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Life as always is busy but lately things have been flat-out. I have been juggling a two-year old,  full-time work, managing our house’s extension, working customer trees, digging/collecting material and also travelling Australia (Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Bendigo, Geelong and Brisbane) as an AABC tutor giving lectures, demonstrations and workshops. As a result the blog has suffered.

Hopefully I can kick start the blog in the coming months. I have a number of posts lined up and I am sure there will be things of interest to share as the growing season heats up.

Today’s post is a small red pine that I worked for a good friend towards the start of winter.

It is rare to see red pines in Australia and particularly rare to see ones as good as this one. It underwent a fairly major transformation during the styling which in my opinion has set it up to be one of the best red pines of this size in the country (at least from those I have seen). It still needs a little filling out but it’s bones are set for it to grow into a really nice tree into the future.

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The material prior to beginning. Nice colour and full growth which left a lot to work with.

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The material prior to beginning. Nice colour and full growth which left a lot to work with.

Most of the work during the styling involved dividing the few branches up into multiple smaller pads that were in better scale and harmony to the size of the tree. Those were then used to accentuate the movement and direction of the trunk line.

There is still a number of areas that need to fill in with further ramification but I think it is certainly off to a great start.

After saying that red pines are rare in Australia my next post will be about another taller tree that is also of very high quality. Until then……..

Just a quick post for today. I was going through some old holiday photos (mainly bonsai pics) and came across a small Japanese White Pine I had worked on in Japan.

I am really getting more and more into shohin sized trees. They are really challenging to grow well yet are easy to handle and take up much less bench space, which is a plus.

The challenge with this tree was to create enough detail in the foliage by means of multiple layers to give the illusion that it was in fact a much larger tree.

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Before

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After

Of course half the battle is starting with good stock which this little tree certainly falls into the category of.

Hopefully I can start producing some stock similar to this in the coming years.

One of the trees I worked on last year was an informal upright Mugo Pine. I think that it was originally received by its owner as essentially a piece of topiary. He then worked it over a few years into a bonsai form.

I was asked to wire the tree and refine its image.

The tree had a few issues that this round of work has tried to iron out but it will certainly benefit from further refinement as it progresses.

The trees branching was incredibly dense in part due to its previous life as topiary which had lead to a large mass of ramification. It was also compounded by the tendency of Mugo pines to have multiple shoots at each branch tip which further compounded the dense look.

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Multiple growing tips on a typical shoot.

My first action was to remove unnecessary sub-branches and take many of the branches back to a much simpler structure which in turn reduced the foliage density. I also reduced the remaining shoots on the tips to two shoots which further reduced the density and allowed for light and air to reach into the inner structure to aid back budding.

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Some of the sub-branches removed from the first branch.

After the pruning work the aim of the styling was to break the large pads and masses of foliage into smaller pads to create a higher level of detail and structure.

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The tree before the work.

I ended up removing close to 50% of the foliage which lead me to go a little bit easily on any heavy bending. Ultimately i would like to bend the thick first and second branches down a little more than they are currently and work on some of the dead stubs that were left long to die back slowly.

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The tree after.

All in all the tree has been improved and is growing nicely into its new form. Perhaps this coming winter it will be ready for a re-visit.

Both my bonsai and personal life have been busy of late. I am fortunate that this year I have been invited to demonstrate and run workshops across Australia for local club, groups and the AABC National Convention.  On top of this travel I just begun winter styling of clients trees. It looks like I will have a fairly full book of client trees, workshops and demonstrations that combined with a young child, a house half way through renovations and a full-time job doesn’t leave a lot of time to work my own collections.

Today’s post is actually about a tree I worked on a year ago whilst in japan.

It was a small shimpaku juniper that Oyakata asked me to wire and style prior to taking it to auction the following day to be sold.

Prior to the work

Prior to the work

I initially wanted to tilt the tree to the right so that the first bend would come in contact with the soil giving the appearance of a much larger trunk but Oyakata didn’t want to re-pot as the auction was so close and as a result we utilised the existing angle and front.

