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The following tree is a customer’s that is already well on its way as bonsai. The tree has had its first styling many years ago and is now at the development and refinment part of its life.

Before

Before

The tree had just been un-wired when I received it to work on and I set about re-applying wire to fine tune certain areas of the trees canopy.

Many areas in the canopy had borrowed foliage that had served it purpose and could be replaced with growth from better locations so a fair amount of branches were removed. I also focused in turning large singular pads into multiple, smaller layers to add some more detail to the tree.

After

After

Probably the largest change to the tree was removing a portion of the first left hand side branch to reveal the elbow in the trunk and small shari. I also lifted the first right hand side branch and generally compacted the foliage mass.

I think now the trunk appears much larger and the branch structure is now made up of more, smaller sized pads which add detail and give a sense of scale to the tree.

Although I have been told some people have an issue with the straight section of lower trunk, I really like the tree and don’t mind its irregular trunk. Perhaps in future re-pottings the owner could lower the planting level which might visually shorten the trunk line a little.

Overall a very nice tree that was a lot of fun to work on.

Been busy as per usual but I have managed time to fit in a couple of customer trees.

Below is a quick before and after of a black pine that needed teasing out of a sea of needles. A fun tree to style.

Before

Before

The after shot is a little lacking in quality but I am sure you get the idea.

After a day or so work.

After a day or so work.

As the days get cooler we slowly approach the time of year where I like to style conifers. This year is gearing up to be a big one for bonsai work as I have taken on a number of customers trees to be styled. Following on from the last Black Pine I worked on, I had the opportunity to work on a similar tree.

Before starting the work.

Before starting the work.

At least it looked similar before the work begun, but soon after the old needles were removed a new set of structural challenged presented themselves to be solved.

Old needles removed and ready for pruning and styling.

Old needles removed and ready for pruning and styling. (slightly rotated)

I decided to rotate the front slightly which brought up the issue of the first branch. That is it was now heading towards the rear of the tree so with the help of a screw in the trunk I was able to bend it forwards. This then set the base of the tree and the rest of the canopy could be built around it. The head was finally lowered and rounded out to create the final image.

After the work.

After the work.

Again this tree now needs a couple of years to grow into its new shape but even after the couple of weeks that passed between starting the job and finishing, new buds are beginning to form which should see this tree become show-able in the not too distant future.

While in Japan I worked on a number of trees which might make it to future posts.

One such tree was a bunjin style white pine that had been bought by the nursery as part of a larger collection. It had been styled by the previous owner but with far too thin wire so it was up to me to re-wire and find a new style for the tree. Oyakata gave me free rein on the tree and so I set about working.

 

As the tree began, styled by its previous owner.

As the tree began, styled by its previous owner.

So I stripped the old wire, pruned some branches and wired what was left. I then started to place branches and reached a stage where i wanted to cut off some branches that would take the tree past a point of no-return. So I called Oyakata from the garden to make sure he was going to be happy with my decisions.

My styling of the tree.

My styling of the tree.

It turns out what I had done was not to his liking and he proceeded to remake the branches and form a more upright tree.

The tree after Oyakata re-re-styled it.

The tree after Oyakata re-re-styled it.

And so that is how the tree stayed. After all it was not my tree and I certainly did the right thing by asking when I did.

That being said, did I like the end product? No, not really but I wasnt really happy with my version either. I can see why Oyakata styled it the way he did.

It is a little more regular and perhaps in that form is more easily sold (which is the name of the nursery game) and being of fairly low quality comparatively with the rest of the nursery Oyakata was probably hoping to get it sold quickly to make room for something more interesting.

Having said all that what was interesting about the exercise was to see a piece of material transformed into three totally different stylings by three different pairs of hands over the course of the day. Each person who styled it, from the previous owner, to me, finally to Oyakata saw something different in the material and I think it is that difference in how each of us treats our trees that keeps this art interesting and keeps me turning up to demonstrations, shows and events.

Perhaps this material much like all others has no one perfect way to be styled but instead many different forms that play to different tastes.

Things have been pretty busy since I got back from Japan. A new job, a pregnant wife and Autumn’s bonsai work just beginning haven’t left a lot of time for the blog.

On top of this, I have also been doing a fair amount of work on customer’s bonsai and their collections. Some of this work is routine seasonal maintenance, some of it teaching and then some of it is re-styling.

Before any work

Before any work

One such re-styling I completed recently was the black pine pictured above.  For Australia, the black pine had some good age to it and was starting to develop nice bark textures, but it’s canopy had grown into a solid blob over the years. My job was to find the tree within the blob. I had to prune a large number of branches out and define a better branch structure to set the tree up for it’s future. As a result a fair amount was cut off the tree but now the bones have been formed to grow a better structure upon.

