Initial Styling in the “Grey Area”

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

A few days ago I was tasked with doing an initial styling on a Shimpaku Juniper.  We plan on taking the tree to auction in October so we wanted to get it looking good.  My instructions were to get the main branches in good position and give the tree a general shape.  “It doesn’t have to be perfect, just make it presentable for the auction,” says Mr. Tanaka.  I believe this was his way of telling me to not spend too much time on this tree or at least make it quick.

Initial styling vs. Refined styling

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to talk about the difference between an initial styling as oppose to a refined styling. Initial stylings are always the most difficult because it’s up to the artist to figure out where all the branches should go and what to cut.  If the tree was already refined, the branches would already be in a good location and it’s just a matter of fine tuning the foliage and pads.  Not to say that refinement work is not difficult either, it’s just different then the initial styling work.  Initial styling requires you to become creative and forces you to make the tough decisions on what to cut and the overall style of the tree.  In the future I will post something on refined styling.

So what is an initial styling all about?

An initial styling is figuring out what you want to create using the core of the tree.  Core, meaning the trunk and main branches. Deciding what the style is going to be and what you need to do with the branches to achieve that style.  When the work is done, the tree doesn’t always look pretty.  Sometimes things need to grow, sometimes areas are too weak to work on at the moment.  Nobody should be showing a tree after an initial styling.  A tree should be shown sometime after a refined styling.

A little bit of both worlds (grey area technique)

In the case of this tree, I needed to do the initial styling and make the tree look somewhat good for the auction.  This, “grey area technique,” is used when a tree needs to be sold or used for a demonstration to the public.  This is by no means, the correct way to truly develop a bonsai, but sometimes necessary.  The important part is to understand when to use this method and when no to use it. Demonstration and sales, yes, creating world class bonsai, a definite no.  This tree has never been styled before.  A couple of years ago, a couple of branches were made jins and the tree was repotted to the intended front.  The branches were also cut back to promote interior back budding.

Let’s get to work!

First thing I did was looked at the tree and all the features it has.  With Shimpaku, you’re usually looking for nice curvy movements in the live and dead areas.  Those features are what makes the tree look good and interesting, so we try to show as much of it off as possible.

First step: Cleaning

The first thing I do after review the tree is clean the tree.  Shimpaku has a nice reddish bark.  I spent some time peeling off the exterior bark to show the reddish interior bark.  Once the tree is clean, you can really start to see where the life lines are and all the subtle curves in them.

Jin and Shari

For those that don’t know what Jin and Shari is, here is the definition.  Jin is a dead branch, shari is a dead section on the trunk. After I cleaned the tree, I focused on the jin and shari areas.