Archive for the ‘Literati’ Tag

The Bunjin Form   Leave a comment

My Thoughts on Bunjin.

By Jim Osborne

“Bunjin is probably the most miss-understood of all the bonsai styles. Actually, it is not really a style at all but more of a feeling. All good bonsai should evoke some feeling in the viewer, and this is especially true with Bunjin. In most other styles, you look at the roots first, then the trunk. In Bunjin, you look at the trunk, the branches and roots come second. Bunjin is all about the trunk, in other words, the line of the tree.

Bunjin can trace its beginnings back to China, over 1,300 years ago. One can easily see a kind of abstract shape in Bunjin, which brings to mind the art of calligraphy and landscape paintings of the Southern School of China. I learned that the men, who painted in this way, were from the ruling class and turned their backs on the government and courts in order to dedicate their lives to things like poetry, philosophy, calligraphy and painting. They sought freedom for the individual man of culture. These men became known as the “Literati,” meaning educated ones. The literati felt that in their wild landscapes the entire man was revealed, even more than the mountains he painted.

Bunjin bonsai reflects this freedom. In other bonsai styles crossing branches or trunks would be considered incorrect. In the Bunjin style, such crossings are not only permitted, but it can give a powerful tension and drama to the design of the tree. Look at the landscape paintings of the literati. Crossing branches, and odd twists and turns of the trunk are prominent features of their work.

According to Frank Nagata, former dean of the Southern California bonsai masters, “Bunjin is the last of the bonsai styles for the student to appreciate.” As I’ve stated, Bunjin is not really a bonsai “style”. There are few rules, and everyone makes what they feel is right. However, if it’s not done correctly, the tree just looks funny. Therefore Bunjin is very difficult to do.

It is even hard to describe what makes a Bunjin bonsai, because it is more of a sprit that invests the tree than some thing physical. There are some rules however. The most important of which is that the trunk is tall and slender with little or no taper, and it is never straight. The trunk should have interesting twists and turns. In some Bunjin, the apex can be a 180 degree turn in the trunk itself. The branches on Bunjin are asymmetrically arranged and few in number. The first branch being, in most cases, two thirds up the trunk and sparsely greened. Most Bunjin have very little or no surface roots at all.

My bonsai friends and people who know me know that Bunjin has long been my favorite style. I do not really know why this is. Perhaps, it is because of the true freedom that one can enjoy when creating a Bunjin bonsai. I do not have to concern myself with all the rules of the more conventional styles. With Bunjin, I am free to create as I see fit, as long as I take into mind the sprit of the tree. I have found that with Bunjin, you either love it or are indifferent to it. Most people look at a Bunjin and don’t see too much. They think that it must be easy to create, because of the simplicity of the design. Whatever the reason for my love of the style, it gives me great pleasure to create and enjoy them.

People often ask me what is the difference between a Bunjin bonsai and a literati bonsai. Nothing, they are one and the same. New-comers to the art of bonsai learn about the heaven, earth, and man triangle and the arrangement of the branches; first branch second branch, back branch, ect. Then, just when they are beginning to feel sure of themselves, they see a tree that breaks all the rules, and they feel uncomfortable. They don’t like it. When the novice no longer has to think about the rules in bonsai, then maybe they will at some point develop a taste for Bunjin. It has been said that Bunjin or literati bonsai is the most sophisticated of all the bonsai styles and sometimes the uninitiated may see them as artificial.

The great John Naka says this about Bunjin. “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however, it’s conformation is simple, yet expressive. No doubt it’s most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

What type of pot can be used for Bunjin? As with the style itself, less is more. A round, drum, or a nail head pot could be a good choice for the Bunjin bonsai. Another good selection would be a natural-looking crescent or boat shaped pot. In most cases, the pot will seem somewhat undersized. As in any bonsai, the tree and pot must harmonize with each other. The same rules for color and glaze apply to Bunjin as in any other design.

Thinking about trying to create your own Bunjin bonsai? What type of plant material can be used? Just like other bonsai, you have many choices. The most often used material is some type of pine, because they can be found growing in nature in a Bunjin style. Juniper would be another good choice, but really you are only limited by your own imagination. Whatever you choose, it should be a material that will allow the harsh pruning and sparse foliage that is the hallmark of Bunjin. It should also be something that does well in our Western climate. Bunjin are mostly grown in small pots, which is something to consider in the heat of our summers.

