Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Operatic inspiration

After the train ride which almost turned into a disaster as I was engrossed in a very moving book, "A life too short", and almost missed the fact that I had to change trains; I arrived on time at my final destination where I spent the weekend with the owner of some outstanding trees who had asked me to give him a hand with one tree in particular. I don't usually like to show off too much, but earlier this year a good friend told me (in this edited version) to "stop messing around with little trees and show off a little", so after the recent bargain basement trees, here is a slightly more impressive one just to show that I do work like this and try and dispel the rumour that certain people still like to try and promote...although nothing will stop the insecure from trying.

I think that it is fair to say that one of the big differences between Japan and the west is the ability to refine trees to a high level. The creativity that exists in the west is outstanding, and if most of us are honest with ourselves, there is much more enjoyment in creating from raw material rather than the slow progression of subtle improvement such as the five years it takes of careful defoliation and detailed branch selection to create ramification on a deciduous tree for example. We want the immediate rush of creation, not the tedious work of refinement. This is why there is a relative lack of truly refined trees in the west, we are too quick to redesign, prune back too hard, remove a trunk simply for the sake of doing something.
Refinement of trees takes a certain amount of suppression of ego and that desire to redesign. This is something I talked about in an article way back when in Bonsai Focus where I styled a literati taxus. There was a deliberate and conscious attempt to not redesign the tree, but to create the foliage pads in a way that would in three years become refined and easy to manage. Not glamorous work, but essential for creating mature looking trees, and that was the brief with this picea abies.
It had been styled a few times by the owner and had some major work done to it to bring branches down, apex up and back, but the final stages were proving elusive. How to bring maturity and a sustainable branching structure which would be pinched and pruned into becoming a developed tree. This is achieved by careful selection of branches and shoots, wiring where necessary and maximising the volume covered by the foliage in a natural way. This means no "tako-zukuri" or made like an octopus but rather using branches which move in a spruce like way, fairly straight, but give a sense of balance and perspective to the composition.
I won't go into the ins and the outs too much here because I only have another 20 minutes until we start to descend and to be honest, it takes too long and I notice that people prefer short blog posts, not the lengthy prosaic text which I have a tendency to write. What I will say is that the result came after a good day of listening to opera at high volumes and occasionally helping out with the repotting of some monster trees.
"And the monkey's getting grimmer, But his his eyes are on the ground, He's just hanging around..."
This is why I like medium sized trees. Reminds me of the Herniator, but that is another story...
Anyways, after a day of listening to opera and wiring, something which I haven't done in an age, the results were pleasing to the owner, and I must admit, I enjoyed it.
It is difficult to get the best angle and front, but for a tree of this size it is important that it isn't created with just one specific front and angle in mind, the two levels will be viewed almost independently, so height is a consideration. It is a big old tree. One thing that surprised the owner a little was the fact that I pulled up the apex of the second tree rather than squeezing it down, as he had been doing. When you have such a tree, with two very distinct sections, there needs to be some kind of connection between the two. With this tree, the cascading branch suffers a little from a lack of interest, the dead wood is poor in comparison to the gaping wound above it or the base of the trunk. As such our eye is unlikely to leave the interesting mid section and drop down to the lower section, so creating a large apex down there and attempting to bring it up a little was my solution.
All in all a very pleasant weekend passed and there are a few more posts about some trees to come, however I did develop a liking for the lyricism of Opera and found it pleasing to work with, however I felt a little like Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption...
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a great place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man felt free.
It has been a while since I sat down and styled out a tree, this was a rare and refined pleasure for me. Subtle changes which will hopefully take this tree to higher and farther places. The work required to take it there from here is just as difficult as the intial styling but requires less creativity and more logic, more observation and more dedication. I'm hoping the combination of my refinement knowledge and experience and the initial styling ability of the owner will create some impressive trees in the future.


  1. Interesting post!
    Beautiful styled Spruce with an eye on the future.

    Though i like to read your long blogposts with much interest to, your writing skills and knowledge are an enjoyment for the mind willing to read more.

