What this book is not

This book is neither a care manual nor a technical how-to book. The text will not explain how to wire bonsai trees, how to transplant, how to prune, how to create ramification nor how to keep your bonsai safe over the winter or during the summer. This book will not discuss species care or climate considerations for bonsai. It is concerned with artistry and design principles only.

Further, this book is not best suited to the enthusiast who is just starting to learn about growing and styling bonsai. The concepts presented in this book expound on basic bonsai styling conventions and are not meant to replace them or introduce them to the neophyte. There is no substitute for a proper foundation in bonsai fundamentals and this book does not offer such a foundation, but rather builds upon it.

Do not take this book as “The New Dogma” for bonsai design — or even the old dogma for that matter. This is not a rule book. It merely provides insights into why some rules are important and why some rules work, and how ignoring some rules results in artistic failure.


(Genuflect when you say that, bub!)

Rules, schmules! The phrase, “rules of bonsai,” is horrible terminology. This one unfortunate misnomer is likely responsible for the poor level of understanding of bonsai fundamentals for multitudes of self-proclaimed innovative bonsai enthusiasts. The rules of bonsai are merely some artistic conventions that enhance and simplify the image that the artist tries to convey to others as beautiful, meaningful or evocative (N. Lenz, 2002).

It is important that you understand this distinction: the rules of artistry are guidelines for how to communicate, not what to communicate. These rules are just references to the fundamentals of artistry as they are applied to bonsai, nothing more than that. The Japanese did not invent these rules, nor are the rules codified and recorded in some iron bound tome. Let’s dispense with this awful term, shall we?

Who should read this book?

This book is for bonsai enthusiasts who understand bonsai basics; those who are familiar with the basic styles of bonsai and who know how to achieve these basic designs with various species and have successfully done so on several occasions. It will be beneficial if the reader also understands which species are best suited to certain basic styles and why.

This book is also for those enthusiasts who have questions about why the so-called rules of bonsai are important or what these conventions of artistry accomplish. Those who note a difference in beauty or appeal between different bonsai displays, but don’t quite know why this difference exists will likely also benefit from this book.

This book is also for those unfortunate souls who erroneously believe that these rul… er, guidelines and conventions are overly constraining or useless. Nothing could be further from the truth and I hope that I can change some minds by way of this text.