Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Chinese Drunkard

In the course of my recent writings, I have found the internet a constant source of amazement and time wasting. None more so than reading the poetry of Li Bai, one of the great Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty so I have come to learn. Now he is a man of great distinction in my book, possibly due to his incredible fondness for alcohol, the moon and rambling around in the mountains.
I sometimes look back in history, see the simple and pure lives they had and wonder how far we have actually come with civilisation. Sure, we have ipads and can now watch sky sports for free, but are we really happy?

Maybe if we take Li Bai's advice we will be...

If heaven loved not wine,

A Wine Star would not be in heaven;

If earth loved not wine,

The Wine Spring would not be on earth.

Since heaven and earth love wine,

Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?

The transparent wine, I hear,

Has the soothing virtue of a sage,

While the turgid is rich, they say,

As the fertile mind of the wise.

Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,

Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?

Three cups open the grand door to bliss;

Take a jugful, the universe is yours.

Such is the rapture found in wine,

That the sober shall never inherit.

I will buy a pint for the first person to tell me how I got to reading that poem....

Friday, 12 August 2011

Planning for the future

So a small window of opportunity in the weather and schedule allowed me to finally get around to working on the juniper that featured in a few posts ago. Many thanks to Les Storey whose tree it was/is , the tea and sarcastic comments.

It is a big garden juniper which was rescued from a garden up in the Wirral many years ago, then languished in a pot for many more years before I got my hands on it. It was very weak and had almost no roots, so for the last three or four years after repotting it has been just building up strength (that is another way of saying I have not found the time to work on it). Now it is strong enough and has a good root mass in a loose soil mix (20% garden compost, 80% Perlite). More importantly the live veins have settled down and thickened along the main arteries up to the only living branch. Although there is a lot of green and wood up top, only one thinish branch remains which needs to be fed. This leads to thickening of the live vein along the section feeding it.

My plan, right from the start had always been to graft some Itoigawa whips into the trunk and redevelop the tree with branches lower down and with a workable foliage. The lower trunk is actually quite powerful and if the bottom section only can be used then there is potential for a very powerful, chunky little chuhin sized tree.

Obviously a lot of dead wood carving to be done in the future, but the main job now is to get the live vein thinned down to close to where we want the final vein to be and get the grafts in. Any detail work on the dead wood can be done once I am certain of graft success and the top of the tree is removed. I will want to use some of the jin up top as well and there will be some sand blasting to be done once it gets into a bonsai pot. The carving today was simple to reduce the live vein down and then allow it to dry out.

Here you can see me hard at work. It does happen every now and again and yes, I do use power tools.

Graft point and whip are prepared. The channel is deep enough so it is at least 50% buried. Cambium layers are revealed and best attempts are made to join the two together.
The whips are screwed into place. I found some mini-screws in Japan which are the absolute best for this purpose, they are only a few mm thick, long and strong. You just have to be careful with the impact driver and not go to quickly. They will never be removed but a few didn't go all the way in before the head got mashed up. They will need to be cut off carefully later.

The finished tree. Two grafts, one front,. on back were done, just before a torrential downpour of rain, hence the roughess of it all. The main job was to get the grafts done now, so it has a bit of the growing season left to help join up. I'm hoping that I'm not the only one to see some potential in this. Obviously it will never be a masterpiece compared to a mountain tree but it was better than throwing it out.

The foliage on top was reduced to allow sunlight in and also to stimulate the tree into growing. It has realised that half the foliage is gone and puts effort into growth. This will help us with the callusing. The reduced live vein up top and also around the back, is helping to channel the majority of flow around the whips. If this does not happen then the two wont join up.

Due to the rushed nature of the job, I am dubious as to the success rate, I think the back will take but not the front. Still I have more whips and plenty of time. I doubt we will see this tree anywhere near finished in the next ten years. Still, step two in the plan is achieved, we shall have to see how effective it is. It has benefitted from several years of being ignored, now in order to allow it to join and then gain strength, it will be ignored for at least a full season. This time next year will be the next time I will look at working it. If the growth is very vigorous on either the top of the tree or the whips then it may require attention.

If we are successful, further reduction of the foliage up top initially to next to nothing, then nothing, along with further thinning of the live vein will be next on the list of jobs to do. It will need to be put into a bonsai pot and more suitable soil mix in the near future after the grafts are full taken. Although I foresee no problems with that, there is a small risk and it is not until I have reached a relatively risk free point will I spend the necessary time on the dead wood. As it is, the deadwood being fairly soft will rot away if too much is done too quickly. So waiting is the key for the moment.

I will do a proper article on it later (if I get chance)

There are some trees which can be made quickly, there are others which require a little more long term view. There are very few trees that have nothing good about them or any redeeming feature. It just depends how long you are prepared to wait and to what lengths you are willing to go.