I love this style. It is a challenge to create, and I find that it epitomizes the very sprit of what we as bonsai artist try to create. Bunjin is about the struggle for survival against great odds. It has great age, and displays fantastic movement, and as such, great drama. It tells a story. It surely evokes a feeling in the viewer. It clings to life, year after year, despite itself, in the most adverse conditions. What is not to love about this wonderful style? What more could one want from a bonsai?”

I have found the form very intriguing and began dabbling with Bunjin in about 2012. It is rather difficult to perfect the form and it takes the perfect material to be successful.

I few of my own.


Shohin Cork Bark Elm   3 comments

This small elm is from Muranaka Bonsai Nursery. The trunk is formed using the embedded wire method of obtaining larger trunked small specimens faster. The corking is well formed and the taper is really nice. A small bunjin type canopy with a verticle drop branch is the future.DSC_00080001

Some first wire and cut back. The large leaves have been cut in half by folding.

Beth: The trunk is made by wrapping a small wire around a matchstick size whip and bending into a shape before planting in the ground. As the tree grows the wire cuts into the bark and eventually becomes embedded into the trunk as it has in this tree. The photo shows where the wire wraps are. If you compare that photo with the first it is easy to see where the wire is.

DSC_00780001 red


Catching up around the yard   2 comments

This is my first spring since my wife was down for a year with cancer. I did not spend any time in the backyard and just watered trees. As the radiation was over last July I was able to catch up on a few things bonsai related but much of the damage was done and I would be playing catch up for a while. Over the winter I was able to repot and get some unfinished business out of the way like pruning and styling of a few trees that had never looked like much.

So this is the fruit of my labor. Still have a ways to go but most stuff is caught up now. Still looking for a place to put trees under construction, but that a never ending job. Lets have a look around the backyard.


There are 30 shohin on the bench right now with about 12 more coming soon (two or more years). An assortment of elms, pines and tridents still to come




This California juniper is now in its second year in the grow stones and it has never looked better.



Ghidorah -1 gat some trimming, a repot into a nice Chinese round Literati pot and a good painting of lime supher.


Took this tree to the club meeting yesterday and cleaned and oiled the pot, cut back the moss and applied some black/red sifted lava around the moss to dress the top. Some light pruning and wire and I’m done for a couple months.


Well these two are just growing. They both need help.


Two recent aquisitions, The Maple last Nov. and the giant cork bark elm a couple months ago.


The above maple, Oshio Beni is now making leaves. Ther are unfolding each day and I am excited to see the red leaves finally. After thirty one years of bonsai this is the first red leved maple.


It is pushing very hard and the buds out of the old wood show that.




The Muranaka pine is sending candles out now.


Crepe mrytle I purchased last week. Leaves come out red and then turn copper finally green


The elm root cutting are sending green buds skyward. Leaves are beginning to form and next year training will start on more shohin trees.






This small 3 inch tall pine from Ed has candles already 14 inches long.


I have two hornbeam shohin and both are getting ready to unfurl the leaves.


The ole miss, looking great this year.



California Juniper – Twin Trunk 2002   Leave a comment

This juniper was dug in Mojave in 2002. The tree had done very well producing new roots almost immediately. In and around 2004 the tree received its first wire. During this time the tree had its two apex jinned. A large shari was cut on the front of each trunk from a suitable jin on the trunk as an extension of a disaster some time in the past. Shortly after this period, with in a couple of years, I lost interest in the material. The shari’s of course looked too contrived, the jinned tops looked hokey and the whole thing was not to my liking. I could not realize my model for the tree. Maybe it was due to not enough branching, not enough foliage? I don’t know, but in the back yard it sat. For 10 years.

This is a cool shot of the mountain I got the tree from. This mountain is covered with juniper. Many are as large as a VW bus and larger, and some are as small as a bread box, but really hard to find.


This was the tree growing in the wild before digging. I knew it had a double trunk and was happy when I seen it.


As I began digging around the tree it was good to find some smaller roots at the soil surface. Roots like this can ensure 100% survival with good after care.


The root ball was prized up and out of the hole. A root ball like this with field soil will weigh close to 75 to 80 pounds due to the granite and clay.


The soil is knocked off the root ball and bare rooted. It is then packed with sopping wet long fiber moss and sealed in shrink-wrap.



The tree is planted into a wooden box I made before leaving for Mojave. It is planted in 3/8 black lava and sand.


In 2004 after some good growth I decided to prune it down. It was too tall and I decided to jin the tops of each trunk at this time.







I wanted to pull the top left trunk more to the right so added this fulcrum and a guy wire.





