Sunday, May 18, 2008

Coastal Georgia Bonsai Club - May Meeting

The Club held its May meeting under the big Oak at the Pfeiffer’s today. The day got off to a start with some needle plucking, as Luigi ambitiously worked on a tall, slender Japanese Black Pine. This tree was a good 5’ tall and was grown from seed to originally be part of a JBP tree line. He decided to transplant it into an unusual container—not Mica or ceramic, but more like a plastic. Bill located his chisel and drilled some drainage holes. After repotting the tree, Luigi wired the first two lower branches, but then left it at that. This tree could make an interesting Literati in time, if you like em’ big.

On the other end of the size spectrum, Bill and I separated a successful air layer of Koto Hime Japanese maple. The mother tree is said to come from Bill Valvanis’ original parent plant, which has produced over 10,000 cuttings. Most Koto Hime bonsai in the United States came from Valvanis’ mother plant. If you haven’t worked with Koto Hime, I’d recommend picking one up. I’ve had two in my collection for several years and they’re a delight to work with. My older tree produced a large amount of micro flowers this spring. The foliage is always in scale and the autumn colors are brilliant.

The layered section was a lower branch that would not be suitable for the final design of the tree. We started the layer about 2 months ago and it had already established a good number of roots. Nothing fancy went into the prep work. I believe we used one side of a shear to shed the bark down to the cambium, then spread rooting hormone over the section and covered it in moist sphagnum moss and a section of a plastic. We then placed wire around the bag to tighten the seal and conserve the moisture.

Bill prefers to plant a newly severed layer such as this in a container that will support the first branches. The lower branches were tied to wire coming from the base of the pot, an interesting technique. This adds much needed stability in order for the new roots to become established in the pot. This little one should make a great mini. We’re planning on doing some more layering off this tree and Bill has recently done a tray of cuttings with Rusty’s assistance. I believe he’s already produced three other mature trees from the mother plant.

Check out some photos of the process...

I got my first taste of a southern delicacy today—boiled peanuts. Why in the world you’d want to soften up a peanut is beyond me, but everyone else seemed to enjoy them. I stuck to the rice cracker/wasabi pea mix, a good choice for the Yankee among the group.

Thanks to Bill and Charlotte for hosting the event today. They really have a great selection of pre-bonsai, bonsai, pots, etc. at Bonsai Beginnings. I’ve never seen such a fine selection of Juniper procumbens. Be sure to make it out for a visit if you’re in the Savannah area.

Photos of the day...

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Lenz Factor

I’ve been doing some research on Nick Lenz and stumbled upon this flickr gallery of his work. Most of it is in the development stages, but his root-over-rock alternative compositions have really gotten extreme. In traditional Japanese bonsai, it’s considered a faulty design choice to incorporate anything that would detract the viewer from seeing only the tree—the perfect replica. In Lenz’s work, he makes a mockery of this ideology.

In his Larix laricina with tank piece (above), for instance, Lenz fuses a perfectly brilliant and serene forest composition with that of a World War II tank model. One of the trees is made to look knocked down from the path the tank is taking through the forest. Could there be anything more realistic?

The influence of postmodern society is felt with Lenz’s more content driven work, as seen on the flikr gallery. At times, it seems he's using representational items, such as a cross (Piss Christ anyone?) or gun, as a way to voice his opinion, or frustration perhaps. When President Bush was elected for a second term, Lenz completely removed his Web site in protest. He has reached the point that he is using his influence as a bonsai aficionado to promote awareness, both societal and bonsai related.

If only he was actively doing workshops (and I actually had the time to attend one). It would be an enlightening experience to spend an afternoon with him.

Yamadori Korean Hornbeam I - Part II

Back to the Hornbeam…

I was in my "have to have everything perfect" phase of bonsai practice, so I thought I would carve out the natural bumps or knobs that this species tends to grow in an attempt to smoothen the trunk line. There were a group of knobs on the back side's lower trunk that were creating an inverse taper. I whipped out my trusty concave cutter and began carving. What did I end up with? Woody remnants and large wounds, wounds that will take years to heal. I decided shortly after this exercise in learning that I could have lived with the knobs.

I’ve begun to slowly scratch the new, healing growth down to the cambium layer to encourage activity. This can be done once a year during the growing season. The wounds are showing signs of healing, but I might be into my 40’s before the tree is recouped. Is a bonsai ever recouped? This is just another example of being too stringent with design. It was important in this case, to leave the bumps, albeit unsightly, since they presented a realism and evidence of this tree’s yamadori origins. A field or pot grown tree would not generally become this unsightly.

