December 12, 2019

Haunted Hollows - Halloween Bonsai!

Source material: 2019, October-November

          This week, I am especially happy to share that I have finished applying to my Ph.D. programs! Now I can finally return to my more creative pursuits and share them with you all again. Luckily, I have recently been inspired to create some new, unique, and seasonal ways to display bonsai. My first-attempts at Halloween-themed bonsai displays are cataloged here.


1. A Pumpkin Painting
2. A Pumpkin Accent
3. A Pumpkin Pot

My mountain hemlock with a mountain jack-o'-lantern backdrop and my spooky flashlight face as the accent.

1. A Pumpkin Painting

          As I returned home from the pumpkin patch with a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins, the first idea I had to carve on my pumpkin originated from Japanese three-point displays. Explained briefly, many traditional Japanese displays of bonsai trees include more elements than just the tree. A tree is picked to match with a stand, pot, and sometimes accent plants, figurines, viewing stones (suiseki), or a scroll-style painting. The combination of items aims to set a broader scene than the tree can on its own. With evergreen trees, for example, the use of certain imagery like snow in the scroll painting can indicate winter (like this example), while the use of a flowering accent plant can indicate spring. This is desirable because an evergreen tree on its own does not tell much of a story about seasons, so these extra elements add to the story of the display. Likewise, the scroll or accent plant can depict certain environments such as a mountain, grassland, or coastal area by what type of painting or plant is used. Other prominent bonsai artists such as Jonas Duplich and Bill Valvanis have already gone to some lengths in cataloging and describing these compositions in greater depth - more images and reading on traditional and modern displays are available here, here, and here.

This composition from Aarin Packard is a good example of a traditional Japanese display combined with modern American Halloween aesthetic. Read more here, and take note of the tootsie roll accents! He's a very creative guy that we're lucky to now have as curator of our local Pacific Bonsai Museum

          With these ideas in mind, I decided this year I would carve my pumpkin in the stead of a traditional Japanese scroll painting to depict Mount Rainier - the most iconic mountain here in Washington state, and when we are lucky enough to have clear days, it is the most prominent mountain in the Seattle skyline. My most developed tree - a mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) which I wired completely last winter - would be the subject of the composition. Now, I've never thought of myself as particularly good at art outside of bonsai, but I pleasantly surprised myself with this one! I used a scalpel from the plant dissecting kit I originally used in botany class to help with some of the final details. I am pretty happy with my work on this one haha. In the future, I'll give it another go and see if I can make an even more elaborate pumpkin painting.

My moon is a bit screwy but that's okay :)
This pumpkin was THICC. I had to carve about an inch and a half in on those cracks to let the light through.
          You might recognize the tree I used from a previous teaser picture I posted on my social media. This is the first time I'm actually returning to the topic of one of my teaser pictures, but I'm hoping to build on that tradition!
Trunk close-up of my yamadori (naturally-sourced) mountain hemlock bonsai (Tsuga mertensiana).
Original collector unknown, but the previous stylist including the man that did this carving of the jin was my friend Hansy, a fellow student of Dan Robinson.
The tree responded very well to last year's wiring and pruning. I now have many fine branches to chose from for the future direction, but I did not prune or re-wire at this time as there are some wire scars to heal first.
I love the bonsai's shadow. My fancy lighting used for this shoot was a pumpkin spice candle.

          I have one more pumpkin backdrop idea to carve that I did not get to complete this year. I wrote it down so hopefully I can revisit this and challenge myself with another pumpkin painting in the future.

2. A Pumpkin Accent

          Now that I have these ideas in mind, I must also style my trees to fit a more spooky aesthetic so they will harmonize better with the Halloween theme next year. Luckily, Dan's ancient trees and carving work at ElandanGardens offer great opportunities to find bonsai trees with spooky vibes. There I brought a small pumpkin and scouted around for trees that had hollows, deadwood, or naturalistic eerieness with the idea to use my pumpkin as an informal accent plant.
Another one of my past "Teaser Tuesday" social media posts coming back to haunt you finally!
Monterey cypress should be used in bonsai. They have a wonderful citrus smell! I previously featured this tree when I helped Dan prepare it for the Pacific Bonsai Museum's "Natives" Exhibit.
This Japanese maple has quite a bit of deadwood. After I took this photo, Dan recently reworked it, removed rotting wood, and lime sulfured what remained. There's always new work to see at Elandan!
A larch in peak fall color. I believe this is also an eastern larch.
One of my favorites from Dan's garden. He collected this eastern larch with the famous Nick Lenz many decades ago from a bog on the eastern edge of Canada. I previously featured this tree when I helped Dan prepare it for the Pacific Bonsai Museum's "Natives" Exhibit.
A pond cypress that Dan collected in Florida.
Rhododendron sp.; likely a yard-adori specimen from someone's garden originally.
Quaking aspen from Wyoming! Common in alpine settings, rare in bonsai settings.
A mountain hemlock yamadori in the "flat-top" style.

          Lastly, some wider landscape shots.

Elandan Gardens is such a unique location due to its location right on the waters of Puget Sound. If you come by, Dan and Diane will happily tell you the story of how this former garbage dump became a beautiful garden full of art that it is today.
Find the pumpkin!

3. A Pumpkin Pot

          My third idea for Halloween-themed bonsai was to create a temporary display with a pumpkin as a pot by slip-potting one of my trees (this technique involves removing the pot without pruning any roots). I originally picked a warty pumpkin out for the idea because I liked the texture, but that pumpkin spoiled before I got to make the composition. I was surprised that the tree I had in mind, a Japanese Elm, aka Zelkova, took so long for its leaves to change color for fall. By the time the leaves had turned color, I was too otherwise with grad apps anyways! Luckily I had another medium size pumpkin for the job which had no punctures and therefore went unspoiled all the way until the end of November when I carried this out. Unfortunately, at that time I realized, for me carry out this operation without pruning roots was not practical for the pumpkin I was left with. Instead, I photoshopped my tree into the pumpkin for now; a temporary composition for the purpose of one photo was not worth disturbing roots at the beginning of winter and endangering my tree's health. Bonsai is always about the tree's health first. Another idea left to pursue again another year, but I am as happy as I can be with the product for now.

Hmmmmm... something's not right here...
My zelkova/Japanese elm photoshopped into a pumpkin pot for a belated Halloween celebration. Next year, with better planning, I'll give it another go.
          More to come on the development of this Zelkova next time. Pulling it out of hibernation for this photoshoot prompted me to do a bit of needed clean-up on it.

4. Other Artist Displays

          Lastly, enjoy a few other Halloween bonsai displays which other people have made before.
A jade bonsai with a little Halloween accent by "littlejadebonsai" on instagram.

More inspirational Halloween bonsai displays are available below (including many Nick Lenz compositions).

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