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  When I break you down

    I cannot undo my error

       I cannot delete my mistake

           But I can edit with my love…

In this section, I would like to share trees from my collection that are still in the stage of development and styling. The Chinese consider this particular stage of ugliness to have a certain charm and believe that it can hold (hidden) the unique accentuating character of the tree. The task of a bonsai artist is to explore this stage fully, and ultimately reveal the individual, unique character of a tree as a cohesive statement in refinement. A passionate beauty is different from an elegant charm. A melancholy prettiness is different from cheerful attractiveness. An energetic temptation is different from the charismatic sensation.

For these reasons, bonsai material always presents a challenge as an artistic medium, because I believe every tree has an ideal form and presentation. If there is any objective weakness in the tree it can be compensated for by subjective artistic improvisation. In every bonsai creation, whatever the style or design, there should be a consistency of the aesthetic concept, the thematic message, and the horticultural clues. I am rather obsessive about using challenging material with inherent weaknesses so that I may employ artistry to “solve” the quandary presented to me. Such challenges require a balance of my own intuition, subjective artistry and an understanding of natural phenomena.

There are three phases of a bonsai’s life journey:

Pre-Mature Phase

In this phase, anatomical balance has not yet been achieved. It is in this stage that a bonsai should begin being designed. The pre-mature phase is not based on the age of the tree, but rather the condition of its structural elements.

Mature Phase

This is the stage when a bonsai is being refined, and lasts until the desired composition is fully achieved. The anatomical balance should be close to perfect in this phase.


Transformation Phase

As the tree matures and endures the nuances of training as well as the effects of nature, it undergoes significant or subtle changes. For instance, branches may die, the apex may be broken and re-grow, and/or the texture of the bark may change. According to these physical changes, a transformation of shape and character will occur naturally and a new anatomical balance will be achieved. A bonsai in the transformation phase may sometimes be set back to the pre-mature phase due to changes in the structure that necessitate a redesign.

These phases describe the life cycle of bonsai. The bonsai artist’s responsibility is to appropriately manage each phase in order to move steadily toward the next, or if necessary, to revert to a previous one in order to enhance and romanticize the desired theme. The use of advisable technique is not enough to make a good bonsai. A good bonsai’s appearance should describe its horticulture in a convincing manner and the pot should support the overall theme. Its presentation should indicate a specific character and tell the story of its history and life journey. Part of that story should describe the tree’s environment and natural conditions.

With my work, I always try to create the hint of a specific captured moment, either natural or imagined. This moment may not be based specifically on a naturally occurring event, but even if it is only from my artistic imagination I try to make sure that the visual result lends dignity to the tree or the tree’s story.


  Before     After

This raft was created from a stum of a dying slanting bonsai, then the new shoots were trained to be individual trees in designated composition and perspective to form a grouping view.

  Before       Still in training stage…

  Before    After re-styling…

This bonsai has a strange streight trunk on the lower part with nice movement on the top. It is difficult to be trained in nice composition or balance neither as upright nor cascade style. So a totally re-styling and re-potting is done in combination with rocks to create new presentation.

  Before      After re-potting…

Proper pot selection and positioning can help in obtaining new balance when neccessary.

  This literati Pemphis is still on the progress of refinement.

  The top apex still need some final touch…

  This Pemphis is almost done.

  Still working on the ramification…


This Premna was repositioned into a broken pot to fit the lower branch. The next picture is a simulation of future design. Premna’s leaves can be extremely reduced from size of 10 cm to less than 0.5 cm.


This Pemphis was totally restyled to create better movement with simulated future design. 


This is a simulated picture of another Pemphis which ramification is still under refinement.

  A large Casuarina in programming stage…


Styling a Podocarpus…


I paid these two Premna material for nothing, then I combined both to create solution…


When I got this Premna, the owner was just about to cut it short… Op…it suppose to be an amazing material for an extreme literati.  The last picture is a simulated result.


Sometime total re-styling is neccessary to explore the character with new composition as I did for this Premna. The last picture is a simulated visual for the future foliage…

More pictures to come…..

3 Responses to “Studio”

  1. on 16 Apr 2007 at 9:31 amShaukat Islam

    Would eagerly await to see more pictures.

    Do you work with Strebulus asper? I had seen some pictures on the internet by some Indonesian artists. The species is really good for the tropical residents (although very challenging to make the tree survive, if collected from the wild, due to its very strong tap root) and it would be worth, if you may have some photos to share.


  2. on 25 Apr 2007 at 6:52 pmRobert Steven

    Once it had been very popular as bonsai in Indonesia, but it is mostly used as garden plant now because it’s difficult to control, easily dye back.

  3. on 02 May 2007 at 4:45 amShaukat Islam

    Dear Robert,

    Thanks for your response. Yes, Strebulus is a bit senstitive. With Pemphis found abundantly in your country, what better species you can ask for? It’s a blessing from the Nature.

    One day, I would really like to collect Pemphis for my bonsai……….or maybe the species could be available in the Sunderban mangrove forests of Bangladesh…….who knows.

    You have been working with Casuarina, can you put up some progession pics?


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