Sunday, 17 April 2016

Bonsai Wire - How to Waste Away a Couple of Hours

Yes I know all the experts say to cut your bonsai wire off and not to unwind it.
Easy enough to do, but gosh what a WASTE!

Being from Scotish descent, this didnt go down well with me.  Ever since I first ventured into the hobby of bonsai, it amazed me to hear and see "experts" that never reused bonsai wire. Yes, I know the reason - it can damage the fragile outer layer of bark as its unwound.  But by not doing it, it can also damage the bank balance, and the frustration of not having enough wire left to finish a tree!

I'm the first to admit that I'm too much of a scrooge to throw out bits of cut off wire when if you're really careful you can unwind that aluminium wire and reuse it.
Mind you.....after a couple of hours hunched over the edge of the couch unbending and straightening a box full of the stuff that the thought of using nice new wire was starting to appeal.

Yep, I straightened out every last little piece of wire, although I suspect some of the really tiny lengths will probably never be used again. (had my "fury helper" again, he loves box's)
I had the opportunity to purchase some wire from a Gore Bonsai Club member that passed away nearly a year ago. She obviously had the same philosophy as I do, never to throw anything out as it may come in handy some day.  There were box's of pots, drainage mesh, lots and lots of used wire, and some packets that hadnt even been opened.   Thankyou Helen, I'm sure you were smiling down on the club members that left our workshop this afternoon with some of your goodies, happy knowing that they will be used and not stuck in a dark wee shed somewhere never to see the light of day again.
Thats the beauty of bonsai, pretty much everything you use can be recycled and passed on to other enthusiasts - the pots, wire, mesh, tools, even sometimes the bonsai.  Most importantly the knowlege can be passed on.....over and over again and it doesnt cost anything to share.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


I could hardly contain was time to open the kiln and see what the results were, with the test pieces from the old stoneware glazes I'd aquired recently.
They all turned out reasonably well.  The white ones were nothing to write home about, but I'll add it to another colour to see what happens.
Wow!  Even though I dont use blue very much on my bonsai pots, this colour just blew me away.  The dark dark blue doesnt look much on the pic but in real life its a stunner.  On the white clay it is very vivid, the cobolt  in the glaze is a very strong colourant.  Will definitely use this one.
This one was interesting.  On the stoneware clay it was nothing much, but on the white clay the glaze broke to brown on the ridges and almost a greeny pink on the rest of it.  I dont use white clay much because of the cost, but when I do, this glaze will be put to use.
This was another interesting one.  On the white clay it looks almost stonelike. Quite thin. but with black brown speckles, looks a bit like dark stone.  Another which I will definitely use.
This was dipped in one of them, probably the white one, when filling a gap at the top of the kiln...while I wrote down the test colours for the rest, this one was missed.  Love the bubbly look.
This is another one that I will be using again.
This was the biggest surprise of all.  This squared up pot was given 2 coats of the dark blue glaze and then a bit of the white glaze was squirted/dribbled down it.  I figured it was a test kiln full, so why not try it out.   So pleased I did....perhaps not the most "quiet" pot, but it'll suit something.   Will try the dark dark blue on its own, it might be nice matched with a golden yellow/ red foliaged bonsai perhaps.
The trouble with using unnamed glazes is that you cant really recreate them again after they run out.  With a bit of know how you can get close, but I"m still learning that "know how".

Friday, 1 April 2016

OLD Pottery Glazes - Good for Bonsai Pots??

I recently got hold of some old stoneware pottery glazes that had been tucked away for many many years. Rather than see them tossed away, I jumped at the chance to have them.
Two of them were labelled, one was a deep dark blue and the other a llight matt pale blue. (assuming the lids match whats in the buckets) The other two are a bit of a lucky dip as the names on the sides of the bucket had faded.
This one had a layer of moldy speckled like stuff floating on the top, so not sure if it was one of the glaze ingredients or if the top had come off and dirt etc had fallen in.
The only solution was to put it all though a fine sieve to filter out any stray solid bits and to help make it into a useable glaze consistancy.  The seive was made out of some fine mesh pot rivotted onto the cut out lid of an old biscuit doesnt look pretty but it does an amazing job.
This is what it looked like after putting it through the sieve 4 times.  Nice and smooth and creamy.  It was way to thick and was thinned down with water to a thin gravy consistancy.
This one was much the same.  These old glazes had been sitting a long time and had all     settled into the bottom in a nice hard layer.  They take a bit of scraping and lots of stirring and elbow grease to break up all the lumps.  A drill and paint mixer would have been handy!
This bucket was the worst, a very hard layer on the bottom.  Water was added and I will leave it for a couple of days to soften up, then give it a good stir.
After about 3 hours of scraping, stirring and seiving I managed to get some test pieces dipped in them ready to pop in the next glaze firing.  The test pieces have a pattern on the back to see how the glaze reacts over uneven surfaces etc.  Each one had a matching letter code written on it so I know which colour came from which bucket.  
There's a load in the kiln at the moment......cant wait until Sunday night to open it and see what colours we have.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Gore Flower Show 2016, Bonsai

