Saturday, 27 April 2013

Diamond in the rough ?

Where did the month go? We've had a couple of really good Saturday bonsai drop in days at the shop and worked on a larch forest creation, a large Itiogawa juniper first styling and various repotting excercises. Week three was spent with the South Devon bonsai society doing a club workshop which was attended by 9 members with trees plus observers. The variety of species was excellent and a very full day was spent working with the members and their pines, junipers, maples, spruce and cedars. There was lots of tweaking, refining and thinning plus a common theme running through many trees was addressing the balance of energy. Strong dominance (on most trees in the apex) was making so many trees top heavy and making the all important lower branches weak in comparison. An easy way to show a quick comparison was to hold your hand under a branch and see how much was visible....lower branches show lots of skin while top areas you could rarely see and hand at all.

The large raw material juniper has had some attention....I was attracted to the tree as a project to produce a large showable tree from a piece of material that had been sat at the wholesaler for years and must have been considered and rejected by countless bonsai dealers. Japanese import trees don't sit around like this unless there are some challenges involved - usually the obvious trees are snapped up very quickly while its the hard ones that just sit there for years on end. I try to hunt out the tricky ones - the price is better, the finished trees can be unique if all goes to plan and it is so satisfying to get a tree to show standard that others have dismissed.

This was the tree as bought back to the unit

Total height above soil 110cm. 
The trunk is more than a meter long and has a straight parallel lower section then a few nice subtle curves in the upper bit - but it has nothing mind blowing even though it would make a traditional 1980's tree of a few large foliage pads, a round top and a triangular over all intantly reminded me of the large Peter Adams juniper he documented in many early books.

What did I see? I saw a potential compact bonsai with far more sever bends in the trunk so the tree becomes  shortened without cutting the top off. The curves would not only bring the foliage down but they would add drama and a sense that the tree had been out in the wild ( I now know these are actually field grown material that receive some rough styling in the ground to make a few jins and to form some defined live veins by hacking off sections of the trunk and primary branches - a type of simulated yamadori)

I probably studied the tree for an hour of so visualizing what bits would move to where with the bends in place and it looked like a potential goer so I saved the tree until Peter Warren came down and we repotted it on the Monday as it was in desperate need, then I talked through what I was hoping for. It needed some hardcore bonsai techniques I'd never done before so Peter gave me a shopping list and off I went in search of two 28-30mm thick rebars a meter long, 1.5 - 2mm stainless steel wire and some shackles. To stop the tree moving we secured everything to a pallet and built up a framework of 4x2 timber to support the rebar - now we had a very solid base to work from and could add a quadrupled 2mm steel wire to the upper trunk and to a standard tourniquet tensioner. 

Tightening it up moved the tree top a few cm and all was left overnight. Next day I measured the tip of a jin to the pot rim - 60cm and wound the tensioner right in over the course of the day. By 5pm the jin gap was 50cm. A second stainless wire had to go on to keep the tension so the tourniquet could be unwound, the main wire tightened up and the process started again. The tree was left like this all weekend and monday I carried on tightening until the gap was 45cm - now I could hear a few pops and cracks so stopped for a while - it was funny that over the next two hours you'd hear little pop noises coming from the tree. Tuesday & Wednesday the tree was misted well and Thursday I tightened some more until the jin to pot gap was 42cm. This was tied off with a stainess wire to the pallet and a second rebar added at a different angle to the upper trunk and this time I ground out an area of the upper trunk that had a thick section of deadwood.

This shows perfectly the tree secured to the pallet, the rebar secured to the frame and the two opposing tension wires running through garden hosepipe for protection. Bend one is tied off ( but is tensioned another 2cm over the next few weeks) , bend two is well on the way too. Now the tree is 82cm above the soil from the original 110cm. 

Next dilema is the branch on the right - I don't want it there, dont really want a random jin poking out away from the rest of the tree so decided to cure two problem areas in one go. By cutting down with a jig saw towards the roots the live vein and branch was seperated from the trunk......Then I rotated it, moved it upwards and inwards and popped a small screw through to hold it in we have sorted the parallel line of the lower trunk and added depth, interest and made a lot more of the original jin visible.

While the dremel was out the solid flat main trunk was hollowed here and there and textured a bit to add interest. I know there will be 4 or 5 years work at least to get the tree to Noelanders level so there is no point wasting hours on fine carving tiny details and detailed texture as the next 5 winters will put all the cracks in place naturally - and they will be far better and convincing than anyone could produce with tools.