After pruning and wiring.

After pruning and wiring.

One of the main changes, apart from separating the foliage into layers was to enhance the movement of the tree. This involved shortening the right side and lowering the head to accentuate the left movement of the main branch which made a huge difference to the appearance of the tree.

I think a re-pot into something more suitable and a year or two of candle pruning should see this tree fill into a very nice tree.

As you may or may not be aware, I have recently undergone surgery on my right wrist. Being right-handed, this has put a fair dent in my bonsai plans of late.

A few nights ago after work I decided to do something about it and tried wiring up a small juniper.

Before the work

Before the work

I have been working on this tree for a few years now, slowly chasing the foliage in closer to the trunk and replacing leggy growth with tighter growth. I decided that it was about due for its first styling so that I could create the bones to grow and fill in the foliage upon.

Considering that my right arm was in a cast I think the wiring went ok. It’s not show ready but it never was going to be. It has a few more years before it is going to be anywhere near presentable.

I really wanted to get some fine sand paper into the bark to reveal the orange / red texture below the outer layers but the cast proved too clumsy. Something to look forward to once the pins from the wrist are removed after the next operation.

The little shimpaku from the front.

The little shimpaku from the front.

I find that when wiring junipers and particularly shimpaku, that preparation is key to a good result. Pruning unwanted growth and thinning what remains so that you end up with an evenly dense canopy not only makes the end result look better but it also makes for more balanced growth and an easier job while wiring.

As seen from the right

As seen from the right

and from the back side

and from the back side

All in all I am pretty happy with the results considering that most of the wiring was done one-handed. I guess it just goes to show that interesting trunk movement is half the battle. That being said, the tree is only just beginning its journey as bonsai and should see many future wirings to come.

 

This post follows the progression of 6 months in the life of a Procumbens juniper. Last June i did a demonstration for a local club, Bonsai Northwest Inc. As most of my trees had been worked and I had very little left to do on them it was decided that we purchased some stock for the demo. While digging through all the stock at ‘Baloc Bonsai’ I came across this juniper.

The Juniper before the demonstration

The Juniper before the demonstration but after a bit of a cleanup.

Having looked over the tree for a day or so before hand while it was in my garden I came up with a plan for improvement. From the tree’s original front the foliage mass was not close to the trunk, I thought with  a little work I could compact the foliage mass into a denser crown.

The foliage from the original front.

The foliage from the original front.

I also thought I could change the front and make use of a more interesting trunk and jin line. This plan created a few issues that I had to deal with in order to complete the re-styling. First was the trunk angle. From the original the trunk needed to be stood up around 30 degrees, which in turn placed most of the foliage pointing out towards the back of the tree.

Most of the bending of the larger branches was completed with the help of a bending jack as seen in the photo.

Jack in place prior to bending.

Jack in place prior to bending.

The other issue was that from the new front the jin did not compliment the movement of the tree so this was bent by means of what is essentially steam bending. I wrapped the jin in wet towels and plastic sandwich film over night to moisten the jin and then used a small gas torch to heat up and soften the wood fibres so that it could be bent into a new direction.

After the jin was re-possitioned and main branch bent into possition.

After the jin was repositioned and main branch bent into position.

The next step was compacting the foliage to form the crown and subsequaint branches. This was done with a combination of guy-wires and heavy wiring. The below picture shows the result. A small towel covered some branching that was to be removed once the tree had back budded in that area.

The result at the end of the demo.

The result at the end of the demo.

If you look from the original front you can see how the foliage has been moved from its original positions to compliment the new front.

The re-styling from the original front.

The re-styling from the original front.

Since the demo I re-potted the tree into a new container at the new planting angle. It grew out well in early spring with plenty of back-bedding and fresh growth. It was time to work on the foliage.

After some strong spring growth.

After some strong spring growth.

All this new growth provided me with the chance to cut out some of the leggy old growth and replace it with more compact fresh shoots.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

In this way I was able to improve and remove some of the poorer condition and leggy foliage. I cut more out of the strong areas and left a little more in the weaker areas to balance the growth of the tree.

After the cut back.

After the cut back.

I was also able to remove one of the branches on the right side and hopefully in a few months I will be also able to cut back the other right hand branches.

There are a few other thing I want to do, such as lowering the planting position, define the live veins, and work on the shari texture, but for the time being those things can wait.

What the tree desperately needs now is a full wiring, I want to further compact the apex and better form up the crown and branches but unfortunately that will have to wait until my wrist heals. Hopefully I will be able to do it in a few more months.  In the mean time I will keep feeding it heavily and keep replacing old growth with new healthy growth so when it does come time to wire, the tree is ready.

Prior to the recent AABC convention, I was asked to style an established Japanese white pine that had reached a stage where it needed some work to get it back on track.

