When people first see a driftwood bonsai (sharimiki in Japanese,) they often ask "How did they do that?" Sometimes the answer is nature created the deadwood, other times it's man made.
In nature, driftwood is created by harsh weather conditions. On a shoreline, it may be windblown water and sand. In a desert it may be both drought and sand. In the mountains, it could be freezes or snow storms, or again blowing sand.
Collected trees from the wild are known as yamadori.
California bonsai artist, the late Harry Hirao, was known for finding his bonsai in the California mountains.
These trees are perfect examples of one of nature's amazing creations. Although the driftwood on these California junipers has been refined, the overall shapes were a natural occurrence.
Although junipers are often seen as deadwood bonsai, there are many other types of trees with potential for this bonsai style.
Many tropicals have soft wood and do not lend themselves to driftwood in nature or even through carving. There are some amazing exceptions. This is a Pemphis from the South Pacific. Collected and refined by Gede Merta, Bali.
On the IBonsai Club Forum, Indonesian bonsai artist Robert Steven explained how he grafted two varieties to create this specimen Premna.
is another good example of tropical yamadori that often has driftwood.
Bonsai artists in South Florida and the Caribbean favor these specimens - large and small - for their great shapes and very hard wood. They often refine the original wood with carving.
This buttonwood driftwood bonsai was created by Luis Rayon in Miami, Florida. It began as a scraggly, unattractive plant with no dead wood. Luis' creativity turned it into a uniquely non-traditionally styled bonsai tree (all of the live wood is in the back.)
Although many collected trees with driftwood are found growing in nature, refinement is almost always necessary.
Maybe a branch is too long, or there are cuts or saw marks that need refining, or may need a little carving to emphasize the existing character.
Sometimes the dead bark is still attached and unattractive. A coarse metal brush (like a barbeque grill brush) may work. Brush the dead wood in the direction of the crevices. The brushing alone may be adequate, but more often than not it needs more help.
Power tools (both large and small) have become part of a serious bonsai artists tool kit.
A recently introduced to bonsai tool - the "bonsai pressure washer" has been added to many tool collections.
(Originally created for the dry cleaning business, this one has become very popular for bonsai.) It's perfect for cleaning deep crevices of collected trees both large and small.
In this case the driftwood is not actually a part of the tree.
The live part has been attached to make it appear as if it is all one. This technique is called tanuki or phoenix graft.