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

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Something not quite right...

Since returning home on a flight where I fell into a narcoleptic coma, woke up and had some incredible ideas, I have been working on this tree...but there is something not quite right about it and I can't put my finger on what is wrong. I was going for a classical look but with a modern, dynamic Chinese influenced feel, very much a result of my recent trip to Japan...still, I think I need to work on it a little more. My aesthetic is a little mixed up I think. Took me ages to wire as well...

Happy Holidays. Good will and peace to all...


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A change is gonna come...

It has been, and still is a busy run in to the end of the year, the promised time at home seems a long distant dream, although next week...next week...

Although I often complain that my schedule is too hectic, it is self inflicted and to be honest the last few weeks have been very interesting and I have come to a few realisations about myself, bonsai and in particular the importance of respect for the natural world which we as bonsai artist profess to worship. I have also had some wonderful moments of never to be repeated bliss.

I just wrote an hours worth of polemic about the ethics of collecting, but then I realised that I am simply going to alienate myself further from the bonsai community...so I will concentrate on the blissfull moments.

Walking down from a windy, rain drenched mountain side in the south of France, having seen the full effects of the dark side of human nature, I climb miserably into the van...the clouds part, the rain stops and the wind dies down...through the radio comes a message from a higher power...



It was important for me to see trees in their native habitat and it has confirmed a few things that bother me about modern bonsai...one is that there is no lime sulphur in nature, the other is that most people seem intent on destroying any natural character that collected trees have by bending, carving and making pretty that which is wild, beautiful and powerful almost beyond our comprehension.

Another blissfull moment is seeing the happiness that simple pleasures can bring...like a balloon. Im not getting broody but it has been great to experience the joy of family and the power of new life, potential and the future...reminds me, need to buy seeds for the spring....

Although I didnt take any pictures up in the mountains, I can't finish the blog without posting a picture of a tree...one of my favourites from my trip...sadly it wasn't for sale, although apparently everyone turned their noses up at it when priced at €150...add another 0 and you are close to the price in my eyes.

It is a perfectly formed, incredibly old, barely needs wire to make it look good and been in a pot for 5 years collected sylvestris? I often wonder...insanus omnes furere credit ceteros...the insane man looks at the rest of the world and thinks they are crazy, and that only he is sane. This does not bode well for sales...oh well, as my father never told me, but I'm sure he should have, " 'tis better to be bankrupt and happy than morally corrupt, rich and have terrible taste in trees my son".

As it is almost Christmas, I will leave you with some cheer...and a poem I read this morning whilst waiting for yet another plane.

Life's changes are as brief as the blink of an eye

The passage of human affairs as brief as the straightening of an elbow

My emptiness is like the clouds drifting through the great void

Body and soul are depleted, with nowhere to turn


Which you may take as being miserable and depressing, but what it means is in the title of the blog, the exact same sentiment as Sam Cooke and the feeling I had all this week...a change is gonna come.


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Two faced...

After the trials and tribulations ofmthe last couple of weeks, I'm back to my day job of messing up peoples trees. The last couple of days I have been working in Poland at Ibuki Bonsai, a nursery which I have visited several times a year for the last two years. It is good to see a slow and steady progression amongst the majority of trees, thanks mainly to the horticultural care and attention of the owner, Mariusz Folda.

One of the recent additions to the nursery was a Taxus Cuspidata, imported early this year. It arrived and was in a terrible state, weak foliage, poor colour and so I refrained from working on it at the time, allowing it to build up strength. It did so this year and so it was ready for a bit of a transformation.

Looking at the tree, there were several possible fronts and different options for the tree and on consultation with the bossman, neither of us felt really strongly one way or the other and I predicted that it would probably end up being almost equally viewable from either side. Perhaps this was the tree to replace the two sided shimpaku which escaped my clutches?

It had been roughly worked so I set about smoothing a few rough edges off, particularly the tool marks and disagreeable sections of the dead wood.

See, I do use power tools...as some bloke once said..." Man is a tool using animal, without tools he is nothing, with them he is all." ...ergo I am a power man?

I soon got bored with that tool and so moved onto some iron bars and jacks...or as they say in Japanese "Jackee" in a high pitched voice that reminds me of the girls comic and does no justice to the power of the jack.

After cranking it like soulja boy, the trunk had moved a little closer to the centre and didn't feel so separate. The trick to using a jack is to do it slow, ensure fixing points are secure and that nothing is going to snap or tear at the point where the jack is in contact with the tree. Good contact with the trunk as opposed to branches is ideal. Moving it slowly in stages allows the tree to tense and relax, so it is put under pressure and then the fibres stretch as opposed to snapping when they reach breaking point. Knowing how far to go is an experience based thing but careful observation of potential tear sites both visually and aurally will help the experience to be gained relatively tear free (geddit?). At times like this, turn off the music and listen for the cracks, there will be all sorts of noises going on, some not a problem, others danger signs...know thy creaks and don't get scared.

