Ryan talks a lot about design and getting inspiration from architecture and other mediums. For someone completely outside of any artistic circles or background, what’s a good, valuable resource to learn more about just general design? What are some things on Ryan’s reading list?
I look for inspiration in many places, today I admired these art works and looked to octopus for inspiration.
This is all to help me find the design of this tree.
Develop an understanding of the movement of the whole bonsai. See how it moves; how it carries the eye. Read articles where pieces of art are broken down for how the piece as a whole represents strength or frailty; built up tension or release; unity or division. I’ve looked at famous art and went straight to the Internet to find a discussion of the piece. I don’t always find a discussion, but when I do, I end up learning more about what I saw and why it caught my eye.
Learn the lines of your trees. Know their shapes by heart. Examine them every time you water. Understand what makes a bonsai design work or fail. Inspiration will come when you least expect it.
I was in Walt Disney World last month. I was on a shuttle from the hotel to one of the parks. As we rode, I looked out at the bald cypress which are everywhere. I saw one specific tree for mere seconds and I blurted out “I just solved my problem.” A few days later, as I drove home, my wife used a technique for keeping me awake on long drives (NOT THAT ONE) where she engages me to talk about something that excites me even if it bores her. While I talk, she asks very intelligent and provocative questions that make me think. (After a long stretch of talking, I looked over and she’s asleep )
The problem I have is with a bald cypress of mine. The apex of its flat-top design doesn’t have alternating branches along its length. There is a noticeable gap of branches. As we rode the bus, I wasn’t thinking of that tree, but when I saw a specific layout of the branches, it jumped forward and I realized how I could solve the tree’s problem while following natural design. My wife is a smart cookie. While I drove, I came up with some logical explanations of why certain plant hormones would cause such growth.
“Bill, all you just said is how you solved a bald cypress problem with another bald cypress. Where’s the inspiration from outside the plant world?”
The flat-top design correction comes from understanding how the chaos of a meandering river coincides with the chaos of light in a flat-top apex. The tree is no longer being forced in a single direction; up. A meandering river is one that is no longer being forced along the slope of the land. When the original imperative is lost, chaos is introduced. A meandering river whips about as sediment is deposited and banks are eroded. The flat top of a bald cypress will become chaotic as auxin-driven phototropism is responding to light coming from the sun as well as ambient light coming from everything else. It’s not mandated that a bald cypress will do this, but the opportunity is there. As such, I can fix my problem and continue my tree’s story because I know how rivers flow.
Let the tree show you what it wants or how it wants to be.
Most of the time, the tree would already have done the original design using it’s environment, what we do is exaggerate what the tree has started, or in some cases, like changing the angle, modify (with reference to natural habitat or tree behavior) the tree’s movement. Best tool to guide you is understanding the tree’s behavior and survival needs. - Why, How, What, What if, When, How about, and of course the exceptions.
I like looking at photos or watching videos of anything that relates to nature, trees, landscapes and the “strangeness” of nature; going out and seeing the trees in their natural landscape. Sometimes I have themes and legends in mind (i.e. dragon climbing a cliff which could be a cascading tree - attached picture), seasons and children’s books.
Nature creates her masterpieces using “survival of the fittest” and practicality.