Near and Far Views in Bonsai

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It is widely known that a bonsai can be described as having form and style.

The form describes the shape of the trunk (sometimes also referred to as its style); the form might be informal upright, cascade or broom for instance.

The bonsai style is the term used to describe the manner in which the tree is styled and presented; a classical 'Japanese' style with horizontal branching as one would expect a Pine to be or a naturalistic style, showing branching one would expect of a deciduous tree.

A third equally important descriptive term might be considered is the view at which the tree is seen. Is the tree seen from up close, as if standing at its base looking upward (short view) or at a distance as though seen on the horizon (the long view)?

Why is establishing the view important?

Trees seen in the near view exhibit much different features to those seen from afar; trunk taper, branching, foliage density, even the appearance of any deadwood is entirely different.
If near view and far view features appear on the same tree, a confusing image is presented to the viewer and the ideal presentation of the tree is lost.

Near View Trees

Near view trees are seen as though standing at their base looking upwards into the branches.

Near and Far Views in Bonsai Near and Far Views in Bonsai

Swamp Cypress at Tatton Park, UK. On the left seen from the long view, on the right from the near view.

This is the view that is more popularly described for bonsai.
The trunk at the base (beside which the viewer stands) is the widest point and can appear to be massive. Looking upwards, perspective means that the trunk thins as the eye travels up the trunk; this means that the top of the trunk, which is furthest from the viewer, is very narrow in comparison to the base.

Even on a fairly uniform trunk, seen from below the perspective will create the illusion of taper. The greater the amount of taper between the base of the trunk and its top, the more the tree appears to tower over the viewer. In terms of bonsai, a trunk ratio of 6:1 or greater (height: trunk diameter) is used to convey an image of a tree towering over the viewer. The lower the ratio, the greater and more severe the image becomes.

Far View Trees

Far view trees are seen as though they are on the horizon in a landscape.

Near and Far Views in Bonsai

Scots Pines seen in Norfolk UK, in the long view

This view is commonly used for group plantings and literati form trees but it can be used as equally for any form such as informal upright or broom bonsai.
The base and the top of the trunk are seen from the same perspective; that is, they are seen naturally. The trunk does naturally taper from its widest point at the base up to its thinnest point in the apex. However, unlike a trunk seen in the near view, the trunk taper is less severe as the perspective does not 'add' the illusion of taper.

Near and Far Views in Bonsai

One of the same Scots Pines seen from below in the near view.

The severely tapered trunk of the tree seen from its base (near view) loses much of its taper when seen from a distance.
In terms of bonsai, a ratio of 6:1 or less (anything up to 15:1) is used to convey an image of a tree seen at a distance.

Trunk taper defines the view

When styling a tree for bonsai, the shape and movement of a trunk define the form of the bonsai. That is whether it will be an informal upright, a cascade or formal upright.
In the same way, the taper of the trunk defines the view of the bonsai.
A well-tapered trunk with a trunk height to trunk diameter ratio of approximately 6:1 or less is suitable for a bonsai in the near view.
A trunk with slow/slight taper with a height to diameter ratio of 6:1 or more will be suitable for a bonsai in the far view.

There are subtle differences when styling trees of one view or another. A well-designed bonsai will reflect the view at which it is seen throughout the styling process, from the structure of its branching to the choice of the final pot. Mixing near-view and far-view characteristics will produce a confused image of a tree.

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