Inkscape Tutorial: Bonsai Elm

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
This is for beginning Inkscape users. The pot is mostly manipulating shapes, while the tree requires drawing with a mouse. You need to know how to create circles, drag lines around, and follow keyboard shortcuts. The goal of this tutorial is be able to draw bonsai, so it goes through a lot of steps quickly. There are some very thorough tutorials listed at the bottom that cover each tool in depth. If you just want the Bonsai Elm svg file to download, go here.

Set up

I have the basic page with A4/letter size paper. No grids, and page visible, which can be adjusted in document properties (Shift+Ctrl+D). I found the number of buttons and controls a bit overwhelming when I was starting, so I have tried to break it down. This tutorial only needs three toolbars visible. I like keyboard shortcuts. The Commands Bar (Or the Edit menu) also accesses the duplicate command.
ViewShow/Hide → Select: Snap Controls Bar, Tool Controls Bar, and Toolbox.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial



Part One: Draw a pot.

Pot lip

Use the circle (F5) to create an oval. Bonsai pots are wide and shallow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
The circle fill (Shift+Ctrl+F) is RGBA color code c0632cff, and the stroke paint is set to black, RGBA color code 000000ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Select the oval and duplicate it (Ctrl+D). Move the duplicate oval down by dragging it, using the down arrow on your keyboard, or using the transform dock (Shift+Ctrl+M) to move it down vertically.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select (F1) the duplicate oval on the bottom and change it from an object to a path (Shift+Ctrl+C).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the duplicate oval and select edit path by Nodes (F2). You should see nodes along the oval. Add one node on the upper half of the bottom oval by double clicking along line.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Enable snapping for the quadrant points of eclipses.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the edit path by nodes tool (F2) to snap the two nodes on the top of the oval to far edges of the oval above it.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the straight line button on the node toolbar to straighten the top and sides.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Object → Lower (Page down).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Pot body

Select the piece you just lowered and duplicate it (Ctrl+D). Move the duplicate down by dragging it, using the down arrow, or using the transform dock (Shift+Ctrl+M) to move it down vertically.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow (this is easier if the ratio of the piece is locked).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Enable snapping to cusp nodes.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the edit path by nodes tool (F2) to snap the two nodes on the top of the new piece to the edges of piece above it.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Object  → Lower (Page down).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Dirt: Duplicate (Ctrl+D) the original top oval. Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Drag the dirt down, snapping quadrant point to quadrant point with the original oval.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Reduce the height of the dirt oval using the top arrow from the selector tool (F1).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Final coloring (Shift+Ctrl+F).
Dirt: RGBA 4b2711ff
Pot lip: RGBA d2733bff
Pot body: RGBA c0632cff
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select all (Ctrl+A). Group (Ctrl+G). Adjust the stroke paint (Shift+Ctrl+F) to no paint to remove the lines. This can also be accomplished by setting the stroke width to zero.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Part two: Draw an elm tree.

Tree Trunk

Use the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) to draw a tree trunk. It is also possible to use the freehand drawing tool for this, but that will generate a lot of nodes. The menu PathSimplify (Ctrl+L) will help if you choose this route, but the more nodes there are, the slower Inkscape will run. This tutorial can help with slow loading or crashing issues.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

A basic polygon or rectangle is all that is really needed for a tree trunk. The leaves are going to cover the branches. I prefer to have branches, because it looks nice to have them peeking out from between the leaves here and there. Bonsai should have thick, interesting trunks.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
I used the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) in Regular Mode to create the drawings above. I'm keeping the more complicated drawing (Select the object or path and press Backspace to delete it), and using the edit path by Nodes tool (F2) to smooth it out and make it more interesting and tree-like. It is helpful to toggle the snaps off (%). 
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
No step-by-step for the Node editing because there isn't a wrong way to do this, as long as the end result vaugely resembles a tree. Roy Torley did a very thorough tutorial on the Pen/Bezeir and Node tools. The branches are optional, and will be covered by leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Using the paint menu (Shift+Ctrl+F) set the stroke paint to no paint to remove the lines, and set the paint fill for the tree to RGBA 5c3015ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Tree Leaves