It turned out to be a fairly straight forward re-style and Oyakata told me it sold well at the auction.

Post work.

Post work.

Looking back on trees like this it really gives me the incentive to start growing my own material to this standard. I now have a backyard big enough to experiment with a whole lot more stock so I am looking forward to starting this process off this year. Who knows, in ten years time I might have a whole lot of these ready for display………..

In today’s post I am hoping to explain one of the more difficult concepts of bonsai and or any art or design for that matter.  It is the concept of seeing.

But doesn’t everyone see? Well not exactly. I like to think that everyone ‘looks’ (except the blind) but not everyone ‘sees’.

What do I mean by that? Well, I like to think that seeing involves interpreting what it is that you are looking at in a meaningful way. For example; if you were to look at a truck, you mind would see the shape and tell your brain you were looking at a truck. But really what you are looking at is a combination of shapes and forms that are all put together to form what we know as a truck. Does it have four wheels, six, eight? Twin cab, single cab? Flat tray, refrigerated? Trucks come in a range of styles and shapes and to just write it off as a ‘truck’ is missing a lot of information.

Clear as mud?

I was going through my photos from my last trip to japan (almost a year ago today) and noticed a good example of me not being able to really see what was right in front of me.

While i was in japan I worked on the below white pine while studying at Taisho-en.

The original front

The original front

Firstly, I decided that from this aspect the larger root formed a very straight line which was much less obvious from the tree’s back side. So I decided on a front change.

The original back (new front)

The original back (new front)

So far the styling was going to plan. New front decided, check.

I then addressed the old first branch (which was now a back branch) by cutting it off.

Branch removed

Branch removed

This achieved a couple of things. Firstly it removed a large heavy branch which took away from the trunks size and secondly it compacted the tree which highlighted the trunk further.

Following the cut, I cleaned the foliage and branches, worked on the jin that the cut off branch had created and also introduced some shari to the new front of the tree. I added a bunch of wire and finally came up with an image I was happy with.

Where i thought the tree was finished.

Finished?

At which stage Oyakata strolled past and gave his review of the tree. I sat and listened and took on board what he was saying, nodding and agreeing with everything he was saying. Every point he made was spot on and I could see the issues the minute he mentioned them. I felt a little embarrassed I hadn’t picked them up myself as I had been staring at this tree for the best part of a day and hadn’t actually seen the errors that were right in front of my nose. My eye had got lazy and my work had suffered as a result.

After adjustments

After adjustments

Oyakata had made a couple of small changes that made big difference. He slightly adjusted the front angle which moved the back branch (between apex and first branch) into a position that gave some indentation to the outer silhouette. This broke up the rigid silhouette and made the canopy outline more interesting.

He also broke up the large mass of the apex by bringing some negative space into the apex foliage, exposing a section of trunk. This added layers of detail and changed the appearance and perceived scale of the tree.

He then slightly separated the bottom edges of the two pads on either side of the apex. Looking at the above image with this in mind, the separation could be enhanced to create some more dynamism in the future.

Now nothing that Oyakata did was earth shattering. All his adjustments were quite simple design changes that I already should have known. The issue was that I had stopped looking at the tree analytically and rather had got caught up in the over all form.

It probably had something to do with it being the end of the day and perhaps i might have picked up these changes had I come back to the workshop fresh in the morning but it is an important reminder to not just look at your trees. You should look analytically so that you really ‘see’ what is going on.

I am sure you all have trees on your benches that you look at every day, who’s form and structure you have become accustomed to and have stopped looking for improvement in. We all do it and it is one of the major contributing factors as to why an artists bonsai stagnate.

Small changes can have big effects, so get out there and really try to ‘see’ what you are looking at. Challenge what is in front of you and always look for improvement.

Most skills in bonsai can be learnt in a short time frame but developing your eye and keeping it active and critical, especially in regards to your own work, and this requires constant work over a long time frame.

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.

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