Bunjin Part III—What’s A Good Trunkline?

To decide if an unstyled tree has promise as a bunjin, we first need to consider the trunkline. We might qualify a good trunkline as interesting and a poor trunkline as boring. How do we distinguish between them?

If we study an instrument, we might be told “if you can sing it you can play it.” In bonsai this translates to “if you can draw it you can see it.” Maybe try a few drawings.

Here are several drawings I did to compare boring vs. interesting trunk lines.

Boring trunk lines. These are simple with no variation in energy along the length.

These trunk lines aren’t much better. They have a lot of movement, but more movement isn’t always better movement.

Interesting movement. Notice that micro movements help “identify” longer, straighter sections. The change up the pace.

Another set of interesting trunk lines, with micro movements defining the larger. Many of these small movements would be hard to do with wire.

Combining ideas: more movement with interesting movement.

A Shore Pine bunjin with quick and slow movements, which help to activate its trunkline.

A bunjin Ponderosa Pine—a good tree, but many of the trunk movements are the same size.

The “drawing the trunk” exercise can also help identify good thick-trunk trees. But with bunjin, getting a good trunk line is essential, as the trunk is most of the story. 

In bunjin we seek the indefinable. If we find a trunk line that we keep coming back to, as if to an unanswered question, we’re on the right path.

Please check out the first two posts in this bunjin series: What Is This Weird Thing? and Building On Weird.

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  1. Paul says:

    So, are we to expect a flow of “interesting” bunjins coming from you, then?

  2. michael hoffman says:

    good. stuff. an understood and well-conceived line is very much a part of the artist toolbox. bonsai is described as a specific horticultural practice, which is as true as it is limiting.

  3. Diana Upton says:

    Hello Michael. I am relatively new to bonsai (I joined Willamette Valley Bonsai just before the pandemic) and have really been enjoying your posts. I saw your two books on one, and when I went to purchase Post-Dated on Amazon it was listed as $286.00!!! Is this correct? I thought I had seen it elsewhere for about $25.00 which seems like a more reasonable book price.


    Diana Upton ________________________________

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Diana, and yikes! You could buy about 15 of them for that price. Both Post-Dated and my other book Bonsai Heresy are available (both for the correct price) on Stone Lantern. Glad you asked!!

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