After slowly cranking and then screwing the tree in place, it was time to fiddle with the branches. As the tree had previously been styled the secondary branch structure was not too hideous. Bearing in mind the recent vigour history, the time restraints and the objective (make something potentially saleable to a wide audience), little fine wiring was done, but the main branches put in place and the overall structure set.

As it turned out the tree looked ok from two different orientations, so it was almost the tree I needed to replace the juniper that got away, which it seems has had an interesting history from shop to shop on the internet. I could decide where to stick my three bits of wire in the pot to define once and for all the front, so I leave it for whoever buys it, or for Mariusz if he keeps it. Personally I think it should be kept as both, swinging both ways, so depending on which side of the bed you wake up on, depends on the front...

Front one if you fancy chasing the dragon...Has an awesomely unorthodox branch as the main cascading branch.

Or front two if you fancy sitting underneath the canopy of a big , spreading tree...perhaps chasing the dragon has tired you out...

Now, before people go crazy, this is not possible for every tree and it is not recommended to try, to be honest the dragon chasing front is the better by a distance, but tastes are different and so are potential clients. The tree looks perfectly good from both sides because, the fundamental branch structure is not created by cheating. Branches flow from the trunk in a natural way (except for one big one which may be a problem for some or an awesome character point for others), and so they look good from any orientation.

I once tried to tell an American student at Shunkaen that the tree he was making needed to be two fronted. It was a cascading rose and for displaying purposes, a bi-directional tree is useful if flower distribution is poor, or you have fewer trees to make up a multi-tree display. His response was "How? Where will my first branch be? And the back branch?". Say it quietly people, text book bonsai sucks the nut.

Btw. I will try and get some before pics and fom different angles....i did get these though..funny how we make trees in our own image...

Bald head....

Bald head...thankfully one will grow back in a season.

On another note, I have found the next interrogation technique. Forget waterboarding, just put them on a 2 hour Ryanair flight next to not one, not two, but three non stop screaming babies. Begging for mercy before takeoff...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A successful trip...

After ten days of descending in the circles of hell, I am finally on my way back home. Every time I come I feel older and less wise...but at least I bought some new concave cutters.

Driving here, there and back again has been tiring but fun and hopefully a little profitable. I picked up a few items that will hopefully be gracing the stage at Noelanders, a couple of things for myself and sadly nothing yet for Lady Saruyama...they were sold out! Honest!

However the most important thing abut coming back is to meet people and to learn or see something new...which I did. Relationships are very important in Japan, as anywhere in the world, so keeping peole happy and cementing relationships pays off dividends in the future. I am starting to see those come to fruition and sometimes it feels as though the hard work and the non-bonsai teachings of the Chief have paid off.

One of the most exciting new people I met was David Martinez Moreno, a student at Fujikawa's place in Osaka. He is an art historian and had some incredible ideas about Bonsai and the future, how it can be incorporated into the western art world and appreciation. It was a chance meeting which confirmed a few things that I have been thinking about and have planned. We shared ideas and agreed on many things, it seemed as though it gave validation to my recent train of thought. There seems to be movement amongst many of the younger bonsai artists to change and experiment. The blue touch paper is going to be lit in October...hopefully it will go crazy after that. Or I will. Or possibly bankrupt...

I have a million and one pictures of trees taken but the most impressive thing that I saw was on the way back to the hotel, walkng through the back streets of the anitque district of Kyoto...

It was in a ceramics shop window, the shop specialises in tea bowls and had this piece on display. A piece of very old, hard pine wood. I had to go into the shop and ask about it. The assistant just said, "oh this is something we just threw together...". I have thrown stuff together before, but never like that.

I have been reading a few old books of late, stuff from my previous life...the depth of influence it had on me was incredible in hindsight, one line stuck out in particular...

"What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning"

I hope I get upgraded on my flight.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

There are times...

When you wonder what the hell you are doing. It is 4.30 am and I am sat in a service station outside of Kyoto waiting for the sun to rise. We have just driven from Tokyo, stopping half way to try and squeeze ten trees in to a space that can only take eight. An hour of rearranging and shifting valuable trees around, including a recent prime minister's award winner and there was no solution to the puzzle...other than to take two cars.

I often wonder how there are not more accidents involving bonsai, but it all seems to work.

Tomorrow sees the setting up of the Taikanten and for the first time ever, I am helping to take trees along. It will be an interesting experience I'm sure. Pictures available somewhere on line if someone sneaks a camera in.

I've been in Japan less than a week but it feels like a lifetime ago that I was at home. A fairly packed schedule was made even more hectic with an unxpected trip to Osaka for a large shohin auction...as in the auction was large, not the shohin.

It was an interesting experience, the price of trees fluctuates from year to year and I was suprised at how cheap some things were, and the price of things I thought would be cheap. No doubt next year the autumn winds will blow and it will be reversed.

I managed to pick up a few things including one for myself, but as always with auctions its the ones that got away which I remember...as Jim Bowen used to say, look at what you could have won...

