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Shaping The Tree

Text, sketch and photos by Morten Albek, Denmark
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The shaping of a small shohin-bonsai has some ground rules that doesn’t differ from the shaping of bigger bonsai. But there also are some significant aesthetic and different considerations to keep in mind. One is the use of the scalene triangle.

The scalene triangle

The scalene (non-symmetrical) triangle is thumbs rule in all aspects of forming a bonsai.

In shohin-bonsai styling I find the scalene triangle often is a must, in order to make the right movement between trees set up in a display.

Single exhibited shohin will also get much more life if they are shaped with this rule in the back of your head.

Remember that the scalene triangle is a tool. This tool is to be used when it is useful. Not all trees will look natural or do fully need the use of the scalene triangle tool. But it is very good into have mind when a tree is styled.


There are scalene triangles in every kind of natural shapes. A completely oval crown on a tree is non-existing in raw nature. If not influenced by human clipping and forming the tree, it will not be seen.

The scalene triangle comes from nature, and in order to bring naturalness into our bonsai, we have to use this rule of nature.

As an example one can take a walk in an older English garden or anywhere else, and take a look at the nicely and beautifully formed Boxwood, Yews, or other trees that are formed with precision in pretty round or square forms. These examples are just to make the point that these shapes are not natural. They are beautiful in the way they are used as artistic element of a designed garden, but they will not fit in the world of bonsai where naturalness is the aim.

Nature is by itself using the scalene triangle that creates harmony and peace for the eye to view. Therefore, bonsai has to be transformed this way, to reflect nature and naturalness.

Making The Tree Look Like A Bonsai

The small tree in the pot has to make an illusion of a big tree. The disappearing point when standing on ground and looking up, for example on a high building, will make the building seem smaller at the top. The same technique is used in bonsai. The tree getting thinner and narrower from bottom to top creates the illusion, as one was standing at the foot of a big tree.

The base being wider than the top of the tree also helps to tell the story of a mature and stabile tree.

The scalene triangle makes the picture look natural. Like when you look at a building turning your head a bit and the walls seem to converge. This is a cue that is necessary to implement in bonsai in order to make the tree look natural and big.

The also important naturalness in bonsai is not reached by precisely shaping the tree by exactly following the lines of the scalene triangle. It is the roughly points of the triangle that you have to be aware of. The branches between may reach out or be shorter than the lines between the points of the scalene triangle, but you will not be uncertain about when it is present when you are first aware of it.

Stability is another effect of the scalene triangle in bonsai. Because of the angle the scalene triangle produces in our vision of the tree, greater age is transformed into the tree and age is an important part in creating bonsai.

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