(Left)  A rough layout top view of the landscape.  Note: the open area on the bottom left is a key view to the 360 landscape.  Without it, the viewer would never get to see the whole scene.   I also changed the name of the scene to “stars are bright” from “stary sight”.   (Right)   A side view of the proposed plan.  The tallest is in the middle for balance and that's where the trees will go.

  Introduction and concept of a 360° complex landscape:
By Ryan Chang, Journal contributing editor (Waipahu, Hawaii) 

              I've done a lot of bonsai last year from when I received my first Introductory Workshop Packages!  Then I said to myself, “I can’t wait to see how it looks in a years time”.  Now it's a year later and my bonsai soul is filled with much activity.  I feel that I’ve learned a lot, and when I see David, I'm reminded that learning never stops.  He constantly is pushing the boundaries and exploring new and exciting ways to create an American Bonsai style.  His goal for the Big Island of Hawaii to become an international bonsai Mecca is really amazing considering he specializes in tropical dwarf schefflera.  It's really coming together and you can see what is taking place and what's planned for the future.

             When you think about bonsai and when you start looking around, you have choices.  What is best for you really depends on your situation.  First you have to decide, how much effort you want to put into this hobby.  Japanese traditional requires a lot of meticulous detail and discipline. You work with older trees to refine and assemble.  If you look at an overall picture of a Japanese bonsai nursery like in many of the pictures in the bonsai magazines, you'll notice that despite the size and type of tree it is, they all pretty much look alike as they are trained upright in the single apex - tier branched "pine-tree" style.  Although beautiful, after a while it tends to get a little boring.  I didn’t realize this until after a year of doing Fuku-Bonsai’s American Bonsai.

              Chinese penjing is the original art that was practiced thousands of years ago by the aristocrats of China.  It is to me, the pinnacle of the art and later became known as bonsai when the Japanese made it popular with the West.  The Chinese are masters when it comes to landscapes and water/land penjjing.  Try googling Zhao Qingquan who is a master in the art of Chinese penjing. His work is truly inspiring. 

             In my case, I knew reaching such a level was basically impossible.  Researching these images online was breathtaking, and my thirst to learn grew immensely.  However, in America who teaches bonsai? Well, come to find out, a lot of people.  American Bonsai is really in a phase where there is really no set style because as Americans, we all do different type of bonsai.  Most Americans practice traditional Japanese Bonsai while others that claim to do American Bonsai that is really based on Japanese traditional techniques. The overall design is based upon Japanese traditional teachings.  

             To me, the difference is the overall desired outcome of the tree.  Because Japanese bonsai trains their trees in the pine-style method, a lot designs that could be achieved through artistic creativity is lost.  Instead, it becomes who can grow the best tree that looks like a set example. That is why there is competition because there needs to be a bar that other trees will be judged upon.  I think that's where American and Chinese styles are similar. 

            American style utilizing Japanese basic techniques combined with Chinese creativity leads into Fuku-Bonsai’s American style. Creativity is bustling and the outcome of the tree is determined by the thought of the grower.  There is no competition because there is no set bar to which the tree is judged. Every tree should be and is different.  Of course you can have a personal preference, but you can’t say this tree is better than the other because in my eyes if trained with care and knowledge, there are many possibilities. 

           When a person views the tree or landscape, the objective is to bring emotion to surface.  If the scene can pull a viewer into a dream state, then I know I have poured a bit of my soul into it.  Growing up, you hear about the dreamers and the doers.  I was always day-dreaming, so I guess I’m a dreamer.  That's what I find most pleasurable about bonsai is to be able to lose yourself in a scene and dream away. 

            I'm looking forward to this new year that will be full of new and exciting developments based upon last year's work.  We are moving into rock sculpturing and 360° landscape designs.  I've done a few practice smaller versions, but this is the first decent sized 360° landscape that I’m doing on my own.  Taking what I’ve learned from my recent visit to Fuku-Bonsai, I will attempt to create a scene where I draw inspiration from Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. 

           As David mentioned I work nights, so on my break, I like to wonder around my back yard in the dark looking at my bonsai I have lit up with the solar light that used to be used to light up the walk way, now I hang them from my racks so at night I can see them spotlighted.  Backlit by the island’s city lights and the stars above, this is my scene for “STARS ARE BRIGHT!"



All my left over pieces from previous sculptures.  random glued pieces that will be used in a build.  It takes patience even with the rock build.  In order for good strength, the liquid nails must be allowed to dry a bit and then make sure the bond is strong and re-apply if need to.   Dry out a few more days until it pretty much rock hard or the rock pieces don't move when you try and twist apart.  Then a layer of quick crete will be applied. 