A genuine yamadori shohin juniper....which sadly went just a little bit more than I was prepared to pay. My left kidney has already been mortgaged, so...I had to say goodbye.

If the gods had smiled on me, I could have made this little bad boy from both sides as they were equally as beautiful. I love the idea of trees without fronts, or rather the viewer and creator not being fixated by one singular front. There are a good number of trees out there that look good in pictures taken from a specific height and directly from the front...but when you see them in real life, it looks somewhat different. Masterpiece trees should look good from any viewing angle, not just where the three bits of wire line up. Often when I am doing a demo, I will talk about design options, good points, bad points etc, then start working on the tree...invariable the first question will be, where is the front?

Creating a tree is an organic and fluid process and over time, especially with raw stylings, the front may change slightly, 5 degrees here, 10 degrees there. If we start to become fixated on a front because we stuck a marker in there then the process becomes less fluid and more static. If the tree decides to grow in a different way than we would hope, or our technique causes terminal branch faliure, then we need to change direction slightly. As long as we are there or thereabouts on the first styling and repotting, then no major root work needs to be done to change the front by 10 degrees in any direction or orientation.

Dont take what I have said as meaning you shouldn't have a front to a tree, there is always a viewing angle which is better to look at and that is the one which should be presented to the viewer. What I mean is don't forget the other sides, look to create branching structure that looks good alround.

Anyway...it's all change at the Chief's again, Yannick Kiggen is back for more, he will hopefully be starting a proper apprenticeship if he can get a visa. Hopefully it will be longer than two years because lets face it, in two years you only scratch the surface and the scars begin to heal over, it isnt until the scars are so deep that they last forever and you never forget...(stares off into the distance)

I wish Yannick all the luck in the world, he has already made a good impression, except fr the other day when he forgot to water a maple...so in honour of this new beginning...let's play....

"It's a lot / it's a lot like life...forget all about equality"

I should sleep more really shouldn't I...

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Rock the Casbah...

Been busy making winter preparations, insulating, heating, ventilating the polytunnel and getting everything under cover. A lot is staying out, but I'm keeping the rain off the pines, sabinas and spruce...most other things are staying in the tunnel and this year if it blows away, I will be amazed.

I did take some pictures this week...I finally found a use for Suiseki...you know them fancy Japanese rocks that sit around just looking nice and pretty...

Perfectly compacted. If only I could get my bonsai to be as useful.

Out to see the big show in Alcobendas tomorrow, Spain is undoubtedly one of the most active countries in the western bonsai world and it will be interesting to see some of the best trees around...sadly no camera but I'm sure someone will post something somewhere.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A diamond in the rough?

I'm sure that most of you will have seen the recent exploits up at Willowbog, but in case you didn't...Mr. Snart has put some relatively complimentary pictures of me up on his blog here...

Thanks for the lovely weekend, but thank you even more for yet another tree that I walked away with.  I always seem to come away with trees...funny that.  This one was a tree I had my eye on for sometime but had been really stopping myself from pulling the trigger on getting it, because I was hoping that someone else would see the potential in this wonderful potentilla...

A rather uninspiring tree and one which had been forgotten on the bench for ages....just the kind of rubbish fantastic tree which is screaming out for me to waste my time and effort on...

and BOOM...a change of angle and some subtle lighting, fannying around with the camera and it suddenly looks pretty awesome.  Oh yes.

As luck would have it, I just got this Ron Lang pot earlier in the month...It looks a little large because I can't do photoshop, but believe me it looks pretty awesome.  As a combination it looks...pretty....you guessed it...awesome.

I have great hopes for this little bad boy of a natural looking tree.  One day who knows where this tree may end up? Probably back on the bargain shelves up at Willowbog as I go bankrupt from buying too many unsaleable trees...not that I am trying too hard to sell them...all my little pretties.

Am off to Spain this weekend for a busman's holiday...going to an exhibition in Peniscola with our lass. Thought I would treat her to a trip to see the European branch of the Sakka Kyokai's big show.  I am a member of the Japanese group, but not the European...maybe I should join in the party, but if they see trees like that on my benches, they will black ball me...I guess I should modernise my tastes?

Onwards and upwards...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Autumnal Movements in the Dark

Its been a while since the last post (tm) , and rather than globe trotting, I have been in the UK for most of October, enjoying what can only be described as Great British Weather. Autumn is here and like the other great British institution, the BBC, it is hanging on to the last remnants of faded glory and respectability.

A very enjoyable trip to Norn Iron was had, full details and more video, pictures and details than you can shake a stick at can be found courtesy of Mr. Eejit, the inimitable Ian Young. I must say that advertising such as that is very flattering and it is the sort of thing that cannot be bought...so thank you. It was an eye opening trip, seeing what I can only describe as some of the best individually grown deciduous trees in the UK. The general standard was good despite the paucity of professional input until recent years (or perhaps because of it?). The Willowbog influence was apparent and its clear that the internet has helped dramatically. The enthusiasm and desire to learn was refreshing, I look forward to my next trip there...assuming I get the invite.

