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 Post subject: Posted: Mon Dec 19, 2005 7:22 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 02, 2005 12:26 am
Posts: 8
Location: central Kansas USA
A completely different artform?
I'm not a prophet. I referred to two of those three geometries as new artforms. Not the alternative form of bonsai being discussed here.
Take the analogy as far as you want.
The rules of the three geometries are different because of the one assumption that is different.
One of many examples:
Plane geometry, the sum of the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, always, and size or shape of triangle makes no difference.
Spherical geometry, the sum of the three angles of a triangle is greater than 180 degrees, and get larger as the triangle gets larger.
Hyperbolic geometry, the sum of the angles of a triangle is less than 180 degrees, and gets smaller as the triangle gets bigger.
Bonsai and this other hypothetical artform would also have vast differneces based on this small difference of judging it in the round instead of primarily from a front.
One example, they would use perspective differently.
Bonsai in the round would have to have a branch where it actually looks like it is. A branch would have to be as long as it looks.
Depth of field would be checked by slightly binocular vision and by looking from slightly different angles and seeing the branches more relative with each other, just like looking at a tree in most landscapes. I say most because large trees in landscapes have been shaped to look right only from one direction. But generally they aren't treated so.
Note that the three forms of geometry I used as analogy all are called geometry. I think that bonsai in the round would still be called bonsai by the general public, and probably by the bonsai hobby and trade in general.
My most important point, to my mind, was that a bonsai (or any potted tree) should be judged by the logic by which it was shaped. To do otherwise would be to miss the point of that bonsai.
Potted trees that succeed when judged by either standard might be so rare we can ignore them in this discussion. And treasure one if we came across it.
You are, of course free to say the logic is a step backward, and you will not use it. But in that case your judgment would be irrelevant.
If most take that view, this hypothetical artform will come to nothing. But I would think it will be brought up again and again, always being a small minority. There I am prophesying after having said I'm not a prophet. Perhaps you'll at least agree that I'm not a prophet.

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 Post subject: Posted: Mon Dec 19, 2005 9:21 pm
 Editor

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:06 am
Posts: 580
Location: Seattle, WA
Walter Pickett wrote:
Bonsai and this other hypothetical artform would also have vast differneces based on this small difference of judging it in the round instead of primarily from a front.
One example, they would use perspective differently.
Bonsai in the round would have to have a branch where it actually looks like it is. A branch would have to be as long as it looks.

This is very interesting, and I agree entirely. I also think it's great that we're getting to down to brass tacks about how the artistic practice of "bonsai in the round" would have to change.
There's a related concern: Many successful bonsai are based on an isosceles triangle or a set of such triangles, nested within one another. Being able to compose a bonsai in this way is predicated upon having a well-defined front. What form would be the basis for "bonsai in the round"? A cone would work, but that brings with it all of the same heaviness that comes with the equilateral triangle. Sure, you could get away with a tall narrow cone (or a cone atop a cylinder) for a "tall tree" representation of an old Douglas fir or redwood or such, but I'd hardly want to believe that the cone would be the only feasible form.
How about a cone with the apex off-center? Perhaps -- and indeed, this would be more dynamic from many angles, but then the tree would lean away from at least one viewing quadrant. Perhaps one would have to be more clever in design, incorporating multiple apex elements that appear and recede depending on the viewing angle (note from our experience with successful driftwood and bunjin stylings that the lines acting as apex need not actually be the highest in the tree).
Thoughts?
Best regards,
Carl

