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Selecting Appropriate Scrolls for Bonsai Display

A 表具師 Hyougushi is an artisan that works in paper, textiles, glue, and wood to create a variety of products. The two primary products made by a Hyougushi associated with bonsai display, are 掛け軸 kakejiku (hanging wall scrolls) and 屏風 byoubu (folding screens/partitions). The reader will be introduced to the methodology of judging scroll formality, how formality is related to different scroll designs, and some rules of thumb regarding the cloths and the pictures themselves.
The principles that the Hyougushi uses to design the frame for the scroll is entirely different from the principles used to display the scroll with a bonsai or viewing stone. When I first started working professionally as a Hyougushi, I understood little of the needs of the bonsai artist. It led me to learn new ideas, methodologies and ways of thinking to understand how to make scrolls more suited to the bonsaiist’s tastes.

The system of display that I have begun to study is called 雅道Gaddou or the “Way of Elegance/Refinement”. This display style focuses on the display of shohin bonsai and utilizes a very simple system of determining the formality of the display based upon every element. This article will only focus on the elements of the scroll in determining its use for a display. Additionally, the reader should realize that there are many more different types of scroll styles. Only the most basic elements of the scrolls will be presented to provide the bonsai artist with the ability to recognize the level of formality of the scroll. By recognizing these elements, decisions to select an appropriate scroll for a display may then be made with confidence.
The crux of understanding about the kakejiku is the ability to verify the level of formality of the scroll. Some basic attributes applied or omitted will resolve whether the kakejiku is ranked as 真Shin (formal), 行 Gyou (semi-formal) or 草 Sou (informal). This classification method also applies to the tree varieties, styling, pots, tables, slabs, calligraphy , accent pieces

The following are the most formal , Shin style scrolls. The most striking feature is the intermediate paper, called 台紙貼りDaishihari used as a buffer between the artwork and the cloths.


Figure 1; Photo provided courtesy of Al Keppler, and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture


What type of scroll is pictured in Figure 1 to the left? This is the Shin no Shin style scroll, and is often reserved for Buddhism and religion related theme. Such religious themed works are not the most appropriate motifs to use for display.

In Figure 1 it is hard to see the picture, but it is quite clear that this is not religious themed artwork. This display was critiqued by my display Sensei and Figure 2 shows that the scroll being reduced in width would have produced a simplified display. In this case, the shin no shin is transformed into a shin no gyou scroll.




By removing the fuutai, the entire display becomes less busy and pushes the eye more to the bonsai. Additionally, by removing the 草者 kusamono there is no competition in the height between the tree and the accent. Replacing it with the 茅葺 Kayabuki, which is an old thatched roof Japanese house, correctly provides the depth (space) for this size of 地板 jiita used in the display. 

Figure 2; Photoshop version of Original Al Keppler photo courtesy of Kuzuhara Ikkou, Shihan Rank of Gadou Style of Display














[one_half]What is the scroll type in figure three to the right? The scroll is an excellent example of using good whitespace, and also has good color combinations of gold on light brown with khaki.Both of these points will be discussed in more detail below. One thing to consider when displaying this type of scroll is to properly straighten out the fuutai. In this case the fuutai are slightly bent and affect the display negatively.[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Figure 3; Photo Courtesy of Bob Hilvers, Bonsai Curator, Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture







The scroll to the right in Figure 6, is an example of a Gyou no Shin scroll. In this case the Fuutai are replaced with suji (the four vertical black lines running along the Ten or top of the scroll). Matching the season to the image on the scroll is very important. Appropriate images will not be discussed in this article, but the Magpie is often associated with a fall display. Based upon the information above though, this is too strong an image to be paired with a bonsai. It could become the focal point of the display rather than the bonsai.

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Figure 6; Photo Courtesy of Rich from Bonsainut Forum.



Calligraphy with Scrolls


When placing a scroll which utilizes calligraphy, it is recommended to hang one written in the 草書Sousho (Full Cursive) or かな Kana styles. If one looks closely, the character for 草 Sou is the same as that for the informal scroll style. The full cursive style is the most informal writing style, and is appropriate for display with a bonsai, because it is softer, less bold and does not compete for the viewer’s attention. The example in Figure 7 is a sample of Sousho writing and reads, 清風万里秋Seifuu Banri no Aki. This is a poem and means the Pure Wind is the Completion of Autumn.