Here is the tree today

79cm tall, nothing at all yet pruned off as the foliage is the engine that gives a juniper its strength so all is kept to boost the trees' inner strength ready for the wiring and styling this winter. It's amazing how the 5 blobs of greenery in picture one that were disjointed from each other have now come into one very useable foliage mass just by compacting the trunk in two spots and guy wiring the crown towards us. There is so much foliage in the right place that the first styling will create a very respectable tree by the end of the day I feel - certainly it will make a relatively large show worthy specimen in time as the first styling will layer long shoots over each other to make pads and time will fill them out so the original shoots can be cut off.

I love junipers ;-)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

My best Bonsai week...........ever

Here we go. My count down and lead up to the EBA final

My EBA pictures are just some snaps on my phone but I have included a link to a french bonsai site that has lots of nice pictures of the exhibition, lots of pics of people talking but alas no pictures of the talent contests yet. English visitors were very few and far between - Malcolm and Kath Hughes were there as event judges, Reg as chairman of the EBA and John Pitt was in the traders area. There were lots of photographers covering the event, a japanese Bonsai TV crew, plus a journalist for the french bonsai magazine taking lots of pictures and doing interviews.

Expo pictures :
More EBA 2013 coverage on Bonsai Eejits excelent blog

Sunday was spent at the Failand shohin show seeing how all the nice big trees start off their life ! haha -  It was a really good day out and the variety and quality of the shohin exhibits was good to see - it showed me there is more to shohin than a stand that looks like the mother in laws sideboard with 5 or 6 trees sat in their little spaces too so food for thought for the future........ the social day was great too - catching up with many friends and seeing quite a few west country club members there was really encouraging. At the end of a long day we set off home with Peter Warren following an hour or so behind me back to Cornwall for his second series of South West workshops.

pre final lesson learnt - classic lines and shapes please the eye so hopefully please the judges

Workshop Day (1) This was a day spent repotting and styling big conifers - fellow club member Colin and I shared Peters' full day and we worked through Colins hinoki, pine and yew before all tackling my big cuspidata yew which needed quite a bit of intricate root work to get the new potting angle I wanted and the smaller pot proportions needed for a future show tree. We didn't have a pot the right size yet as we didn't know until seeing the roots what was possible so we added polystyrene sheet to the existing pot to make the soil space smaller. Now we have the perfect proportion a perfect pot can be hunted out at leisure.
 Second repot was the big raw material juniper that I see a total masterpiece hiding in  :-)  ). In the afternoon we started styling  - several of Colins trees and one of the two big white pines I picked up as eye catching specimen trees for the new shop stock.

pre final lesson learnt - wiring with correct technique and neatness is better than just speed

This little lot was squeezed in my car the week before ! The raw juniper 110cm tall+pot and two big grafted white pines imported a few years ago but not worked on since. Both will make really good trees at surprisingly reasonable prices  ;) haha!

  Workshop day (2) - the full day was shared by 4 club members and a great variety of conifers were brought along for advice, potting, styling etc. I was assistant / soil siever coffee maker etc and in between making sure the attendants has all the stuff they needed I carried on working the white pine from the day before. Another superb day was had by all and the cars went home with many improved bonsai sat in them, plus everyone had received plenty of information and help. The proof of how good these days are is given by the fact know-one has time to take pictures ! either that or it is because we all learn really big secrets hahahahahaha  ;-)  ;-)  ;-) . I feel the best way to get the most from a day like this is to listen to as much advice as possible on all the trees and not just your own, then you can learn about 5 or 6 species rather than one or two.

pre final lesson learnt - it is easier to complete the wiring quickly if you realise not every branch needs moving to form our design

Peter and I had a really good day making a start on the big juniper - I had a vision of a future masterpiece and let Peter work out how to make it possible - but that is for another day.
The before image.....................remember this one !

 Then i got back into the white pine while Peter thinned the unnecessary bits from the cuspidatta to make my wiring simpler and neater in the coming weeks. The day was spent chatting away about bait, bonsai, music and fertiliser - with so many hints and much helpful advice coming my way both for the final and for getting trees to proper show standard. The evening was Cornwall Club night and we were entertained by PW superbly before he set off home at 10.30pm to drive through the night....I can't repeat enough how good his service is. So far 4 days had been spent doing bonsai tasks - the wire was going on really well and my work was looking neater added to the fact I had learnt more efficient ways to work so things were taking less wire and less time to get the same results.

pre final lesson - even guy wires have a right and wrong way - the convenient way is not always the best or strongest way