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:42 am

Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
I doubt whether it is possible, other than theoretically, to design a tree that employs the suite of perspective devices we see in "well-styled" bonsai and that is perfectly viewable from all 360 degrees of the compass. There will always be shortcomings at some point or other, as it is rotated. Trees are not geometric solids, so cannot be expected to behave the same way from all angles.
As far as I am concerned, this discussion is little more than a thought exercise, than it is a likelihood of reality. There may be trees that have several "fronts" but there will usually be a "best front" to choose.
I recall being challenged by a qualified bonsai instuctor, to identify the front of a clump style azalea, during early styling, that I own. I was having trouble choosing a best front for the 7 trunked specimen. His advice went something like, "If you can't see a front that is obvious to you and others then either you or the tree need to change." 12 years later, the tree has two trunks, and is one of my better trees.
The use of scalene (sorry Carl, not isosceles) triangles is no less applicable to the sides, back and top of a composition than it is to the front, if I remember the earliest lessons I learned about styling bonsai. That said, there are also points during the rotation of any tree where the tree is not going to conform to the ideal of a scalene triangle.
I am uncomfortable with the level of latitude it would be necessary to employ, to allow a "Happo Biraki" (roughly, "Open On All Sides") style of bonsai to flourish. It seems to me to be an abrogation of the fundamentals of bonsai aesthetics.

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:49 am

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
I agree that designing a bonsai that is visually pleasing from all sides is much more difficult than the single view we are all used to. It forces us to view stock in a completely different manner and also to plan the design on a three dimensional plane of thought as mentioned above. However, it is not impossible, just more difficult.
In Bonsai Today, issue number 97, Shinji Suzuki, in the article "Great Transformations - A cascading Red Pine with two fronts" says, "Styling a bonsai with two fronts is a major-league game which only the most experienced bonsai artists are prepared to play." If he says this about two fronts, what can be said of four, six, or eight fronts?
In this article, Walter Pall has graciously allowed the use of two of his bonsai as examples. Each shows multiple views and multiple fronts. The question "which front is the best" is meaningless because no group of artists or viewers would ever agree totally on this subject.
By showing all fronts, each viewer sees the best, one may see front #1 as the perfect tree because of the experiences, environment, and education they have had, while another may see front #5 as the best for the same reasons.
Which is correct?
I think none are correct, because once we start styling a bonsai to be visually pleasing from all sides, we lose the "front concept" and that way of viewing all together. Instead, we now would view the bonsai as a whole, as a three dimensional object, all the parts instead of only one would equal the whole. By changing the way we design, we change the way the design is viewed.

Will Heath

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 Post subject: Re:Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 1:37 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 02, 2005 12:26 am
Posts: 8
Location: central Kansas USA
Hector John wrote
As far as I am concerned, this discussion is little more than a thought exercise, than it is a likelihood of reality. There may be trees that have several "fronts" but there will usually be a "best front" to choose.
I recall being challenged by a qualified bonsai instuctor, to identify the front of a clump style azalea, during early styling, that I own. I was having trouble choosing a best front for the 7 trunked specimen. His advice went something like, "If you can't see a front that is obvious to you and others then either you or the tree need to change." 12 years later, the tree has two trunks, and is one of my better trees.
.............................................
I am uncomfortable with the level of latitude it would be necessary to employ, to allow a "Happo Biraki" (roughly, "Open On All Sides") style of bonsai to flourish. It seems to me to be an abrogation of the fundamentals of bonsai aesthetics.[/quote][quote][/quote]
It is a thought process. One which MAY lead to a different style of bonsai, or it MAY lead more to trying to stretch their concept of bonsai, or it MAY be just a bunch of people while a waying a winter when our trees need less attention. Time will tell.
I don't see all of us making major changes in our trees based on this discussion.
Some of us will de changing our veiwpoint slightly maybe. Perhaps one or more of us will take greater risks because of it, for better or worse.
It is an abrogation of ONE fundamental of traditional bonsai. As such, it has great ramifications.
Five hundred years ago, there was one geometry. Now there are many. All because some people wondered about one fundamental assumption. Later, other people wondered about other assumptions.
I agree that as a generalization, there is generally one best front. I have seldom seen trees, either as advanced bonsai or as starting material, where one side wasn't obviously a best side.
But I understand this discussion to be addressing a different question. To paraphrase; Could more ever be gained by seeing a bonsai with good overall quality than is lost by sacrificing everything to make that one best side the best it can possibly be? Traditionally the answer has been NO. Make the best side as great as posssible at all costs to the other veiwpoint.
Hmmmm..... I guess I have actually changed the question some, the origional question included the idea that working on one side was letting us do shoddy work on the back. That is not an important question to me stated like that. I think we all make the back and sides as good as we can, given that it doesn't hurt the front.
So if I am out of line in re-stating the question, then I need to do a different article and have a new forum discussing that. Not likely to happen.
Your reference to an interaction with one of your instructers was useful. It illustrates how we, probably all of us, have been taught to look for that best side and sacrifice all else to it. And yes, to make the rest as good as possible, given that making the rest as good as possible doesn't keep that one good side from being it's best.
I am not saying that is a bad way. It is the way I do, for what that's worth.
But is it the only way? No. Is it by far the best way? I don't know. It at least it gives one good side. In the right hands, with the right material, it gives one great side. That is nothing to sneer at.
But is it the only way to greatness? That is what I question.

