Application of Art Principles in Bonsai Part
Three: Foreshortening

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The Use of Foreshortening in Bonsai

Bonsai is a 3-dimensional art form; a bonsai artist does not have the same problem of creating depth that the 2 dimensional artist does. However, a bonsai artist can still utilise foreshortening and use it to his advantage.“2. To reduce the length of; curtail or abridge.”There are often situations when styling bonsai where a branch or a trunk is too long and the foliage on the branch is too far away from the trunk; this is where the principles of foreshortening can be used to our advantage.

long Pine branch . long Pine branch

In the images above, a long Pine branch is shown, seen from the front of the tree and from above. The branch is bare apart from some foliage at its tip; ideally the branch needs to be made shorter so that the foliage is closer to the trunk. Whereas with deciduous species, that will produce new growth from bare branches, there is no possibility of pruning this Pine branch so that it is shorter without the entire branch dying.

This is where we can employ the technique of foreshortening to our advantage. Rather than leaving the branch as it is and waiting for a number of years to trying create back budding (so that the branch can be shortened back to the backbudding) or even removing the branch, we can simply wire and foreshorten it. We create depth to shorten the length of the branch when seen from the front of the tree.

branch from above

In the image above, we can see the branch from above. It has been wired so that the branch has more depth; along its length it moves toward and away from the viewer. Much of the length of the branch is 'lost' as the branch line meanders towards and away from the front of the tree.

front view of the tree

Now when seen from the front view of the tree, the branch looks shorter and the foliage is closer to the trunk where the bonsai design requires it to be. Though the branch is exactly the same length is it was before but we have created an illusion of a shorter branch. The branch has been foreshortened.

This example of foreshortening the first branch of bonsai would seem quite obvious; however, it clearly illustrates the benefit of foreshortening. This principle of being able to visually shorten the length of a branch or shoot or even a trunk, can be used in many situations in bonsai, particularly when styling coniferous bonsai that fail to backbud easily such as Pine, Juniper or Spruce.

Always consider foreshortening when wiring and styling your trees; can the apex or top section of the tree be reduced in height by foreshortening (tipping the top of the trunk forward, towards the viewer)? Can the foliage mass of a tree be made denser and tighter by foreshortening the secondary branches?

There are limitations of course; there is a point where excessive foreshortening of a branch (or branches) will look unnatural or even ridiculous.On the other hand, field-growing trees do have branches that meander backwards and forwards; a branch that grows straight outwards from the trunk without any depth is more unnatural and ugly. It is for you the bonsai artist to decide how far you can use this illusion!

The Application of Art Principles in Bonsai Series: Part One: The Golden Section Part Two: Visual Movement

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