As I said, the deciduous trees impressed me most and now is the time of year to be focusing on deciduous species. Pruning back and thinning out should be done once the leaves have finished and are starting to drop. After that we have around two weeks to do it before they begin to bleed like stuck pigs. The last couple of days have been heavily deciduous based, including a lovely new tree in the collection of a long standing client.

The first workshop we did together, as a test to see what the then relatively unknown and slightly hairier me could do, he brought me a fat little trident maple which was in need of a sorting out. I gave him a detailed explanation of what the problem was and how to correct it, how if it wasn't sorted soon, it would simply get worse, he agreed and it got pruned back quite hard. In 2014 the tree will almost certainly be punching it's weight at Noelanders. I must have done a good job because we have continued to work together and today I was presented with a similar trident.

The tree is a very nice specimen, had some minor flaws and issues structurally but it had one major problem, something which a great number of tridents and other deciduous trees suffer from. If the time and dedication is not put in to prune and thin out the branch tips down so that effectively at each node the branches split into two, then not only will the naked branch structure look hideous on a close up, but it will also affect the vigour.

From a distance, the tree looks ok, a nice silhouette, but a closer inspection reveals a fundamentally flawed and potentially fatal branch tip structure. The grotesque lumpy clusters of tiny twigs have been created by lazy technique which is equivalent to topiary. Simply pulling off foliage and shoots when in leaf to create a nice outline.

Rather than carefully and religously pinching out the new shoots as they grow, thinnng out strong areas and creating a delicate branching structure, handfuls of foliage are roughly plucked on a single occasion, leading to clusters of branches growing from a single node. This lazy technique is known as cluster plucking a tree.

Once a tree has been repetitively cluster plucked to this level for a number of years, the vigour of the branches decreases as the branch tips lignify, harden from the inside, reducing the sap flow and a noticeable decrease in vigour is observed. Similarly to satsuki, the branch tips must be young and green, one year old shoots, or the tree gets old, gets tired of constantly being plucked and gives up.

When faced with a branching structure such as this, the only thing to do, is to rip it up and start again.

...total and utter cluster plucking mess
Once the majority of bad branch tips are removed, the tree looks a whole lot lighter and less full but it is now back on the upward slope as opposed to the terminal decline it was on. Deciduous trees need to be renewed every so often, the branch tips need to be replaced when they get old and delicacy in the branch tips is necessary.

There are still a few branches that need removing but at least the branches will regain some vigour now. Protection over the winter and a period of free growth is necessary to get the tree back up and running. The good thing about tridents is their vigour and predictable back budding on old wood. Give the tree three years of dedicated work and it will be very well ramified, delicate and have healthy, cluster free branch tips.

This weekend I will be up at Willowbog for more workshops, is great when I go places where they ake lots of pictures...means I don't have to.

Preparations for Noelanders are moving ahead with great speed...lots of excitment and enthusiasm amongst the Saruyama faithfull...in times of great bonsai depression it is great to have something to look forward to...Like me, I'm scheduled to work on my own trees in December.

Onwards and upwards...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Purple(ish) Haze

Back in the land of the unpredictable weather and as I will be effectively out on the road until December  now is the time to get the winter preparations ready...although this morning was a gloriously autumnal morning.  One of those days when you are glad to be alive...

Returning back after just ten days there had been a massive change in foliage colour, and especially in one of my favourite species...the mighty Sumac.  A much under used tree in western bonsai because you can't actually do anything with it other than just kind of grow it...and prune it when it gets too big. No fancy wiring nor styling decisions to be made so it gets over looked. Regular readers may know this tree but this year is the best colour I have ever seen it, and so here you are...

You can't beat it for natural character, low maintenance and awesome autumn colours...

A big brother in the garden looks on....

and some little brothers wait to be potted up...love the way that only the edge which is not sheltered by the bench has turned...but that is a sign that the frosts are coming. Propane heater arrives tomorrow and will get most stuff inside, everything else will under cover.

Today was spent clearing out the greenhouse, getting yet more blocks and stuff for yet more shelves...but that means more space for more trees...but just for the time being...'Scuse me while I kiss the sky...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Rock on

Im sat in the airport on my way home from a very interesting trip which included an apperance at the 6th International Stone Show in Hershey PA. It is my third time speaking there and it seems people are yet to get sick of me and think I still have something to talk about regarding suiseki, so it was nice to be part of it.

Mr. Morimae of S-Cube fame came over and did presentations on various topics but the focus was the use of suiseki with bonsai, a topic which many people find difficult to come to terms with. One common theme throughout the three conventions I have been to has been the desire from the majority of the udience to have hard and fast rules and regulations. "You can't do this, you can't do that..." It is appropriate to think in these terms very much at the starting point but this idea must be moved away from, rather than think negatively, it is always better to think "It is better to do this..." or "we must do the best with the tools at our disposal".

