Ted is a great guy. I have known Ted for around 25 years. Ted began studying bonsai in 1979 in San Francisco, where he learned the basics under John Boyce. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980, where he became involved in a number of clubs and began a serious pursuit of the art, taking classes from leading masters in Southern California, including Ben Suzuki, Shig and Roy Nagatoshi, Melba Tucker, Warren Hill and John Naka.
Ted was urged to get into teaching by Melba Tucker and he started offering classes at his home in Pasadena in 1988. Today, in addition to his own classes, he maintains a busy teaching schedule, traveling to nurseries, clubs and study groups throughout the state of California and across the U.S. for workshops and critiques.
Words of Wisdom from Ted Matson
-When you get new material, study it but delay working on it until the ‘vision’ from your gut on how to style it finally hits you. When that happens, drop everything and go to town on it
-Big moments in the life of your tree are when you first collect or buy it, when you first style it, when you re-style it, and when you correct damage
-The biggest challenge of bonsai is learning the specific needs of the different species of trees and how to ‘read them’. For example, on elm trees the brown buds lighten in color and lift up when they are ready to leaf out
-To determine if elm branches are alive or dead, spray them with water; living stems will turn a greenish color. Dead will be brown or purple
-Select material that will bud back readily to give you more options and opportunities in designing your trees
-The four most important things to strive for when selecting and developing your tree are:
1) Movement (unless it is a formal upright style, avoid straight trunks and branches)
2) Taper (the trunk gets narrower from bottom to top and the branches get more narrow as they extend outward)
3) Compression (branch segments get shorter as they extend outward and truck segments get shorter as they curve upward)
4) Ramification (constantly pinch branches back to encourage more branching)
-Roots should extend out and slightly forward to ‘embrace’ the viewer
-Keep the roots buried to thicken them; you can expose just the tops of the roots when showing the tree, then bury them again
-Hide your work
-Clean out stubs to allow them to callous over
-Knob cutters are better than concave cutters because they are less likely to cause splitting
-Shrubs are basally (bottom) dominant; trees are apically (top) dominant
-Broadleaf trees in nature don’t normally have a lot of deadwood or bleached wood unless they are from a higher elevation.
-You can steam deadwood to move and shape it. Wrap it in foil, steam for 20-30 minutes. Use a torch to dry it out after you shape it.
-Get in the habit of holding your shears flat (horizontally) to focus on removing the upright growth on your trees and promoting the lateral growth.
-Eliminate coarseness and clunkiness in your branches. It’s not about the quantity of twigs, but more about their refinement
-Thin tips to avoid knob development. Rub buds off before new growth emerges
-When you first cut off a portion of a branch to promote ramification, leave the thick stub in place until the new branch thicken up; then you can shape the stub to the proper taper to match the width of the new branch
-Watch visitors, especially children, when they first enter a bonsai show. Notice which trees/styles to which they are immediately drawn. This will guide you when selecting and designing your own trees.
In 2009 Ted entered the First Annual Toko Kazari with his internationally famous 7 tree foemina group planted on a granite slab. Ted took third place in this event.
Ted with Glenn Van Winkle (Calidama, Ripsgreentree) 2012