Sunday, 28 February 2010

Missed a Milestone, did I?

Just realised something.  As of the 26th February, this blog has been going on for a year. 

And why I should think that's significant, I don't know.

Unfortunately I have no stats to show for this sort of thing, as I only started using a stat tool in October.  So no Month-on-Month, Quarter-on-Quarter or Year-on-Year figures to show you.  Which is no fun really.  No Powerpoint slides.  Hurrr.  What would we do without Powerpoint slides to justify our existence?

What may have changed over the year is the raison d'etre of this blog.  While I had originally started it to keep a record of bonsai shows we attend, the reality is there isn't always that much newsworthy (by my definitions) to say.  Post photos of the trees on display?  A pure line-up of bonsai tree photos is one of the most boring things I can think of to do, and if you're looking for these, then there are bazillions of other websites already doing them.  For nothing am I going to run a blog to bore myself to tears. 

And while it may be amusing and controversial to do a 'Hello' magazine type reportage on bonsai personalities, there really isn't anyone in the bonsai world that I can think of who is on par with Paris Hilton for this type of 'newsworthiness'.  Underwear notwithstanding.  (And please - if you do know someone who fits the bill, please don't tell me. Oh. Wait. Hmmm....)

So this blog has evolved into something a bit more like a personal record of events.  What have not changed are the tools I use: all my photos are still taken on my Sony Ericsson phone, most of the staged photos are either taken in my kitchen or in the front room.  I don't use any professional photographic equipment as I can't be bothered to do any complicated set-up.  Little or no manipulation is done to the photos, the most I will do is try to enhance brightness or contrast; again as I have neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to use the software.

So to the old friends who have been on this journey with me for the past year, thanks for sticking 'round.  To the new friends who have bumped up my stat numbers, thanks for dropping by.  Don't bother looking for the stat analysis, do you really think I'm going to get up off my bum to look the numbers up?  Hmpfh.

Looking forward to another year with y'all.  Yeee-hah.

Bonsai Streaming by on Twitter

Over the last couple of days, I've followed several interesting 3-way Twitter discussions on various bonsai-related topics:  the use of colour and glazes of bonsai pots, choosing a bonsai pot, the position of a tree in the pot, soil contour in a pot to complement the flow of the tree, etc.  Protagonists of these discussions were @MoKusa, @bonsaibanter  and @ExtremeWork.  A minor and boring detail called the day job prevented me from joining in tweet streams that sometimes spanned a couple of days.  Unfortunately I don't have software that allowed me to copy and archive the streams either. 

But, Plan B - I haz one!  Iz called a blog! Dis blog here, even!

So here is my version of coming late to the party, but sticking my oar in nonetheless.  Mixed metaphors, I haz dem too.

One of the early discussions reminded me of a lively interchange between TOH and myself over the right pot for our Satsuki Azalea 'Kinsai'.  We are pretty much agreed on the (approximate) shape, depth and other dimensions of the pot but where our opinions diverge (and boy do they diverge) are on what we consider a suitable colour and texture for Kinsai's new home.

So backtrack a bit to where we are coming from: TOH's visual composition background is rooted in photography; mine is in a traditional Western Art education, particularly painting and illustration; as for the Kinsai, it's coming out this pot:

I'm also coming from the standpoint of a person who doesn't like the colour of Kinsai flowers.  TOH utterly loves it.  So my choice of pot colour is driven by a desire to mitigate an effect, TOH's goal is to emphasize and provide a frame to that colour.  Damage Limitation vs Enhancement.

Most people would say Kinsai has red flowers (and that would be true); but I would like to qualify that this is a warm red, i.e. veering towards orange rather than towards violet.  Whether you can see that from the photo will very likely depend on your screen resolution.

My point of view is that our interpretation of colour is very subjective, even though quantifiable (so to speak) definitions exist for various pure spectral colours, for example.  So the definition of the colour 'red' in approximate frequencies (in terahertz) and wavelengths (in nanometers) would be a frequency interval of ~ 430–480 THz  and a wavelength interval of ~ 700–635 nm.  (Source: Wikipedia)

But that doesn't quite tell my brain and naked eye if they should be looking for the red of a postbox, the red of a child's crayon or the red of (fresh) blood, for example.  So my brain tends to refer to the crayons of my childhood when I envisage the primary and secondary colours.  Because really, who can see all of the 7 colours of a rainbow with their naked eye anyway?