This is what greeted us as we walked in the doors....the theme of the show was "the sixties"
Our bonsai section was a little sparse in places, no group plantings and some sections with just 2 entries.
 Our shelves to display them were a little narrow for all but the small potted trees, with some hanging precariously over the edge.
 This is one of my Picea that I was told to "bin" 4 or 5 years ago. It has a straight area on the trunk, and forks etc, but with a hastily done tidy up it came up not too bad in my opinion.
 There were bumble bees scattered around all the exhibits  for the kids to find and get a prize for the correct numbers.
 We had only 6 exhibitors, so we did fairly well.....the trees were moved around a bit by others and perhaps were not shown at there best with the shelves being quite low.  The top shelf was good though.
My Chinese Elm was taken off the display area and put up the front on the "Champion's Table".  It was in the over 60cm section.  I was quite chuffed at this as it had been sitting in my bonsai area at home just doing its own thing and growing away quietly, not realising that with a bit of a tidy/trim, it would be destined for this unexpected surprise of gaining the Reserve Champion of the show.  Apparently it was up against a cauliflower for this prize.... still makes me chuckle.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Like Putting a Bonsai Pot Jigsaw Together, But the Pieces Don't Fit!

Loading the kiln up for a glaze firing was a bit of a mission.

The idea is to get as many bonsai pots/slabs/crescents in as I can.  None can be touching and preferably about 1/4 to 1/2 inch between them.  

Because I make all sorts of sizes and shapes of pots, the logistics and time spent trying to make the most of the kiln space by fitting as much in as possible means the brain is working overtime.  Oh to have a larger kiln!!
The very large slab on top needs to sit flat on the kiln shelf. Its slightly larger than any half shelves I have, so a little is hanging over the edge.  Fingers crossed that it wont be enough to put stress on the sides and end up cracking.
This larger crescent is hogging most of the space on one side, not allowing any full round shelves and really wasting a lot of space around it.  Lots of empty space means the kiln doesn't fire as efficiently, certainly not as cost effective either as it can take much longer to get up to and stay at that high temperature.
The other thing to consider is that there should be about an inch gap between the bottom of the kiln lid and the top of the pot.  As the kiln heats up there are certain temperatures where the pots will expand and then contract.  If the pot is too close to the lid the glaze on the pot can end up sticking to the lid and badly damaging it. Not an ideal situation....hopefully its far enough away, fingers crossed.  Placing a piece of wood from one side to the other gives you a reasonable idea if its too close.                                 
Making a bit of an inroad into getting a decent stock of pots made.  They are all a mixture of fairly subdued colours.  I'm not really into making bright cobalt blues and yellows etc....they definitely have their place though.
 There's a wee few pots put aside to go in another glaze firing in the future when I make up some more glaze.  Been trying to find a simple recipe for a nice satin grey colour, haven't had much luck yet as some glaze ingredients differ from country to country and some are fairly toxic... I try and stay away from those.

Cant wait to open the kiln up tomorrow afternoon, who knows what surprises await.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Little Bit of Kiwiana/New Zealand Style Decoration on #Bonsai Pots

While I really enjoy making and glazing bonsai pots, I get a real kick out of carving the odd one.  It does take quite a bit of time, but well worth the effort in my opinion.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the potters who over the last few centuries have created some very ornate porcelain bonsai pots. The intricate brush strokes on some of these leave me in awe of the artistic skills and patience of their creators.  We see many of these still around in collections in various countries....never used, still in their original wooden boxing. Now far too valuable and rare to be used for their original purpose.  Although sometimes for very special occasions they may be brought out for display.

Plain and subdued are words that are bandied around when it comes to bonsai pots these days.  The colour/style shouldn't overtake or catch your eye more than the tree that goes into it. Conifers/pines must always go into plain brown unglazed pots, while deciduous trees can be put in glazed pots. While it is sometimes good to follow the rules, it is however just a guideline. it is also your own personal opinion on what goes with what that matters.  As long as you're happy with it.