Elm tree leaves, by MPF, CC BY-SA 3.0
Elm tree leaves, by MPF, CC BY-SA 3.0
Use the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) to make a triangle or pentagon, and the edit path by Nodes tool (F2) to pull it into an elm leaf shape. Notice one side of the leaf is a little bigger then the other. Repeat these steps to create three to five unique leaves. No step-by-step because this is artistic license. Another option is to draw a circle or oval (F5), call it good, and proceed.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Optionally, duplicate (Ctrl+D) the leaves and flatten on the top edge with the edit Nodes tool (F5) to create half leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Choose the best leaves, and move and rotate them to form a nice bunch. Click on an already selected (F1) object or path to turn it, or use the move buttons, or the Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Dock
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select all object on the page (Ctrl+A) and hit the lock button so nothing is warped as it is moved around.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select just the leaves. Group them together (Ctrl+G). Using the paint menu (Shift+Ctrl+F) set stroke paint to no paint to remove the lines, and set the paint fill for the leaves to RGBA 3b5a15ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Adjust the sizes of all the objects until they look correct, and assemble the bonsai. Select and transform objects: F1. Transform dock: Shift+Ctrl+M. To raise or lower object use menu: ObjectLower (Page down) or ObjectRaise (Page up). Flip vertically: v, flip horizontally: h
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) the group (Ctrl+G) of leaves. Move the duplicate copy to another spot and adjust the rotation if needed. Repeat this until the tree has at a blanket of leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) a set of leaves and set the paint fill to RGBA 466b19ff, which is a lighter green. Add another blanket of leaves in the new color.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) a set of leaves and set the paint fill to RGBA 54811eff. Add another blanket of leaves in the new color. The layers of different color leaves create depth.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial


Helpful Inkscape keyboard shortcuts: 

  • Bezeir tool: Ctrl+F6
  • Delete: Select unlucky object or path, Backspace
  • Document properties: Shift+Ctrl+D
  • Duplicate: Ctrl+D
  • Edit path by nodes: F2
  • Flip horizontally: select+h
  • Flip vertically: select+v
  • Create circles, ellipses, and arcs : F5
  • Fill and Stroke: Shift+Ctrl+F
  • Group: Ctrl+G
  • Lower object: Page down
  • Object becomes a path: Shift+Ctrl+C
  • Raise object: Page up
  • Save: Ctrl+S
  • Select and transform objects: F1
  • Snaps on/off: %
  • Transform: Shift+Ctrl+M
  • Undo: Ctrl+Z
  • Ungroup: Ctrl+Shift+G
  • Zoom in: +
  • Zoom out: -
  • Zoom to drawing: 4
  • Zoom to page: 5
I'm running Inkscape 0.92.4 on Chromebook's Linux Beta. 

For more information on bonsai check out Peter Chan’s youtube channel, Herons Bonsai.  [Warning: This is one of those fascinating internet rabbit holes that can contribute to overaccumulation of tiny trees.]

Official Inkscape tutorials are here.
The Official Inkscape Beginner's Guide is here.
Roy Torley created some very comprehensive tutorials here.

Review: Go, Dog. Go!


        Go, Dog. Go! is P.D. Eastman’s classic tale of dogs doing stuff. Lots of stuff. They work, they play, they attend parties. Lots of parties. They go up and down. They come in many different colors, including green and blue. Unlike many tales, there is no central character, although many of the dogs reappear throughout the story. There is also a “Do you like my hat?” subplot between two unnamed dogs.

        Go, Dog. Go! is one of the often read books from my childhood. I like it because it is a simple story that younger children can easily follow, but there are lots of details that keep it interesting. For instance, on the page “Three dogs at a party on a boat at night.” The dogs are playing checkers and a banjo. P.D. Eastman draws nice cartoons, simple, but detailed enough that motion and lights are reflected in the water’s ripples. The shadows are also done nicely, and use a consistent light source.


5 stars!

Review: P.B. Bear's Birthday Party


        P.B. Bear’s Birthday Party by Lee Davis is about a stuffed bear who has a birthday adventure. He receives a big box in the mail, and his friends come for a birthday party. They bake a cake, open the big box, and set off for a picnic. It’s a nice afternoon outing out in the country.

        The art is photographs of stuffies, all placed in a scene like stop-motion characters. The text is interspersed with pictures, so instead of reading “P.B. Bear” there will be a little picture of P.B. Bear. The pictures are simple objects, so it was pretty easy to follow. It took me a couple times to remember all the animal names instead of just saying “the dog,” but there is a glossary of labeled pictures on both of the inside covers.

        This is the book to read again and again and again, according to an adorable two-year-old. 

5 stars!

If you need more, the four original books are:
  • P.B. Bear's Birthday Surprise
  • P.B. Bear's Treasure Hunt
  • P.B. Bear's School Day
  • P.B. Bear's Christmas
All follow the same general plot. P.B. Bear’s Treasure Hunt has more puzzles with things to find. P.B. Bear’s School Day has a lot of arts and crafts related objects. Lee Davis wrote more P.B. Books, and there was also a short T.V. series.