It had been worked on a number of years ago during a workshop held by Hirotoshi Saito where the second trunk was bent upwards from what was a heavy first branch. Since then the tree has grown out with the occasional branch guyed down from time to time and with some trimming to keep the growth somewhat compact. What the tree was desperately needing was a full wiring and styling.

As the tree arrived in my garden.

I cut a good amount of branches off and had to do some heavy bending to move the apex from leaning towards the back to leaning forward. Most of the work was sorting out branch structure and setting basic branch positions to prevent thickening in areas that you might not want it in the future and providing structure for the tree to grow into.

Some of the removed branches.

After a couple of days wiring.

The tree will really benefit from a couple of years growth to fill out some areas such as the apex, but it now has a solid base structure to build upon further in the future.

The graft in this trees case is quite noticeable at the moment but I think that once the white pines park begins to crackle it should start to blend in much more. How long will that take? Who knows. I think 10 years would start to see the process beginning.

You don’t see many White pines in Australia and particularly of this size. It will be a good tree to keep an eye on as it progresses in the coming years.

I had some time this weekend to work on one of my pines. This time i chose to re-wire a small Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii).

The tree in question had belonged to a member of one of the clubs I belong to. When i received the tree it was estimated to be around 30 years old. It had been a nice little tree, but the last few years before I received the tree it had become leggy and some wire had also been left in the apex which had caused some large swelling and scarring. As a result, I had to prune most of the branches back quite hard and also remove the damaged section of the apex and upper trunk which essentially shortened the tree by a third.

The first wiring happened in March 2009.

One of the first wirings. Before and after, March 2009.

The little pine responded well to heavy feeding and was re-potted into a better mix. It budded back quite well and was ready for another light wiring by April of 2010.

After wiring the tips out. April, 2010.

As you can see the apex still needs a lot of developement. After cutting the damaged upper trunk off in 2009, I had then had to re-build the apex from a single branch. It is a slow process to rebuild a crown but this little pine responded well and produced a number of buds where i needed them.

The tree slowly coming to shape. Pre-wire, first branch and then secondary branches wired.

Every year the ramification increases and I am able to remove problem branches and replace them with better growth. The apex has now taken shape and now needs to increase its ramification to fill out its silhouette.

After the latest wiring.

Looking at the above picture the shape of the tree becomes clearer, but i think it still has a way to go. I like the long first branch, but am still toying up whether or not to break the foliage mass up into a couple of pads or keep it as a single mass. This years wiring was not the final wiring the tree will see and was done to achieve two things. The first was to start to set the form of the branches a little closer to how I imagine their final positions and also to let more light into the interiors of the structure. By letting more light into the interior I should be able to strengthen weak inner buds and also encourage further back budding.

I hope that in a couple more seasons I should be able to even out the foliage density and have the tree ready for show.

The longer I am involved with bonsai the more my tastes change and develop.

Below is a Japanese black pine that I have been growing for a couple of years. It’s not a classic beauty but I was drawn to its strangeness and the challenges it presented in regards to styling it. I enjoy the challenge of difficult material. Quite often you have to think outside the square a little in order to get a pleasing result and often the bonsai that are transformed from this unusual material often posses something that makes you look twice at them and linger to explore their curves, movement and styling.

Before the work.

Now this tree had been styled once before, but I had never been entirely happy with the result. I had styled the first branch as just that, a branch. initially this branch was a sacrifice branch, grown to thicken the trunk and when I came to style the tree there was something about it that appealed to me. I had spent all the time since then looking at the tree on my benches trying to work out why it didn’t quite sit right with my eye. I realised this was a simple question for most people because I had many people suggest to just cut it off. I thought about that this time around but decided that I could have another shot at things and try to make the bonsai work with the large first branch.

My new approach was to style the branch more like a trunk. I guess the idea is that the main branch got so strong that it started to turn up and form a trunk in its own right.

After a quick wire and the addition of a couple of guy wires.

Now as you are probably aware by looking at the above photo that this bonsai has a long way to go but at least now I feel this new structure is something that the tree can grow into and fill out to form an interesting, convincing bonsai.

Now I am sure that I will get suggestions for the rest of this trees life to cut off the first branch. As this tree is, it doesn’t fit the normal image of bonsai.

I have often found that the bonsai that are a little out of the ordinary are the ones that I end up remembering and that I return to at shows to have a second look at.

Just for interest purposes I photoshopped the branch off.

The offending branch virtually removed.

Looking at the above comparison it becomes obvious that this is not the right direction to take this pine in at the moment. The removed branch would reveal a straight trunk and leave behind a mediocre branch and canopy structure. If I was to cut off the branch I cannot see the tree staying in my collection for long.

 

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