Wednesday, November 18, 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, November 12, 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, October 26, 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, September 25, 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.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Bonsai Pot and Tree Unite

Hmmm.........I wonder.

I always wonder when a bonsai pot is packed up and sent away, where it will end up and what tree will sit in it.......

Sometimes I will politely ask if they can email me a pic when the pot is planted up.  But due to repotting times etc, I think that most people just forget, or more than likely just don't have my email address any more.

So its always nice when I do receive a pic or two.

I'd made a couple of pots for a local chap who had some older pines that needed a new home.  The one below was 30cm dia x 9cm high.
 It was a little darker than I had originally thought it would turn out, but it worked in the trees favour.
Here is a pic of it planted up with one of his beautiful old pines.

The second pot was of a similar style, size a bit different though.
This was the Scots Pine that went into this one.
And with a little basic wiring a bit later.
I like how the pot has picked up the colouring and the roughness in the pine bark and they compliment each other.

Too often I see tree/pot combinations where its the pot that jumps up first and gets your attention. Whether it be the bright unnatural colour, or the weird "clonky" feet, if its the pot your eye keeps getting drawn to first, then perhaps the match is not so good. 

The pot/tree is an even partnership. One shouldn't overpower the other, well if the tree does I think that's acceptable, but if the pot does, then that's not so good.

However, beauty is in the eye of the if you're happy with it , that's all that matters!

One of my pet dislikes is the shape/form of some of the feet on bonsai pots.  While a foot that is quite high can make a pot look "lighter", it can also draw your eye to it, sometimes in a bad way.  I much prefer to have very subdued quiet feet, you know they are there....they are doing their job of making space for air to circulate and water to drain away, but they aren't so obvious, they don't jump up and poke you in the eye at first glance.

Some of you will agree, some wont.

Keep those pics rolling in, they help my bonsai pot making greatly.....I'm still learning just like everyone else.....hopefully until I'm much older and much more wrinkly!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The bonsai pot reglazing attempt , success or not

I had a failure with a wee glazing experiment a couple of weeks ago.  The bonsai pot looked like an old bread bun that had been lost at the back of a cupboard for months!
It had that mouldy look to it, thanks to some experimental dabs of glaze that should have done much more spectacular things.

This mouldy pot sat on the shelf staring at me every time I walked in the garage, so I decided one way or the other it was going to be reglazed, easier said than done.

I poured some green/blue glaze around the side, but it promptly ran off.  You see the problem is that during the glaze firing the clay will vitrify and it wont absorb water(or very little, 2-3% if I recall rightly).  Good if you don't want it to freeze and crack in the frosts, but not good if you decide to try and get a layer of liquid glaze to stick.

Problem solved, well it helped.   I shoved it in the kitchen oven on a very low heat for 10 minutes.  It was warm enough so that when the glaze got in contact with it, it dried instantly and didn't run off.   I only got a thin layer on though, but that was enough to try.  This is what it looks like now.

Ok so it still does have that mouldy piece of bread look to it, but gosh what a difference.  I get a real kick out of seeing how glazes react to each other.  The colours are much more vibrant than what the camera has picked up.

This one is a keeper, no idea what tree I'll put in it, but it'll sit proudly on the shelf now as something to inspire me to keep experimenting.

The family cant understand why I get so excited about things like this, my daughter thinks it looks even worse now, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Friday, July 24, 2015

How I Pack to Send a Bonsai Pot around the Country

This is a subject that I was hesitant about posting on, everyone has different methods and materials, some work, some not so well.

I have to admit that maybe once or twice a year there will be a damaged pot received by someone. Considering the number I send, that's something that has to be expected, and am quite proud of our record so far.

A pot can be sent all over the world successfully, but when it comes to parcel handling in New Zealand we are faced with parcels that can be treated quite roughly.

This is how I send my pots around New Zealand.

Each individual pot is wrapped in several layers of newspaper, I like to recycle.