Made some bait, wired some of the yew for a change and sharpened my tools. The tool kit was packed, checked and some screws and a screwdriver were put in just in case.
I had 7 sizes of top quality copper wire from Willowbog Online shop  in the tool kit plus 2 sizes of turntable, my trusty masakuni tools and of course raffia, wound sealer plus all the other odds and sods that lurk in the bottom of my bag.  We left Cornwall that afternoon, dropped the dog off at my Mums and we were soon waiting at the Euro tunnel for our 3.20am was a bit delayed due to the bank holiday but 5.30am local time we were on french soil but very tired. I pulled over for a sleep and 2hrs later was ready for proper coffee and breakfast.

pre final lesson - it's too late now to worry so time to relax and enjoy the experience - a weekend in France woohoo

The venue was in the North East corner of France close to the Swiss border and we were under no pressure with time so after a bit of motorway driving we dropped onto smaller roads to enjoy the changing countryside - soon the vast fields became vines and then the vines became steep wooded hills dusted with snow.
We signed in at the venue 'La filature' and collected passes etc  -  another wow venue - amazing floor area and brilliant lighting - I'm liking European bonsai events more and more haha

We were doing a friend a favour and had a delivery of wire and tools for one of the French traders in the car so an hour was spent checking out the trade stands until we found the man - I wanted a Rosemary (wonder why :-) or an olive with good potential. The were 2 rosemary in the exhibition but none for sale and the olives felt way too expensive for one little green shoot on a lump of knobbly wood so my pocket money stayed safe. After dropping the wire off we spotted Malcolm and Kath Hughes and said hello so they knew we were there safe and sound before driving to the neibouring town Belfont where we were booked into the Best Western hotel. A quick stroll and we'd found a place to eat dinner that evening so went to our room and promptly fell asleep until after 9pm - the missed night of sleep finally caught up so dinner was skipped.

pre final lesson - nerves or ego will beat you before the tree does so go with the right frame of mind

This was my favorite tree in the exhibition - and later I found out it was judged best in show so the eye wasn't letting me down - hope it keeps that way for tomorrow

We arrived at the venue first (bit keen I guess) and spotted a pallet being wheeled across the far carpark with some really big juniper bushes - surely not!! they were in nursery pots that looked 15 or 20 liter size and tree plus pot must have been close to 3ft. Mandy & I thought they were for the all day workshop so we just got on with our morning.
Soon a room packed with contestants, well wishers and organisers were assembled and we had lift off - I picked a table at the very back of the room and there were the great big junipers we'd seen earlier ! I drew tree 12 - it was very straight and very bushy but I purposely had not looked closely at any of the trees so was not worried that others may have better trees. The original 3hr contest was instantly extended to 4hrs due to material size and complexity and I could see every minute would be needed. The organisation was brilliant - the public were allowed to enter the far end of the room a few at a time to watch but not to walk around the competitors.

I did go with half a plan

  • hope for a juniper
  • keep 2 low branches and do semi cascade with branch 1 and a nice layered crown from branch two
  • find a dynamic and unique angle by using my 'British Bonsai stands'  ball socket turntable 
So much for a plan !

  •  it was juniper -tick
  • I had a very thick low branch then a straight upright trunk with thick branches mostly pointing up - no tick
  • the pot was bigger than my large ball socket turntable so No Tick in that box either

With hindsight i'm glad the tree didn't fit my plan as it required a fast appraisal to see the materials' best and worst features.  I had to draw the eye from the trunk as it was the ugly bit - the opposite really of drawing the viewer to the trunk - so I decided to make a dramatic dropping branch going one way and a leaning trunk going the other way - it made the design feel "European" (those at the Ryan Neil demo will know what i mean).


Its funny how a 2D picture makes a tree look as the odd little branch that seems to come from inside the trunk is actually the back branch and it was raffia'd, curved around a jin and placed so it framed the lower jin a bit. It looks a bit odd in a picture but gave some depth to the tree in real life.

Soon time was up and we were sent out to let the 16 judges do their bit - glancing around as you do I could see 4 other trees that looked good so I was hoping to make top 5 with luck. The results were not going to be announced until that night so time to relax and mooch the trade stands before a wash and change before the dinner.

some of the trees had lovely curving trunks

The gala time came and all the contestants took to the stage - 3rd place was announced (not me) - that left me well in or well out basically - then Reg said "no problem pronouncing this name" and I was second ! What a great sense of relief, pride and just pure joy. First place went to Martin from the Nertherlands and what a nice guy - and he did the tree i liked the most too so all was good. We were actually at the same table for dinner so it was a brilliant evening for our group.

The spoils of war :-)

Quite a path to get here - Tredegar House in Wales for SW heat, Capel Manor for the UK final and then to Audincourt for the EU final 

special thanks to Malcolm and all at Fobbs for putting on the competition, providing good material and supporting me to the final and to Peter Warren for the advice, help and wisdom passed on along the way.