Due to popular demand we have started this series to help Bonsai artists and our loyal customers in their choice of a bonsai container. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when selecting a bonsai pot and we will be diving into the way we select a container for our trees and customers trees.
Masculine or Feminine
The main consideration in choosing a pot is to work out if the tree is masculine or feminine. This is determined by multiple characteristics of each tree, for example the nebari, trunk line, bark texture, leaf density and much more.
A tree that has characteristics of strength, power, formality, harshness, roughness and struggle can be considered masculine
A tree that has characteristics of calm, delicacy, instability, informality and finesse can be considered feminine.
Please note that these are merely guidelines and form a basis on how to break down the elements of tree and pot to help in choosing a correct Bonsai container. Every artist and bonsai enthusiast will have their own opinions and artistic flair which will create a different composition of their own.
Ficus burtt-davyi (Veld Fig)
Current pot size: 180mm x 230mm
Tree Size: 190mm high x 330mm wide
Lets start by listing some of the characteristics of this tree and how they fit into the masculine or feminine approach.
Nebari - Masculine, very pronounced enveloping base. Nice flair and character. some finer roots could be grafted to improve over time with taper.
Trunk line - Masculine, Powerful squat trunk with thick first downward branch.
Bark texture - Masculine, Smooth bark with lots of folding that shows age.
Bark colour - Feminine, Light cream colour with green undertone, darker brown tones in places.
Primary branches - Masculine, prominent branches with lots of signs of age.
Ramification - Feminine, finer branches and with development will create a dense fine twiggy growth.
Leaf size/density - Feminine, with development burtt-davyi reduce well. The leaf size will be nice and small over time and show more a fine feminine look.
Leaf colour New/Old - Masculine, shades of green to darker green with age. Very simple leaf shape with a strong curved outline.
Other features - Fruit, Feminine, fruit shows reproduction and health.
Masculine 5 - Feminine 3
On the scale below the tree is at no 3 on the masculine side.
Option A: Octagonal Fancy small 19.5 wide x 8cm high - Willow Bonsai Pots
Glazed effect: Seaweed glaze as pictured
A. Pot characteristics:
1. Top View - Masculine, Octagonal geometric shape with straight edges and sharp corners
2. Side Profile - Feminine, Nice curvature from rim to above foot. Gives the impression of less visual weight.
3. Rim effect - Masculine, Accentuated rim that extends over quite far while still tapering well to complete the curvature.
4. Feet of pot - Masculine, slight curve but closer to straight profile. Complete foot ring with octagonal design.
5. Feet design - Masculine, Octagonal design with simple detail and indentations on each quadrant.
6. Details and special features - Masculine, the indentations between each octagonal segment create interest and draw the eye into the pot curvature of the pot.
7. Glazed/Unglazed - The seaweed glaze for me is a favourite with burtt-davyi. Another options is to go for a Dapple Brown Matt glaze. (See Pottery studio page for picture).
Masculine 5 - Feminine 1
1. Contrast and Harmony - The Seaweed glaze has numerous elements to work with. Firstly the light and dark green. The light green tones will pick up the undertone in the bark, while harmonizing with the new leaves. The dark green will harmonize with the older leaves and pick up the fruit colour while in fruit. The rich dark brown caramel colour contrasts well with the cream bark highlighting this characteristic and harmonizing with the tones in the bark and branch structure.
2. Composition/ Telling a story - This pot will emphasize the dramatic base of the tree while drawing all the viewers attention through the curvature into the dominant first branch. When planted the first branch should be placed somewhere on the right diagonal line to draw more attention to the design and highlights the main features of the tree. Being the base, first branch and dense canopy. The brown caramel colours really help the viewer appreciate the bark colour and help create a story of the lightly coloured rocks that Ficus often grow over, in or around in nature.
The pot is telling a story of a rocky area with lots of weathered rocks and natural bushes dotted in the landscape. In between this is a Ficus weathered by time and finding a way by growing down a rock face out from the bushes to find light and flourish.
Option B: Moon Pot Large 19cm x 16.5cm - Willow Bonsai Pots
Glazed effect: Manganese unglazed as pictured
B. Pot characteristics:
1. Top View - Feminine, Roundish shape
2. Side Profile - Feminine, Roundish shape with natural cutout sections
3. Rim effect - N/A
4. Feet of pot - Masculine, Rocky, hard features. Natural and rough
5. Feet design - Masculine, Indented round design with natural and rough textured feet
6. Details and special features - Masculine, Textured effect all over with sharp natural profile cutout for the opening.
7. Glazed/Unglazed - Masculine, Unglazed Manganese with dark colouration
Masculine 4 - Feminine 2
1. Contrast and Harmony - This pot with its unglazed textured effect has less elements to work with than the Seaweed glaze of the previous pot. However the dark tones contrast well with the bark and emphasize the leaves dark green colour. The lighter areas pick up the slight brown in the bark.
2. Composition/ Telling a story - This pot will help create a more natural look to the composition. The unglazed texture feel show a harsher environment that this tree is surviving and flourishing. The more natural unique look will be made to hug the lower branch and if necessary lower the upper portion a bit to give space for the upper portion of the tree.
This Ficus burtt-davyi will work well in both pots. Option B is closer to the masculine - feminine characteristics of the tree but in saying this my personal opinion is the Octagonal will highlight the features of the tree better and direct the viewer in a more fluent way. If looking for more of a natural look and tougher story then the Moon pot will work to portray an informal rocky landscape.
As always this is an opinion and is just a guideline to what can work and the reason thereof. In art we need to take a set of choices and make them tangible and easy to understand. Breaking up the characteristics of the tree and pot makes this easier to explain the options and choices made in a constructive manner. Not just saying it looks nice or not, but using the above to tell a story and convey the image in the artists mind to the viewer.
Want to participate?
We plan on doing a case study on a tree like the above each week for our customers and collection trees. If you would like to participate and have us choose a pot for your tree with explanations please send us an email with the following details:
Photo of tree taken from the front and at eyelevel
Size of the tree
Size of current pot
Future growth and compositional remarks for the future.
What story do you have in mind for the tree or what feature do you want to enhance.
Send the above to firstname.lastname@example.org