Designing bonsai is like painting a picture. You have to think about proportions, balance and the harmony of the overall composition. How real does the tree look? Does the design of the tree tell a coherent story?
There are four things that go into a bonsai design and I will call them influences. You have what I stated above (proportions, balance, and harmony) and I think those are the most important to the design. Then what is popular right now in the overall community. Sumo trunks come to mind as an example. Sometimes you can look at a piece whether it be a painting, clothing or a piece of music and you can tell what region of the world it came from. Finally, you have you. Your tastes, and your style.
Four Influences of Bonsai Design
Universal influences are accepted by everyone. This includes things like Proportion, Balance, and Harmony. These are a must in a design. Without these basic things, your design will be a mess.
Cultural influences are things that are influenced by Countries, Regions, Ethnic Groups. Example: Music, Dress, Dance, and Food.
Fashion meaning Trends and Fads.
Personal influences are things that you like. Your personal vision as the artist.
I can’t tell you what influences you, what fads are going on right now or what is popular in other countries, so I will focus on the Universal Influences.
Fibonacci Sequence helps to figure out proportions.
The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … The next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it. For example, 3 is found by adding the two numbers before it (1+2). When you divide any two successive Fibonacci numbers they equal pretty close to the Golden Ratio (1.618034…)
The ratios that we most commonly use in bonsai design are:
1:1= Depth of pot to Diameter of the trunk.
1:2= Branch spread to the height of the tree.
1:3= The location of the first branch to the height of the tree.
2:3= Length of the pot to the height of the tree.
If the pieces in your bonsai design do not harmonize well than the overall image will look bad. You can not have a formal upright bonsai with twisted branches and you can not have straight branches on a twisted trunk bonsai. Those two images do not harmonize. You need to have unity throughout your design. If you have a straight trunk you should have straight branches and if you have a bendy trunk then your branches should be bent as well.
When it comes to balance we are trying to equal out the negative and positive space.
Static: When looking at a piece of art or a bonsai a static design would be symmetrical or equal. You can think of vertical and horizontal lines.
Dynamic: Art that is considered dynamic would be asymmetrical. It would have movement. Taller to shorter, darker to lighter lines. Diagonal lines project movement. Your eye moves with the image. The artist captures your eye and makes it travel the piece to where he/she wants it to go.
I found these articles from Harry Harrington to be very helpful in understanding what goes into the thought process of designing Bonsai.
- The Application of Art Principles to Bonsai: Part One The Golden Section
- The Application of Art Principles to Bonsai: Part Two Visual Movement
- The Application of Art Principles in Bonsai: Part Three Foreshortening
- Near and Far Views in Bonsai How perspective effects trunk taper and styling