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 7:30 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Quote:
the origional question included the idea that working on one side was letting us do shoddy work on the back.
...
we, probably all of us, have been taught to look for that best side and sacrifice all else to it. And yes, to make the rest as good as possible, given that making the rest as good as possible doesn't keep that one good side from being it's best. I am not saying that is a bad way. It is the way I do, for what that's worth.
But is it the only way? No. Is it by far the best way? I don't know. It at least it gives one good side. In the right hands, with the right material, it gives one great side
...

Ah, this has now devolved into an argument of reductio ad absurdum, as I see it.
To wit, it is a fictional premise that we could design a tree with ALL best sides. Therefore, by deduction, we must accept that any tree that actually has ALL best sides is either fictional, or a reduction of our standard of acceptance of "best". Either premise is equally valid, but for the logical conundrum arising from the latter premise.
That premise requires the re-definition of "best" to something more akin to "as good as it can be, in the circumstances". Perhaps this morphological shift in the definition of "best" has already taken hold in the wider community, in relation to bonsai? I see far too many people willing to throw a 10/10 vote at trees that are patently inadequate to attract that level of approbation. Is this the result of a universal dumbing-down of the standard of "best", or merely a localised acceptance that {mediocre = best }?
Since I don't believe it is acceptable to all components of the worldwide bonsai community therefore it must be, by extension, localised to some subset of the community.
This could be the most reasonable explanation. Equally, that same "acceptance of mediocrity" is the cornerstone of the original assertion of this argument.
It may be that it is merely symptomatic of the malaise that has infected certain cultures, accepting that all efforts, however poor when measured against an empirical standard, be deemed worthy without requiring justification for that position to other communities with more stringent standards.
Therefore, this argument is either one in favour of rampant mediocrity, in the name of some "ideal" that fundamentally devalues all art, or it is reduced to recognition of the principle that appreciation of art, despite any historical conventions of method, is subjective to the viewer and therefore immeasurable... that there is no empirical standard... therefore no need to adhere to principles.
Kipling, a Western observer of the East, insightfully observed "East is East and West is West, and ne'er the twain shall meet."
Perhaps bonsai is splitting into two main streams, where one adheres to traditional standards (Japan, China, traditionalists) and the other embraces the lowering of the bar, to include all of the wannabes and Philistinic know-it-alls who can't wait for nature and applied skill to develop good bonsai, so they proclaim theirs to be good, in the absence of condemnation to the contrary. If that's the case, Sayonara... I'm staying here in the rarified air of the top camp... The view is better from up here.

