Restyling an itoigawa shinpaku

Recently Oyakata gave me a nice itoigawa shinpaku to work on. It came from one of our long time clients. He recently decided to part with a large portion of his collection which we are now selling on his behalf via consignment. In order to prepare the trees for sale and to hopefully raise the value, we’re touching up and restyling many of them.

I believe this tree is actually old field grown material, not yamadori. The twisted trunk is quite interesting and powerful and it was my intention to show it off more in the restyling. For more refined material like this, the shape and the rough design of the tree is effectively set. The goal is just to bring out and refine what’s already there.

The tree is quite healthy and full, but a lot of the good features are lost underneath the thick green crown. Prior to wiring, and in order to assess what can or can’t be used we start by cleaning the foliage. I start by removing downward growth, crotch growth, and overcrowded branches (3 more more branches from the same node). I work in steps until I am left with only the branches essential to the design.

At this stage I did all the “obvious” work I mentioned earlier. It still feels quite heavy and I know more branches will end up being cut for the final shape. I told Oyakata that I felt the second pad (left side) was quite heavy. I wanted to cut out a thick branch and he agreed and advised me to do so. Oyakata also told me to cut out another branch further up the crown. Doing so would help “lighten” the crown more and expose the trunk.

I did not take a photo at this stage, but the areas in red were cut. Branches from opposing sides were pushed together to close the gap. A thick primary branch was exposed after removing the upper red region. To accentuate the movement of the exposed branching, I added a little shari. It’s subtle, but adds more interest.

With all the major cleaning and cut backs done I went ahead and wired the whole tree. My goal was to compact everything, break up heavy foliage masses into smaller sub pads, and to lighten up the crown. Doing so would make the tree feel more powerful and highlight the trunk which is the best feature of this tree.

Half way done

Since the overall orientation of the branches are set already I didn’t have to use any really heavy or thick gauge wire. I used a lot of small guy wires I hid in the branching to drop primaries then focused on wiring the branch from the secondaries out.

apex for last
finished tree
back on the benches

Overall it was a fun tree to work on and different than my previous projects.

From my perspective there are 2 major influences that determines a tree’s design. First from the tree, and second from the “artist.” In the former we can take qualities or attributes of the tree (think movement, trunk) as “suggestions” that aid us in design or what to build the tree around. In the latter we impose what we value as an artist on the tree, and through techniques and time achieve the result. I think to make good bonsai you need to balance the two.