It’s Thanksgiving 2014,  ten years later, and time for a new direction. The tree is pulled from the weeds and cleaned up for some new work. This is one of those trees that is sitting around and not earning its keep. Everyday since 2004 I water the tree, “did you look for a job today”? “Are you still looking for a job?” Nothing, the tree just sits there, taking my water and using my fertilizer and has given nothing back…wait, maybe it has.

The tree has rewarded me with long shoots to play with. It is very healthy and all adult foliage. There are many cones beginning to set on the tips of many of the branches.


Lots of the old wire is left on the tree from past work. A mixture of copper and aluminum still in the tree. Some had swelled over it but most was still OK.




In 2004 this was the apex of the tree and there was nothing green above it. Now everthing green is above the jin.




The real work starts be sawing off the branches not needed. The trunks are long and thin and tall. There is only one course for this tree…Literati


Now I am down to about as far as I wish to take it. I feel now that this is the new bones of the tree and anything I do will have to be made with whats left.


Here are couple close-ups of each canopy. These are what I will wire and style.




Here are some closeups of the shari’s. They are really nice now. Ten years have done them good. The live veins have swollen and made them look pretty natural. All of the shaggy bark has been removed exposing the red layers below. During removal of the bark I found black widows up the wazoo, beetles of some kind, potato bugs, earwigs and some slugs down low near the soil.






This is the work station all set up.


Wire, tools, and a chair…which I never sat in.


I started putting on the wire before I got tired and started running out of time. My wife called for me to mash the potatoes, now I know its time to eat. Screw bonsai I got a turkey to eat.



I will continue this saga on Saturday when I can resume my wire for the day……

Edit: I was not able to work on the tree right away and had to come back to it over the weekend and into Monday. I did finish it and this is what the first styling done in ten years brought forth.





Restyle of a average juniper.   1 comment

I purchased this prostrata juniper last year at the Fresno Bonsai Society annual exhibit. It was donated and sold off in a silent auction. My final bid of $140.00 took the tree. I had a plan for it. It would sit for a year till I could do the work.

Today I did the work. It is a first styling in this form. Very much different than it looked before.



I began by sawing branches off the tree that would not be part of the overall form. The trunk is tall and thin and the full canopy looked goofy for this thin tree. It was also very large making the tree very top-heavy visually.



I left the second branch on the right and kept removing side branches untill I had just the very top of the tree left.


Still needed to trim out a couple more. Now I am ready to start the design process. When starting with raw material such as this it pays to have the design etched firmly in your mind before starting. This tree has been on the bench for a year and I knew before I ever cut a branch off whar was going to stay and what I was going to cut off.


I left all the stubs about 1.25 inches long to turn into jin stubs. I may remove them in the future but for now they help convey some age. As the stub was reduced with angle cutters and a pair of pliers, I allowed some of the bark to tear down and leave a small shari here and there.



The first branch would take a drastic bend to get it into the correct position. It would need to be pulled down over four inches. The branch is 5/8 inch across and pretty damn hard. I prepared a copper guy wire and wired this clamp on the tree with the end over the branch. I had to wire the clamp to the tree because it would not open far enough to get to the jin to clamp against. ( note to self, get larger clamp).




I kept pulling the trigger of the clamp until I finally heard the branch give way. Of course it was a snap, what did you think, its big and hard and I had about 50 pounds of pressure on it.


I use some drip line tubing for the guy wires. I use very small copper wire for the guy wires. It is very strong and barely noticeable when viewing the tree.


This is the branch pulled down and thinned. Some of the smaller unneeded branches are turned into jins.





A small dowel in between the wires and twisted makes a very nice looking guy wire.



Here is the first branch wired and the twigs still needing some tweaking for position.


The next branch up was done in the same way using the clamp to pull them down and having the guy wire ready to hold the branch in place. It takes about 10 minutes to get it all ready with prepping the wire, positioning the clamp and tying the wire.


This second branch pulled away from the trunk at the top. As long as the opening is not larger than 1/3 the diameter of the branch, all is OK.



Once the guy wire is in place I super glue the wood in the gap and apply green goo for sealing up the gap.



Here is the green goo on after the super glue dries.



Starting the thinning of the second branch after all the work is done.


Progress so far. Working my way up the tree wiring each individual branch and selecting a position for it.


Almost to the top. Have just the very apex to thin, wire and position.


The tree is repotted into a Japanese Matsumoto Takeshi Drum Pot. Tree is 30 inches tall and the trunk is 1.5 inches across at the base.


What a goober.


I really tried to get this tree looking nice from multiple views.

animated juniper



Posted March 30, 2014 by California Bonsai Art in Styling Trees

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