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[one_half]jm-figure8[/one_half] [one_half_last]One additional note is that one character scrolls are discouraged to use with bonsai because they compete for the viewer’s attention, but often do work well with certain types of 水石 suiseki. The scroll labeled Figure 8 is actually not a character, but is an abstract painting of the Ru Yi (Chinese) or 如李Nyoi (Japanese) scepter. It was a scepter held by the Chinese Emperor and would grant a requestor their wish by using the scepter. Poems and Sutra’s like the one outlined in Figure 7 are better suited to display with a bonsai, particularly those that expound on nature or the seasons.[/one_half_last]


裂地Kireji (Cloth) Colors

[one_half]The correct term for the cloth mounted into a wall scroll is Kireji. This is the last point to consider when selecting a scroll for a display. The Gadou style of display encourages the use of very light earth tones for the cloth color. The justification of this is that these colors are soft, neutral and do not compete with the bonsai or main display piece. Khaki’s, tans, golds, grays, light greens, and light browns are the most desirable colors. The above Crow scroll in Figure 6 is a good example of using a light brown and tan. It can be further pointed out that colors can go with the seasons. The green with gold ivy arabesque with the khaki cloth in Figure 7 was designed specifically to represent fall colors that would likely be seen during the Autumn season. The last scroll in Figure 9, is a spring scroll written in Semi-cursive style and reads梨花一枝春 Rikka Isshi no Haru. This is a spring poem that states the blossoms on one branch of the Nashi (pear) tree signals spring. In this case, the scroll cloth colors of the light green with a moss design and a celadon/teal cloth were used to represent colors related to spring, especially young growth of the flower buds.

With these ideas in mind, it is hoped that the bonsai artist can be more confident to look for certain characteristics associated with scrolls that will enable them to select or design something that will complement their tree and add value to the entire display. If the reader has questions, please e-mail to [email protected]

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Selecting Appropriate Scrolls for Bonsai Display
By Jonathan Maples, 表具師Hyougushi of Custom Japanese Calligraphy

[message_box]No Portion of this article may be copied, distributed, or disseminated without the express written consent of Custom Japanese Calligraphy and Jonathan Maples.[/message_box]


From Bonsai: Writers comments and statements in their articles are the subjective opinions of the writer.


A Winter Eden

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.
It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.
It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.
So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.
A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.
by Robert Frost

Organic Bonsai Techniques

Because of the toxins associated with fertilizers and pesticides, many people are turning to organic gardening. The Bonsai is one plant that people are adding to their organic gardens. Originating in Asia, bonsai gardening has become very popular throughout the world. Bonsai plants require a lot of loving care. Growing them is often considered an art form.

Organic Soil and Fertilization
The proper soil mixtures and fertilizers are essential for healthy bonsai growth. Research shows that the best bonsai soils are soils that have organic matters. Bonsai soil tends to be a loose, quick-draining mix of natural and non-chemically treated soil. The foundation is a mixture of sand or gravel, fired clay pellets, or shale, which is mixed with an organic compound such as peat or bark. Volcanic clay soils are a preferred selection in Japan. Kadama and Kanuma are two popular choices.

Bonsai trees require a fair amount of organic fertilizer. Fertilizer should only be given to the bonsai after watering. Feeding is usually performed once every two weeks during the summer months, and then reduced to once a month for the remainder of year. Organic fertilizers, organic liquid fertilizers are available at many online organic plant stores. You should call your local plant store to see if they have any organic bonsai supplies in stock. Manure and compost are two examples of organic feeds that can used when growing a bonsai tree. It is important to work organic mixtures into the soil.

You use your own compost in your bonsai organic soil mix. To do this, you will require more than one type of compost. According to most bonsai experts, the best organic bonsai soil mix is 40% compost, 30 % seramis clay granule, and 30% grit.

Watering Your Bonsai
With minimal space in a bonsai pot, careful and frequent attention is required to make sure the tree is adequately watered. Sun, heat and wind can dry bonsai trees in a short time which ca result in permanent damage. You need to know the needs of your particular tree because some trees can survive short periods of dry spells, while others need constant moisture. Deciduous trees are more susceptible to dehydration. Evergreens can appear to handle periods of dry conditions better, but do not display any signs of damage until it is has occurred. One indication of damage is that the leaves will start wilting.

