Friday, 1 July 2016

The Downside of Making Larger Bonsai Pots

While making bonsai pots brings me incredible highs and feelings of achievement, it also can have it's downside
.
Potters aren't keen to talk about it very much....perhaps they don't want people to see that they have had failures, or maybe they will think that it shows weakness.  Pottery is an incredibly emotional thing in my life.  Some days I feel on top of the world, a new glaze experiment has worked out, a certain pot has that x factor, or the achievement of making something from a ball of wet clay.  There are very few things that can surpass these plentiful incredible days.

Then come the days when you could very easily chuck in pot making and everything about it.
I had one of these days (lasting for a week).   After spending many hours and days/weeks completing much awaited larger  bonsai pots, my heart just sank as I opened the bisque kiln for the second time that week.  Earlier on that week I had the same feeling. Four of my large ovals/rounds were cracked.  I'd put it down to the kiln heating up too quickly or cooling too quickly.  Maybe they had dried to quickly and set up stresses in the clay that weren't visible until the bisque firing.  But for it to happen 2ce in that one week was almost too much to bear.

Never have I been so close to just packing it in...... no matter what I try, there is still the cracking problem with the large pots. Out of the last 10, seven of them cracked. (the largest was 48cm long)  I gathered them all up and studied each one, looking for a clue as to what had gone wrong.  Using an old type kiln, I have very little control over the temperature rise and fall and am convinced this is the problem.  Finding a reasonably priced temperature controller and thermocouple is now my mission, its the only thing left to try
In the mean time, I have stopped making larger pots. There's no way I can absorb the cost of these losses.  There's not alot of profit made from making bonsai pots, the availability of cheap imported pots puts the squeeze on anybody making them. The whole idea was to make reasonably priced pots for myself and other bonsai enthusiasts.  So after getting in touch with those who were waiting on pots, and offering refunds etc, things were about as low as they have been since I started making pots.


There are a few obvious solutions to this.

1.  I can put my pot prices up to absorb the cost of these failures.

2.  Stop making pots over a certain size, only having small/medium pots, slabs etc.

3.  Suck it up, buy a new kiln and hope that it cures the problem.

After a week or more of indecision, I've taken a part of all 3 solutions.  Firstly I will suck it up and continue to make pots (very few large though),  Any larger ones made will be priced higher than what I am making them for now.  You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in Australia, America and the UK that make and sell them as reasonably priced as I do.  A big decision to make....but one that had to be made.

It's all very easy to say "Oh, but I enjoy making them"   But that doesn't pay the bills, there's only so much you can "suck up".

It's been quite an emotional couple of weeks for me....but I guess deep down I knew I would never give up pot making. 

NOTHING WORTHWHILE IS EASY.
Just as well we have a large wheely bin!!


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Thursday, 26 May 2016

FANTASTIC AFTERNOON AT OUR GORE BONSAI CLUB WORKSHOP

This little beastie had been sitting outside in front of a table for the last 3 weeks.  Slowly but surely it's leaves were starting to fall.  It had been left for a year or so to do its own thing.
I figured I could take it along to the Gore Bonsai Club workshop on Sunday and get some work done on it.  Might be good for some of the other members to work on a larger tree??
There was the odd look when I walked in with it...."what on earth are you going to do with that?"  Little did they know that they would be answering that question themselves.
As there were only 5 of us there, we decided to work on this Dawn Redwood as a group. The leaves were  taken off (most just fell off) and the bark was cleaned up.  The colour of the trunk was quite amazing, a beautiful reddy brown colour. 
Where do you start!   We started by taking out all of the 3 D's - dead, diseased, damaged first.  Then any branches that crossed and couldn't be wired into another area.  We cut the top off as it was nearly 4 foot high.
I love this pic....it conveys the feeling of "holy heck...where do I start!"  This was the ideal chance for some to practise their wiring skills.  Some of the thick wire used was a bit of an overkill, but there were some quite stubborn branches.
Various ideas and opinions were tossed back and forwards - "take this branch off", "leave it on and shorten another one", "where should the front be?".   If we'd all had the same tree to work on individually,  each and every one would look totally different at the end. (Another idea for a workshop maybe)
The wee tree just kept getting smaller and smaller.  Lots of  wire was used. Pete gave one large awkward looking branch the chop!
The plain aluminium bonsai wire looks rather prominent and jumps up catches your eye waaay too much....a good reason to only use the brown coloured wire as it "blends in" a lot better.
 The group should be proud of what they achieved....the top of the trunk is dead and will need a bit of carving to be done at a later date.   To date, the group had only really worked on smaller trees and it was interesting that they made the comment that it was easier to work on a larger one.
We must do this again, it was fun working on a large tree together rather than everyone doing their own thing individually.  I've been in the club for a few years now, and can't recall any of us doing that before.   Roll on the next workshop!!



Saturday, 7 May 2016

Bonsai Garden Having a Tidy Up

It's May now (late autumn/early winter)....you wouldn't know it by the warm temperatures we've been having recently.  I decided it was well and truly time for a bit of a tidy up in the garden.
There seemed to be more green on the ground than on my bonsai.  Time to weed, take old leaves off and think about what would need a good trim up just before spring.
You can actually see the path now that all that "bug repellent" plant has been removed.  These will all stay on the ground over the winter.
There's a group of 9 larch here that'll be made into a group planting this year.  They aren't much to look at individually, but might make a nice looking bonsai forest.  There's a mixture of larix decidua and kempferii, the difference isn't too noticeable, just the colour of the buds.
I had to dig these two pots out with a spade. These dawn redwoods are moisture lovers and don't care how they get it!  You can tell they weren't turned regularly.

The bottom of this plastic pot wont last another year.....looks like I'll have to make one for it.
I came across this pine that had been left to its own devices for the last couple or three years.  Lots of old dead needles to remove.  It's starting to look quite leggy and I've been tempted to cut the shoots back......but what is the right time of the year to do that.  I know there is a big difference depending on whether its a black or white pine.   All I know about this one is that the needles are in bundles of 2, so its not radiata(3) or white pine (5)
Looks 100% better tidied up.
It's times like now that I wish there was an experienced bonsai enthusiast handy.  I have a rough idea what I want the tree to look like, but it would be nice to have another opinion and a bit of a hand.  Its hard to learn when there's no one to bounce ideas off.  The Internet is good, but it'll never take the place of a face to face discussion...especially for a "hands on learner" such as myself.
It had that literati style look about it, but is now quite overgrown and tall.  I'll put it close to my cuppa tea seat and study it over the next week or two.....any suggestions greatly appreciated.
Looking at another 20degree day tomorrow, perhaps the back half of the garden might get some attention....nice way to spend Mothers Day I think.


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

BONSAI POT GLAZE TEST RESULTS

I could hardly contain myself.....it 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 tin.....it 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.