Did anyone tell the old Chinese bonsai masters that their intricately decorated white porcelain bonsai pots were wrong?  No, I don't think so, they were treasured.  Looking at the patterns and drawings on these old pots your immediate reaction is to think about the snow topped mountains in Japan/China and you knew straight away where they came from.

Every potter has their own style, some create pots that are "way out there!", and in your face at first glance.  Others stick to the more conventional look, happy to recreate the same pieces over and over again, either by slip casting or molds. 

However I like to do a bit of everything. When I walk out into our garage I sometimes have a rough idea of what to make, but sometimes I just wait and see what happens. There's no way I could ever be a production potter, the repetition would drive me potty. It already has judging by some of the looks I get from hubby!

Back to the original idea for this post.  Just showing how I go about carving a pattern into a leather hard bonsai pot.
If you leave the pot to get too hard and dry, there's no way that you can carve anything into the walls.  On the other hand, if its still to wet the pieces of clay that are carved out will just stick to the pot and cant be rubbed or brushed off easily and end up as globs on the pattern.
Usually about half way through I use a fairly soft paint brush to flick off the extra clay from the pattern.  This is a fairly random pattern, so you cant really make mistakes, but if you do want to change something, just rub your finger tip gently over the ridge, and redo it.
All done......ready to sit back on the shelf and dry slowly before bisque and glaze firing.
The finished pot,  I'd washed quite a bit of the oxide off to highlight the pattern, but sometimes it can have an interesting look without rubbing any off at all.
Everything has been going so well lately that I've decided to try making a few oval pots once again.  They can be quite frustrating to complete successfully, but I'm up for the challenge.....hopefully.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Do You Really Love Your Bonsai Trees? or Do You Just Want To Be A Skite

So often I look around and see two different types of bonsai enthusiast.

The first type is the person who just loves the challenge and thrill of creating a bonsai.  They snap up every little bargain tree at the garden centre with an excited look in their eye.  "yes, this has bonsai potential".  They get it home and spend days just looking at it, pondering their next vital move.  Should I just shorten it, cut out the main leader, should I plant it in the garden for a year or two?

Eventually with secateurs in hand, something is done to start it on its journey to one day hopefully become a beautiful bonsai.   Usually they end up with heaps of trees, at all stages, from seedlings/cuttings, to nice trees that they have nurtured and trained over the years. They look out lovingly over their trees, remembering where each one came from, what conditions they like, which ones nearly died because you put them in the wrong position or the wrong soil mix.  Which ones got a bit dried up and droopy in the drought of 1996.  Which ones lost their branches with rugby balls kicked during after school practices.  Most of the time they will know the history of each and every one of their trees.  The thrill when they showed you their first flower, or had their first pine cone. The regrets when they chopped off that vital lower branch, or the smiles of memories of people they met and worked with at bonsai workshops.

To this first group of bonsai enthusiasts, the real thrill is not the end result, but all of their travels and ups and downs just getting there with their trees of all stages. This group of people could spend hours wandering around their trees telling you stories about their sometimes precarious lives.  They have a great sense of achievement when they say  "I've raised this one from seed 15 years ago".  These people have quite a connection with their bonsai. They know their bonsai so well, that any little change in leaf colour or the beginnings of a bug infestation will upset them greatly, and great care is taken to rectify these problems.There is also a willingness to help and teach others with this group, with lots of laughter and sharing going on.  Your trees almost become part of your family, there is a real connection between these people and their bonsai.

Now this other group is a very interesting lot.  I'm sure to offend a few people by saying it, but everybody reading this will know or have heard about one of them. They are the ones who will jump straight into the hobby of bonsai by buying up as many mature trees as they can and skiting to anyone who will listen about how wonderful they and their trees are.  They have to have the very best trees, even if they don't know how to look after them. There will be deaths, but it doesn't matter too much to these people as they will just go out and offer someone big money to purchase a replacement.  I am jealous of these people as I too would love to have the money to splash out and buy trees worth hundreds of dollars at a whim. But having said that, I don't think I 90% of  my enjoyment is from growing and nurturing my trees.

It's a bit like the old fella that spends many years doing up an old wreck of a car. Nine times out of ten its not about the flash shiny car at the end, its about the journey and the stories he had getting there.  The people he met while trying to get replacement parts, the yarns and stories told while leaning over the bonnet tinkering with something, the beers and stories shared while sitting down on a greasy oily old car seat having a rest.  Its all about the journey for some people and its the same for bonsai.

