Daily dedication, patience, and detailed craftsmanship are usually considered elevated virtues only for the wise and mature. But 10-year-old bonsai artist Tyler DeBlauw is proof that even the young can possess these sublime abilities.
DeBlauw’s work as a member of the Santa Barbara Bonsai Club recently merited him a Golden State Bonsai Federation scholarship that allows him to further study the ancient Japanese tradition of carefully pruning and shaping ordinary trees into miniature, potted versions of themselves.
“It’s really fun to make them. You train it, trim it, keep it small,” said DeBlauw in an interview with The S.B. Independent.
Bonsai can be constructed from nearly any perennial stemmed tree or shrub species that produces branches and can be cultivated to remain small through pot confinement. The art lies in creating the most beautiful adaption of the tree while giving it a mature and natural appearance. Many bonsai enthusiasts say that it is an art of ingenuity and aesthetic appreciation and that it requires years of careful study of forms and applied rules.
However, DeBlauw seems to have a youthful gift for simplifying complexities. He explained some of the techniques he used on one of his bonsai trees to achieve his notable results. “I did a bunch of branch things. I cleaned them all out and wired them into position. Then I just yanked it out of the pot and styled the top and cut off a bunch of the roots and wired it into the bonsai pot ― that’s so it won’t fall out,” he said.
Bonsais are popular showpieces in museums, and there are a few famous trees that are a mind-blowing 1,000 years old and have been carried through eight generations of perfecting artists. DeBlauw admitted that bonsai styles are very specific and that it is not always easy to achieve the desired design. “It takes more than one session to get it right,” he said.
DeBlauw first became interested in bonsai when a family friend gave him a book on the subject. “I really loved that book. I read every single page of it,” he said. Later his parents took him to a bonsai show, and then they joined the Santa Barbara Bonsai Club.
It appears, however, that DeBlauw had a special connection with trees even before he began his work in bonsai. He is homeschooled by his mother and spent his 2nd- and 3rd-grade years in biologically diverse Costa Rica.
“We were doing a science project on insects, but he kept talking about the plants,” said his mother, Cheryl DeBlauw. “That was sort of the time I realized he had a prodigious interest in all these things. When he’s walking through a forest, I can tell that he can see things that I can’t. He’s experiencing it all on a level that I cannot.”
DeBlauw said that someday he would like to study landscaping or horticulture. Surely he has a bright future ahead of him, if not for his particular talent, then for the simple luck in finding something he loves to do at such a young age.