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 8:52 pm

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
Hector,
You made some excellent points and gave some valid points to consider, thank you.
I will have to disagree however with the point that creating a bonsai with more than one visually pleasing front would be "dumbing it down."
Why does creating multiple fronts have to take away from any part of the whole? Let's use a smaller number of possibilities for simplification and imagine a bonsai with two equally visually pleasing fronts. Is this bonsai half as good as a bonsai with only one front or twice as good? I would say it was neither better or worse, it just offers more "viewing area" to be appreciated. It also is more difficult to achieve effectively and may very well take more skill to pull off.
This should not cause ill feelings any more than the fact that a windswept style is more difficult to style effectively and pull off than an informal upright is.
As for this being a fictional premise, would you do me the honor of selecting only one front for each of the examples given at the beginning of this article?
Would your choice be the same as mine? Would your choice be the same as the artists? What happens if three masters choose three different fronts? In a situation like that, wouldn't it be unwise not to show them all? Wouldn't not showing all the best features of a bonsai actually be "dumbing it down?"

Respectfully,

Will

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:43 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 02, 2005 12:26 am
Posts: 8
Location: central Kansas USA
Hector Johnson wrote, in part;
"it is a fictional premise that we could design a tree with ALL best sides"
I'll buy that. I hope you didn't think that was what I was saying.
In case I didn't express myself clearly, this wouldn't be the first time, I'll try again.
I am not thinking of making every side a best side. I am thinking of the possibility that there might be instances where the overall effect of the tree is better seeing it in the round than the overall effect of seeing one best side.
As I said, also, I am now, and for the foreseeable future, working on the best side on each of my trees. I'm doing that to the best of my ability. And I'm trying to raise my ability.
I am not wanting to lower expectations or levels of acceptance in bonsai. I would raise these levels if I could, but my skill at this time does not allow that.
But I am looking down the road and wondering what is over the horizon. Maybe "Happo Biraki". Maybe not.
Incidentally, it was the attempt to use "reductio ad absurdum" to the geometry assumption I mentioned earlier, that lead to the other two geometries.
Walter Pickett

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:50 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
So, it may be that we are now designing trees with more than one front, rather than trees that are "best" from all angles? I feared we were engaged in orthogonal lines of argument, unless we resolved that issue.
I certainly concede there may be two possible fronts to a tree. (Indeed, I have struggled with that very problem, as I elaborated earlier). I can even see how a tree can be aesthetically pleasing when viewed from any angle. I am not, however, yet prepared to acknowledge the possibility of a "3D" tree, where it is "best" from all angles, which I understood to be the original thrust of this article. I cannot concede the existence of a tree, or anything, being equally aesthetically pleasing from any and every angle.
That is a logical and physical impossibility unless, as I have suggested, there is some hitherto hidden definition of best. To me, there can be only one best. Any assertion to the contrary must rely on some sort of rationalisation, or redefining of the term. It ceases to be a superlative and becomes another victim of our gradual tendency towards the encroachment of linguistic hyperbole that is evident daily, to me at least, on a societal level.
I am happy that we may have reached a happy medium in this discussion.
I wonder whether this is the first time the term Happo Biraki has been applied to bonsai?
Regards
Hector

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 Post subject: Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 11:24 pm
 Editor

Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:20 pm
Posts: 494
Location: south of Munich, Germany
A statue of a person can well be made to mainly look good from one side. But if ever exhibited so that one can see it from the side or even the back it would be very wise to make these sides equally credible.
Pictures for fashion magazines are made so that the two dimensional picture looks its best. Quite often all sorts of devices are attached from behind to stretch clothes or similar. It does not matter at all what is going on outside the two dimensioanl front view.
It has become sort of fashionable to design bonsai that way. They look good from far away. It can be called 'silhouette styling'. From a closer view one can see most artificial movements of branches from the front. From the side the contrived movements are much more visible and from the back the trees often look very bad.
Now this is what should clearly be avoided. It comes from demo styling where a certain skill is required to make something in a certain time frame that looks somewhat artistic from rather far away. Now this is not bonsai, this is a show. Some of these trees even win awards. I think this is a mistake even if big names are guilty of this.
I insist that bonsai in the western world are not normally exhibited to be viewed from one single side. They are usually sitting in a garden and can be viewed from many sides. On some exhibits we now see trees that can be viewed from many sides. Any notion that all that counts is THE front is not helpful in the art then. There is no such thing as THE front if the piece of art will be viewed from many sides. There will, however, usually be a front that most people prefer and this may well be the one that the artist prefers. Or not.
Have you ever noticed that some trees look very good on photos and clearly better than others, they? They are 'photogen' as we say. When these trees then are seen in reality it often happens that those which did not look so good on the photo look much better, but the two-dimensional ones somewhat even loose atractivity when seen in nature.
I am clearly teaching to absolutely avoid two-dimensional bonsai. They are just not good enough. Now is this a deterioration of the artform? Or is it an elevation?
Have I now redefined 360?-bonsai into three-dimensional-bonsai?

