Deadwood on bonsai adds interest and curiosity to your tree. When creating deadwood you have to remember that trees in nature don’t just have random deadwood. There are patterns and a reason for the deadwood to be there. So on a bonsai as an artist, you have to stay with a pattern, create that story of why.
Tell a Story
- Broken out top: A top of a tree that is broken could be caused by wind.
- Dead top with a dead strip extending to the ground or close to it is suggestive of a lightning strike.
- Widely distributed dead or broken branches around the crown of the tree would be indicative of an ice storm.
- Dead branches on just one particular side of the tree suggest strong prevailing winds or cold air flow down the side of a mountain.
- Many dead but unbroken branches may indicate a foliar disease or insect damage.
- Lots of dead branches on the lower to the midsection of a tree might indicate fire damage.
- Irregular shaped trunks or branches (spirals, flat or other shapes) could be caused by genetics, high elevation snowpacks, frequent strong winds or unbalanced root systems caused by obstructions in the soil, drought, erosion or disease.
Jin is what we call dead branches when we strip the bark off of them. You will find Jin on coniferous trees rather than deciduous trees. The reason that is, is because the resinous wood on conifers allows the deadwood to survive for years of weathering. Most deciduous trees have branches that usually will rot and break off.
Why would we want to create Jin?
- Trunk to tall and has no taper. You could Jin the top and that would represent why the top is missing or the diameter changes abruptly.
- If the branches are too strong in a part of the tree or there are multiple trunks and they are all not needed for the design. If you simply cut them off it might create ugly scars. You could Jin them and add to the design.
- You could create a Jin to help solve a design problem as long as it is consistent with the overall design. We can call that creative problem-solving.
Put thought into what Jin look like.
- Length: Generally live branches on trees are not as long as the tree is tall and bonsai branches are no different. Dead branches will be shorter than live branches because they will break off or weather alway while live branches will keep on growing.
- Diameter: The diameter of the branches are never as thick as the trunk and Jin branches that appear to be are a common mistake.
- Taper: Branches don’t taper from node to node (fork to fork) and they don’t flare from the trunk like a bell. A thick branch can be reduced by carving the bottom portion of the branch. Branches rarely ever smoothly taper out to a pencil point. Usually, they are irregular and blunt. Load breaks will have taper effect on the bottom side of the branch, even creating a knothole at the base of the branch.
- Texture: Carved cracks and channels should not make artificial curves. We need to make sure that we follow the natural grain of the wood. When you are carving cracks and channels they should vary in depth and width their entire length. They should have a beginning and an end as well. Rough edges, splinters, and fuzz look fresh and man-made because naturally occurring weathering will smooth and polish the jin.
- Color: The color of a jin varies according to species, age and the environment that the tree is growing in. High elevation conifers are usually bone white and many lower elevation trees are more ash or silver gray, but never pure white.
Other dead features
As mentioned in the first paragraph, deadwood on a bonsai is not just for decoration. It portrays or tells a story or history of that tree. There is a reason why that deadwood is there. Its not there just because we want it to be.
As an artist when we create or enhance deadwood on a tree we need to be creating or enhancing the trees narrative. Even if the narrative or story we are trying to tell is fictional, it needs to be believable and coherent.
Stripped bark on the trunk is probably the most common form of deadwood. In nature this is caused by a dead branch or a dead root then the connecting tissue dries. The bark separates in this dead zone and falls off of the tree.
When stubs of dead branches are consumed by decay they create voids in the trunk. The voids are never flat, smooth or bowl-shaped.
- Size: The size and shape of these knotholes are never the same. Sometimes they are shaped like an upside-down raindrop.
- Texture: Knotholes vary. Some are clean with no rim and the dead branch completely gone. Others have raised edges, dried exterior and or protruding heartwood.
Cavities are voids where tissue has decayed possibly caused by fire, mechanical injury or the death of a major branch or root.
- Cavities near the base of a tree might be caused by a fungal infection caused by fire or mechanical damage.
- The shape of these cavities are irregular and usually extend from a wound to a root. They are deep enough to cast shadows and they enhance the texture of the trunk.
- Decay spreads up and down, then right and left then back into the trunk.
- Texture: If old cavities are exposed to fire or animal activity they can become quite smooth on the inside.
When we create deadwood we still have to go with the flow of the design. We still have to think about the harmony and the unity of the overall bonsai. You still have to create balance in your design.
Remember that a bonsai is not just a tree, its a piece of art and art tells a story or at least portrays a narrative.