learning bonsai!
As Jay was struggling with his hard Michigan feather rock, I was exploring ways to obtain some more easily carved Oregon pumice and was successful with a small article that's a bit related to Jay's situation. Hope everyone is enjoying the bonsai adventures! ~~~David