Thursday, December 4, 2014

Coloured Aged Looking Bonsai Pots

I've been on a mission over the last 6 months to try and replicate a pot that had been made a year or two ago.

Unfortunately I don't seem to be in the habit of writing down my concoctions of washes and glazes.  It came back to bite me in the butt with this one.

You think at the time of making, that you'll remember......but it just slips away over the months, never to be remembered  again.

This is the pot, the large oval on the bottom.

Several people have tried to pry it away from me. Unsuccessfully I might add. 
The pic doesn't do it justice, it has that aged antique hard life look about it. 
I've made a few much smaller pots that have been close in appearance to it, but it wasn't until the last glaze firing that I think I've finally cracked the right recipe.

Its now written down!

 The other 4 on top of this oval are the results of the last firing - close enough I think.
Slowly but surely the shelves are getting stocked up again, they were looking a little bare after the spring repotting.

There still aren't too many ovals amongst them as they're quite time consuming to complete successfully.

You'll probably notice that I have a bit of a thing for pots with textures. So I had a bit of a play with coating clay and stretching it.

 This reminds me of the fissured bark on some bonsai trunks as it ages and stretches the outer layers of bark over the years.  This red colour will turn dark brown when fired with the recesses keeping the white colour of the clay.
This pot had a little white/buff slip mixed in while making the "crackle", it'll be interesting to see how this one turns out.

Some little accent planters with a stretched texture.  Its a shame you don't see much of it when they are turned up the right way, still enjoyable to make though.

 Finally, a few pots waiting to get their first bisque firing.   The kiln isn't big enough to hold too many of the larger pots, so it has to be a mixture of sizes to get it as full as possible.  Some pots can wait for a couple of months to get fired, it all depends on having the right space for them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Golden Cedar Bonsai Needs a Bit of a Thin Out

I decided to have a bit of a break from gardening and making pots a few weeks ago.(Nov 2014)

My Golden Cedar needed some of the foliage thinned out a bit.  Well actually, more than a bit.  The moss seems to have taken hold on most of the branches and branchlets.  Very little light was getting into some areas as the foliage was that thick.

It would only be a matter of time before some would get smothered and start to die off.  Truth be told, it should have been done last year.

As usual I'd already started before deciding to grab the camera.

 Its a little hard to see the silhouette of this cedar.  She is really quite wide at the moment. After struggling with the near drought conditions last year I just let it grow without nipping off or thinning any growth at all.

She is looking really healthy now, but all of the foliage is getting quite congested and untidy.  I started by thinning out the foliage quite a bit.  Very time consuming and slow work, as I was rubbing the moss off at the same time. 

 I probably  took a little too much off, but I'm in no doubt that by the end of summer (if we ever get one) it will have filled out again with just as much foliage.
 The foliage then really needed to be wired into the correct position.  However little wiring is done with this cedar as usually shaping is done mostly by pruning.
 This is the tree after I'd finished with it.  The trunk and branch structure is a little more clearer and there's plenty of room for the sun to get into most of the foliage.  The pot is way to big for it, but its the healthiest its ever been since it was potted into it 5 years ago.  Best to have a healthy tree in the wrong pot, than a sick tree in a "correct" pot!

Half a bucket later.....

Its usually a much brighter golden colour at this time of year, but because of a lack of sunshine over the spring it really hasn't coloured up as much.

She is one of my favourite trees. I salvaged her from a rubbish heap at the nursery I worked at as an apprentice many(many many) years ago.  I was just 17 at the time.  We've been though thick and thin together, sometimes I thought it was on its way out, but then it would spring back into life. 
30+ years later.....and we are still together! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Glaze was a bit Runny On These Bonsai Pots

Now, don't go getting the idea I have failures all the time!  Mostly things do go to plan.

It's just I'm one of few that will admit to them publicly, hoping that by sharing my mistakes/failures that someone else will learn from them.

Some potters give you the impression that everything they make is perfect, all the time, it's so not true.

My latest excitement came when I opened up the glaze firing yesterday and had another ooops moment. 
There was only a few inches of glaze left in the bucket.  It was a little thick, but I thought it would be ok.  I've put it on a little thinly in the past and ended up with a disappointing glaze colour.