The process of watering is different than how you would normally water regular houseplant. Bonsai trees require submersion of the whole pot in water for several minutes. Once you remove the pot, allow the bonsai to drain. Too much watering can result in root rot and fungal infestations. Free draining soil prevents water-logging. To maintain proper soil, provide water in small amounts frequently because there is a flushing effect when the water is added. Bonsai plants are repotted regularly during their development. This encourages new feeder root growth so that the tree will be able to absorb moisture better. When they mature, they are repotted less often.

Young bonsai, known as potensai, are placed in ‘growing boxes.’ The large boxes permit the roots to grow which allows for food and water consumption as well as adding life to the tree. When the bonsai has outgrown the ‘growing box,’ it is then replanted in a ‘training box.’ This box is smaller allowing for a denser root mass. This makes replanting the bonsai in its final pot much easier.

Growing bonsai trees can be a very peaceful and spiritual experience. With the right care and trimming techniques, you can grow a beautiful living piece of art.

Organic gardening guide features tips and solutions to common garden issues – Redenta’s is committed to a natural and sustainable approach to organic gardening and organic gardening supplies.

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Designing Bonsai

mugo pine in cascadeWhen designing bonsai trees you would shape them by trimming the branches or by wiring them into new positions.

You are dealing with living things, and you must be respectful of that. You will kill trees. This is a sad fact of the activity, especially as you start out. Commit yourself to understanding why every tree dies and what can be done to prevent it. Learn from your mistakes and do your best to prevent them in the future.

Every tree is different. Learn to care for a few different types of plants, and grow your collection from there.

How to Begin the Art of Bonsai

Remove the tree from the plastic pot by turning the pot upside down, tapping the bottom, and letting the tree slide out into your hand. The soil should not be too dry, so that the root ball remains intact. Gently scrape away the topsoil around the base of the tree, to expose the lower trunk (about one quarter to one half inch). Try not to break too many surface roots. First thing is to look at the roots of the tree and check to see if it gives the appearance of a strong foundation.

Cut off the bottom third of the soil and roots, and flatten out the remaining root mass. Prepare the bonsai pot by placing a piece of screen over each drainage hole, and pour a layer of potting soil into the bottom of the pot. Place the tree in the pot, pour in the remaining soil, and pack it firmly. Finally, submerge the bonsai, pot and all, in water, up to the base of the trunk, and let it sit in the water for a few minutes.

Interesting Bonsai Visual Effects

In bonsai, the rule of thirds states that the first (lowest and biggest) branch should be at about one third of the total height of the tree. It is the trunk that gives the tree its visual strength, and every effort should be made to have at least the bottom two-thirds of the height clear of branches at the front of the tree.

Next is checking the trunk. The shape of the trunk will basically determine the style you choose. In almost all cases, however, a thick base, which tapers gradually and gently to a thin apex, will make for a nice tree. Which style you prefer will depend on the movement of the trunk.

Look at the branching pattern. The lower branches should be thick while the upper ones should be thin. The branches should be laid out like the spokes of a wheel with some going to the back. This will give the tree depth when you look at it. No two branches should leave the trunk at the same level.

The handlebar effect is unnatural looking and, if left, will cause the trunk to swell at their level causing an ugly bulge in the trunk line. If your tree has such a fault you should, if a deciduous tree, remove one of the branches entirely. Try to avoid having branches spaced evenly down the trunk. Reduce the distance between the branches as you go toward the top of the tree.

Finally examine the plant to see if it is healthy. Be sure not to wire so tightly that you cut into the bark, or so loosely that you do not have support. Minor wire marks can sometimes add interest and show that the tree has been trained, giving branches character after several years. However, major wire marks are very ugly. To hide any marks that look unnatural you can strategically place foliage at intervals in front of the trunk, so that the trunk line is not completely visible.

It may be ten years (or longer) before your plant will actually be a bonsai. Don’t be discouraged by this, but think of it as part of the experience. Perhaps most importantly, understand that when you put a tree in a pot you are committing yourself to the care of that tree. You cannot simply ignore it or it will die. Bonsai is a responsibility as well as a hobby. If you practice it with care and patience, the rewards are tremendous.

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