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 Post subject: Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2005 11:14 am

Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Walter, I don't think anyone has said it will be a deterioration of the artform, if it's done properly. The problem arises when people who haven't yet even grasped the basics of traditional display requirements begin to believe their "3D Banzai" is worth showing. Then we end up with even worse "stick-shaped potplants, each with a tuft of foliage on top" being exhibited as "Bonsai that can be viewed from any direction"... because they haven't got a defined front or style, let alone the attributes of a multi-front work of art.
The problem I see is one of dilution of the existing message, before it even begins to make an impression that might lead to understanding and worthwhile art.
Ah, look... what the hell do I care? I don't even attend club meetings or show my trees to the public. I just toil away and occasionally take mine along to workshops or consult people with more knowledge and skill than I have, if I want to learn a certain technique. Likewise, I do this if I reach a point where I lack the knowledge or capability to make a material change, or the guts, knowledge or capability to make a good decision about the future styling of a tree, or a species about which I have insufficient experience or knowledge.
My trees are for the enjoyment of myself, my wife, my family and my guests. I could enter them in shows if I wanted, but in my experience that sort of thing is frequented by a few good artists (who largely keep to themselves), a lot of poor bonsai "artists" and a liberal smattering of opinionated morons who spend most of their time making "learned suggestions" to people who know more than they do, about the subject they're mouthing off about. (Maybe this last group only exist in Australia? I hope so, for the sake of everyone else in the world.)
Regards,
Hector

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 Post subject: Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 10:44 am

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
Not every piece of stock that one acquires will have all the attributes for a three dimensional piece anymore than every piece of stock is suited for a formal upright style, this should go without saying. To a person interested in creating a bonsai that is visually pleasing from all sides some otherwise decent stock would be inferior.
A interesting coincidence caught my attention in Bonsai Today issue #101 in which this article was published. On page 51 in an article by Marco Invernizzi titled "Transforming a Scots Pine" Marco says, "Have you ever wondered why Japanese bonsai lovers at bonsai exhibitions are not content to observe trees from the front only? They want to see then from all sides, and you will often find them squatted under a bonsai trying to see all the details."
He goes on to say, "The real beauty of bonsai can be found in the details and in the naturalness of the planting. Sometimes in our passion to see results, we end up with a tree that has all its branching and foliage arranged to be viewed only from the front. As soon as you look at another angle, you see large gaps or tangled branches."
As I clearly stated in the article, three dimensional bonsai is not a new idea, it is not an idea that is theory only, in fact it is actively being practiced in one form or another by some of the greatest names in bonsai. It is a viable and as some would say, necessary approach to styling bonsai.
Will Heath

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 Post subject: Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 12:56 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 02, 2005 12:26 am
Posts: 8
Location: central Kansas USA
Recently I was searching the internet for bonsai pictures to look at. I came across a beautiful huge banyon.
After staring a while, I realized that a tree like that could be styled to be seen in the round, because it was big (wide) enough one couldn't see through it. What one did to the far side wouldn't change the near side view at all.
This is the first example I've thought of where one wouldn't need to compromise a front to make a bonsai in the round.
I imagine that such huge banyon bonsai are seldom attemped. It would be a life's work. More than that for me.
I wish I had kept the addy and could give it here. Perhaps I'll find it again and edit it in here. But any wide banyon would do, I think