So back to our Kinsai and its warm-hued red spider flowers (because yes, the great majority of its flowers are the thin spidery kind - at least it's doing one thing right) and our colour choice for a pot.  My damage limitation tendency leads me to balance off the 'orange-red' with its colour complements, i.e. a glossy two-tone glaze of blue-green.  TOH, with a 'if you've got it flaunt it' attitude, is leaning towards a contrast using a matte black glaze.  Our compromise?  We asked the potter to make 2 pots, one in each glaze and  we'll decide come re-potting day by holding each one up against the Satsuki.  Not quite the dramatic flair of the wisdom of Solomon, but a practical solution that was arrived to in less than 5 seconds.  We've obviously had disagreements like this before.

What we haven't agreed on either is whether a high-gloss glaze will advance visually so much that it would overpower a tree, no matter how strong the visual weight of said tree.  My contention is that a balance can always be achieved, TOH feels that would be unlikely and the extreme gloss would always call attention to itself and overshadow the tree.  But, until we have the physical evidence before our eyes, we'd never really resolve that one, would we?

Just to make things more difficult, the political question of who the potter should please becomes a tricky one: I paid for the Kinsai but I also gave it to TOH as an unbirthday present.  So the tree is technically TOH's but I am also very likely going to pay for the pot.  So as far as customer satisfaction is concerned, who is the potter's customer anyway?

That aside, if you are on Twitter and are inclined to follow more erudite discussions on the art, craft and science that is bonsai, then add these guys to your follow list.

PS: What's an unbirthday present?  If you can't be bothered to read Alice in Wonderland, there's always Google :D

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Bonsai Trompe l'oeil

We once had a prominent bonsai professional stay over during a workshop we were running during our club's Summer Show many years ago, and he did his utter best to persuade us to downsize on the number of trees we were growing.  While he may have made many salient points, this past winter has also shown me that having a very wide selection of bonsai on hand means that pulling out a half-dozen or so for a winter display means neither headbanging nor panic.

So here is the line-up I dragged out of the garden for the Swindon Winter Image Show, warts and all.  My first post on prepping a display for a show is here.  The only thing that's changed for me in 2010 is that, due to the really hard winter, we still aren't able to say what trees (and accent plants particularly) will be likely candidates for future shows this year.  So you could probably say that this is my 2010 starting line-up.

This shohin Kiyohime maple on rock has been shown previously on this blog and is in a shallow white Walsall pot; over time the white has faded to a very light grey, with a tinge reminiscent of celadon.  The tree has come out of the winter without incident.  The moss, on the other hand, is way more than manky.  Prepping this type of composition is a real pain, as I try to use as much of the old, established moss as possible. 

So I took 2 different types of moss, trimming off the back soil / leaves / crud to have as flat a moss 'sheet' as possible.  Then I broke it all up into randomly sized patches, some of them maybe only 2 mm wide, others several centimetres in length.  Then, using a toothpick, I 'patchworked' the pieces together onto the old moss.  The effect I was looking for was an established planting rather than a freshly laid-on topping.  The final result is this:
Work still needs to be done to this shohin to improve the trunk line and shorten some of the branches. 

And in this post is this Chaenomeles japonica just after Swindon show last year.  Fast forward to 2010 and just a few days before this year's show, the moss decided to give up the ghost and crumble off the pot, leaving this:

Again out with the toothpick and the mossy bitty bits.  A whole evening spent in a crate indoors brought out a bit more colour in the flower buds.  And just so you know, the plant cost a fiver about 4 years ago:

Here's a close-up of the moss 'weave'.  You can clearly see the 3 different types of moss used:

This Ivy was dug out of our last garden over 15 years ago and is planted in what we call the dragon's egg (potter is unknown, unfortunately).  In this post is what it looked like in the summer last year, and below is how it's come out of a winter in a cold greenhouse heated to 0 degrees Celsius. 

Later in the spring I'll try a bit of defoliation on the Ivy so I get some nice spring colour (and possibly smaller leaves).  Again, some patchwork retouching had to be done to the moss on this guy.

This Satsuki Azalea (damn if I didn't lose the bloody label somewhere so don't ask me what variety) lives outdoors all year long and had its head buried in snow like the rest of these guys.  It's come out of that with tons of new growth as you can see from its back...

...and from its front.  How do I tell the one from the other?  It's hard to tell from these photos, but the tree actually does 'bow' pronouncedly to you from this angle.

