Some of us are just not born with a green thumb. For those like us, there is suiseki. Bonsai is the art of growing trees in miniature. Suiseki is the art of replicating landscapes in miniature using stones that have the intrinsic values of those places.
Mountains, desert-scapes, and rocky beach-fronts are all common subjects for suiseki artists, and some have even expanded the traditional subjects to include imitations of life. This is the perfect creative outlet for the avid rock-hound, since finding the right stone to use is paramount. A primary rule of the art form is that the stone must not be altered, except to level its bottom to get an appropriate fit on a display stand or wooden base. Therefore, much of the joy of the art is in the hunt for the perfect naturally-occurring subject for your expression.
I love the contemplative nature of this art. Finding the right material to work with requires you to stretch your mind and look for the similarities of form between massive landscapes and stones small enough to fit in one’s hand.
The display itself provides wonderful creative opportunities, as well. I like to collect sand from various beaches that I visit, so the idea of recreating a black sand beach scene or even a replica of Hawaii’s famous green sand beach, is a very exciting prospect.
The subject to the left (a Chrysanthemum Stone) appears to be polished, which definitely breaks the “pristine” rule of the Japanese tradition, but the work is undoubtedly beautiful. Rules must sometimes be broken, so if you decide to cut, polish or otherwise alter your own suiseki stones, I promise not to report you to the authorities.
Speaking of authorities, there are several suiseki clubs in North America if you’re lucky enough to live near cities with enough enthusiasts, and many bonsai clubs and exhibits integrate suiseki into their body of work. Readers near LA can check out California Aiseki Kai.
For additional pictures and information about this style of art, I recommend Suiseki: The Japanese art of miniature landscape stones by Felix Rivera. The link goes to a free preview in Google Books that includes many incredible examples.