Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pots Just Started

After a reasonably quiet winter as far as making pots go, I decided to get my backside into gear and start creating again.

During the winter there were a few changes made. I've been experimenting with a couple of new clays, and even mixing different types together at different percentages.  Trying to get the best of both, lower shrinkage and strength.

I'm also waiting on a bit of an  upgrade as far as my kiln controls go.  At the moment it just relys on the kiln sitter to control the heating and shut off etc.  But because I want to have a more accurate guage of the temperature and enable a slow cool down period for crystal glazes and also a slower cooldown to avoid cracks, its inevitable that I need an uptodate electronic kiln controller and probe etc.

This comes at quite a cost (almost half way there!) but with my brilliant mentors advice, I feel it will be money well spent.   I had to laugh.... he said he could put up with me having a crappy kiln as long as I had a good controller etc! Its good how some people just tell it how it is.

Any way, back to these pots.

This is the first rectangular type bonsai pot I've attempted.  The top sides were thrown as a bottomless circle on the wheel.  Then when it was still fairly soft I pulled the sides out to make the general shape.  Its not absolutely milimetre perfect, but its good enough for me.  Then the bottom was rolled out and added along with the feet.   Its incredibly hard to get all of the pieces the same as far as dryness goes for assembling together.  I know they say not too, but I do use the hair dryer to speed things up a little.

This ones about 36 long by 27cm wide

This  ones an oval approximately 41 by 31 wide by 7cm high.

I've been shying away from putting a drainage hole in the middle for the time being, as if they are going to crack it usually starts at that hole for some reason. I guess it sets up a weak area structurally.

These will sit quietly in the wash house drying over the next couple to three weeks.  I usually cover them with a piece of canvas or material to slow the drying right down after I take them out of the usual black rubbish bags.

Time to go, kids are home from school....only seems like a couple of hours since they left!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stress Cracks during Clay Drying

I've always been bothered by "stress cracks" - they dont normally show up until they're bisque fired.

I popped around the corner to get a pen and spotted our precious wee Millie doing a bit of snoozing in one of my bonsai pots.  She wasnt too impressed being woken up and was quite keen just to sit where she was.  The pot was obviously warm and dry and was a nice place to spend the afternoon.

Now I'm not sure just how much she weighs - and the pot was dry - she wasnt jumping round pretending to be a kangaroo, so hopefully no damage has been done.  Had a good look after she slinked away in disgust, apart from a couple of cat hairs, no cracks were found........lucky this time!!!!!

Hmmmm..... perhaps these pots will turn out "purrrrrrfect"

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Broken Pot is a Useful Pot

Have you ever broken a bonsai pot or slab and ended up throwing it in the wheely bin?

Many of us have.

Too many of us think that if a pot isnt "perfect" that it will never look any good with our tree in it.

Recently, I was asked if I had any broken/cracked bonsai pots that I was going to chuck out.  Hmmm... strange question I thought.  Normally people want solid unbroken uncracked pots-brand new.

On questioning him he was adamant they would definitely have a use.  So I quite happily gave him a couple of rejects from my latest kiln firing.

I got an email from him recently  with a couple of pictures of his latest bonsai creation using a slab that had broken during the high firing.

Now this bloke is obviously talented.  To think outside the square and make use of these two pieces of pot and create a beautiful forest/group planting of beech is something to be proud of.

Here is a picture of the beech planted up on a "one piece slab" (broken one pushed together)

Looks great dont you think!  But look below

In my opinion, I think this looks even better, two separate plantings but still with the one group.
The river/stream is imagined between them.

 I managed to get him to agree to put his name to this creation....well sort of, he's about to start out his own bonsai venture and  is going by the name of Fredric Bonsai.   If you want to get in touch with him, I may be able to pass on any queries.  Better still, I'll see if he wants me to add his email address!

So the next time the dog/kids/wind/rugby ball knocks over one of your trees and breaks the pot/slab,  take a good hard look at it first before turfing it in the bin.  Nature isnt perfect, after all,  isn't that what we are trying to recreate?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cost of making a bonsai pot

People often ask me how much it costs to make a bonsai pot.  There are so many factors to consider.  If I was making mass produced pots of a certain size, shape, glaze etc it'd be easy enough to work out. Well, not easy, but easier than working out the cost of the way I make my pots.

I don't have a set size, they are all different.  Sure you can weigh the clay before you make the pot on the wheel so you know how much you are using, but when you trim the pot up when its leather hard, you're taking clay away. Wet clay is heavier than leather hard or dry clay, at what stage do you weigh it? All too complicated and not what real pottery is about.

I'll list some of the costs.

