The first time I saw a 'magic cloth' used was during a bonsai workshop with John Naka. I was a novice.
I don't remember the tree, but I remember John looking, somewhat frantically, around the room. Someone asked if they could get something for him … “a handkerchief, paper napkin or something” he replied.
I reached in my lap and handed him the - not so clean - small towel I always kept with my bonsai tool set. He promptly covered a branch with the cloth.
Suddenly, his design concept for my bonsai became very clear! I never forgot the lesson, and continued to use it.
Many years later, when I began to teach bonsai, the magic cloth was a way to guide students to better design without cutting their trees.
“When in doubt, cover the branch and imagine
what the tree would look like without it.”
- John Naka
Sometimes, it takes a larger towel or even two small ones to get the full impact.
If you're not sure -- cover everything under consideration for removal, before reaching for your bonsai tool set.
I have gone so far as to leave the cloth on all day, while I worked on other trees. When I went back to the bonsai in question and removed the cloth -- I often wondered why I ever doubted.
This technique worked wonders with this tree – as did the bonsai tools that came next! Half of the original bonsai rightfully disappeared. (Instead of cutting off the top of this tree, I used an air layer.)
The Magic Cloth is now available for your personal use. As a teaching tool, it will be much more professional looking than a "dirty rag." It will also make a fun gift for a bonsai friend!
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