Just recently I had the privilege of spending an afternoon and evening with one of the old rogues of bonsai, Dan Robinson.
He is a first class orator with a quick tongue and a quick wit. A true joy to watch.
His ideas on bonsai design are controversial.
That’s an intentional understatement.
This is the tree he picked out to work on-
I had picked him up in Vero at one of my favorite nurseries, Old Florida Bonsai, and the tree came from there.
Dan is in the midst of the Bonsai Societies of Florida’s Visiting Artist program.
The Central Florida Bonsai Club hosted him on Thursday 11/12/13 (yeah, I know).
Anyway, what do I mean by controversial?
Well, first, he believes that every tree needs and deserves a deadwood feature. Whether it be a Jin, Shari or uro.
He is an old forestry man and has seen true, old growth trees and his vision of an old tree is somewhat different than the Asian ideal of trees.
It’s somewhat similar to the vision that Vaughn Banting had with his bald cypress flat top style.
Old growth trees have multiple apices, flattened tops and have almost always gone through some cataclysm (his word).
He thinks the most important aspect of the tree is the trunk and how old and gnarly (his word) it looks.
And, secondary, is the branches (which should always be wired into twisted and contorted shapes).
The last thing he is worried about is the foliage.
He says that will grow when it needs to.
His design principles are truly based on his observations of the natural world as he has seen it over the last seventy five years.
He doesn’t see scalene triangles in trees.
He doesn’t see fast taper in ancient trees.
His works are very natural, very tortured looking works of art.
He abhors the artificial hand of man being apparent on a bonsai.
I suggest to you, my readers, to pick up this book-
It is a biography of this man and his vision of bonsai.
To his work.
The tree is a bouganvillea.
It is unusual to carve on a bouganvillea.
He uses this die grinder-
And, surprisingly, not a carving bit but a router bit-
And one last unusual thing.
He performs his demo with his back to the audience. He does this solely so you can see what he is seeing and doing.
And if he’s carving, he really gets involved in his work. He doesn’t talk if the machine is running.
Now, I’ll let the work speak for itself.
As some of you may know, the wood of a bougie will rot away. He recommends a product called “Cure Rot” to preserve the wood.
I’ve used MinWax wood hardener to good results.
If you get a chance to see Dan, take it.
If you get a chance to spend time with him, do it.
Not all learning is done in a formal setting.
Thank you Dan for being you.
I’m glad we had the day together my friend.

3 thoughts

  1. I have used the MinWax wood hardener also. It works. But I do not like the sheen it leaves on the surface. I have heard there is an alternative water based product available from Ace Hardware that does not have the glossy sheen of the MinWax. I am going to investigate that.


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