I learnt a lot and even became interested in a slightly more modern interpretation of stone appreciation. Now, this is in no way trying to be suiseki but it is trying to be, and succeeds incredibly, a wonderful work of art. One of the vendors at the show was Tony Ankowicz, an artist/craftsman/stone hunter from Wisconsin and he had this creation on his booth. I immediately fell in love and after a few hours of consideration and then talking to Tony, I pulled the trigger and purchased it.

He had some other stones with him with even more fantastic bases but the lines and curves of both the stand and the stone were outstanding. The craftsmanship on the base was incredible and I couldn't resist the challenge of finding a use for it as a display item. Discussion with Mr. Morimae and Wil Lautenschlager confirmed my thoughts that this represents an exciting development in the worldwide appreciation of stones, bringing it in to a modern era but retaining the essential characterisitcs of an art form which has origins dating back two thousand years. We were all excited about his work and saw great vision and craftsmanship. It was refreshing to see some thing new and definitely western as opposed to the rigid copying of Oriental practice.

I have to now find a way of displaying it alongside a bonsai. I have a sabina that looks as though it will may be possible to display with, but it is still very immature. Still, the rock can wait...

Speaking of display, the Noelanders trophy will soon be upon us. Mr. Snart and myself will be offering the same service for UK enthusiasts who want trees taking over and bringing back, so please contact us for details. We should have a good showing again, so I look forward to organising that again.

Feeling sleepy...so until I get home...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Hot off the press...

Breaking news...from 1922.  I got sent a picture from Japan today, taken from today's newspaper.

Here is a picture discovered by the grandson of the photographer, showing a collected juniper that was presented to the imperial family from the people of Chichibu.  I love the bamboo protection surrounding the tree.

I know it is a treasonable offence but ever time I hear the phrase Imperial Family I think of this or ...

Flew to the US yesterday, in preparation for the International Stone Appreciation Symposium at Hershey PA.  Will be talking rocks, display stands and giving a demonstration of the force...had great fun together putting together a little display. Stone is weak though...may have to get a new one...although this is the stone you are looking for...

Sunday, 23 September 2012

An update, some pots...

Since the last post I have been entertaining my senpai Akiyama and yet more travelling.  A hectic few days of sight seeing around London and the Cotswolds showed some of the best of British culture and countryside. Visiting the British Museum was a highlight, I love walking around all the stuff we stole from the rest of the world, a comment made by Akiyama as well...he said we must have been very busy. Still, looking at the ancient pottery and cultural stuff always gives inspiration.
 The subsequent travelling included a trip down to the South West where a workshop weekend went very well, despite a 2 am wake up call and 6 hour drive.  In a shameless self promotion move, details can be found here at Marcus Watt's blog...I didn't pay him to write it up like that...honest.

A morning off was had before driving back and then onto America, and it was heaven...pasty heaven...

I flew out to Portland a few days ahead of the convention there and went to see Ryan for all of around 12 hours, most of which were spent burning the midnight oil well into the early hours of the morning watching him working on trees and occasionally chipping in with some jet lagged advice.  His commitment to the project he has started is impressive.
I hung out for a day and worked on the juniper I had started last time, wiring it out a little more and restyling a few sections.  It was good to see that it survived unscathed.

The convention was just across the water in Vancouver WA and went very well.  The main reason for this was the work that went into procuring good quality demonstration material and workshop material that was specifically maintained for up to two years before the show. It made my life easier.  It was also good to demonstrate on deciduous trees for once...yes you read me right.  A deciduous tree demo.  Have you ever heard of such a thing?  Three trees (I could have done 4 but I talked too much) and plenty of learning points to be had.  Good feedback was given and people were not angry that they did not see a finished tree at the end of the day. Needless to say I didn't take any pictures but the trees turned out all ok, including a blinged up Hall's Crab apple.  The exhibition was great as well, including a few very aesthetically pleasing and very Hagedorn-esque trees.  Good to see Mike's influence there and also have the chance to sit down and chew the cud a little with the man himself.

There was also a chance to catch up with some old friends and make some new.  Zack Shimon and I relived our trucking days by going out for a few drinks, sitting uncomfortably close to each other and eating Buffalo wings. After the show I flew to Rochester (7 hours as opposed to three days) and had two packed days with Bill V. and his crew.  I was still exhausted but at least I was relatively well shaven.

In Vancouver I purchased a new pot, by a potter who lives just down the road from Mr. Neil and whose work we shall see a little more of in the future.  Her name is Jan Rentenaar and her website is here. The pot I bought was only a small accent but it was fired in a wood kiln and has some incredible texture and subtle colour variations.  I look forward to using it, but it seems a shame to fill it and lose the textures within.  Maybe yet another for the shelf...which has swollen in the last few days as many of the pots I purchased in the US over the last couple of trips have finally made their way home.

Some based in Europe may not be aware of the pottery available in the US and whereas they lack perhaps the sheer number of potters that are available in Europe, there are some outstandingly artistic potters, including Ron Lang who I always end up buying something from, despite the difficulty in getting it back

Not the greatest picture, but I bought this...UFO styled pot which has a massively heavy and hollow (crust) wall.  I was looking at it whilst Ron was unpacking at the National Exhibition in June and got suckered into buying it.  Upon being told how difficult it was to make and how proud Ron was to have done it, I said that it would be a challenge to find some kind of planting in order to make the best of it.  The gauntlet was very much thrown down there and then and I felt obliged to pick it up.  May take a few years, but it will come good I am sure.  The glaze, build quality and clay are superb as always with a Lang pot...just be careful if you ever see him at a show as he has a habit of pulling stuff you want from under the table as you walk past...I got another three, although to be fair, he did give me one as a gift.

Dating back to May, I bought a couple at the Florida convention from Taiko Earth (Rob Addonizio) and Bellota Pots (Paul Katich).
 The first from Taiko Earth  was a no brainer as I have very rarely seen such shapes done in the west, an elongated rectangle with angled edges. Rob told me it was one of his earlier works and is a bit wonky, but it is barely noticeable and the dimensions (although I prefer them slightly more narrow) were great.  I need to find the perfect tall, thin deciduous tree now to plant in the corner.

From Mr. Katich comes this dark green glazed round with specks of black.  A good choice for a strong rosemary or a cascade deciduous tree...perhaps an Azalea?   I was impressed with the glaze as much as the elegant line and the thin belt across the top makes it suitable for a slightly more powerful tree.

No discussion of American Pottery would be complete without mentioning the long standing queen of the bonsai ceramics world, Sara Rayner.  Having used and seen her pots for many years, it was a pleasure to finally meet her in Chicago for the show in August...and buy a few pots...or rather in this case suiban.  One thing that is very much missing in the western pottery world is a good producer of suiban.  Jim Barrett made some but I have yet to see any that match the build quality of this.

Thin walled, shallow and very evenly glazed.  No warp and no distortion.  It was a steal.  It maybe a little difficult to use as the glaze will be close to sand colour, but some creative solution will be achieved.
This smaller and darker suiban will be a lot easier to use, but lacks the delicacy of the cream glazed one.  Still an awesome suiban though.

It isn't just potters from the US I have been frittering my money away on, but also relatively new name on the UK scene, tucked away down in the South West. Gordon Hunt is an artist who works with a number of media and has begun to work on making bonsai pots.  Like many artistic potters, the desire to create a beautiful piece in it's own right is strong, making for some difficult to use glazes and shapes, but he brought a good number to the workshop which took my fancy including this outstanding pot.  Not sure exactly how to use it as it is a little strong, may just keep it for flowers or something rather than a tree, and appreciate the ceramic beauty of it.

The repeating pattern is reminiscent of the leiwen or raimon pattern seen in Chinese and Japanese ceramics, an also the meander pattern from Greek design.  The strong structural lines and the rusted effect glaze brought to mind a Greek altar or something I had seen in the British Museum a few days previous...strange how things come full circle...just like the leiwen.

It is great to see so many great pots and stands available in the west, made by westerners to an increasingly high standard.  Akiyama commented on pots in my collection by both John Pitt and Stone Monkey, saying he would love to be able to commission stuff like that for the prices they charge.

And on that bombshell...I will leave with a promise to post some pictures later this week before I head off to the Stone Show...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Useless tool, useful tool...

Following on from the last post talking about the importance of the client - professional relationship, one of the comments from Marcus made me realise that words, in the wrong hands are useless tools.  Perhaps I should have kept the extra pages I wrote as it explained my sentiments slightly better.  Some clarity is required here...

For those who have never had the chance of speaking with me in person may think of me as being very pro Japanese Bonsai, I studied there, I return there, I am a fan of certain Japanese aesthetics, some Eastern philosophical and cultural ideas...so this is a conclusion that may be easy to come to.  The truth is a much more convoluted situation and not quite so black and white.

One of the benefits of spending a full apprenticeship at a top garden where nothing is hidden, is that nothing is hidden.  Good, bad and ugly.  I have seen all sides of Japanese Bonsai, the way in which shows, judging and business operate and how the National Association has gone from a group that at it's peak had a membership of around 80,000 and was aiming for 100,000, to a membership of less than 10,000.  I have seen the quality of exhibitions drop and the attitudes towards business amongst the rank and file as well as the elite. In no way do I see this as a good model for western bonsai and am doing all I can to not replicate all that I have seen. There are good aspects to the Japanese model which is based on a professional - client basis and there are some bad aspects.  To deny that would be ridiculous, as it would be to focus on the bad aspects.  This is counter productive and it destroys peoples dreams and confidence in bonsai and Japan, but to live in denial is equally as counter productive. Finding the middle ground is difficult and as I mentioned in the last post, double edged swords a-plenty.  All we can do is individually strive for what we think is correct.

Translating the good aspects and ignoring the bad is one of the hardest parts of the transition between Japanese trained apprentice and Western professional, something which people like Ryan, Mike Hagedorn and myself are facing.  One of the things that helped me through the dark times was Ryan's unwavering belief that he had the ability and opportunity to create a Bonsai community that was pure, based on merit, ability and effort, along with co-operation rather than competition between professionals for profit and personal gain...exactly the same sentiments with which the Japanese Bonsai community started to grow in the post war period. As things stand, those two are doing a very good job of it...my progress is questionable.

In order to make a square peg fit into a round hole, the best thing to do is to try and make the hole a little squarer and the peg a little rounder, that way we get something which has the best qualities of both worlds.  This is why I felt a little dismayed by some of the negativity shown towards what in my mind was superb evidence of the progress which has been made towards excellence and what I considered to be a morally correct decision on the part of all parties involved.

Well...enough of the ramblings of a useless tool, here is a very useful tool which I finally managed to pick up yesterday.

A member of the Maidstone Club, Adrian Long, has designed a Shohin work stand which enables the user to change angle and orientation easily. The table top is sturdy and has a non slip surface and is big enough for your average shohin.  Adrian assures me that it is secure up to 6kg, but if you have a shohin that weighs more than 6 kg, then please change your soil mix to something less dense.

I used mine in conjunction with a large sized turntable which enabled me to spin it round as the top is fixed.  Adrian is working on a large floor standing turntable that will rise and fall.  I look forward to that as that is one aspect of Japanese Bonsai that I think should be adopted by many.  For the eagle eyed amongst you, yes that is Lady Saruyama's Juniper styled at the 2010 BSA show and displayed earlier this year as a work in progress.  The unusual tokoname pot, with carved design was a late Christmas present.

 Bolts and wing nuts as fixing points for the strong and unbreakable rubber bands.  Bungees are also available. The rubber bands are very tight and just one is necessary to hold the tree in place.

Aint nuthin' but a G-clamp baby...secure and stable.

Maximum angle.  The ball joint is tightened by the little handle at the front and is very tight, does not move at all.  Now that I look at it like that...maybe a windswept...no no no...hands off.

Useful with pines as well...this is the little shohin pine from earlier in the year.  Still only one piece of wire on it.  Need to get a smaller pot though....

I found it to be a great little table, much better than the one I had previously which had a similar design but the ball joint and the clamp was too slack so I never used it.  This one has a very secure and stable feel to it, and especially combined with the turntable it makes for easy work and easy work makes for good work.

Adrian is making them himself but has asked me to promote them which I am happy to do.  They are available for the tidy sum of £68 plus p+p.  Email me for more details and I will put you in contact with him.  they will be for sale at the Shohin UK show next year no doubt, but for any shohin enthusiast, I would recommend it.  I look forward to the big turntable.

And on that bombshell...to the bat cave.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Between a rock and a hard place

Somebody told me that blogging is only effective if done on a regular basis. I must have missed that lecture. The complaints department has been steadly filling with comments and so I have been compelled to pen a missive to the faithful. Meaningless I know but apologies...Im currently on a Ryanair flight back to the motherland, the flight is as usual full to bursting (except for two empty rows in front of me which are necessary for balance aparently). I have had to squeeze in between a kicking and screaming child and a lady who is flying for two to put it politely. The life of a bonsai professional is oh so glamorous...

Still, it hasn't all been budget airlines and infant induced stress since the last post...the garden is finished to a certain extent, polytunnel up, watering system in place and related problems a plenty. I think most of you are aware that I was the judge/demonstrator at the midwest show earlier this month. It was held in the Botanical gardens in Chicago, a beautiful location, but unfortunately it meant a flight through the immigration nighmare of O'Hare which is fast becoming my least favourite airport. The show itself was a good experience, having heard a little of the issues around the previous years show, including the hate emails and venomous comments towards the judge (That bloke Bryan summat or other), I must say that I was a little nervous. In retrospect, there was nothing to be worried about, the organisers, especially the indefatigable Cat Nelson were outstanding and although I was pretty busy (12 people in a three hour workshop), it was good fun alround.

There is a video taken of the critique I gave, shot in flattering black and white by OfBonsai, thank you for that, old school style. I haven't watched it, nor looked at the comments, but my inbox is yet to be filled with bile that Ryan received last year so I guess I didn't try hard enough to be offensive. Admittedly I have been off the grid for 4 days so it maybe. The demo tree was a massive spruce, grown in the gardens since '64 and destroyed in less than 4 hours. It was a messy tree at the end, but all things being equal, it will survive because of that, despite cutting off around 90% of the foliage.

There was, as always, some controversy at the show, with some people claimng moral high ground or jealously sniping away at the fact that a professionally styled tree was entered into the show in the professional category, with an amateur owner. A forum thread has been running on this which makes for some interesting and disturbing reading. I often wonder if and how bonsai will progress and where my place will be within the brave new world. I think one of the biggest problems, but also a deeply interesting aspect of Bonsai is the cross cultural issues that arise with the practice of what is essentially an eastern pursuit, within the cultural and societal framework of the west. Double edged swords aplenty...the need for professionals is essential in order to facilitate the movement of trees, pots and knowledge, something which is considered normal within the Japanese and Chinese Bonsai world; yet for some people, it is seen as cheating to use the services of a professional or in some way wrong for people to profit from their hobby. Do small trees attract small thinking? Sadly It often seems that way.

The professional - enthusiast relationship is not one often discussed openly for various reasons, but it is an absolutley essential relationship without which, Kimura, Kobayashi and Suzuki (or Neil, Noelanders and Valavanis) simply wouldn't exist in the way that we know them now, and there would be far fewer masterpiece trees. This relationship is an essential one, as long as it is mutually beneficial and is beginnng to be understood and accepted in Europe and the US but still there are some who think of it as cheating or are against the idea of an enthusiast displaying a professionally styled tree at an exhibition under the name of the enthusiast owner. This should not be seen as a haves or have not argument or a snake oil salesman pitch in order to drum up business, rather a call to stop and think a little about what we are hoping to achieve with Bonsai, to improve the art form as a whole, or to accumulate personal glory? Although pessimists will say the latter is the reason for buying a professionally styled tree, it is in fact the former which can be achieved a lot quicker with a symbiotic relationship between the enthusiast and the professional artist.

Anyway time for bed. Just had to get that off my chest. I had in fact written a page more but deleted it because it could have been interpreted as too much like a sales pitch. Will have some pictures this week for those who are still looking. My senpai Akiyama is cming for a few days next week, so i will be busy working on getting stuff to a presentable condition.

Autumn is coming...make sure to fertilise accordingly...lay off the nitrogen so no new growth is induced that won't have time to harden off, let the tree expend any nitrogen it has in the system and look towards high P K fertilisers, especially bonemeal for an autumn to winter fertiliser regime. Get the roots, foliage and cell walls hardening ready for winter.

Friday, 20 July 2012

New arrivals

As per usual it has been a while since the last post. I have been working, mainly at home as work continues apace at saruyama towers...or should that now be saruyama-en? When I say apace, I am comparing it to a snail...and a particularly lazy one at that. As many in the UK will agree, the weather has just not been very good this year. A washout of a summer has made it difficult to build up a head of momentum and progress has been stop start. Still, the workshop is up, half the benches and will soon be finished. Next week should see big progress...which is just as good because I am at capacity on the tree front already. Up until recently my tree collection had been scattered around the country, now they are all together and in one place and I cannot remember buying half of them. There is also a definite theme running through my trees, lots of tall thin trees, some strange ones and a lot in needs of working.

Although there is little room at the inn, a recent trip to Spain and a trip round the UK has added a few more trees to the collection. I have recently imported a few trees from a collector in Spain, mainly Sabina's which seem to have a bad image in the UK and there are very few who can successfully grow them. Im going to give it a crack as there is plenty of good priced chuhin sized trees around that will make great little trees...watch this space. A few olives came over as well and they are just getting acclimatised to the miserable weather.

A few snaps of the material...

A cracking chuhin scots pine, a large sabina and a few mystery trees in the back

Picked up some lovely maples, lovingly grown from seed with great nebari and a superb future. Shohin sized sabinas as well...both will make some pretty funky cascade trees...might need a unique pot or two.

One of the more refined trees. A fatty boom batty shohin olive...what was it I said a while back about elegance rather than power??

Thats more like it...a wild olive as opposed to the sylvestris shohin. As you can see its still a building site.

Hoo-har...old silver birch group. Mochi-komi a-go-go. If that makes sense then you are speaking my language.

The special shohin sabina. Will it fit into a pot? Has an err....individual character in the root/live vein region. The joy of working with yamadori.

Still, the thing I am most proud of this year are the giant Daikon we are growing...The slugs have been defeated, the soil fertile and the possibilities for such a massive thing are endless.

On a serious note...trees up and down the country are suffering from nutrient deficiency, most likely magnesium, but also others. The excessive rain has washed it all out of the soil. Recommended course of action is a dose of calcified seaweed, or a few regular waterings of seaweed extract. Let the soil dry a little, then water with seaweed extact. If they are really bad then a dose of epsom salts and lay off the high K fertiliser. Like rock on scissors, K beats Mg...so if you have yellow leaves, lay of the fertiliser and go for the micro nutrients. Organic where possible...coming into the second part of the year we must make sure our trees are green, healthy and able to get through the winter.

I believe the sun will be making an appearance shortly, so take care that tender foliage which is still fleahy and juvenile does not suddenly get sun burnt. As half the year has been a wash out for most trees, take care of them and dont push them too hard...they cant bounce back.

On that bomb shell, I will leave you with my favourite karaoke number....