Bonsai by Numbers - by Howard Smith
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Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Tue Dec 20, 2005 1:06 am ]
Post subject:  Bonsai by Numbers - by Howard Smith

This thread is for discussing the article by Howard Smith: Bonsai by Numbers ... umbers.php

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Dec 20, 2005 9:24 am ]
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Bravo! You've not only embarked on the development of what appears to be destined to become a very good tree but you dealt with the obvious feature in the material in a way that has already met with favour elsewhere. In short, experience is a great teacher, but it is best to let it be someone else's experience from which we learn.

Just because a cathedral looks like a cathedral does not mean it doesn't have a unique identity of its own.

If it was a Zelkova serrata there would likely be a temptation to design a broom-style tree. Doing that might be considered colouring by numbers, in my view. The fact this trunk has a corkscrew in it should not detract from the personal, or artistic, value of the tree.

Well done, Howard.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:36 pm ]
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Terrific transformation, and the approach you took is very inspirational as to what can be done with a challenging material.

The issue of how can we use Japanese or other bonsai for our inspiration is a very complex one, the way I see it.

Would I try to copy another bonsai? Absolutely not. Trying to make your tree look like another one made by someone else is unimaginative and an exercise in suppressing your creativity.

But there is something else that these Japanese masterpieces can do. And this is priceless: they can teach us a lot about problem solving, design, and various techniques that we can use when creating our own trees. And this is a lot of knowledge.

I think Howard took the approach of learning from these masterpieces. And the result is a great one.

Thank you for this beautiful article.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Mon Dec 26, 2005 7:40 pm ]
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This is a terrific article. That's also terrific work on the juniper. It is likely that not 1 in 100 bonsai growers could have achieved that styling with the material you were presented with and not 1 in 500 would have thought to attempt it. Great concept great eyes, man.

I'm also glad you put this article together so that it champions the value of copying master works. That's such an important part of artistry and it gets short shrift from multitudes of non-artists. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gauguin, and countless other artists of historical renown spent years copying the masters and their own original works show the wisdom of that practice. I'm glad you're here to show others that same wisdom.
Nice job with this article and nice job with that juniper.

Kind regards,


Author:  David Yedwab [ Mon Dec 26, 2005 10:07 pm ]
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Great work. Learning from masterpieces .. how original .. I wish I had thought of that ... and became a teacher!!

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Dec 27, 2005 8:56 am ]
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Not only good thinking, but something that should be applauded.
Would we complain that a tree styled as Formal Upright was derivative, if it was tall and straight? There is a defined style that is to be followed.
If there are two Junipers in the world that happen to have this unusual trunk movement then the world of bonsai is richer for it.

Author:  Chris Cochrane [ Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:00 pm ]
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Nice bonsai & nice illustration of a Kokufuten bonsai.

Using the Kokufuten bonsai as inspiration for branch placement, the foliage of the new bonsai would have its lower, primary branch descending leftward toward the trunk's base. The new bonsai does not appear modeled on the Kokufuten example in that respect, so I wonder where its design choices are informed by the Kokufuten design.

Each design has its advantages. The Kokufuten choice is the more common design for creating balance.

Author:  John Dixon [ Wed Jan 18, 2006 9:20 am ]
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Great article and very nice work on the bonsai.

But Howard, it isn't what most people would consider cookie-cutter. It has good, inspiring workmanship based on traditional methods. The apex is not pointy, and the trunk is quite unorthodox in appearance. The differences between an unusual trunk line AND a more subdued foliage silhouette are brought together in a pleasing composition. Well done.

A very nice article for the forum.


Author:  Howard Smith [ Sun Jan 22, 2006 5:27 pm ]
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Thank you everyone for all the kind words.


The trunks have similar feeling to me, but they are not identical. My juniper differs in the final movement leading off into the jin in a downward motion. Also, the kokufu tree trunk changes direction, with its trunk initially moving to the left, and finishing with foliage moving to the right. My tree only moves to the right, so a lower primary branch descending leftward as you suggest seems out of balance to me. The foliage design was extrapolated, based on the feeling of the kokufu tree. This hones my point - since no two trees are identical, there cannot really be well designed, truly cookie cutter trees.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Tue Jan 24, 2006 9:35 am ]
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I think the transformation is excellent. Does it look like the masterpiece tree that was its inspiration? Maybe-----so what? It seems today that no matter which direction you go with a tree there are those that will object to it on a host of reasons.

You can do it by the numbers and be accused of what you are identifying as a "cookie Cutter bonsai". You can style it like a masterpiece tree as an inspiration from a similar piece of material and be accused of copying a master piece tree. You can do just any old thing but making certain you do not follow any of the patterns of the cookie cutter, or the master piece then find yourself in the position of having to defend the butchery of a wonderful piece of raw material.

Sometimes you just have to do what you think is the right thing to do calling on all of your experience and knowledge to make a good bonsai. If it looks like a cookie cutter or a masterpiece what is so wrong with that?
The cookie cutter is nothing more than the realization of what has worked for centuries, and the masterpiece is----well the masterpiece. If you in your vision see either or and you have the ability to make it so, don't you think you would be denying not only yourself but the art as well, if you settled for something else just because it was something else, especially if that something else looked like something the cat hacked up? Have you done justice to a fine piece of material, have you done justice to your self and have to made a positive contribution to the world of bonsai?

It is my opinion (for what that's worth) is to style the material at hand in a way that pleases you, and as Walter says, touches your soul. When you start considering choices for design and you rule out an option because it looks like this, or it looks like that, even though those options were the best you could see, have you advanced bonsai or just caved in to those who are critical of a traditional approach? This is what I am starting to think of as the Monty Python school of bonsai: And now for something completely different. Freud came to the conclusion that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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