chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Symmetry vs. Asymmetry in Bonsai

Posted by Jason on December 5, 2008

I’ve always been a fan of symmetry throughout my entire life. I love things that are equal. Here’s an example: there’s a six-pack of beer in the fridge, with the short end facing me. There’s one beer gone from the front left slot. Where do I take my next beer from? The left middle or the right front? I MUST take it from the right front to make the two lines even and preserve the symmetry. In bonsai, and I suppose all of art, symmetry is boring. It’s static. It doesn’t show movement. It’s cookie-cutter.
How do we NOT be boring and static in our art? A triangle with 3 unequal sides (scalene for you geometry nerds) can help us. If there are no sides that are exactly the same, then there is said to be visual tension which causes the eye to move from one part of the subject to another. In bonsai, the scalene triangle rules the world. The outlines of the triangles should enclose the foliage of each branch, the entire foliage mass, and the branch/trunk structures individually. So it could be said that there is an overarching scalene triangle that encloses the entire tree with pot, as well as several smaller scalene triangles that give each component of a bonsai  the feel of movement and dynamism.

This article by Ron Martin explains the whole process much more than I just did, and with pictures. Check it out and then go to my bonsai page and see if  you can find the triangles (or lack thereof) in my trees. I’d love any comments, good or bad on my artistic design (once again, or lack thereof). 

Go find triangles!


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