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  When I break you down

      I cannot undo my error

            I cannot delete my mistake

                    But I can edit with my love…

In this section, I would like to share trees from my collection that are still in the stage of development and styling. The Chinese consider this particular stage of ugliness to have a certain charm and believe that it can hold (hidden) the unique accentuating character of the tree. The task of a bonsai artist is to explore this stage fully, and ultimately reveal the individual, unique character of a tree as a cohesive statement in refinement. A passionate beauty is different from an elegant charm. A melancholy prettiness is different from cheerful attractiveness. An energetic temptation is different from the charismatic sensation.

For these reasons, bonsai material always presents a challenge as an artistic medium, because I believe every tree has an ideal form and presentation. If there is any objective weakness in the tree it can be compensated for by subjective artistic improvisation. In every bonsai creation, whatever the style or design, there should be a consistency of the aesthetic concept, the thematic message, and the horticultural clues. I am rather obsessive about using challenging material with inherent weaknesses so that I may employ artistry to “solve” the quandary presented to me. Such challenges require a balance of my own intuition, subjective artistry and an understanding of natural phenomena.

 There are three phases of a bonsai’s life journey:

Pre-Mature Phase

In this phase, anatomical balance has not yet been achieved. It is in this stage that a bonsai should begin being designed. The pre-mature phase is not based on the age of the tree, but rather the condition of its structural elements.


Mature Phase

This is the stage when a bonsai is being refined, and lasts until the desired composition is fully achieved. The anatomical balance should be close to perfect in this phase.


Transformation Phase

As the tree matures and endures the nuances of training as well as the effects of nature, it undergoes significant or subtle changes. For instance, branches may die, the apex may be broken and re-grow, and/or the texture of the bark may change. According to these physical changes, a transformation of shape and character will occur naturally and a new anatomical balance will be achieved. A bonsai in the transformation phase may sometimes be set back to the pre-mature phase due to changes in the structure that necessitate a redesign.

These phases describe the life cycle of bonsai. The bonsai artist’s responsibility is to appropriately manage each phase in order to move steadily toward the next, or if necessary, to revert to a previous one in order to enhance and romanticize the desired theme. The use of advisable technique is not enough to make a good bonsai. A good bonsai’s appearance should describe its horticulture in a convincing manner and the pot should support the overall theme. Its presentation should indicate a specific character and tell the story of its history and life journey. Part of that story should describe the tree’s environment and natural conditions.

 With my work, I always try to create the hint of a specific captured moment, either natural or imagined. This moment may not be based specifically on a naturally occurring event, but even if it is only from my artistic imagination I try to make sure that the visual result lends dignity to the tree or the tree’s story.






serpang1.jpg    Before     serpang4.jpg   After

This raft was created from a stum of a dying slanting bonsai, then the new shoots were trained to be individual trees in designated composition and perspective to form a grouping view.





before1.jpg   Before         after1.jpg   Still in training stage…




before2.jpg   Before   after2.jpg   After re-styling…

This bonsai has a strange streight trunk on the lower part with nice movement on the top. It is difficult to be trained in nice composition or balance neither as upright nor cascade style. So a totally re-styling and re-potting is done in combination with rocks to create new presentation.


before3.jpg   Before       after3.jpg   After re-potting…

Proper pot selection and positioning can help in obtaining new balance when neccessary.

kiterati-1k.jpg   This literati Pemphis is still on the progress of refinement.

literati-3k.jpg   The top apex still need some final touch…

pemphjs.jpg   This Pemphis is almost done.

39.jpg   Still working on the ramification…

4a.jpg         5a.jpg         5-simulasik.jpg

This Premna was repositioned into a broken pot to fit the lower branch. The next picture is a simulation of future design. Premna’s leaves can be extremely reduced from size of 10 cm to less than 0.5 cm.

repot1.jpg          repot2.jpg        34.jpg

This Pemphis was totally restyled  to create better movement with simulated future design.  


This is a simulated picture of another Pemphis which ramification is still under refinement.

casuarina-robert.jpg   A large Casuarina in programming stage…

lohan-1.jpg           dsc03198.JPG

Styling a Podocarpus…

premnaraft2.jpg        premnaraft2a.jpg        premnaraft2b.jpg       premna-penjing.jpg        

I  paid these two Premna material for nothing, then I combined both to create solution…

premna1.jpg         premna2.jpg        premnaliterati.jpg

When I got this Premna, the owner was just about to cut it short…  Op…it suppose to be an amazing material for an extreme literati.   The last picture is a simulated result.

restyle-1.jpg       restyle-2.jpg       restyle-3.jpg

Winner of “The Best Original Design” of 2007 KoB Contest.

Sometime total re-styling is neccessary to explore the character with new composition as I did for this Premna. The last picture is a simulated visual for the future foliage…


You can see more pictures of my works on my Facebook :

20 Responses to “Studio”

  1. on 16 Apr 2007 at 9:31 amShaukat Islam

    Would eagerly await to see more pictures.

    Do you work with Strebulus asper? I had seen some pictures on the internet by some Indonesian artists. The species is really good for the tropical residents (although very challenging to make the tree survive, if collected from the wild, due to its very strong tap root) and it would be worth, if you may have some photos to share.


