scrolls as accents

Mark and Ritta Cooper's multi-award winning Japanese white pine displayed typically in the traditional triadic arrangement of" 'heaven, earth and man' where heaven is represented by the scroll, earth by the accent (in this case a suiseki) and the reconciling element man, by the bonsai.


There will be very many more examples in the Exhibition on 27th May 2012

A basic introduction to the use of Hanging Scrolls in display


In the Japanese setting, a hanging scroll is an important but secondary item in a formal Tokonoma (alcove) display.  Their use in the West is becoming increasingly popular as we learn more about the art of display both in context with the Japanese aesthetic and as we learn to develop our own with relevance to our own environment and culture too.

A Hanging Scroll can be used in a display in the following different ways e.g.

1.     A Bonsai with an accent planting (shitakusa) and a scroll

2.     A Bonsai with scroll

3.     A Bonsai with a Suiseki and a scroll

4.     A Suiseki with a scroll

5.     A larger Kusamono with a scroll

The primary focus of the display is therefore most likely to be a bonsai, suiseki or kusamono, and it is very important to appreciate that the scroll and other accent item(s) are secondary and sub-ordinate to the main object of the display and should complement it and not “upstage” nor detract from it.

Types of scroll

Antique silk Japanese scrolls are beautiful things but can be eye wateringly expensive.  More contemporary ones can be purchased at sensible prices though, and are relatively accessible for most hobbyists.

The type of scroll that is becoming increasingly popular due to their flexibility of use and more accessible cost, are the blank “Kakejiku” type.

Kakejiku are “blank” hanging scrolls with no illustration painted on them, but have fine, nearly invisible threads into which can be located a picture (“Tanzaku”).
Kakejiku come in different designs, fabrics, colours and sizes. A variety of Tanzaku can be bought or home-made.

Choice of scroll … subtlety is the key

The size and colour of the scroll should complement the overall display that you are trying to create.

The illustration should be subtle and appropriate to the overall composition of the display and allow the viewer some flexibility for their imagination to roam and interpret the display.
In our experience, displays which are overly literal are rarely very successful, and can even look “kitsch”.

Illustrations can be chosen to suggest a location for your display e.g. mountains.
They can also be used to suggest a feeling or mood, such as coolness in a summer display, or approaching seasonal changes.

Scrolls that are illustrated with Kanji / calligraphy are tricky to use in the Western context as the viewer is unlikely to be able to understand the meaning, and hence are probably best avoided

Repeating themes should also be avoided in the display e.g.  avoid the use of a scroll with flowers when used with a flowering tree, or a scroll with maples leaves when used with a maple bonsai

Hanging and positioning

Placing a scroll in a display needs to be carefully considered in order for the display to be balanced.

We usually start from a central position, and with the visual focus/ centre of the scroll’s illustration slightly above the top of the main subject e.g. the bonsai.  Final adjustments can then be made within the context of the overall display, adjusting all the elements to give a harmonious and balanced display.

Due consideration must also be given to any perceived “direction” that the scroll has, and this should be taken into account in order to help bring harmony to the display and to contain the viewer’s eye within the display.
In general, the scroll’s direction should match that of the main subject e.g. the bonsai, and the lower accent item e.g. a shitakusa planting, should provide the visual counter-balance having an opposite directional flow. This will thereby contain the viewer’s attention with that display space.

Scrolls should be hung from the ribbon loop at the top of the scroll.  They should not really be hung from the long ribbon which is used to tie the scroll when it is rolled up for storage.
Hence, we like to use proper scroll hangers that have an adjustable height hook.  They look far nicer too and offer a greater degree of adjustment.  Scroll hangers can be purchased or quite easily made.

Scrolls that are relatively short and narrow are likely to be most useful in a European bonsai show setting due to the usually limited space and background screen height.
In our experience if you have insufficient display space in a show situation, it may be best not to use a scroll at all and avoid your composition from appearing too cramped.

Like so many things, practice makes perfect, and that is the best way to learn in this case.
Have fun with your displays!

©  Mark & Ritta Cooper


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