Stuck in a design rut

Lately, I’ve gotten stuck in a design rut styling the small <1’ tall trees I have. They are all from nursery containers and I’ve been doing the “twist the trunk to make it interesting, wire first branch out to left or right, second branch to the opposite side and back, and then give the apex some attention” thing. I’d like to work on other styles, but it seems the more elaborate ones like windswept, broom, etc. require a bigger tree, more side branches, etc. I’ve done some juniper cascades but have a hard time figuring out what to do as the descending branch gets longer.

One thing I thought I could do was look at photos in books and online of mature trees that are at their peak and try to draw the main lines to see what the artist had in mind.

I’d love to hear what other people do to stretch their creativity.


Look for material that creates challenges. Maybe something with a trunk you can’t really bend easily, or foliage all on one side, or perhaps a type of tree you don’t usually style. Look at the bargain bin where the mangled trees go. Maybe try some kusamono or something else that’s a bit more freeform.

So I look to the mature trees around me for inspiration. One of my favorite outings is to go to old cemeteries from the 1800’s and look at the old evergreens and how they have survived and developed. The deadwood and branch formation do not follow the typical formal bonsai model, and give me ideas of ancient that exists in my local area. Taking a camera and finding the best front on an old tree makes me better understand the ideas of classic base, trunk line and branch formation.
Another thing I love to do with nursery or seedling stock is to secure 7 or 9 together with wire or zip ties to make clump style trees that occur in nature. Let them grow and fuse together and gently wire movement into each trunk. Need to let them grow and develop a common root pad and grow together at the base. This will take time. Share all you learn, learn from the experience of others. Always steal ideas from the successful. :thinking:

Ginko seedlings in a pond basket with quick drain soil.

@Bonsai_bob’s comment about making clumps reminded me of a workshop that Joe Harris hosted quite a few years back with Makoto Hashimoto Japan. During a lunch break from the big pines that Mr. Hashimoto was overseeing he went over a picked up a small bushy 1 or 2 gallon liner and started to trim and wire it. Several of us who were in the smaller workshops gathered around to watch. The translator came over and Mr. Hashimoto waved her off. He would point and gesture at what he was going to do, do it, and then look up at us to see if we understood what he had just done. It took a little while for us to catch on, but it was really instructional and he turned out a very nice flame shaped clump.

I noticed that I was in the same type of rut a few weeks ago. What I’m currently contemplating is messing with a few styles I have never used before. Going through a basic bonsai book, I realized I’ve never styled a multi-trunk, a raft, a windswept, or a forest.

I figured I could use a small thuja for the windswept, since they have so many tiny branches. I’m also thinking about using a bunch of cheap material for the other styles.

The money dump won’t be crippling, and it will force me to look at material in ways I’m not used to. If the tiny trees actually survive my exestential crisis, even better.