Sure some people would just go out and buy the latest brand new modern car just to be seen to have and be the best, but I guarantee that old fella would have more of a sense of pride and achievement spending years toiling away creating something he loved, than the chap that just bought something brand new straight off the showroom floor.

So sure, you may have the most beautiful bonsai collection, everyone will oooh and ahhh over them, but without that connection that you get from creating something yourself, to me it must seem like very empty praise.  And that is all that some bonsai enthusiast want, they want to be the very best, they want the best trees, and they want to let everyone else know it. They sometimes lack the knowledge you learn starting from scratch, why bother they can just buy it! They so often will look down their noses at those of us that don't have award winning trees, or the best styled or tended trees.  They expect to win or at least get placings at exhibitions and shows and grumble if they do not.  It can have a negative effect on other enthusiasts, especially in a club situation. I have heard of one or two clubs with divisions among the ranks.  And at worst, members have left as some of the "I have the best trees" attitudes are not the most welcoming and after a while can be darned right annoying and soul destroying, especially for the enthusiastic beginner.

If you got these two groups of bonsai enthusiast together and gave them all a bonsai "starter" tree, I recon that the group who have spent years nurturing and training their not so mature trees would have no problem in styling and creating a new and wonderful bonsai (albeit may be not perfect).  Whereas the other group with "the best trees" would struggle. Perhaps its their reluctance to learn, as they already have the best, or they are just so used to buying instant ready made, or paying someone else to work on on their trees, that they really don't know how.  Quite sad really.

Right, now I've got that off my chest.  No doubt I will get criticised for my opinion, but am only stating what is clearly obvious to me.   I never ever want to be like that second group, don't think I could ever be.....I love the journey too much.

Feel free to comment, controversy is good, it means people care.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Gore Bonsai Club Workshop with Joy Morton Sept 2015

Last weekend the Gore Bonsai Club had a workshop with Joy Morton from Dunedin. 

You-tube version: Gore Bonsai Club Weekend Workshop (Joy)

We always look forward to her visits and come away having learnt a lot. Personally, it motivates me to go home and attack some of those trees that I was a little unsure about.

On Saturday there were 7 members able to come along. Three were beginners and the other 4 of us had various levels of experience.
There were a wide variety of trees worked on, from small native kowhai to larch and a larger pine.
How many people does it take to cut a trunk? One to hold the saw, one to hold the tree, and the other to show them what to cut

Always forget to take pics before starting on a tree, but I got reminded half way through and managed to get a slightly after started and finished tree pic.  This cedar was reasonably tall (1.3metres), Joy thought the jin on the top could be shortened down a little, but I decided to leave it as it was for the moment, it's always good to ponder and think about some decisions like that before you decide to go ahead, there's no rush!
This was another reasonably large tree.  It had been semi styled by me a year or two ago.  It had been left to grow and was now ready to be styled by someone who knew what they were doing!  Once again I didnt take a start pic, but here it is half way through.  There's a flowing bend in the trunk that we made use of.  It ended up with about 4 or 5 layers of foliage pads.
This had the look of a Pinus Radiata, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it once had an old label in it that said Pinus "flexus".   It doesn't matter really, as its the tree that matters, not the name. (although it does make you sound quite knowledgeable when you can blurt out its botanical name instead of just saying Pine). I'm sure its written down somewhere, just got to find it
With a bit of time and growth, these pads will fill out and not look so sparse.  I was really pleased with how this one ended up looking, now I just have to make a pot for her to fit in!!
Yes, it is a she, as it has a nice light flowing graceful look about it, quite feminine.
 Joy made her way around everybody in the room, giving them each choices and options for their trees and explaining everything in simple understandable language.  From teaching a beginner how to wire and then moving onto a tree that needed a good styling, it must have been quite an exhausting day for her.

Joy taking out a centre branch on an old larch of Carols. It made a big difference to the whole feel and look of the tree.  Less is definitely more.

They say behind every great man that there's a great woman.....well in this case its the reverse.   Joy is lucky enough to have a husband that supports her on all of her travelling workshops.  Colin quietly looks after all the tool and pot sales, makes cuppa's, assists Joy with sawing, holding, moving, shifting trees, and the list goes on, what a lucky woman Joy is!
Among his many and varied jobs was to sneak out the back and gather up some lovely looking moss for a future project.

On Sunday we were only able to muster 3 members for the workshop, but for those three it was another day full of information and learning.   Thanks Joy and Colin, we cant wait until next year.