    Best regards,

  2. What Yannick said :-) Most folk do like more pics less text, but I think your blog is the exception. Love the Spruce.

  3. Agreeing emphatically [annotated by a very animated nod] with Yan & Ian - your writing's another art in itself - the 2 together (your skill & ability - ok sorry, that's 3!?) are like some kind of deathly 'mortal combat [the video game] "finishing move"! Leaves me seated in awe every time!

  4. Even your mom would not make such comments :-)) However, they are true.


  5. Good to see some work being completed on worth while material.
    Clearly you have mentioned it several times when working on and justifying budget / low cost trees. Styling of specimen trees is what will really make your reputation within Europe.

    By Publishing and communicating about Politics you are playing in that arena, i hear it from a number of artists that i talk to reference this persons done that or the other. Word of advice let your trees and work do the talking. Neil

  6. :-( Don't even think about dumbing down your posts...

  7. It is not my point to be critical. Cleary there is an observation which Peter and others including his peers and master have made reference the type of trees he styles and likes.

    If you were to compare his work and published articles to those of his peers including Ryan Neil and others it is evident the level of trees worked upon is significantly different.

    Though Peter clearly has talent including display / pots etc to develop his and compete among his peers he would need to style that level of material in order to get the recognition deserved. Reference politics it is clearly rife may be driven by recession and as people like to talk Bonsai when styling and attaining workshops then doing other people down to gain credit is rife. I have heard it from a number of fronts individuals and profesionalalso by publishing it you are entering into that arena by default. At the end of the day i would like to see Peter Succeed as per any other artist with talent. There is clearly no place for this kind of behaviour within bonsai as it is runining Bonsai within UK and Europe. At the end of the day Talent and the best artist working on the best material will always come to the front!

    1. Thank you to all who have commented and been complimentary. Im not sure of the political point I was making other than trying to allow the trees do the talking, as i tend to deliberately not show off work on significant material as I think it is one of my jobs to try and show a different side to bonsai, one which isn't about braggadocio, or material that is only relevant to a select few. Topics for the future perhaps.

  8. Love the spruce Mr W

  9. Please keep the long posts coming; a considered life makes for a great read (and my own trees might improve a bit too)

  10. Peter, My Tuppence worth. Re long posts. I remember learning that Information is the sort of thing that men HIDE in books. In your case Long Posts. The problem is not yours but ours, who with the attention span of a goldfish, just can't read anything longer than a short Tabloid Newspaper article. This is particularly the case when there is so flesh pictured with it. The art of reading is not as common as it was once. Tabloid newspapers, TV and mindless computer games have made sure of that. Just keep up the good work.
    Re the material you work on and that you feature in your posts. I like the mix. Some of us will never own specimen trees but what you do is a continual source of encouragement to us to make the most out of whats available to us. You featured a Peter Snart Potentilla some months back and I liked it so much that I went out searching for some inexpensive potentilla to work on and no doubt this spruce will inspire others to look for better material. Is that not worthwhile. Remember when faced with ridicule that "The laughter of fools is like the crackling of burning thorns under a pot" Empty, hollow and shallow.
    Re the opera. I preferred Jethro Tull. Oops!

  11. On "Long posts":
    Personally, the longer the better - your posts n'er droan, or ramble for the sake of it. I seem to have some form of ADHD according to others, & my attention hasn't suffered in the slightest when reading your work.

    If you ever get a few minutes spare, which I can guess is probably a bad joke, then please come back & revisit our (recently improved) forum - since your kind interview, we've attracted a good deal more members, have moved to a much improved host, & have even changed url!

    (European Bonsai Forum).

  12. The Stranglers.........Opera ? Hmmm

    Love the JWP, even the girls like it !! Thanks a lot

  13. long is good............................there is much to say, much to convey and equally much to listen to as well. and you will never .....ever.......have as much to say as zac ! even if you practice for a few lifetimes haha.