One of the 2 biggest expenses, freight from one end of the country to the other on top of the price of clay makes it very expensive for the hobby potter, we don't get big discounts like clubs do. I like to use 2 or 3 different types of clay, depending on what I'm making, all different prices. Nailing down the best clay to use and getting the results you want, also means alot of experimenting, and also if not successful, a bit of wastage.  I'm very lucky in that I have a mentor who is helping me out with a variety of different clays to get the best results.

 POTTERS WHEEL              
 I feel that you must learn how to use the wheel with some confidence. Its really an essential piece of machinery to have if you're wanting to make different types of pots.

You need many different sizes of these to make a variety of work.  Used both on the wheel and for drying on.

May need replacing regularly if using grogged clays. Although you can purchase some quite cheap basic tools, if you want them to last a bit longer,(sharpness) it pays to get better quality ones.

This is another BIG expense in New Zealand.  My average bisque firing takes at least. 9 hours, and then the glaze firing can take as long as 12 hours depending on the temperature the clay matures at. Stoneware clays fire higher therefore costing more.  With our power prices increasing regularly over the years, many potters are moving on to other areas.

If making up own recipes the colouring oxides and materials are expensive to buy.   Premade glazes in powder form can be bought at a cost, but making your own generally works out cheaper if you have the materials.  I don't use brush on glazes as I like the more spontaneous look of a poured on glaze.  Brush on glazes dont work out to be very cost effective if you're making large pieces. Thats just my opinion anyway.

This is another must, if you are serious about making pots.  You might say that why don't you just use the local Pottery Club kiln, it'll work out cheaper than buying your own the long run it doesn't.   Apart from the cost, you have to take into consideration the cost of travel to and from using the kiln, the transporting of fragile greenware, working in with others using the kiln etc. etc. In my case a 68km round trip to the pottery rooms, the cost of petrol in New Zealand is very high and still rising.  Its so much easier to be able to do a firing when you're ready and not have to rely on others.  That's a big must for me, as I like to be independent and not bother others.

 Even though most kilns will come with some shelves, furniture etc, its never enough.  Because bonsai pots are shallow, you are able to put more shelves than normal in the kiln to make it more cost effective.  With more shelves means using more props etc.
Firing cones are good to use to check the temperatures are correct.  My kiln uses a kiln sitter, so each firing uses a small rod.  These aren't cheap either, and come in box's of 30 if I remember correctly.

that will have to be binned!  Especially relevant when making larger bonsai pots, the bigger the pot, the more chances of cracking etc happening  during firing, so that's a pretty good reason why you don't see alot of potters making very large bonsai pots.

If the cost of my time was added onto the cost of the bonsai pots, nothing would sell, as it would be too expensive for most.  Making a large oval pot can take 2 or 3 hours of careful hand building to get it to an acceptable standard.  Then theres the drying time and constant turning to make sure they dry evenly.

I think I just need to stop there...........I'm sure there are alot of other small expenses I haven't thought of. But I'm kind of thinking that most will say why do you bother.  Sometimes I wonder that myself, if I'm lucky I might break even with the total cost of most pots.

Why do I do it?.......because I enjoy it,  there's something  very calming about sitting at the wheel creating something.  Sometimes its spontaneous, sometimes its with a purpose in mind, but either way,  I plan on continuing making these bonsai pots.... it just feels right.  I've learnt to trust my instincts.

As far as cost goes, everything has a cost....... but if you really want to do something , there will always be a way!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It started out as a Traditional Slab but ended up looking like this

Seems to happen quite often.

Sometimes with making bonsai pots you have a rough idea in your head, but when it actually comes down to it,  the clay seems to want you to make it into something else. So I just go with the flow.

I guess thats why I enjoy making the rustic type pots and slabs. The traditional rules of proportion and shapes etc dont apply.   With these you can be a bit more creative.

This one's about 47cm long.  It'll shrink alot as it drys.

I managed to take these photos on the way to the laundry.  No I don't leave clay pots sitting on the kitchen table (not any more)

It'll be covered with a black rubbish bag and left to dry very slowly.

The freezer in the laundry is now covered with drying pots.  Its a bit of a mission getting meat out for tea at times.  I hold the lid up gently, while my daughter puts her little hand through the  gap and grabs whatever she can reach.  The pots havent managed to slide off yet - touch wood.

Those potters that have a studio are soooo lucky.   Maybe one day (sigh)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Copper Wire versus Aluminium Bonsai Wire

Recently I managed to get hold of some reasonably priced copper wire. I choose three different thicknesses. I'd heard a few different thoughts on whether its better to use than the aluminium I normally use.