This time it went on too thickly.  When the glaze melted in the high firing kiln, it decided to run off the side of the saucer and pool around the bottom.  It didn't look to bad at first glance until I went to lift it off.

There was plenty of silica sand as well as kiln wash on the shelf and it managed to stick to both wouldn't budge.  So with a bit of a yank, it lifted off.  Unfortunately the pooled areas stayed on the shelf, not the saucer.

The glaze colour was quite beautiful though, there was pinky coloured crystals on the thick area inside the saucer.  
 This saucer is ruined.  On the next shelf down the same thing had happened to a small bonsai pot.  It too pooled on the bottom of the pot.  To selvage this pot will take a lot of grinding, hardly worth it I suspect.
 The glaze, silica sand and the kiln wash all came off with this one.
 My daughter and her friend made a couple of wee pots and I also glazed them with the same colour.  Although I did put these on a bit of broken kiln shelf just in case. They stuck as well. 

Of interest is the fact that they all ran on the white clay.  The one heavily grogged clay pot didn't have any runs at all on it.  Which makes me wonder if the white clay body had a flux that reacted with the ingredients in the glaze to make it run a little more than usual.  Could be a combination of both I suppose. 

I must make a note of that for the next batch of glaze that needs to be made.  Along with all the "extras" I've put in that weren't in the original recipe.  I'm sure there's a note somewhere, just got to find it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Weekend Out Potting in the Garage

Being a long Labour weekend, I thought it was  a great idea to get out in the garage and make a few pots. The shelves were looking a little empty after a visit from the Dunedin Bonsai Society a few weeks ago.

I'd made a couple of larger crescent pots during the month and they're slowly drying.  Perhaps I should say, shrinking slowly, I  suspect they may now not be big enough for what they're intended for. 
 While I like the shape of this one, I'm not particularly happy with the feet.  Its incredibly hard to turn the crescent over and attach any type of foot without putting too much stress on the leather hard clay.  If the feet are too far back/or forward it wont sit properly.  The very small ones look ok with feet though 
 I personally prefer them without "feet".  Some will say that you have to have feet to raise them up off the ground so the water can drain out the holes - yes quite rightly.  But 3 or 4 discretely placed stones underneath will do the same job.  You can adjust the size of the stones to match the angle you want the pot on....really easy.

Sometimes I do make little feet and add them on with araldite glue after firing.

Clumsy looking feet can spoil the hole look of a crescent pot in my opinion.

Here's a couple more examples of pots without feet....look so much better 

When they are still reasonably soft you can flatten out the bottom and they will sit nicely without falling over.

I'm wanting to make some larger crescents and am about to go fossicking around the second hand shops next week to try and find a larger round shape that I can use to help support the clay when they're being made.   Hmmm... be interesting to see what I can find.

I found an old bonsai pot mold yesterday that had been stored at the back of one of the sheds for ages.  Yes, I thought I'd give it a go as I hadn't used it in a few years.  Now I know why it was put there.

Some people are happy to use them, yes you can make lots of pots, all exactly the same size, but there's no enjoyment at all in it - not for me anyway.  By the time I'd rolled out the slab of clay, spent over an hour just getting it pressed into the mold properly, making sure everything is the same even thickness, no bumpy bits, shaving bits off etc, I was well and truly over it. 
I'd used too much grog in the clay, so the pot was never going to have a smooth surface.  So I got my trusty old "scoring comb" (an old head lice comb cut in half) and proceeded to rough it up.  It's certainly not your traditional smooth looking pot now, but as I'll be using it myself it doesn't really matter. 

Give me the potters wheel any day!  You can be creative, make different shapes and sizes and basically do whatever you like. 

I've had some people say that I should be making vases, mugs, jugs etc, not just "planters" as they call them.  My reply is usually the same - "but I don't want to make anything else but bonsai pots", what's the use of making something that doesn't interest or appeal to you?

I suspect there are quite a few people out there that are doing things because others expect it of them and its what everyone else does.  I have a lot of respect for those who are doing something a little away from the norm and different.....its not easy. 
 Once again I've had to bring some pots inside to help the drying along.  I'm getting used to the rolling of the eyes and "not again!" comments from the family.