Making use of all my sculptures, and trying to bring the best out of each one.  I chose to re-do even most of my finished sculpted rocks that were ready for plantings, but lacked the size to  give that ultimate wow factor.  This one was worked down to the point where every thing broke off, so a build was necessary.






The base is most important in the build as we all know.  So taking the time to make it strong is well worth the wait.  This is about 1 week later and its still not completely dry and hardened.  However, it is strong enough to continue building upon a few pieces.  Once hardened then a layer of Quickcrete will be applied to enhance the strength. 




          While, I am waiting on the liquid nails to dry on one piece.  I decide to start on another.  This was a medium sized rock that I completed, but always felt that it wasn’t complete.  I think I felt that way because to go even further would require taking much away, and I feel that since it was a good sized rock, I didn’t want to remove so much of it thinking that it was a waste.  Then one day it occurred to me that instead of a waste, I could use the extra pieces to build upon it.  So, the plan was to thin it out and make it useful in the landscape.  Everything needs to be reduced. 

This one is ready for Quickcrete since its strong enough and won’t be used to plant any trees on it.  However, that may change.  This was a small rock sculpted to be its own landscape, but was deemed to small for such plantings.  I took a few pieces that were already glued together and added them to the landscape and now it looks like a small mountain that draws its creativity from the “Starry Night” painting.  The goal is to get that feeling from the other pieces that will be used.




            This is the same rock in # 6.  I am still not finished.  I may remove one of the bottom pieces that sticks out, but may also leave it depending on the position of the landscape.  Note: I broke off the top part as you can see I’ve already taken steps to glue it back on.  The pieces I took off and will use to build upon it are shown here as well.  The base is now about 4.5”, but I may reduce it to around 3”, in picture # 6, the base was 6”



           An update on my builds; I’ve begun to build more than I need to give myself options.  Note: they all have pancake bases, which I find helpful.  I will have to chip away an inch here and there to bring the builds closer together, but connecting them will be no problem.  Right now, the tallest one is merely 10” tall.  I still have lots of work to do.  For pieces that like to slide off and have a hard time staying glued.  I use either bonsai wire or paper covered bind wire to hold in place.




I took the extra pieces and placed them on the current builds and that kind of gives you  an idea of what the landscape will look like.  I’m liking the black rock to the right, and I may use it for another landscape or keep it as a single rock build. 



CONCLUSION:  Starting from scratch, it all looks better as time goes on.  I can’t wait to start assembling to see how it will look when finished, but I also learned that patience is well worth it.  I'm now taking my time to make sure everything stays strong and looks good.  I think I’ll have it ready in a few months.  A lot depends on how fast the Liquid Nails can dry.   Even if it looks good, I keep my fingers crossed until it's completely finished and if all goes well, the completed version should be very strong. Another good thing about being patient is that, you will discover a needed change or modification to further improve the piece or scene!     - - - Ryan       (Ryan_A_Chang@msn.com)





As we begin a new year of publication,  there's an increased amount of collaboration amongst the editorial team,  members of the Fast-Track Study Group, and contributing writers.  This collaboration serves as a resource for ideas and input from others as we all take on more challenging projects.  Ryan lives on Oahu,  an island not known for exciting rocks for bonsai.  So he's running a lot of trials to create his own bonsai rocks by building or assembling them together by using construction adhesive (Liquid Nails). Others are using different techniques.

Learning bonsai is really logical with several basic rules for success.  These are addressed in our Beginner Study Group.  We now recommend starting with four Introductory Workshop Packages because there are two basic ways to do Sumo and two basic ways to do Roots.  Four also because when four units are sent to the same address, the shipping is free.  Once they complete the four units, they still need to master the growing of the trees to get strong growth to be able to effectively train.  Those who succeed and advance into our Fast-Track Study Group have the options to participate in specific projects or to propose custom projects and obtain assistance as needed. 

Bonsai requires time to develop and it will take many years to create larger bonsai with thick heavy trunks and there is relatively limited activity.  Rock planting and landscapes are an activity that will create exciting results because the various components are available to members of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and study groups.  We will continue to invite new Beginner Study Group members and as they graduate, invite them to participate in increasingly more challenging projects as we build a Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community!  You're invited to join us!  ~~~David   david.f@fukubonsai.com  


*** Return to the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
        ©  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2014