On June 23, 2022, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) hosted guest bonsai artist/instructor Jonas Dupuich to perform a demonstration on how to effectively display bonsai elements. Jonas is the creator and author of Bonsai Tonight [https://bonsaitonight.com/], a world-famous blog on bonsai techniques. He is also the author of A Little Book of Bonsai, 2021, a great comprehensive guide to bonsai basics. Jonas was a member of the Bay Island Bonsai club for 20 years, where he gained experience in bonsai display. He has traveled to Japan and participated in and photographed many of the formal displays used in the Japanese bonsai exhibits and contests.
The sizes of bonsai are critical to displays. Here you find the approximate Japanese sizing of trees:
Mame < six inches (15 cm)
Shohin < eight inches (20 cm)
Kifu < 16 inches (41 cm)
Chuhin < 18 inches (46 cm)
Ogata < 36 inches (91 cm)
The prestigious Japanese bonsai exhibitions, Kokufu-ten and Taikan-ten, provide display spaces at approximately six feet wide. Larger trees require more space, and the smaller trees require less. The display elements commonly used within the six feet of space, consists of the following:
One large tree with an accent plant
Two medium sized trees with accent plant
Up to six small sized trees with accent plant
A scroll, figure or suiseki (viewing stone) can be used with medium sized displays in lieu of a second tree. Three elements are typically used with medium displays. However, two elements may be combined to serve as one. Example: one tree, one scroll and one slab containing the accent plant and figure.
The stand should raise the bonsai tree to a level where the viewer’s eye is focused about mid-section of the tree and the viewer is standing straight, not bent over. A round pot is best suited for a round or square stand. The pot is centered and within the lines or edge of the stand. Consideration should be given to the color of the stand. Dark stands work well with conifers, whereas lighter stands can be used with deciduous trees.
Arranging the display elements takes some thought about their placement. The main tree should be placed towards the back. Place the accent plant towards the front of the display space. For medium trees, place the second tree behind the accent plant but in front of the main tree. Mountain stones are often placed towards the back of the display space as they appear in the distance. Note: for photographing a display, align all elements to the front.
Efforts to convey the season or location are important. For example, scrolls with ocean scenes do not go well with high mountain bonsai trees.
The appearance of accent plants should be full and in season. Also, ensure that the accent plant is within scale with the tree.
Displaying your bonsai trees should be fun. Experiment with different display elements. Artistic displays can be used in lieu of the Japanese formal display above. However, learning the fundamentals of Japanese displays is foremost to understanding the viewer’s perspective of the art form.