Artist Spotlight; David Nguy – California Juniper   1 comment

The Fresno Bonsai Society sponsered David Nguy (pronounced “Nwee”) for an all day workshop and a demo with a California Juniper that would be raffled off at the end of the day. This was a very good workshop as I learned many new things aout these junipers that I did not know before. While the design aspects of the demo were much the same as I do already, what really got my juices flowing was the out pouring of tips and technique on the species aspect of the tree. Most of these ideas also apply to all junipers and make life so much easier when it comes to styling one of these thing from bare bones.

This juniper while supplied by David was not dug by David. Since most of the junipers he had, over 200, most were too large for a raffle or had not been sitting long enough to have the work applied to them yet. He purchased this tree for our raffle and since it was smaller it fit better within our budget. The tree had some work done on the deadwood already but this part was not exactly up to Davids standards. The deadwood had been worked on with power tools and looked like a 1/4 dremel bit had been used to apply grooves and holes all over. Not very natural looking. David would take care of this part soon enough.

David has studied with everyone in Southern California and most recently with Masahiko Kimura. He studied there while Ryan was there and some of the stories he enlightened us with were very entertaining. Any club in California would benifit with a weekend with David. He comes highly recommended.

So lets get to the demo. As I type away at the keys, I will italicise the parts that were new to me. I may have heard of some of these things but had really never seen them used in practise. David started out by explaining about the base of a tree and why we search for parts of the tree that are better than others. Of course roots play an important role in this decision, it is an accepted fact here as well as in Japan that nebari on a collected tree from nature will not always have the most pleasing roots. It is best to try and pick the part of the trunk base with the best flare and show the widest part of the trunk. During this decision branches that are eye pokers or bar branches should best be removed so as not settle for a lessor part of the base in order to keep branches. By removeing the offending branches from the beginning, it will actually be easier to make use of whats left rather than fight trying to make use of branches that play a minor part of the design. Other branches can always be bent into voids to help convey the design.

David has propped this tree up on blocks to get an approximate design angle for what might become the finished angle. The first thing that is noticed is that all the mass of deadwood at the base blocks the view of the trunk ascending from the soil. In order for us to see this, it will be necessary to reduce the visual mass of the jin to see that area.


He turns the plant so we can see all the deadwood blocking the view. All of this will have to be reduced. For the first hour of the demo David had a huge pair of trunk splitters for reducing all this wood.






Large bites with the trunk splitter made the jins reduce very quickly. Smaller bites for refining.


He now begins to reduce the large jin on the back of the tree. This branch was about two inches thick.


All the deadwood can now be covered with his hands. It is more compact and the deadwood is more in balance with the size of the tree. It now is a supporting player and not such a dominate force.



Now it is time to talk about juniper foliage. In the past…..

junipers were kept in control by pinching, and at some point trimming with scissor. This pinching would always turn brown and look terrible. Juniper foliage clouds would be sculpted by pinching the outline to keep all the tips the same length. While this looks amazing right after it is done, it still looks crappy in a week. Also junipers were pruned back in the hopes of stimulating new buds. What this does is stall the plant. What is better is to prune away all the foliage and keep the strong tips, building density with overlapping layers of foliage. A branch is shortened by reducing the foliage back to the secondary branching or in some cases all the way back to the primary branch.

(This will be shown in detail later)


David explains that this tree has nearly double the amount of foliage it needs to accomplish the design idea.


What he will do is remove all the foliage from the last two years. Most of the time a juniper will keep green foliage for about two years and the three year old foliage is that which will turn brown. All David wants to deal with is the strong one year old foliage.

This seems funny since removing all this foliage makes the tree look very pom pom like. It seems to go against all that is bonsai by retaining more foliage closer to the trunk rather than have all this leggy foliage.




In the middle is an interior shoot full of old foliage.


After reducing all the old growth we have a branch that is nude for half its length and then a tuft of very vigorous foliage out near the tip.


Here is a section that has been cleaned out. I have been cutting off too much of the strong growth in the hope of forcing new growth in closer. Davids approach is to always be working with new growth and cover the leggy part with sucessive layers of foliage.



David uses only copper for wiring and gets his copper from Japan. He says that copper in the USA has hard and soft spots. The Japanese anneal wire by rotating the wire as it anneals rather than put it all in the fire at once. His wire was so soft, I have never seen wire like this. He unrolls the wire carfully and cuts it into 3 foot lengths . These are stored in PVC tubes that allow one to knock around the wire but not harden it by bending.



David demonstrated how to wire even though most of us were already good at wire. He did show me this that I didn’t know which I have been guilty of many times and just didn’t know it. Everyone knows how to wire two branches with one wire by splitting it over a wye in the branch. The hint is: make sure that when bending a branch down, start the loop on the bottom of the wye. If bending the branch up start the wire on top of the wye. What happens is if you start on the top and bend the branch down, the fulcrum has nothing to apply purchase to.


It will just rock up and not have any holding power.

Sounds simple, but I know I have done this before. I just didn’t know it and was pissed that my wire did not hold.


David wires every branch and was using some very small wire. Down to about 18 gauge copper. Thats pretty small wire.


David begins working on the apex, and working it around twisting and foreshortening it to achieve a fuller apex.


Just a tad short and needed a chair to wire the top. He said Kimura makes all his apprentices work on trees by kneeling and adjusting ones body up and down to achieve different levels on the tree. No getting on ones feet or chairs.

That guy in the background must be thinking “Man, I wish I owned that tree.”




Davids finished first styling. He said this tree will respond well because the work was minimal and that it should be rewired next year.


Wow! He was the lucky raffle winner after all. Congratulations Greg Wynn.


One response to “Artist Spotlight; David Nguy – California Juniper

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  1. Great day learned a lot. Nice pics Al .Thanks again for your craftsmanship on my stand.

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