This is one of TOH's earliest Japanese White Pines and it started life as a formal upright.  Unfortunately the wrong instructions in a bonsai book led to the loss of both lower branches and it is now a literati.  It has also been knocked out of its pot twice in the past year, so it is now slightly overpotted. And in what to me is one ugly, clunky drum pot.

This view is not the precise front of the tree, but IMO it illustrates best how the trunk line runs up and 'bows' toward the viewer. 

I'll also have to say that my fave way of prepping a tree for display is straight akadama as it is dead simple.  I've now gone off the half-akadama (or soil) / half-moss look as I find it can look rather contrived.  So I either go whole hog and do a full moss weave thing or I do pure soil (like when I'm fed up of prepping trees and just want to get it over and done with).  I tend to let myself be guided by what the tree looks like before the blackbirds get to it.  Hurrr.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Swindon Winter Image Bonsai Show

By now there are probably lots of photos and write-ups out there floating on the Web on the Swindon Winter Image Bonsai Show; and a rather precise synthesis done by @ExtremeWork on Twitter.  So I'm not going to try and duplicate any effort here.  But I will share what photos I took.  And tell you what I did (other than stuffing my face).

So of course I will mention the cakes at this point.  Top of the list.  Because anyone who is in the know will agree that Swindon Show is also about the cakes. As the show is a fund-raiser for the club, the cake sale is one of our favourite ways of showing our support.

After that show of team spirit, the bulk of my time today was spent catching up with people; some were at the Noelanders show last month but most of the local club people I hadn't seen since last year.  So it was good to catch up with the Welsh lads again (nope, no karaoke this time) and the guys who got back from Japan, although not to the depth of detail that I would've liked.  Also met up with @grumblemouse, and we had a good natter during the day. 

I also need to mention that John Pitt got snowed in and didn't make it to the show, so I didn't get my dose of annoying the Pitt-boss which is also part of the show ritual for me. Snow nearly prevented the Walsall lads from getting there,which would've been a right freak-out as they had made the trophies.

Food in general (and Japanese food in particular), being one of the big loves of my life, I always used to spend a great deal of time talking to both Bob of Dai Ichi Bonsai and Ken of Windybanks about food.  During this show, that important part of the ritual got chopped down so drastically I didn't even get to grill @AntiqueNetsuke about the nosh during his very recent trip to Japan (nor did we talk about the Kokofu show either).  So if I didn't get to do all that bit, you can imagine that taking pics fell way down in my list of priorities today. 

Lots more snowdrops in today's show than last year.  Examples from the Phoenix Bonsai Group display and from Chie-san's Kusamono display:

An accent plant on the Artistic Bonsai Circle display. As the owner wasn't around, I wasn't able to ask what plants were in the composition but it looks to me like Ajuga, Ophiophogon, Equisetum and a rush.

Bulbs are big at this time of the year.  A fine set of Irises was on display at the Phoenix stand (sorry, missed that opp) and some yellow Crocuses were on the Eastleigh Bonsai display.

Here is a Chinese Juniper (AKA Shinpaku) on a rather unusual display table. The owner got it in its raw state at the Westonbirt Festival of Wood - for a fiver.  A bit of elbow grease (and just a little bit more dosh), transformed it into an unusual bonsai accoutrement.  He reckons a total of 20 quid spent.  Not bad...

And more from the same person, a mame Lonicera (about 3 in / 8 cm high) that was dug out of a hedge.

Going up in tree size, here is a Trident maple on rock.  If you look closely, there's a dragon nestled in the interior of the cave.  Over the years I've seen this bonsai displayed alone as well as with all sorts of figurines inside the cave, possible a tiny beer can even, if I recall correctly.  Proof that you don't always have to take everything seriously.  But you can if you want to.

And this is the winter image of this Alder.  I have heard varying views on this particular tree at this time of the year, and I will confess to having a preference for the tree with its summer foliage on.  Simply because I find it particularly impressive then.

And yes, I need to be impressed.  So I'm shallow.  Sue me.

But as I am of a generous and giving nature (coughing fits at this point) I will leave you with @ExtremeWork's beautifully compact summary that went out on Twitter earlier this evening.  My thanks to the author for allowing me to use their text.  And if you're not familiar with how the Twitter timeline goes, you'll need to start reading from the bottom and work your way to the top.  Otherwise, feel free to read this synopsis backwards.