Friday, September 12, 2014

It Almost Brings Me To Tears, Cracked Bonsai Pots

There's only one thing worse than opening the kiln full of bisque pots and finding cracks, its opening a glaze firing and finding them.

I guess things had been humming along quite nicely over the last year as I'd finally found a clay that could withstand the stress and strain of drying and firing.   There had been very few bonsai pots that had cracked during the firings.

However, over the last month there seems to have been a bit of an issue with my larger pots once again.

I'd fired 3 larger oval pots in the kiln last week.  Because of their size it is difficult to add extra pieces to fill up the gaps in the kiln.  As a result there is a bit of empty space inside and the kiln tends to cool down quicker than if its really full.  Usually I pack small bits of shelf offcuts and kiln props into any empty area to hopefully hold a little more heat for longer.  For some reason it didn't work this time!

This was the result
Yes, it looks fine in this pic.......but take a look from the top.!

The crack goes through one of the large drainage holes and a smaller tying in hole.  If something is going to crack it will go through the weakest spots.  This happened on 2 of the 3 pots. 

There were a few "choice" words muttered........ but all is not lost.  This pot was still in one piece even though it had a nice large crack, so yesterday I got the Araldite out and filled in the cracked area.  The pot is still very useable, just a wet looking mark down the back of it.   I've planted it up already with one of my bonsai.  They don't go into exhibitions or anything like that, so it's just fine
for me. 

My daughter pretty well summed it up in the pic she created the likeness in the unhappy middle photo!! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spring has Sprung

No doubt about it, in the bonsai world spring has arrived.

My larch now have little green buds the size of a match head.  My hawthorn have little green shoots bursting out -now too late for repotting (same problem last year).

A quiet realisation that I hadn't even started my repotting this year hit me.

The first plan of attack was to repot my deciduous trees first, only the ones that needed it.....which is most of them.

I had some "peaty' potting mix left, so decided to do the alders, oaks, dawn redwoods, swamp cypress etc. From experience most trees that loves moisture tends to thrive in a peaty mix.

I was a bit shocked to see the root growth on this dawn redwood.  The roots had grown out the bottom of the pot and anchored themselves firmly into the bark chips.  Hunting for moisture no doubt.

I have a love/hate relationship with this tree.  It loves to grow upward, and I hate wiring it down again.  It struggled a bit last year with the dryness.  That side root has to come off too, its not feeding anything up top.

Its reasonably large, so there's usually a bit of grunting and groaning going on during the lifting and repotting.

The roots had circled the bottom of the pot many times over, this was all cut off, it filled the paint bucket. Hmm....should have made more effort to do it last year.
This alder struggled with the dryness last year as well, its quite huge, so I decided to pot it into a much larger oval pot.  This is a beautiful tree, its leaves have slowly reduced down in size over the years.  Hopefully with this repot it wont suddenly decide that it wants its bigger leaves back.
Once again I hadn't taken a "finished" photo.  But it did look a bit more in proportion with this larger pot.

After walking past some yellowing pines all afternoon, I decided it was their time for a bit of a shakeup.

This is what greeted me when I prized the pot off.  Absolutely wonderful!!  All that michorizza (not sure how you spell it), its got to be a good thing.

I mixed quite a bit of this in with the potting mixture.
The white tips of the roots are the growing tips.  It was a shame that some of them had to get trimmed off, but it needed done.  The pines were starting to have that hungry yellowish look about the foliage.  There weren't any new buds appearing, so hopefully this repot will kick start some much needed vigour into them.
All happily done and back to their shelf, hopefully that yellow tinge will disappear shortly.
 I must mention the main tool I use when I start repotting.

Mixing the pumice etc in with the store bought potting mix is a bit of a chore when its done in a bucket.  You have to keep stopping what you're doing and make up new mix's all the time.

Hubby thought I'd gone a bit strange when I spotted an old hand concrete mixer on trademe a few years back.  They were selling it as a garden ornament...... not likely, I had a use for it!

It's brilliant, I can make up 3 pain buckets of bonsai mix in it, and get my daily exercise as well. No mucking about with motors/electricity/noise etc.
 Another added feature is the automatic iron addition setting.  What's that you may ask?
Well, its fairly rusty inside and as you turn it, little bits of rust splinter off the sides into the mix.

