Asymmetry Podcast - Community Questions: Bonsai Design

Seek instant solutions to your bonsai design challenges with Ryan. Whether it’s your toughest limitations, burning questions, or the trickiest aspects of design, share them below and join the conversation. Your bonsai design queries will be featured in an upcoming segment of Asymmetry, solely dedicated to addressing them!

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Hello everyone,

When i sit in front of a tree i want to design i try and imagine what it would look like if it were truly ancient. Thing is, a lot of the trees i have are not trees that i get to see in their natural habitat much less ancient ones. So i try and find pictures or anything really that gives me an image of what that species of tree would look like if it were very old. That search however isnt very fruitful in a lot of cases. How do you get your inspiration or fill your mental library of ancient trees especially ones that arent native to your region?

Thank you for your thoughts!

Best regards



To piggyback on the previous question. Recently I was thinking I should have reference material for the tree/species on hand when styling. As someone who has some experience in drawing and painting the amount of “time in the chair” it takes to be able to paint plen air or realistically from imagination is …well a shit ton.I imagine that’s transferable. So would you recommend for “newer” practitioners to have some sort of reference material on hand as a reference not to recreate (unless that’s the goal). I feel that with only 2 years of bonsai experience my mental storage bank of trees is still in the development phase as best.

Also I will say one of the best thing you do that has helped me a ton is the stream of consciousness design, especially since you have already done the ground work of quantifying the everything. When I watch other pros, I mostly here I like this here and that there and that’s entertaining but not helpful. So I imagine the workshop sessions will enhance this. I am watching your hands but also listening to the questions you are asking yourself, so keep talking outloud please!

I have a question regarding the “styles” of design. Up until I found Mirai the only design reference I had were the various bonsai styles (informal upright, cascade, windswept, etc). The concept of design feel with the trunk line, defining branch and Apex setting the design feel was extremely helpful. I was wondering if there are any " new" styles that have evolved from the more natural and wild styling approach at Mirai. Similar to Cosmic Bonsai’s on novel approach to design?

I have a question regarding defining branch selection. Since I have worked mostly with young nursery stock, I run into the issue of most primary branches being of a similar size and length. I feel that maybe on an older piece of material the decisions may feel more obvious due to energy having had long enough time to distribute asymmetrically through the tree. And since we want to work with what the tree gives us, this distribution of energy for thickening and lengthening and strengthening branches can be a great compass to making the best choices for the tree. Back to young material, How would we approach setting a defining branch when it feels like whatever may be the defining branch will probably not be very obvious due to the maybe symmetrical nature of a young tree? Will we rely on defining our tree base to apex and using this trunk movement to help make the defining branch stand out asymmetrically by having the branch come out of an asymmetrically strong point of the main trunk?

(couldnt find how to edit a mistake so i deleted old post and changed “primary branch” to “defining branch”)

I like to style my bonsai to mimic the trees I see while hiking, but so far I’ve been too afraid to attempt much deadwood. In nature dead branches and trunk lines seem to come from forces that nearly kill the tree - bad soil, strong wind, lightning, etc. But I’d rather not kill my trees. What’s your advice on deciding when, where, and how much to create deadwood features that looks aggressive but are done safely?

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Hi Ryan and Mirai,
you always underline the importance of an objective design, but sometimes I find myself in a situation where even if objectively the choice of design is the most suitable for the tree I’m working on, it is also the most “safe” or certainly less “bold” or “innovative” (always in my own small way certainly). For example, I have an apple tree for which I would have liked a cascading style but objectively it wasn’t the right choice and after a couple of years I had to rethink everything: I like it now but I keep thinking that somehow I could have dared more. How do you balance the desire to push yourself “further” and the objectively right choice?
Thanks in advance!