Meanwhile, I had done some branch work and taken in the growth. I removed a major lower branch since it was on the outside of the trunk line. Since then, I’ve transplanted it into a smaller Rayner container, although I don’t necessary feel the color compliments this species very well. I will eventually find a more suitable pot.

The (Dark) Back Side...Ouch!
Winter 06'

Here are some photos of the tree last winter -

The nebari is developing nicely and the wounds have healed over slightly. I plan to continue refinement and develop secondary branching, which is especially needed on the apex portion. I may add some more movement to the top apex branch since it seems a bit too straight.

Spring 08'

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Pedestal Project - Part IV

After presenting the various surfaces to me at our previous meeting, he left without a solid grasp on how to move forward with the project. It had not progressed as either of us perceived. We were left with our thoughts and the hope our meetings would eventually lead to a greater conception. I was beginning to get concerned and started to consider alternatives.

Shortly after our last meeting, I envisioned the pedestal during my sleep and called Bob the following morning to attempt to explain. I saw a curving structure, possibly with the stand being made of a trunk or large branch from a tree. I pictured its gentle, natural curves, eventually supporting a top that held the necessary flat surface, but the surrounding edges would be carved to represent the wood’s natural contours.

I was bruntly reminded that Bob’s carving tools were at his workshop in the Blue Ridge Mountains and would not be available for this project.

In Bob’s case, a 3 a.m. wake-up call was his presage. His mind had been so affixed on this project that his sleep was also being affected. His vision was crisp and enlightening that morning and he immediately rushed off to Allen’s workshop—my Aunt Ann questioning his sanity, at the same time trying to determine whether or not he was sleepwalking—not the best state of mind when working with power tools.

Allen, Bob’s brother, lives on Tybee Island and granted Bob reign over his shop during this project. He eventually became involved as a companion wood worker and contributed many valuable ideas during the construction. Somehow Bob managed to sneak by Allen’s dogs that morning without waking the family. It was 8 a.m. before Allen noticed someone was working away in his shop.

The result was a very artistic, natural stand, made of different wood types—mostly comprised of the materials available in Allen’s shop. The pedestal portion was made from a Live Oak trunk found by Bob and Allen a few days prior. The curves on this trunk matched my perceptions to the tee. It was left in its natural state and even featured some shari and jin.

The top of the pedestal was supported by two pieces, which appeared to be left from unwanted furniture—their curves did not quite share the same naturality as the tree trunk. One supported the top width wise and the other stretched the length of the top. An indention was cut into the Live Oak trunk for each piece. I liked their idea of creating an outlining ridge on the borders of the top. This could ultimately stop the tree from falling off the pedestal it was bumped.

The base was made from wood that didn’t take to water well, unfortunately, so albeit extremely supportive and sturdy, the base wood warped in a matter of a few weeks. The stand is still usable, but must be positioned correctly to appear straight. On a later visit, Bob noticed the warping and said it must be due to someone’s “faulty construction.” Since Bob is no longer staying in Tybee and has returned home, I’ve asked a bonsai compatriot of mine, Chad, to see what can be done to recreate the base.

So, the project was completed, or perhaps laid to rest would be a more suitable term in Bob’s mind. Thanks to my Uncle Bob for his dedication and hard work, and to Allen for his contributions. Since he produced one stand, this still left my other trees longing for a suitable display.

The Pedestal Project continues…

Bob’s words as written on April 6 -

“The project is completed—found materials seem to be the essential key in design. Who knows what form this stand might have assumed had I been working at my shop.

When you are skiing, the mountain skis you as much as you ski the mountain, hence, you are never in full control during the creative process. You were largely responsible for this project becoming a good learning experience for me. From our earliest conversations, I began to grasp the relationships (complex!) surrounding bonsai culture, man, environment, and aesthetics—a common thread among them seems to center around evolution. While the bonsai stand we crafted might reflect “completion,” that can’t be said about the other ingredients above. What generation will view the completed life of a Japanese maple or a black pine that may have rooted before we were born?

When I complete a commissioned painting there is always some anxiety associated with the fact that the client may not like it. The same goes with the present project—after all, this was my first shot at such a project! At any rate, for the labor you owe me a bottle of wine.”