Choosing a pot – 2
When choosing a pot for your bonsai there are many factors to be considered. The correct size ratios, shapes, colours and textures all need to be given equal attention. However here I would like to discuss some of the more abstract principles that can create a truly unique and harmonious union of bonsai and container.
I often hear the bonsai pot likened to a picture frame however I’m not sure this is the correct way to describe the relationship between a bonsai and its pot. I think that a more holistic definition would be more appropriate to describe the partnership. A picture frame is like a window to focus the viewer’s attention onto the picture. The frame surrounds the picture and remains distinct from it. A bonsai pot should be an extension of the tree and should create visual harmony. Whilst viewing a bonsai neither pot or tree should be dominant but should appear as one entity.
The first step on the road to achieving this symbiosis is to scrutinise every aspect of your bonsai. While you are doing this make some notes of features that you particularly like about the tree and also any unique features. You can refer back to this when searching for the right pot.
After this you should decide the dimensions for the pot using the formulas that I explained in the first instalment of “Choosing the right pot”. Once you have decided on the ideal dimensions of the pot you should then decide whether the tree is masculine or feminine. Again here you can use the guide lines explained in “choosing the right pot”
Once you have got this far you should know the approximate size of pot you need and have a general idea of the style i.e. rectangular, oval, round, cascade or maybe a more free form style such as a crescent shape.
Once the decisions regarding size and shape have been made, the next step is to contemplate colour and texture.
Even amongst the same species you will find that every tree is unique, although it is possible to generalise about a particular species, each individual tree will have slight variations in colour or texture in bark or leaves and these slight differences can be emphasised by finding a pot that picks up on these variations. This will not only give you a unique pot tree combination but also really bring the whole image to life.
Look for a pot that compliments the colours found in the tree. This could be the colour of the bark or perhaps the colour of the leaves through the summer or the autumn changes. On fruiting or flowering trees, the colour of the pot can be used to compliment the colour of the flowers or the berries. When trying to match the colours found in the tree it does not have to be an exact match, more often a similar colour that is either a few shades darker or lighter will work very well. Sometimes rather than looking for a close match a contrasting colour can be used to great effect.
Textures also play an important part in choosing a pot. Generally speaking the more feminine bonsai are best suited to smooth textured pots and the masculine to rougher textures. Although many trees display a combination of feminine and masculine features and in this case you can look for a pot that displays a similar combination of features. Also a very feminine species could be styled in a away that might call for a textured unglazed pot such as a crescent. Usually pots that display rough texture are unglazed but can still come in a wide range of colours depending on the clay that is used to build the pot. Unglazed pots can also be coloured with metal oxide washes and bonsai potters today have discovered many interesting ways to combine these oxides to create a wide range of colours to choose from. However interesting textures are not exclusively found in unglazed pots. Glazed pots can also display texture either on an unglazed portion of the pot or within the glaze itself. Sometimes glazes can also be applied over a rough surface of the pot creating some very unique effects. Such pots can be used with trees that show both feminine and masculine qualities.
Another aspect that should be taken into account is deadwood features. These features are becoming more and more popular and many trees styled now incorporate jins, shari and uro. These features can be complimented to great effect with areas on the pot that have been carved to simulate damage or simply to mirror the deadwood.
There is also one more factor that should be taken into account, try to envisage the circumstances in nature that would have caused a tree to grow in the way that your tree has been styled. This can really help to contribute to creating a convincing image. For example would your tree have formed naturally in harsh exposed conditions or in a gentler more sheltered environment? Really think about this and do a little research regarding the where a species is found naturally in the wild, perhaps the colours or textures of landscape from the trees natural habitat could be incorporated into the pot.
I have purposely avoided giving too many examples during this discussion, because the purpose of this article is to encourage you to look at your tree very closely and use what you see to guide you. Rather than choose a pot by using a set formula.
As with any skill, choosing a pot that achieves true harmony and breaths vibrant life in to the composition is a process that will grow and evolve over time. Choices that you make at first might not seem so right as you refine your ability. Do not be disheartened by this, as it is all part of the learning process and each attempt will serve to heighten your skills of perception. The secret is to open your eyes and really look at your tree.