There's still a few days repotting left to go....mostly the larger ones, but the beauty of bonsai means that it can perhaps wait until next year.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Bit of Company making my Bonsai pots

I'm normally quite happy potting away in the garage alone.....the radio blarring, the occasional head popping in the door letting me know where they're off  too, or there's a phone call for me etc.


I had company all right.  I had one other set of eyes glued to every move I made.

If only sheep could talk, I'd love to know what she was thinking.

For those who have been following my blog, you would know that when I put my shelves up for my bonsai pots in hubbys garage, there was a bit of  quiet rebellion with a broken down mower put beside them so I wouldn't steal any more of his space. 

Well it was my turn today to steal a bit more.  You see, as I went to shift my huge flock of sheep this morning (all 12 of them) I was surprised to see one standing proudly in a puddle of mud with 2  newborn lambs, unfortunately there was another laying dead beside them.  My first thought was "I gotta get them inside out of the rain and mud"  After a bit of pinching gates and some hastily bought straw I had them safe and sound and more importantly dry, in the garage.
I have to admit that in between rolling out clay for the bottom of an oval pot, I spent a lot of time just looking at her and her two lambs.  I'm sure she's used to hearing Shania Twain and Adele blaring from the garage, she didn't seem phased at all. (did turn it down a smidgeon though)

I suspect she might be keeping me company for a day or two yet....the forecast is for cold wintery winds, hail and even a little snow.  Here's hoping we don't get any more unexpected surprises - otherwise his mower will have to go!!

Just thought I'd mention that the untidy side of the garage is HIS.

Totally unrelated to pot making I know, but its nice to have something a little different now and again.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Making an Oval Bonsai Pot

After the "kiln gods" had a bad day, I was left with 2 cracked pots from the last firing.

Its the larger pots that cause the problems.  Judging by the sharp edge of the crack I would say that its occurring as the kiln is cooling down as the glaze hadn't melted over it.  Being unable to control the rate and temperature of the cool down doesn't help in the least.  Once again its in the hands of those "kiln gods".   Perhaps one day we'll get a new kiln with fancy electronic controllers etc and be able to eliminate most of the firing problems that occur.

Anyway, back to the replacement pots.

As usual, I forgot to take photos of the first stage of throwing the outer pot.
This is the pot after the sides have been shaped into an oval and the bottom joined on.  Its quite hard to get a perfect shaped oval as the clay still has to be pliable/soft enough to move into shape, and firm enough to pick up without distorting the shape.  Leather hard is sometimes too hard, so its ideal to do this just a bit before this stage.
 The pot is then filled with rags until its level with the top rim.  This is to support the pot bottom when its turned over.  If there wasn't support of some sort, the bottom would sag.  Some potters use columns of clay placed around the inside of the pot, but I find this easier and less messy.
 An oval board (wood for mothers day) is placed over the top of this.  Checking to make sure that it sits on the edge evenly.  Sometimes the odd rag will get caught  and it leaves unwanted marks around the edge. 
Now comes the tricky part........ flipping it over.

It's easy with two people doing it, one on each end.  But with hubby being at work and the kids at school I do it on my own. Hence the need for light boards.  It's easy enough to handle the weight of the clay and boards together, its just ackward!
I'd already cut out some feet .  The oval boards are really handy for getting the shape approximately correct.  They are trimmed up to the correct size before being put on the bottom.  Once again there is a bit of guess work as each pot is a different size and shape.
  The feet have been trimmed up to the correct size.  I find it easier to add a smaller length in the middle area of an oval pot, it just gives it a little more support during firing.

The feet are all smoothed off.  My name etc is added.

Small pieces of leftover clay from the foot making are cut and placed evenly around the bottom.  These help support the bottom of the pot when its flipped over again.  Its stops sagging as its drying.  Two or three of these are also placed under the pot during the bisque and glaze firing as well. 

It's flipped over to the right side again.  Covered in newspaper and plastic and left to dry slowly.  Drying slowly isnt an issue at the moment though, it's winter.

 Off topic in a big way.......this is what we woke up to this morning.
Yesterday afternoon I was "mucking about" getting a few cuttings etc, once again I hadn't tidied up, thinking perhaps I'd have another go today.  Hmmm....not likely!