Over the years, many bonsai artists have developed and refined the styles of bonsai. The major rule to observe is that certain species are more suited to a certain style, so you shouldn’t try to force your way on them. However, the art of growing bonsai trees is also down to how you would interpret the various styles to suit your own artistic vision. The two main basic bonsai styles are the classic and the informal styles. Then there are the common 5 Basic Styles, which many bonsai beginners might be familiar with, namely:
The classic styles are those that have the trunk wide at the bottom and then tapering towards the top. This is of course the usual way that trees grow. There is also the informal style, namely the trunk is narrower at the bottom and then increases towards the top. This style is possible to achieve, but it is also rather difficult at the same time.
Also classified as informal style, are the bonsai grown as weird shapes and made to resemble dragons, dogs, elephants, vultures and other creatures. It takes skill to train the bonsai into growing like this, and best left for when you are more experienced. It usually involves a bit of luck in finding bonsai trees with suitable root shapes that can be used as a basis to craft out an animal shape.
The mistake most beginners make when starting out on their bonsai hobby is that their bonsai needs to conform to a basic style, otherwise it’s not right. That is actually wrong, because bonsai is an art form that is open to your own personal creativity. At least amongst Western bonsai artists, this view is held up most of the time, and I also personally feel that any bonsai grower should not be stifled in regards to styles.
The styles are only meant to be guidelines and are also dependent on the particular species, as mentioned earlier. With that said, if you are totally new to growing bonsai trees, and don’t have the experience (or time) to experiment, you should do well in picking a suitable species and then deciding on one of the Basic Styles, and training your bonsai tree in that style.
Finally, here’s the ideal bonsai “starter” for beginners: