Sunday, 29 December 2013

Post 137 New tanuki or two

The festive season for 2013 is still with us for just a few more days. High temperatures and rising humidity keep me out of the garden and greater outdoors from 9 to 4; good time to retreat to the workshop.
I have two more remaining long sergent juniper layerings in need of tanukis, perfect jobs for a stolen hour here and there.
The last one I made back in July,  Tanuki no 4  and then set up in October is doing well. In that post, No 126, you can see the long slender layerings that I have yet to use. They are about 300 to 320mm long.

The pictures today are of the second of two I have made over the past week. This one is still a work in progress at this point. As the clay dries to a consistency of firm cheddar cheese it becomes perfect for carving. By that stage it has the strength to support weight without deformation and also to shed shavings carved off.
A big lump of clay is like a sponge and the moisture in it moves with gravity from top to bottom, so the fine detailing work has to be done from the top down. You have to build these things from the bottom up of course, leaving more material at the base to support the top. As it dries a little it can then support more material added above and then finally much of the extra clay in the base can be carved out, and the detail added.
Because of the balance between malleability and strength the build has to be done over a number of days. As the top dries anything with a slender profile is very fragile. You might imagine that bone dry clay would be good to carve but in fact at that cheddar stage it has some elasticity and cuts with a nice clean edge, which is much better.

Working on a turntable is the only way to go with these. Yes its a bit messy and you can't see the floor, so don't be tempted to try this on your kitchen table.

 This is just a random detail of the aged grainwork. Here you can see the keyhole track for housing the tree.

As these go through the firing pipeline  I'll post them again. I want to get the trees set asap for the balance of the growing season.

Speaking of firing the kiln is loaded with another 4 big pots, 102 to 105, for another bisque firing, just waiting for the right day.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Post 136 Orange Echinacea

In 2008 I started to take an interest in Echinacea as a species of perennial that might be decoratively useful in my garden. Echinacea are native to the continental USA and there are a number of species which are all short lived deciduous perennials. So the foliage dies away in autumn and is likely to reshoot from the tuber in the next spring, but less likely the next year and  unlikely the year after. They rely on constant reseeding to keep going in the long term and are ready 'volunteers' in the right conditions. They will also flourish in a wide variety of conditions including here in SEQld.

The most prominent species used is purpurea which has a pink/purple row of petals around a coppery coloured spikey head. The flowers can go from slightly reflexed to more full reflexed. In the extreme a fully fertilised flower it can look like a shuttlecock.

There is a white version, I think also a purpurea, which is seed stable - that is you can be confident in germinating a white flowering plant from the seeds of a white flower.

This white is almost fully pollinated and as the seeds in the head develop it swells to give the characteristic coneflower reflexed appearance.

There is a yellow flowering species called paradoxa. Its is a much more sparsly petalled and reflexed flower. This one is a hybrid but very close in colour and shape to a paradoxa.

Now the interesting thing is that in the US they have overlapping ranges and have been noted to cross-breed creating interesting variations. Over the last 10 years in Europe and the US there have been active programs to unlock the colour spectrum by crossbreeding the species. This has been very successful and now every colour of the rainbow is available, but only as tissue cultured plants. To get seed stability of a particular colour you need 7 to 10 generations of back and forward and self crossing. If you cross different colour plants you will get a wide variety of colour progeny.
Because tissue culture is the only reliable source of gauranteed likeness along with the challenge of importing plants into Australia, the new hybrid colours are generally unavailabe in Australia.
As I said, back in 2008 I started to take an interest, buying seeds of the species and starting a hybridisation program. Normally in such an endeavour you'd do a cross and grow hundeds of seedlings to find one of interest. I don't have that space but with the space I do have and a few years have produced some interesting results. I have a good line of yellows, near reds and mixed pastels and this year got my first quality orange.

It is a very clear strong orange colour. The flowers remain fairly flat and the plant has produced multiple flowers.

It's a very pretty plant and no doubt one of the best that I've been able to produce since starting. Part of the attraction of this game is that it is ephemeral, like so much of what we do only more quickly, and the only way I have of preserving it now is to make further hybrid crosses which will carry some of its genes forward. Of course there's always tissue culture but that just isn't an economic proposition. So it's a matter of enjoy it now beacuse it may not re-emerge next spring. A clear orange echinacea is a rare proposition in Australia and this may be the only one you see for a long time.
In another three of four generations of crosses I'm hoping to produce seeds which have a higher probability of producing this colour so that tissue culture isn't the only way to enjoy coloured enhinacea. The advantage we have here is that because of our long growing season I can flower, cross and re-seed seedlings in a yearly cycle rather than in two years which might otherwise apply.

