Updated: Jan 7
Many people like to go to Bonsai shows and exhibitions to see all the fantastic trees on display, but the problem is most people walking around looking at the trees at face value and miss the tireless efforts of the artist who made the composition. So what should we look at and appreciate about bonsai trees in a show? Lets take a look.
First lets take a look at the over all display area of the tree, there should be a defined display such as a 3 point display which would normally consist of a tree on a stand, a kusamono or figure on a jita and a scroll. Now this is just a normal display and not a rule to follow but if a composition does move away from this does it make sense? or is it just different for the sake of being different? There are other types of displays but this is the most common you will see but we are not going to concentrate on over all displays too much right now, This article is more about the tree composition as most smaller shows wont have large display areas.
So lets start with the stand and work our way up
Stand : When it comes to choosing a stand for a tree we need something that will compliment the tree and pot but wont over power either of them, the Tree, Pot and stand need to work in harmony. The first thing i would normally look for in a Bonsai stand is if it is masculine or feminine, Usually a masculine stand much like a masculine pot will be lower, have larger thicker legs and not a lot of negative space within the stand. A feminine stand how ever might be slightly taller ( doesn't have to be ), have thinner more elegant legs and have lots of negative space around the stand. You can imagine that on a masculine stand a big black pine with corky bark and an unglazed masculine pot would match perfect, because the stand has big thick legs and is lower to the table it looks visually more stable to hold the big tree, on the other hand if you have a well refined deciduous tree being displayed with its winter silhouette in a very shallow pot that has a light glazed colour this would look comfortable on a taller more elegant stand with thinner legs to match the shallow pot and fine twigging on the tree.
Next we have shape, What I've been used to traditionally I've started to see a shift in so this part is difficult, no matter what i say here will probably be contested but lets stick with what is somewhat " Normal " . Usually we try to avoid exact shape matching from pot to stand, but there is some nuances here that need to be discussed. Rectangle is a hard one to avoid, while there are some free form stand out there that work most of the stands you will see have a rectangle top and if you have a rectangle pot chances are you are going to shape match. But we can lessen this shape matching by trying to offset the sharpness of the corners, if the pot has sharp corners i would try finding a rectangle stand with more rounded corners, if my rectangle pot has smooth rounded corners i would utilise a stand with sharper corners. Also when we talk about taller stands for cascade and semi cascade we almost always shape match in this situation for round and square pots, sometimes for hexagonal pots as well. But for the most part generally if you have an oval pot i would avoid an oval stand, i would match it with a rectangle that has sharp features. But i have to admit displays are not my strong point so take what i say with a grain of salt.
Ok so what about stand colour, much like pots we try to make a feature stand out without making the stand over power the whole composition. So for example if you have a tree with lots of deadwood maybe you would opt in for a darker stand because it will contrast with the white of the deadwood and help make that feature really stand out. If you have a flowering tree maybe you will choose a colour that will help make the flowers pop. It is difficult with stands because they don't come in a lot of different colours, usually browns or reddish browns either light or dark.
Ok so lets move onto the actual tree composition where i can give you some better advice on what to look out for
Pot : If you have been following me for sometime you have probably at some point learnt about pot choice, but lets still go over it quickly here. I think it goes without saying just at face value we can see if a pot is good quality or not, if someone was to put a tree in a show with a cheap pot it would stand out like a sore thumb. But more importantly we need to see if the pot matches the tree and if there was any thought put into matching the pot and tree to create a single composition. Some people just put a tree in what ever they have laying around and its not a good look. So first of all, Masculine Vs Feminine, Does it match the trees Weight? Smaller slender trunks in shallower pots and Big thick dominant trunks in deeper pots. Does the bark match the Masculinity of femininity of the pot? Smooth bark in feminine pots and corky bark trees in masculine pots. And height, if it is a fairly tall tree it is likely going to lean more on the feminine side so it would be more suited to a feminine pot, where as if it is a short stocky tree it would be more suited to a masculine pot.
Ok so now shapes? This can be determined by Masculinity and Femininity of the tree as well, But also the style of the tree plays a critical role here. Lets say a literati tree for example, it would look very funny in a deep rectangle pot, Why? This is because literati style has a very thin slender trunk so a deeper masculine rectangle pot would throw off the balance, but what about a shallow rectangle pot? well this could work given the tree has some lighter foliage or a fruit or flower and the pot has a glaze, You could plant the tree to 1 side of the pot and let the apex fall in the negative space of the opposite side to where you made the planting. But most of the time you will see literati trees in either hexagonal pots or round pots with the apex falling over the rim of the pot or beyond. The reason i mention this specifically is you can see there are general guidelines for what looks acceptable but there are always nuances to this so it is up too you to use your knowledge of Pot choice to put all the dots together and see if you can get in the space the artist was when making the decision.
So what are some other things beyond making a good choice in terms of shape and colour of a pot? We want to see if the pot is fairly clean, now i say fairly clean as we don't want to polish a pot for a show because patina helps with the illusion of age, if we put an old tree in a brand new polished up pot it is this clash of brand new and fresh with well aged. rather i would suggest just giving your pots a good oil to bring out the natural colours of the pot while still leaving any signs of age. We can also determine if the tree has been over potted or under potted, neither of these look great but a tree that has been put in a pot that is way to big is very un sightly so its defiantly the worst of the 2. And also we can see if the tree has been positioned well in the pot, most people just plant their tree dead smack in the center but this doesn't always give the best look, in fact i would argue that most of the times a slightly of centered tree looks much better especially if the tree has a strong direction one way or the other.
Ok so that's part 1 of 2, next week we will take a look at all aspects of the tree it self from bottom to top.
Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.