When last we left our intrepid buttonwood it was in danger of molestation from that bottle of 1800 añejo tequila.
Here’s a better picture
Lets talk about straight lines.
This is a serious question I have for my readers. Why are straight lines so frowned upon in bonsai?
It’s quizzical.
“It’s too straight”
“It’s like a broomstick”
I can understand that in many instances a straight line is inappropriate in a design.
But when is it an important design feature?
Or even, when is a straight line not detrimental?
This tree technically has 2 straight lines.
The bottom trunk and the top trunk or branch (if you prefer).
The main trunk is what it is. The texture of the carving has movement in it so perhaps it’s straightness is mitigated.
The top trunk is pretty straight.
The stock, knee jerk, conditioned answer is
“That’s too straight.”
Can anyone tell me why?
I can give one reason that might come to mind: it’s not natural.
Which is an easy one to answer.
Straight lines happen all the time in trees. Start looking. Florida slash pines have a straight trunk (and at the top they go crazy). Most deciduous trees, palm trees etc. as well.
In bonsai we have a style, called formal upright, that is typified by straight lines.
Some bunjin trees also have straight lines
as well as some cascade trees.

If we are speaking art, straight lines are ubiquitous.
Guernica by Picasso
Or a Van Gogh landscape.
A horizon is a straight line. It tends to be present in most landscapes.
When we talk pure design, it is the presence of both curved and straight lines that can evoke drama, tranquility, confusion or movement.
What purpose can a straight line serve in a composition?
The two simplest answers are:
1. A line can stop eye movement.
2. A straight line will cause your eyes change direction and follow it.
Two more?
A line can also break up an image into different parts.
And it can frame a detail we want you to see
The lines keep your eye moving to the empty chair and the bottle. You didn’t even see the landscape in the crooked picture until I pointed it out. Because the direction is leading you to that chair. As are the walls and carpet.
So again, why are straight lines so abhorred in bonsai?
Do our designs have to follow some simplistic, cookie cutter templates or can we be artists and learn real design?
Ok, back to the tree.
I totally agree that that top trunk is not very aesthetically pleasing, as is.
How can I fix it?
The obvious answer is: chop it.
It will induce some taper and I can put more “movement” in whatever grows.
My son always says, when he sees this affectation, “It looks like you glued a little tree on top of a big tree.”

I could just keep it as is and grow a big canopy to hide the offending feature.
Some sketches
I could remove the whole thing and use just what’s on the left
You may have noticed I repotted it by now: from one ugly rectangle into another ugly drum pot.

I believe the trunk should stay, as is.
It’s part of the character of the tree. If I changed it, it would be like making Fran Drescher speak in a silky, sexy voice.
So what do I do?
Half of bonsai design is pruning, the other half is point of view.
First I cut it back and wire.
This branch will go
And I’ll add some wire.
Now the trick is just adjusting the angle we view it. I had thought this angle at first
But maybe a bit more clockwise
A drawing for you
The design focal point is obviously the carving on the trunk.
Therefore, every other design feature should move you towards and back to the trunk.
That dreaded straight trunk serves as fast line that moves you from the top of the main trunk to the top of the tree and the dropping branch moves you back to the bottom of the trunk. And back around.
To me, the tree feels like a preying mantis or a tall, dancing figure.
Here’s a virtual of what it will look like with foliage (and if it was a juniper)

Please let me know your thoughts on this one.
First, though, look at the whole tree.
Too many times the intermediate bonsai-ist or the old timer will look at a tree and search out its flaws before its beauty.
“Oh, look at the wire scars!”
“Where’s the apex?”
“Why’s the first branch there?”
“That’s the wrong pot!”
Try to see bonsai as you first saw them. Maybe it will clear your vision and you will begin to see the beauty of a tree in a pot again.
Which brings to mind the phrase
“You can’t see the forest for the trees”
We sometimes can’t see the tree for the little details that must be correct or its not a good bonsai.

4 thoughts

  1. How about carving a little more taper on the left, notching the straight branch on top (but on the bottom) and wiring down? This is my first critique, please don’t kick me off your mailing list.


  2. I like this tree and really like the carving upgrade. Good use of movement. One thought, could you give some rotation to that upper branch? basically turn it slightly to the viewers left?

    On a separate note, I’m heading your way later this year, is your nursery relatively close to Ocala, FL?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s