Stephen King’s Advice To Bonsai Artists-
Stephen King wrote one the most respected books on the craft of writing. It tops many lists: On Writing. It’s a fantastic memoir, with stories from his weird upbringing and beginnings as an author. And along the way he talks about writing.
King dislikes a rigid plot. A plot is a story’s events, sequenced by cause and effect, with tension that must be resolved. Fiction writers are divided about how to use plot. Some stick to it like glue, others prefer more wiggle. My sister once saw Kurt Vonnegut give a lecture, and he began by illustrating a plot on a blackboard. After making a few chalk marks, he shot to the ground, doodled around down there, and then scooted ten feet away and doodled more. He wasn’t a fan of rigid plot either.
Most plots end where the author intended: the dragon gets slain, etc. And then there’s the plots that even the author didn’t see coming, where the dragon is blackmailed by the five year old from Topeka.
Stephen King didn’t offer any specific advice about bonsai. And you might not like King’s books. But I was encouraged that King says that he’s often surprised where his novels end up, changing his plots to satisfy new developments. I suppose this makes sense to me because I was trained to work in painting and sculpture as a journey, and letting that exploration surprise and edify.
Here’s the applicable bonsai point: Bonsai tradition is your license to follow a visual plot. A pre-decided skeleton upon which you build detail. Nothing wrong with that (I follow common bonsai plots all the time). And yet, with that route, you’re not going to be surprised where your bonsai end up.
If you want to let wild hair into your design, get to know your inbuilt collaborator. The tree can suggest, ‘No, we’re not going to go that way, I think this other way is better’. And we’re lucky, not many artists’ media talk back to them like this. Use this collaborative input from the tree, whether branch death or spastic extension, to change design (roughly, plot).
I’m tempted to post a photo now, ‘Well, here, this is what I mean.’ But that would be my sideways canter, and I want to see yours.
Most creative sidestepping in bonsai is going to be subtle. It’s unlikely that your collaborator will suggest ‘Hey, my leaves would look better painted stealth black’. But the tree might suggest an alternative pot. It may suggest not cutting off a branch that the traditional style ‘plot’ would say has no business being there. Or, it may suggest other things.
We’re all riffing off the same plot. Show us your riff.
There’s another element of creative bonsai discovery, and that’s the clock. Let your tree convince you of something now and then, for sure, but as they can speak slow as molasses, you might want to bring a book.