Robert Steven Workshop – Breaking the Mindset

What an absolutely amazing weekend I had with Robert Steven, who so kindly visited our club for a weekend of critiques, presentations and workshops. I can’t say how glad I am that he came to visit Perth, as it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I’m still digesting everything that I learned from the weekend with Robert, as he really opened my mind to a different view on how I should be learning the art.

One thing that I came to realise, is that its not just about learning the ‘rules and guidelines’ of bonsai, but actually understanding the background of these so called ‘rules’ and why they are in place. By better understanding these rules, you can better understand what situations you need to apply them, and what situations that they can be bent or ‘broken’.

He also went further then the ‘rules’, and touched on our mindsets, and how we need to break away from them and start treating each bonsai as an individual, rather then trying to apply broad rules to each and every tree we work.

I should note at this point, when I say ‘rules’ I do not mean to say that there are actually rules within the bonsai world, but more guidelines that are widely followed.

Anyway, enough of the theory, lets gets some photos happening!

The first day we started with Robert critiquing a few of our members trees. I think this may have been the moment he fell in love with the our paperbarks.

robert steven 1

Next up that day was the workshop, in which I bit off way more then I could chew with my Shimpaku Juniper. Basically… I need to work that little bit faster, and more confidently. I second guess myself too much with branch selection, and as such take way too long in thinning out the tree. Then, I’m left with way too little time to finish my wiring. No photos of this one, I didn’t finish so it does not do Robert any justice in showing it. When I’ve completed the work, with Roberts instructions in mind, I will post it up… however… while I was busy wiring and bending, I snapped the trunk right under the apex. So, I am crossing my fingers it will pull through, as I it was smallish break and I was able to place it back together quickly and apply cut paste. I’m hopeful, but will now leave it to heal.

The next day kicked off with a demonstration by Robert on firstly a Diosma, and then creating a landscape. I learnt a lot during this presentation, he had really got me thinking a lot more about the art, and the different aspects of creating a bonsai. The Diosma started off as a tree that was due to be dumped, it was located in a carpark and was apparently scratching doors. So, very luckily, it was rescued before that could happen!

robert steven 2This is a shot of Robert’s preferred viewing angle. Note that I do not use the word ‘front’, this was a big point of Robert, in that we should not be trying to find a front but actually looking for the best viewing angle. The front of a person for example is them standing front on to you, this might not be their most attractive pose though, if they perhaps turned a little, leaned back and then looked towards, it might look much more appealing, and therefore be the preferred viewing angle. I struggle to explain it the way that he did, but I try.

robert steven 3The picture to the right is another angle of the tree, not quite behind, but it gives you a better idea of what he was working with.

The next shot below is the tree placed into its new pot. Obviously, the root ball is way too large for the pot that it is in, this however will be rectified over time. In the short term, a plastic rim will be placed around the root ball, and filled with soil. Basically raising the rim of the pot, allowing more room for the roots to grow and the tree to recover.

robert steven 4

This next shot shows the work done almost completed on the left side of the tree, and a Jin that has been made of the upper branch.

robert steven 5

Here in the next shot you can see that work is almost complete.

robert steven 6

Here were have the completed tree. Robert completed the tree using only one or two pieces of wire, and I think the outcome is wonderful.

robert steven 7

robert steven 8Then, we were lucky enough to have Robert create a landscape with the rest of the time that we had in the morning before lunch. Which turned out to be more then enough for him to create a very nice landscape using limestone for the rocks, Buxus for the landscape trees and all sitting on a granite slab.


robert steven 9Here you can see Robert has placed the main tree and wired it in place, the wire was attached to the limestone using a cement putty. The limestone was then placed onto the granite slab, and the smaller limestone pieces placed. The second tree was then positioned and muck added to keep it in place. The limestone blocks are particularly interesting I think, and really work well.

robert steven 10Robert then added the third, fourth and fifth trees to the composition and also added muck to hold them in place. You can see the third tree is just to the left of the main tree peaking out from behind the rock, the fourth was placed on the far left and the fifth placed as a cascade just below the main tree.

Moss was then applied which completed the piece. You can see in the picture below that Robert added some small mounds of moss in the front which adds another element to the landscape and adds a bit more depth. This is a picture of the final product.

robert steven 11

I also completed a workshop on my Melaleuca Incana, however I will save that for another post. I found the weekend a truly mind opening experience and it really got me thinking on my approach to learning the art. I can’t thank Robert enough for coming to visit, and hope that I see him again soon.

I will be posting my workshop tree soon, so stay tuned.

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