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 Post subject: Posted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 6:47 pm

Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
That's a good point, Walter. Banyan and Flat-top styles would be better suited to it than most, if only because they are simpler in structure than most other styles.
I'll happily admit to critically examining trees from a number of angles, when I take a look at them. It's just second nature, as I know they are meant to be aesthetically pleasing and "correct" from more than just the front.
I don't necessarily concede they should be equally capable of being viewed from all directions, as though those directions are potential fronts, however.

Last edited by Hector Johnson on Fri Feb 10, 2006 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Posted: Fri Feb 10, 2006 3:54 pm

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
I have noticed a few blatant misconceptions about the nature of bonsai being posted on other forums and I thought I would address one of them here as it deals with three-dimensional bonsai.
First Chris Conomy, better known as "Pootsie" gave examples of sidewalk art here http://forum.bonsaitalk.com/showpost.ph ... stcount=49 and said, "Scroll down the page and you will see a picture of this amazing sidewalk art from the "wrong" angle, showing you just how distorted the image must be to deliver the proper perspective from the correct viewing angle. Conclusion: adding perspective is not a 360-degree kinda thing."
This is a wrong and unfortunately common misconception many people make because they attempt to compare two completely different art forms that have little, if anything in common.
Sidewalk painting, like painting on canvas or other mediums is an attempt to portray three dimensional objects on a two dimensional surface and there are many talented artists in all forms of this art that pull this off amazingly well using forced perspective and other illusionary tricks of the trade. These paintings are phenomenal in the way they fool our eyes into thinking that we are actually seeing a three dimensional object.
Bonsai however, is a three-dimensional art form, we do not attempt to portray three-dimensional objects, bonsai are in fact three-dimensional objects, with or without our efforts. Bonsai is best compared to other art forms that also are three dimensional such as sculpture. Bonsai can never be logically compared to painting when discussing perspective, dimensions, or depth; the two art forms create perspective in completely different ways. To proclaim "...showing you just how distorted the image must be to deliver the proper perspective from the correct viewing angle.." shows a complete lack of understanding of three-dimensional perspective and is in fact, damaging to any who are learning bonsai.
Certainly we can learn certain things from paintings but many things are different such as depth where in painting you need to show it while in bonsai we already have it, we simply need to expound on it.
Bonsai, like sculpture does not have to be distorted from any angle in order to deliver the proper perspective from any angle. Walk around Aphrodite (Venus Genetrix), Parthenon Horse, David, Pieta, or any other great sculpture and tell me where the distorted perspective is on any of them. David is interesting rare in that the head and shoulders are slightly larger in proportion as he was meant to be placed up high, where the whole would look in proportion, yet, even at eye level, it is barely discernible.
In closing, bonsai always has been and always will be a three dimensional art form, period. Some would actually say that it is truly a four dimensional art form if we take the dimension of time into consideration, but for viewing purposes, three dimensions are all we see. Bonsai is called ?Living Sculpture? and ?Tree Sculpture? and not ?Tree Painting? or ?Living Painting? for very good reasons, they are more like sculpture than any other art form, they are truly three dimension forms and should be compared to other three dimensional forms and never to two dimensional forms such as painting. We can look at a drawing of an automobile and comment on how roomy it looks and how great the lines are but until we actually walk around and climb into one we really have no perception of it, which is why manufacturers still use models.
Isn?t it time we stopped styling only two of the three dimensions and create bonsai that are truly visually pleasing from all sides? Impossible you say? Have you tried it? Most of the discussion against the concept reminds me of my daughter, who will automatically say that she doesn?t like any food that is new to her. Her opinion often changes once she actually gains the courage to try it.

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