Boon on the “Myth of the Single Front” and the Copper v. Aluminum “Debate”


Sashi-eda: Another manufactured controversy of late is 360-degree bonsai. Some have said that the idea of a single front view for a bonsai is a myth, that ” (t)he single front that has been taught in books, on the internet, and defended by many practitioners of bonsai just does not exist in any manner except in the mind of a few bonsaists. It has no place in the world of bonsai and it serves no purpose outside of the art of photography.”1 Do you style a tree with a single front in mind, or do you try to make it look equally good from all angles?

Boon: A bonsai is like a tree in nature. It has one side with a more favorable viewing-side, than all the other sides. After finding this side, the artist begins to enhance that beauty–or side. A proper apex or crown always comest toward the viewer, branch locations toward the left and right. Long back branches create depth in bonsai, so you could say that if you let them grow long you are sacrificing one side over the other. But that is not always true. Over time a tree might change enough that that tree should now have another front. This is where the artist’s trained eye comes in. You should look for more than one possible front then picke the best one. A bonsai should not have more than one front at a time. In the future, bonsai may change hands. The new owner or another artist may choose a new favorite front.

Sashi-eda: Is there a debate of any substance in the value of copper over aluminum wire for bonsai?

Boon: People who are willing to enter into a “copper only” debate need more training. I would never put copper on a Japanese beech or a maple. The copper wire could stain the gray/white bark. There are many trees I would not use copper on (for many different reason). But for the size of wire, copper wire is stronger when it work-hardens. It doesn’t take up that much space. It is also stiffer, so it will anchor branches well so that they will have less movement during watering or wind. This makes the branch set faster. A good teacher will be able to teach you when to use copper, and when to use aluminum.

1. Will Heath, “The Myth of the Single Front,” The Art of Bonsai Project, http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/mythofthefront.php, accessed 06/30/2007

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