Giving Up That Branch You Love–

Why would you want to give up what you’re excited about? This doesn’t sound right, does it…

Sometimes, of course, a cool branch is everything good about a tree, and then we have to feature it. But it’s easy to become stubbornly adamant about a branch, or other tree element like really nice shari, that ends up negatively impacting the overall design if we’re over-focussed on it and all the other features from that view are terrible.

When I was studying ceramics in graduate school a visiting professor became very influential to me and changed how I approached clay, and even now, trees. This was painter and sculptor Jean-Pierre Larocque, who earlier this year had a major show in his home city of Montreal.

When we experience preciousness, we usually protect it at all costs. Sometimes to the detriment of the work. Jean-Pierre’s working method skirts and diminishes ‘precious’ elements. There’s a movie below about his work and how he makes it, and he talks about this idea. The timestamp about this I’d suggest is 12.00.

Jean-Pierre explains that his pieces evolve through a process of covering up and negating parts that were previously there. Especially he speaks of those parts that become precious to him, and then of discovering that they are not the solution but actually the problem.

His non-attachment style of working is rather profound, for it is in the service of the gestalt of the work, avoiding the trap of falling in love with a single part that weakens the whole. Gestalt over star elements. Ensemble rather than soloist.

For years I’ve shared this lesson in teaching integrated bonsai design. We should be alert in design decisions for really special tree features, for sure. Only also be sure that you don’t lose the big picture in featuring them.

And, beyond the parallel I’m making here with bonsai design choices, it’s just really cool to watch Jean-Pierre ‘play’ with scrap pieces of clay to compose a sculpture, or using an eraser to draw, all of which starts from the beginning of the movie. There’s a unique score composed just for this film, too. Enjoy-
Jean-Pierre Larocque – Charcoal and Clay—Try timestamp 12:00 for the concept discussed here of not being sucked into a ‘precious’ element

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  1. anijhuis says:

    Thanks Michael I am so guilty of this!!!`

    • crataegus says:

      We all are…
      Actually JP is a very old friend and I’ve been hunting for a reason to feature his work in relation to bonsai. As for preciousness…he deserves the credit for waking me up to it. Cheers-

  2. Peter Brolese says:

    Michael, your statement “When we experience preciousness, we usually protect it at all costs” is incredibly accurate, you have hit the heart of the matter with just a handful of words.

    • crataegus says:

      Thanks Peter!
      Oddly, living in the tiny home was another adventure in giving up all sorts of things that previously were precious. And I think I live better without them.

  3. Ray says:

    Thank you Michael, makes you think of possibilities. Looking and thinking a different way. This applies to bonsai well I think. I find myself wandering around my bonsai and garden always looking for different ideas. Hopefully It makes for better design and enjoyment.

  4. albert polito says:

    At an open gallery walk at Chas Martin’s work area, an artist had big sign that said something like, “Kill what you love.” When I pressed the artist for the significance of this sign, she explained something very similar to your message.


    Hey Michael. Hope all is well. Just watched the film on your professor Jean-Pierre Larocque. WOW! I can see how he opened up your eyes to a different way of working and being. I’m now questioning a few projects I’m working on… I don’t think I’m “in” them enough. Need to stop thinking and just be. Thanks for sharing that. When it comes to my trees I’m still hung up on favourite branches. Need to look at that too. Cheers. – A


  6. Peter says:

    Thanks for your insight about letting go of the precious.
    I watched the link. What an amazing artist.

  7. Erich Raudebaugh says:

    What a great video! The concept of preciousness was drilled into my fellow students and I during architecture school, especially while designing with models. I had a hard time with it to be honest, and I still do, it’s a lesson you almost have to learn through failure. The ability to let go is also a bit Zen, and has life value well beyond bonsai.

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