- Swindon & District Bonsai Society as always were excellent host & made all welcome. Cake was up to usual high quality and met expectations.

- Chie-san had a very nice selection of kusamono on display and was taking bookings for her workshop on 16 April

- Ken from Windybanks had some very nice material and small trees to show and is expecting new stoock imminently.

- Dai Ichi Bonsai had imported Japanese pots and stands on offer with a few very nice Satsuki Azalea.

- Chris Thomas had some fine Larix and his usual collection of accoutrements on offer.

- Andy Pearson had a range of his pots including some unusually large pots from his kiln.

- Paul Goff had a very nice range of scrolls and was gathering interest for the Bonsai Review that he publishes.

- David and Mark from Walsall Ceramics Studio made early calls to check weather in Swindon and arrived with some very nice pots.

- Weather up North seems to have hampered some from arriving. John Pitt (John Pitt Bonsai Ceramics) was redirected with heavy snow.

- Phoenix, Solent, Newbury, Cotswolds and the Splinter Group had good society displays. Artistic Bonsai Circle's trees to their normal high standard on display

- Dragon Bonsai and New Dawn Bonsai had some exquisite trees and some old friends on display to very high standard.

- British Shohin Association and ABBA's displays were well presented.

- A good show of very finely ramified Chinese Elms, Ian's Hornbeam group has recovered well from its trip to the Noelanders Trophy in Belgium

- Some of the really nice exhibits at the Swindon Bonsai Show were the mame There was a good range of varieties & the trees were small.

- Back from Swindon. Bonsai were of the usual high standard. Met lots of friends and caught up on the gossip. Great day of bonsai ...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

First Bonsai Re-potting Day of the Year....

... and it was bloody cold.  Whatever body parts that could've frozen off - did; or at least it felt like it.

Teacher-san came down and we worked on whatever trees we could.  It should have been a mega re-potting day but we were slowed down by a lot of frozen rootballs.  Several got started on in the morning, put into the cold greenhouse to thaw, then picked up again in the afternoon. 

Never realised either what a funny sound a frozen rootball makes when you thunk it (to check if it's really frozen, not just for the sake of thunking, OK).

Anyway, here's one of the smaller guys that got re-potted.  A Lonicera nitida (normally a hedging plant here) which is one of TOH's WIPs.  This was bought at a club auction for a couple of quid last year.  The horizontal jin was shortened by about 6 inches (15 cm) and I believe TOH has plans of re-working the jin at the front to make it look more naturally weathered.  This is a shohin-sized tree, probably about 7 in / 18 cm from base of the pot.

The other bonsai we worked on yesterday are a bit too big for me to photograph at home, so if they're ever taken to a show later in the year, maybe I'll post photos here.  The long cotoneaster cascade will have to wait until we find a better pot for it, though.

So, on to other smaller stuff. 

This is an overpotted Cristata Davallia fern, which I got last year.  I was told it goes dormant in the winter but it's held on to its one frond despite the cold.

Here is a group of cyclamen in flower, plus a moss accent.  To give an idea of scale, the moss in the thimble pot is less than an inch (2.54 cm) high. The cyclamen self-seeded in the greenhouse about 3 years ago and this is the second year they've flowered.  Their corms haven't grown much bigger, nor do their leaves get any larger, or any more numerous.

I'll tell you what I should've taken a photo of, though - TOH's Peach Cobbler, which was an absolute delight.  We did linger over lunch with Teacher-san, talking about pots and going over the latest issue of the Nippon Bonsai Association's magazine.  Anything to stay out of the cold, as far as my interests were concerned...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Yes I Haz Moar Pot Piccies

Haven't blogged for awhile, as I'm still having problems getting Firefox 3.5.7 to talk to Blogger.  I can edit stuff, just can't see the finished product.  Have been getting around it by viewing these pages in another browser, but that is just a drag.  Trawling through Internet fora (forums, whatever) for an answer is also a drag.

So what isn't a drag? Possibly the thought of spring and re-potting?  Despite the intermittent snow that keeps coming down my head whenever I go out to check the trees...

I have plans for the round black pot I purchased from Morea at the Noelanders show last month.  She was kind enough to send me a better picture than the one I had, so here it is:

... on the upper right hand side of the stand.  I'm thinking a certain Satsuki Azalea could go in there, as its pot recently got trashed by the blackbirds.  Well, the culprits could have been the neighbourhood cats, but for some reason I always blame the blackbirds.  Heh. Go figure.