Review: Pepper and Carrot




Review of Pepper & Carrot


        Pepper and Carrot by David Revoy is an open source webcomic which is also published as a series of comic books. Pepper is a student witch studying the magic of Chaosah under the tutorage of her three godmothers. They all live together in an idyllic cottage surrounded by a strange garden turned wacky by a profusion of conflicting and cast-off potions. Carrot is her loyal cat. He enjoys naps and has a tendency to get into things.

        The magic is a mix of potion and spell-casting, and both require a great deal of study from the library. Pepper’s magic seems to be based in a karma-directed chaos. Her friends have different sources for their magic. The world-building is excellent and remains remarkably consistent throughout. Revoy has taken a very creative artistic approach, so multiple magics mix, cities float, and a robot sits at the door to a medieval-style castle.



The drawings are truly a work of art. It’s very obvious that a lot of work has gone into each panel, as the landscapes are breathtaking, and the characters are very detailed. Revoy used digital art, and has paid exceptional attention to light and shadows. Pepper and Carrot live in a gorgeous fantasy world.

        I love it. It’s original and innovative, with outstanding art and a creative plot. Five of five stars. I will be reading this one again. There are currently 33 episodes, with more on the way.

        No gore. No one dies, except possibly some of the undead (if undead can die? Re-die?). I would recommend this for teenagers through adults.

5 stars!

Review: Mia and Nattie



Review of Mia and Nattie: 

One Great Team


        Mia and Nattie: One Great Team is a children’s picture book about a little girl and her lamb by Marlene M. Bell. When a little newborn sheep is abandoned in the barn, Mia brings her into her Grandmother’s house, and bottle feeds her. Eventually she grows big enough to live outside. Mia loves Nattie, and wants to keep her as a pet. Nattie is a very small sheep, too small to flock with the rest of the herd. She needs to find her a way to be useful so she can stay on the working farm with Mia.

        Mia and Nattie is an honest depiction of raising livestock, which is a little sad at times, although it all works out for the little sheep in a very nice way.

        The art is digital cartooning done in a two-dimensional style. Grace Sandford uses thick outlines, and pencil-thin lines for details and textures. There are lots of details in the scenes, there are wood swirls on the fences, and the fleece is fluffy. Lots of soft colors complement the natural colors of sheep’s wool. I liked all the drawings of the little lambs. They look very soft and friendly.

4 Stars!

Review: Merren and the Heron


Review of Merren and the Heron

        Merron and the Heron by Tony Dow is a delightful rhyming story about a trip to the zoo. The children set out to “photograph an animal that sounds just like your name!” The children set out to do just that, and meet an adorable array of animals cutely camouflaged into their environments.

        The art here is just, wow. Darya Shch uses a soft-edged digital art that blends bold colors into gentle pastels. It’s cartoon style, and the characters are shown naturally moving from multiple angles. The scenes have been set up very nicely, so the animals are right there, even though it’s clear they are in defined spaces. The heron is an exception to this, as you see Merron and the heron having a captivating adventure throughout the book, and their story moves in the background of the other children’s adventures. Every child in the book does have a turn seeing their zoo animals. It’s very entertaining, and definitely something I would reread. Five stars.

        Obligatory note: Merren and the Heron is a cute story, and the heron seems to be in on the fun. However, please be aware that wild birds may attack if they feel threatened or if you come too close to their nests.
5 stars!

*Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the e-book by the author.

Review: Feelu: Explore your feelings



Review of Feelu: Explore your feelings

        Feelu: Explore your feelings by Nilofar Shafiei is a children’s book on basic emotional expression and meditation. This is a nice introduction to teaching children how to define and communicate the emotions they are feeling. The meditations are suitable for young, school-aged children. Feelu is more of a supplement to therapy or an educational book, not an entertainment piece (although the illustrations are very engaging). Shafiei did a good job with the research, and Feelu does a good job covering age-appropriate grounding techniques and strategies. While it provides some basic advice for handling bullies, action should be taken if bullies are an issue for the child, as being bullied can cause problematic behaviors and poor health (Lin & Lin, 2017). For normal situations, Feelu is great.

        The art is cute. It’s done in a simplistic cartoon style, with nice bright colors that will appeal to children, and there are many different and interesting animals. Fazel has drawn a charming baby elephant who is the main character in the book, and is featured in a visual mood chart for identifying feelings. I really like the frog in particular, as he looks very happy.

        There is an app that goes along with the book, which I have not tried.

4 stars!

*Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the e-book by the author.