Then each pot is wrapped in layers of bubblewrap and taped.  It does use a lot of bubblewrap but sometimes you can get it on special.  Its always handy to have around for something.
Almost there!!    I must mention that all wrapping etc must be done in front of a nice warm fire away from frosty icy garages.  The cat and I jostled for the best position, unfortunately she won, that was her spot.
Finished, it takes quite a while, but the extra time put into it now, can save you having to replace any that get damaged.
I estimated that these would fit into 3 cartons, but until you get them wrapped up, its really just a guess.
My biggest challenge is finding boxes that are sturdy enough to handle the weight of several pots, and are the right shape, I didn't realise just how hard it is to get shallow square boxes.  Being mostly round pots there is a lot of wasted space using a rectangle box.  That's just something I have to live with as I have chosen to make different size pots.
The above picture shows a banana box bottom tucked inside another box just to keep the sides rigid.  A layer of scrunched up newspaper is put on the bottom and the pots are arranged so they aren't touching the sides (very important)
Nearly finished. The pots are placed in the box with layers of newspaper surrounding and in between them.  They shouldn't be able to move at all.  The box is filled up this way, being careful not to make it too heavy.
The box top is folded down and taped, by taped I mean all around several times, just one or two strips wont do.

Several "Fragile" stickers are placed around the box and its addressed and ready to send.  I also write "TOP STOW" around the box.  This supposedly means that it wont be put at the bottom of the crates they are stacked into while traveling around the country. It should be stored near the top, therefore not getting crushed with all the weight on top of it.  Well that's what I've been told by the courier, but not sure if it actually happens.

The couriers are beginning to get a bit more particular about the size and weight of box's sent, I underestimated the weight on one of these box's and ended up having to pay for an extra Courier ticket.  Sometimes the estimate is spot on, sometimes its not

So that's how I do it, maybe you do it differently, I'd be interested to hear of any different methods that don't require you buying lots of expensive packing materials:)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It's Been a Oval Bonsai Pot at Last.

After numerous failures and disappointments while making large oval bonsai pots, I decided to give it another go........ opening the kiln this afternoon I was a little apprehensive.
Turned out beautifully!  I added a little bit of soft clay around the join, a slightly different colour but you don't see that when its planted up.
The glaze has a grainy almost wood fired look to it.....very pleased with it.  Being 48cm long it'll be a very handy pot to have.  I have a group of alders that would look great in it.
This pot however, got the "holy moly" reaction.  Being one to always try something new, I decided to dab a little dark glaze on with a sponge. Thinking it would melt and blend in with the brown glaze, I was disappointed when it didn't move/melt or anything.  Looks like a pot that has gone mouldy.  This has been put aside to try reglazing!  It's not growing on me at all.

These turned out this glaze, it's darker in the grooves of the textured pots.
It has a nice antique look to it.

Just a wee note about my pots freezing.  I got an email from Simon Leach a very well respected potter who had the same thing happen to some of his freshly  made jugs.  He noticed ice crystals in them,  he just reworked them and smoothed them down again, and they all  turned out perfectly.  So that's something to keep in mind if it ever happens again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gotta Love Winter in Southland New Zealand!

This is what we woke up to this, breath taking!

These larch are hardly recognisable.
 I had to knock a bit of snow off the pines as there was quite a bit of weight on the wee branches.
 This Chinese elm looks majestic with its temporary snow foliage pads.

 This Wisteria looks quite artistic now!

 Snow seems to get rid of all the clutter and shows you the bare bones of the bonsai, as with this Alder.
 This large Hornbeam was sitting on the deck, ready to get some attention over the winter, perhaps its just as well I never got around to it yet.

Snow puts a whole new perspective on our every day views, its natures way of making us take notice of what shapes are around us...........brrrrr, time to put another log of wood on the fire.  MAYBE REPOTTING TIME IS A WEE WAY OFF YET!!