  2. on 25 Apr 2007 at 6:52 pmRobert Steven

    Once it had been very popular as bonsai in Indonesia, but it is mostly used as garden plant now because it’s difficult to control, easily dye back.

  3. on 02 May 2007 at 4:45 amShaukat Islam

    Dear Robert,

    Thanks for your response. Yes, Strebulus is a bit senstitive. With Pemphis found abundantly in your country, what better species you can ask for? It’s a blessing from the Nature.

    One day, I would really like to collect Pemphis for my bonsai……….or maybe the species could be available in the Sunderban mangrove forests of Bangladesh…….who knows.

    You have been working with Casuarina, can you put up some progession pics?


  4. on 02 Aug 2007 at 12:34 amhisham

    Hello robert,

    I’m from east malaysia.
    To me you are such a great master. Your imagination and vision for tree are truly unique. What inspire you to come out with such creative idea and transformed the ‘ordinary’ material into beautiful masterpiece ? How do you forsee the unforseen?

  5. on 18 Dec 2007 at 11:46 amRobert Steven

    Hi Hisham,

    The best teacher is the nature…and my new book “Mission of Transformation” will hopefully come out by end 2008 and I speak about this subject.

    Stay tune….

  6. on 23 May 2008 at 8:34 amShaukat Islam


    It’s more than a year since I had last been to this page. What you have done with the 2 collected Premna (picture after the Podocarpus) is stunning.

    This composition is very artistic with perfect balance and proportion. Thanks for sharing and providing constant inspiration to the learners.


  7. on 28 Jun 2008 at 1:38 amRiyan

    saya berasal dari lampung, saya termasuk orang yng nge fans anda. selain karya2 yang bagus anda termasuk orang yang menurut saya low profile.namun sebagai orang yang pemula dalam hal membonsai saya haus sekali ilmu2 tentang bonsai itu sendiri hal ini saya perbanyak dengan membaca tulisan2 anda di Green Hobbies, namun bagi saya hal ini sangat kurang sekali.
    salud untuk anda karena anda bisa menjadi figur pebonsai yang rendah hati dan tidak mementingkan nama besar dan hal2 yang sifatnya terlalu formal.
    maju terus bung….teruslah berkarya dan bagilah ilmu tidak / tanpa ada pamrih. dan tuhan maha tau semua itu

    Thanks u

  8. on 09 Sep 2008 at 8:48 amvidhi bhargava

    The worksop at Lucknow is over but am still under the magical spell.You madi it sound all easy and very convincing.Thanks for adding a new concept to my concept of bonsai.You are a master par excellence.Thanks for reaching out to us.

  9. on 04 Oct 2008 at 7:13 amwisnu

    salam Pak Robert

    Sukses terus Pak Robert!!!

  10. on 18 Oct 2008 at 8:00 amteguh

    hi robert its me teguh I hope u will give me some suggestion about santigi bonsai styles. what is the most popular caracter of this that badly founded by mostly bonsai lovers? I will find it in everywhwere!

  11. on 27 Nov 2010 at 8:06 amdeddi

    Pak Robert, saya deddi dari divisi humas dan marketing madura channnel tv, tv lokal yang ada di sumenep, madura, berkeinginan untuk mengembangkan edukasi bonsai melalui media kami, kami memerlukan gambar/video/. dan ada kemungkinan saya menjembatani keinginan kawan-kawan pemburu untuk mencari info penjualan bonsai bakalan,
    mohon info,
    mohon info juga alamat bapak arpai batu, malang,

    salam sukses…

  12. on 08 Dec 2010 at 7:20 pmhery

    salam bonsai
    selalu semangat berinspirasi dalam dunia bonsai di indonesia
    kapan nih main ke KEDIRI JAWA TIMUR, kami ingin menimba ilmu bonsai yang baik dari anda.
    BESAR HARAPAN KAMI anda berkenan mampir ke KEDIRI.
    tetep semangat dan SALAM BONSAI INDONESIA

  13. on 08 Dec 2010 at 7:24 pmhery


  14. […] can also visit my bonsai blog. […]

  15. on 18 Feb 2011 at 12:59 amMoriah

    I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I was looking for. You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  16. on 14 Aug 2011 at 2:20 pmHigh Energy Bonsai

    […] Robert’s ‘My Studio’ on facebook. If you don’t do facebook, you can visit Robert’s blog (though it’s not very up-to-date), or you can just peruse Bonsai Bark for a large range of […]

  17. on 05 Nov 2011 at 8:51 pmadeir R. MIRANDA

    parabems por mostrar tal respeito pela natureza .eu sou do brasil e fiquei muito feliz e facinado pelo seu trabalho parabens e muita paz de espirito pra vc.

  18. on 07 Jan 2012 at 12:48 pmkhoirul huda

    hanya satu kata untuk pak robet,: JUARA,…

  19. on 10 Apr 2013 at 2:30 pmSid Fishman


    I would like to learn more about this subject.

    If possible, I would like to hear your recommendations in regards to how should I start ? What steps should I take ? What should I read ?

    Thanks you,

  20. […] You can also visit my bonsai blog. […]

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