The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Texture as the visual or tactile surface characteristics and appearance of something. Bonsai is a very visual art form and therefore texture does play a vital part, not just in the individual parts of the Bonsai picture, but the whole picture as a whole. There are already so many things that play a role in the overall aesthetic display and look of a Bonsai tree, that to bring out one specific aspect, might be one step too far for some. However, we will break it down in the different parts and as you develop on your Bonsai journey, more of these features can be combined. Each individual aspect will make reference to its place as part of the larger whole.
Pots or containers
These come in various sizes, colours, shapes and also textures. There are some generalisations around like conifers do not necessarily go into glazed pots, but only unglazed pots, and then also that the pot colour should either match the flower colour or be of a contrasting colour. Let’s for the sake of this article, focus on texture. Needless to say is that a very refined tree, with a more feminine appearance and feel, will look odd in a rustic, unglazed pot. There is also a saying that the pot is like the frame of the picture and should enhance the visual appearance of the tree. It is therefore logical to say that smooth pots, usually glazed, is better off with trees which have smooth bark or a smooth leaf surface. A very rustic old Pine tree will probably look better in a more rustic container that could even have the texture of a rock or similar to the craggy old bark. The word generalisation has already been used here and it is common place to bend and break “rules” if the appearance of the whole visual picture will be enhanced in so doing. In short, as the pot or container is such an important part of the final look, it will pay to think about texture as well in selecting the best pot for the tree. It is definitely more than just size, colour, shape, depth, glaze, texture matters.
From a visual perspective, and especially when the bark is well-developed and stretches down to the soil surface, it is one of the most striking aspects of a tree from a textural perspective. Bark comes in many forms, shapes, colours, sizes and thickness. The same can be said for texture. The two main characteristics will be either smooth or rough with anything in-between. Then there is also the fact that some trees will form bark plates and others could have flaky bark. All of this is determined by the species and is a natural characteristic that is genetically determined. All the Bonsai artist can really do here is to ensure that the bark is protected or removed if it needs to be. The latter refers to some Junipers where the flaky bark is removed to show the rich contrasting reddish live veins off against the stark white of deadwood. Bark is a sign of age and therefore a very important aspect of increasing the aged look of the tree.
Jin, Shari and Uro
This goes hand in hand with Bark and influences textural aesthetics of the tree. This also can be used to enhance aging characteristics due to the textural differences between these features and the rest of the trunk, stems or bark.
When it comes to leaves or needles, the usual visual impacts are those of shape, colour and size. There are textural aspects when it comes to foliage that are important when it comes to overall appearance of the art work. Things like, softness, hardness, smoothness and then also in a lot of broadleaves, like Rhododendron and some Magnolia, the two leaf surfaces showing completely different textures on the two leaf sides. We do find some leaves with a smooth top (adaxial side) and the underside (abaxial side), could be hairy. In Bonsai, it is rare to see the lower side of leaves, but if there is a unique difference in texture, it might pay to find ways to show it off. That is where creativity can trump practicality or “rules”. We all know about the spectacular autumn colour changes we see in some deciduous trees, but it is good to note that when the colour changes happen, there is at times also a textural change at the same time.
Flowers: The more striking aspects of flowers and fruit would be the colour, size and shape. It is worth noting that flowers have different textures, not just the whole flower, but also parts of the flower can be different.
Soil or surface cover: This refers to the upper layer of the soil that is visible in the pot or container. Texture here is important as well. The soil particles itself can form a visual pleasing aestehtic, but it is more common to cover this with something like moss. Just within different moss varieties a whole lot of different textures can be found.
Stands: Bonsai are usually displayed on a stand and traditionally these are made from wood. In modern displays it is not uncommon to see different materials being used. This could be steel, composites and even glass.
It all comes down to the aesthetic and the visual impact that will enhance the tree and texture is a force to be reckoned with when these decisions are made.