Monday, 16 September 2013

Final Touches

Following on from the last post I spent a while looking at the final picture and knew a few tweaks were needed - the crown of the minor trunk was a long way back and did not really match up with the main one - it needed to be brought forward quite a long way, reshaped to a more mature rounded shape and the biggest thing I needed to sort was the fact the lowest branch and foliage pad needed to come from the minor trunk - a bit of a golden rule for a twin trunk bonsai.

The reworking of the minor trunk was understandable when I thought about it as it had been styled nearly a year ago when I was approaching the job with a totally different outlook. When I bought the tree home I thought I would be fine wiring every tiny shoot and twig to make it look 'finished and ready for show' straight away ! The learning curve of the past year has been nearly vertical and was perfectly reflected in this tree - hence needing to revisit the early branches and do them properly

  Over the last 12 months my bonsai outlook has changed a lot - just by going to several large bonsai shows you can spot the newly styled trees straight away and to be honest they usually look very disappointing, and upon reflection I now look at these 'just wired' trees and think what a shame they are debut way too soon. I feel they reflect the wrong type of impatience in bonsai, almost a desperation - any tree truly mature and beautifully refined has a valid place on a show bench as these are the trees to inspire us all to keep trying hard and to never stop learning.

The crown was guy wired to bring it forward a lot and the branches shortened and layered properly rather than snaked up to look like full pads. There are a few conifers doing the show circuit rounds here that have a perfect outer image with a birds nest of snaked and crossed branches hidden underneath...they are half the tree they could be and viewers with a good eye see it once up close.... One of the branches was re-positioned nice and low to give me the important first pad and now it is time to let the tree rest and develop the 3 dimensional pads from the back buds

Taking the slow patient route with the foliage and being in a rush to do the dead wood seems silly so I only keep a hand carving gouge and a pair of fine pliers nearby. I'm not going to start preaching all purist that machine carving is crap (even though often it is - even done well it can so easily look like a cartoon bonsai). I now limit machines to hollowing out as this is what they do best - the surface texture of naturally weathered deadwood is unique - the cracks are random in width, random in depth and the prized cork like texture is made up of cracks going in every direction. Machines and even scalpels make repetitive marks that are too similar - like a pen, hence my comment that they look cartoon like. I hollowed the lower root, a few of the thicker branches and the soft inner rotted wood fiber with the dremmel but tried to avoid touching the surface wood too much. Then the wood was fired with a blow torch and different wire brushes  -  stainless steel for the serious deep scrubbing and copper for the finer work. The blow torch is a great tool - it needs to be turned down low and the trick is to alternate between dry wood and wet wood, yet again keep revisiting the work on different days and don't fall into the instant "I can do the deadwood in 6 hrs mentality"........we are trying to make a convincing image of wood aged over decades or even centuries so set aside some time to do a good, slow and thoughtful job.

Here is the lower trunk section burnt & brushed 6 or 7 times - burning wet wood makes it shrink and crack more while actually removing very little wood. Burning dry wood gets is smoldering and removes the summer growth rings from within the winter ones. Eventually you must stop and let the weather take over to get a true finish - we have helped nature but you can see the actual surface is not faked with scratches as they are a very poor imitation of what we really want to see - it looks quite smooth now but yew will crack into a fantastic finish over the coming years without any more man made help.

I use the gouge to raise small wood fibres now and again and the pliers to peel them off - this gives far better hollows that really do follow the true grain of the tree and add some depth and interest to some of the newly cut branches. The lime sulphar is only one week old so still looking bright and new but winter is very close now so the silver gray we desire will form on those cold frosty nights ahead. 

The pads now will spend the coming years filling out while the wood weathers - next spring the growth will be explosive as the tree was repotted this year so has needed to recover from root pruning, wiring and hard pruning in 2013. Cuspidata seems to like it here - the feeding, climate and water quality have ensured the tree has maintained good colour and has made many new buds. I see a few trees that are very yellow/green and weak occasionally and if you get a tree like this don't be tempted to style it until the colour has returned to pure deep dark green - this is when the tree is showing maximum strength and will cope with a hard year or two of styling.

As the rain was well and truly set in today I unpacked two boxes of custom pots that Gordon Hunt dropped up to the shop. I had asked him for some juniper pots to suit the stock trees I'd styled that were still sat in training pots and he did me proud - nice natural colours and pots of a size that allowed a nice gentle Autumn repot without major root disturbance.

And one final pot deserved the pick of the bunch of small stock chinese elm brooms we have - this was the one little tree in about 500 that caught my eye for taper and nebari

great pot, great little elm and for £30.00 a broom with a potentially good future.
SOLD ALREADY - no surprise on that one!