So I bit the bullet and tried wiring up a very leggy pine during the late autumn.

Having heard that once the wire is wrapped around a branch it goes quite hard  I proceeded with caution...... and guess what, it doesnt go so hard so you cant bend it again.  But it does harden up more than aluminium.    But on the other hand... I wonder what it will be like in 3 or 4 months.   I've been told that you have to cut copper wire off as its too hard to unwind without damaging the bark.  So I guess I'll have to wait and see.

 I dont fancy having a bucket full of cut off bits of copper wire that I cant use again.   I'm too much of a scrooge for that.   No one from the Gore Bonsai Club uses it, and a few other bonsai addicts I know dont use it either.

I know the price is what puts people off buying it.  But the width of the wire that you use is alot less than the aluminium wire with the same holding power, so it doesnt work out as expensive as you think..

Dont look too hard at my wiring....still got lots to learn!

Has any one out there ever tried it, and how did you get on?

Its nice to use, but I'm almost a little scared to try it on much else in case it sets rock hard.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bonsai Pot Making Now Online

I've been dragged into the age of technology at long last.  Downloaded, uploaded, waited, added, long last its finished.  Excuse the music breaks, haven't quite mastered that yet.  Much to the amusement of my kids I managed to produce this wee video on my own.  Enjoy!

Higher definition on You tube -

If you'd like to get in touch just email me at:

Monday, April 8, 2013

You've gotta laugh, the bonsai pot that would sit nicely on a hill

Hmmm.... what not to do when you're in a hurry to do something else.

I'd always known that clay had a "memory".

Normally I wait until the clay firms up (5 or 6 hours)  before I'd even attempt to handle it, but not this time...I was in a hurry!   So I picked up the top quickly and the ends sagged.  But I quickly put it down and carried on with the base and feet.  I thought everything would be OK as it straightened out nicely and looked like it was going to be a nice big oval pot.

But oh no...... as it dried slowly the side rose up and made a nice curve in the pot.  You can see exactly where I picked it up on the sides.

So even though you may be able to fix up any distortions in clay before it gets too firm again, the clay still remembers and tries to revert back to the original shape it was moved into.  

LESSON LEARNED....... the pot I've spent a couple of hours making is now destined for the scrap bucket.   Or perhaps I should put it somewhere obvious to remind me about what NOT TO DO WHEN YOU'RE IN A HURRY.
I've made a roundish slab pot just to see how it turns out.  Looking good so far. (50cm diameter) its done most of its shrinking now.

Its been left sitting on top of the freezer in the wash house.  Not the most practical place to put it, but its the coolest part of the house, as the "man cave" is being used for sanding down man things!
Love the texture on it.  With any luck this one will shrink down so its small enough to fit in the kiln with out having to trim it down some.  Yes, I have made the odd one that's too big to fit!!
 This is the pot that I've thrown just an hour ago.  Its made from a nice new clay that I'd been given to try out.  Its sooo smooth and lovely to work with.  Its just a new clay but its suited to larger pieces and has alot more strength during construction.  Keeping my fingers crossed!   This pot is about 42cm diameter at the moment in its wet state, but it'll shrink  as it dries. Not sure if I should keep it plain or put rivets on it....plain is always nice.  That seems to be what people want the most.

Any way, I'd better get back the mess I left in the garage, hubby's got truck parts all over the place, DOESN'T HE KNOW I NEED THE SPACE!

If you have any comments or want to get in touch, my email is

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The kiln was unloaded this morning.  Great relief once again........ everything came out perfectly as far as I can see.

All of the big bonsai pots I've made over the last 3 weeks have been dried REALLY SLOWLY in a large black rubbish bag.  I changed the newspaper they were sitting on both the bottom and the top every day, and after the first week I opened the end a little to let the air circulate.   So far, so good.  I've just got to get them through the next glaze firing though, so only halfway there!

This larger oval tray is about 44cm long, very shallow.
A few crinkle marks in the clay from the newspaper when rolling the slab out though.

This is quite a wide oval about 39cm wide at the moment.  I decided to try not putting a drainage hole in the middle and only put them around the outside edge to perhaps make it stronger.

I love these wee mame pots. Enscribed with a Kiwi Style pattern.  Really enjoyable to make, but time consuming

This slab is about 50cm long at the moment, it'll shrink a bit more in the glaze firing, very happy with it so far.

The rest of my bits n bobs of bonsai pots.

I'll have to get out to the garage tomorrow and start on the glazing and oxide washing.  Fingers crossed it goes off without a hitch this time as well.

If you have any comments please feel free to get in touch either on this blog, or by emailing me on