Stability vs. Instability

During the stream tonight (October 8, 2019 - John Naka Design Renewal), Ryan addressed the issue of the tree being “unstable” because a large amount of the base and live vein are gone now, and deadwood remains. Someone asked about root grafts, someone else asked about stopping rot by filling holes. Someone else asked about adding artificial parts to the trunk to keep it as-is. The idea being that the loss of the base makes the tree look “unstable”. I fully understand the issue of “instability” in design, and the need for a strong, stable, ancient-looking tree in bonsai. But does anyone else get annoyed by the fact that “unstable” trees are undesirable and look “wrong”? I love to see “fragile” and “unstable” trees in nature, looking like they are on the literal edge of life. As if this viewing may be the last time you see the tree. As if the tree has had a long life and is grasping for its last breath in its final days, now reflecting on its life and letting go. It feels very intimate to me, and special. As if the tree may be gone tomorrow. I feel like we tend to think of ancient strong trees as lasting forever, and therefor maybe only appreciate them for a short time, since “they’ll be there next time”. Just a thought. “Instability” feels very “natural” to me.


Interesting thoughts! Haven’t seen the latest stream yet, waiting for it to hit the archives. I’ll definitely be watching the tree with your thoughts in mind.
I also find unstable trees fascinating and quite beautiful. Maybe the quest for a robust, thick base is connected to the Japanese culture which strives to find balance and in some ways wants to preserve things “for eternity”. Breaking the rules and creating an “unstable” tree might be one of many ways to evolve the art of bonsai in the western world.

I’ll let you know what I think of the tree once I’ve seen the stream :wink:

I have learned in bonsai that instability and impermanence are accepted as part of tree design. In time all dead wood decays. Making that part of the design of the tree is the tricky part. Sometimes people move the tree from a pot to a slab to increase the feeling of being marginalized clinging to life on the edge. Changing the angle to more of a slant as if gravity is winning the struggle and the tree is getting ready to take its last plunge. I think the current popularity of “sumo” design proportions stresses stability and while that is one idea of what an ideal tree should look like there are many others that are possible and just as artistically pleasing.