This style has a long flowing often contorted trunk line, with branches reduced to a minimum. In Japan, the literati style is known as bunjin-gi (文人木). (Bunjin is a translation of the Chinese phrase wenren meaning “scholars practiced in the arts” and gi is a derivative of the Japanese word, ki, for “tree”). This is fitting because this style of bonsai was derived from Ancient Chinese ink paintings where trees would be depicted in a harsh environment with elegant long contorted trunk lines. Minimal, sparse branching is ideal for Bunjingi because it shows great age and struggle
Advantages of Bunjingi
Are that it opens up the mind to create wonderful images that cannot be replicated in other styles. It is a huge advantage to not let rules and guidelines create your artwork, literati allows us to ‘paint outside the lines’ if you will. Imagine the tree as a wise old man wandering through the forest, like most mud men we see, what he carries on his body will be light, perhaps if anything he might have a single old weathered walking stick to help him. But what he doesn’t carry in gear is compensated by his great age and knowledge. This is what we try to achieve in Literati style, we want to convey old age and struggle through an elegant flowing image and when done correctly will be a show stopper or winner.
Disadvantages of Literati
Are creating material that truly reflects the idea of ‘bunjingi’. Many bonsai artists agree that the most difficult decision we encounter is branch selection and there is no other style which requires this knowledge more than literati. Because of the minimal branching necessary it is very important we decide which branches will outgrow our intended design and cut back to a more sparse image, Which makes a lot of people very nervous. It is better to have a tree with a bright future then one that might not look so pretty in the short term.
This style can be achieved with all types of material, although it is very difficult to maintain and convey the image of deciduous literati, it can be done. The most commonly seen are pines or conifers, but many deciduous species are more than acceptable. Most common trees for this style bonsai are:
- Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora)
- Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii)
- Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
- Juniper (Juniperus sp.)
- Spruce (Picea sp.)
- Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
- Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
- Ficus (Ficus sp.)
- Beech (Fagus sp.)