Text for the book comes slowly at times, quickly at others...possibly due to the fact we are absolutely thrashing India at the moment in the Cricket.

This morning before play started I wrote this, which seems apt...

The fundamental point to remember when appreciating Bonsai is that you are looking at a natural object which has been artificially styled and maintained. The lengths to which this is taken are aesthetic and philosophical decisions, yet the most important fact remains that bonsai is a natural object that is being appreciated, albeit a highly stylised one.

I need a harsh editor I think

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Shohin on acid

Doing some research for the e-book, I came across this page which is about tickets and posters of shohin shows from 40 years ago onwards...love it.

For people who think that the Japanese are too formulaic and stuck in their ways...
The red text up in the top corner says "The sound of spring bursts forth" or words to that effect. You can bet the hand that is holding the mike belongs to some lovely young model as well...

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In praise of British Craftsmanship....

and also a British inability to update the blog. I can assure you that it is not because I have been sat around doing nothing, but rather having my hands full with a lot of non bonsai related things and also doing a lot of translating and typing. Regular readers may be looking forward to an update on the proposed e-book...they will also be very aware of the fact that I am all talk and no trousers and it is very slowly forthcoming. I get side tracked to easily and have been doing too much research on various different potters, kilns and ceramic techniques from the Edo period.

I have been trying not to work on trees too much of late, concentrating on the books is my biggest priority, I have people counting on me which is always a bad thing, but the pressure does produce results. The trees I have been working on lately, I always forgot to take before and after shots, plus a lot of the work wasn't that impressive anyway. A few new customers and new workshop converts to the Saruyama way. I was in Poland recently doing a workshop and apparently it went down very well. Hopefully they will come to the next workshop scheduled in October....hopefully the Mugo I bent seven shades out of will still be alive...if it is, I will post a picture. We did discuss the fact that the tree had no future otherwise...but still, I absolutely hate to kill trees...especially ones that are not mine.

I do have a few new things to talk about though, namely some stands which have found their way back into my possession. One of the important aspects of the development of Japanese Bonsai was the relationships between craftsmen and the objects that was commissioned specifically for a purpose. Take the development of display stands for example. Before the Meiji period, they simply did not exist in the way we know today. Bonsai was an outdoor pursuit and stands were not necessary. As the development of Bonsai took things to a level where they were being displayed in exhibitions or in the home, there was a need for display stands. Master craftsmen, I guess we would call them cabinet makers, were commissioned to create stands that would suit the purpose of display. It would appear that the first attempts were so sturdy that they would withstand the weight of a garden tree. After a consultation process, a happy medium was reached between utility and beauty. The process continued and soon several master craftsmen were producing some superbly crafted pieces which are still used today.

In order for western Bonsai to reach the highest possible level, the same kind of consultation and patronage must occur between craftsmen here. Thankfully, we have some very skilled table makers and potters in the UK and some very beautiful pieces are created. I am lucky enough to know Doug Mudd very well. he is a table maker based in the North West and has been steadily improving with every table he makes and is now responsible for about half the tables on display in most UK shows. I have asked him to create several tables for me, each one a specific commission but with a little room for his own personal touch. One table was for a display that I had hoped to put on at a Suiseki exhibition in Madrid a few years ago.

Sadly, my request was a little on the impossible side; I had asked for the top to be made from a single piece of wood and to be as thin as possible. At the time, Doug had discussed his concerns and they were duly proved to be correct as the table warped and cracked within an hour due to the humidity and warmth of Madrid. I returned it to Doug for repairs and just the other day it made it's way back here...looking better than it did originally. It now has a brass rail to keep the legs from warping, and a couple of pieces of wood in the surface to stop it from cracking and warping any more. It is not quite flat but there is the beauty of it. The damage and the repairs have made it better. My hat is off to the man.

Hopefully I will get a chance to use it. I have one thing in mind but it is a few years off completion and it may be a little weak...oh well, another table will be necessary then.

Another two stands which have pride of place in my collection are by a long time friend and student of mine, John Brocklehurst, who turned his hand to making some root stands in his spare time. You will see more of his trees coming up in the future after already having won a few merits and commendations. You will also see some of his stands no doubt...after asking for advice on the designs and finishes, the results were pretty spectacular for a first few attempts. I was impressed at any rate.

If anyone is interested in commissioning any works, or indeed there is anyone who is looking for advice on designs or anything then get in touch. The only way forward is through working together.

I will be sat in front of the PC for the most of this coming week, although I will be going to work on a tree of mine (kind of) on Thursday. A garden Juniper rescued from the Wirral and has been awaiting my attentions for some time. I will give you an update afterwards, but here is the before shot...
Don't expect any miracles...