Deciduous Bonsai Design

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Rather than have an area of the trunk where the wood has simply been uniformly dug out and hollowed to a uniform depth, I began to draw in edges to the hollow. Now, with this design the bark would be removed to define the edges of the deadwood feature, but then a second complimentary 'shape' with different lines could be added to where the wood was actually hollowed out.

elm bonsai hollow


(Virtual Image) Another improvement to the design of the deadwood was then made to the lower edge of the wood to increase interest. Note that my intention was that the shari would be hollowed very deeply and knowing that there were wounds at the back of the trunk that would also need carving, I felt that it was a great opportunity to introduce some 'see-through's' all the way through the trunk.

elm bonsai deadwood design


(Virtual Image) Finally, it seemed natural to extend the shari downwards so it would then encompass the hollow at the base of the tree where the large root had been removed previously.

I e-mailed my design to the owner of the tree and happy with my design, Samuel set to work using a die-grinder and a Dremel to carve out the wood.

carved elm bonsai


After marking the edges of the shari on the trunk with a marker pen and using a sharp knife to cut along these lines, the bark was peeled away to reveal the bare-wood underneath. Having then marked the edges of the area to be hollowed, the wood was carved out as deeply as possible...........with great results!

elm bonsai thick branch


This area at the back of the tree had a very thick branch whose base created inverse taper to the trunk when the tree was viewed from the side and the back. As there was already a large scar in this area, I suggested to Samuel that he while he created the shari at the front of the tree, he also removed a large section of wood along the white line indicated in the image above.

elm bonsai thick branch

After the inverse taper at the back of the tree had been removed, the scar was hollowed out.

elm bonsai wiring


(Virtual Image) With the trunk of the tree now established and armed with a new set of images of the newly carved tree, I began to draw the virtual design of the new branch structure. In the image above I have chosen which branches on the lower trunk to keep and which branches to remove.

elm bonsai styling


(Virtual Image) I suggested to Samuel that as the top of the trunk was very obtuse and lacked taper, it would be preferable to accentuate the existing split to indicate to the viewer that the top of the trunk had divided into two parts (and was therefore naturally tapered). I then virtually designed the upper parts of the branch structure, constructing a natural apex comprising of all the upper branches rather than a more simplistic pine-tree-style apex.

I also suggested to Samuel that he could consider extending the shari all the way to the top of the trunk............

elm bonsai

..........which he did to great effect.........

..........before pruning, wiring and placing the branches.

The tree suddenly started to look like a bonsai and with the various faults on the trunk addressed and the basic branch structure in place, the tree could be allowed to rest for the rest of the Autumn and Winter before being planted into a bonsai pot next Spring.

elm bonsai design

(Virtual Image) My final drawing of the bonsai as I proposed it should be developed over the next few years, increasing the taper and ramification of the branches. Notice that the crown or apex is built from all of the branches in the upper trunk.

The three larger branches on the right hand side have been given smaller crowns of their own to reflect their size in comparison to the other branches. The general placement of the other branches has been made to reflect the movement of the tree towards the right, in accordance with the flow of the trunkline.

As a bonsai I have high hopes for this tree, a wonderful example of an ancient Elm!

Update: June 2013

elm bonsai

I had the pleasure of receiving an updated image of the bonsai from its owner Samuel Brierley in June 2013, a year after its initial styling.

The Elm has nowbeen potted up into a purpose-made bonsai pot from Vic Harris of to create a quite stunning image!


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