There's a new page to the blog today as you will see on the menu bar above. It's a compilation of links to the most viewed posts on the blog. Have a look and you'll see an interesting pattern emerging.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Post 135 New Pots

In the last post I showed a little shohin from my last firing. In the kiln with it were another 5 pots.

Firstly there was another shohin. This one just 110 in diameter is for a little literati styled elm, although it might just be on the limit of 200 high It's a little round pot with a red-brown glaze I've used before but this time wound back the silica even further. I think it took a little sheen off the surface; just what I wanted.

Having made that change in the glaze at the same time I took the plunge and put it on a large pot; Pot no 101 at 467mm x 350mm x 81mm.

 The proportions are nice and with the feet glazed too carries the simulation of an unglazed pot.

 In this and the next shot youcan see more clearly the shape - one of my compound ovals.

 The lense sort of forshortens it a bit - I promise it is symmetrical!

 And finally a close-up of the glaze.

 The next one is Pot no 98 at   385mm x 290mm x  84mm. This one is also a compound oval and glazed in the same light brown glaze used on the shohin of the last post.

  This next one is the same size and shape glazed in a dark brown glaze. In natural light it is actually more brown brown than red brown.

  This last one Pot 100, is again the same size and shape, butglazed in my deep green glaze, also with a little elss silica to reduce the satin sheen.

With these pots I have passed that 100 pots milestone - or at least 100 large pots. There have been another  35 shohins as well. I made my first pot in November 2010 and here I am three years later with the 100 milestone reached. Three years ago I'm sure I was dreaming of making 200 pots per year by my third year instead of the 50 that I have, but I'm not sure where I would have found the time or space let alone market to make that extra 150. I'm actually happy not to have; much better to enjoy the journey and drive what I'm doing rather than be driven by it.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Post 134 New sweet little Shohin pot

I was with a friend at the Gold Coast and Tweed Bonsai Exhibition some weeks ago. The sales areas at these shows are always pretty magnetic and his keen eye spotted a small nicely formed melaleuca. The downside was that it was in a cheap and chunky pot in a dark black/blue high gloss glaze. I just had to walk away.
But before I did I spotted a saotome in a beautiful little unglazed Tokonome pot. That's the pot you need for the melaleuca I said, buy that one too, just for the pot. Oh no he said why don't you just make me one like it.

 Here they both are; you see what I mean.
So shameless thought it may be to copy a design, it is flattery. But none the less that's what I did and here it is.
The pot is bowed wall rectangular in shape and with an internal rim and lower beading at about 170 x 125 x 45 mm. Fiddly little thing to make but a very pleasing result.
The glaze is one I've used before and have continued to refine. The idea is to simulate a polished unglazed surface in colour and texture but with all the benefits of a glazed surface. This time around I wound back the silica another 10% to guarantee a closer to matte finish.

 From direct in front.

 Three quarters frontal.

 Again but a little higher to show the shape.

 The three quarters end view.

 In this well illuminated close-up you get a really good representation of the surface. The glaze has a nice bit of differentiation in the colour. As you see I have glazed the feet as well to complete the simulation.
And finally just a detail view to show the internal rim structure.

A whole post to a little shohin; it should be honoured, but a sweet little pot and thankyou Tokonome for a nice design.

Here's another picture of the same tree/pot next to one of the nicest trees in the show which was the 'bait' tree for this particular sales table; a beautifu Retusa

Monday, 2 December 2013

Post 133 Rock slab pot

In Post 131 I posted the first two of three recent rock slab pots.

Today it's time for the third and today I thought I'd give you a staged view of the decoration process. I've used underglaze colourants. These are just full compounded glaze materials which a fired and then reground. They fire flat and fuse with the clay just like any other glaze.

First we start with the raw bisqued pot, freeform fissured with a shallow depression for the planting, suspended floor.

First layer of colour is black to give depth to the surface texture. Here the underglaze is applied liberally and then wiped off the higher features.

This is followed by the surface midtone highlight grey.

Countered with some slightly darker colour.

And then finally the high highlights with lightest tone.

This is just a detail of the last stage. After this was fired to maturity it was all just a little too light and so I went back with a couple of darker tones and fired again to 1100C.

And so to the finished pictures:

The pot finished up at 560 x 390 x 45 mm.

 In this picture you can see where the drainage hole are that the base is supported off the bench surface.

 This is achieved by having 'feet' structured into the base, as you can see for this underside picture.
To finish off a couple of detail pictures:

Clay is a beautiful flexible maleable material and the possibilities for building containers is limited only by our imaginations.

Meanwhile I've just about got a group of pots dry enough for a bisque firing, 4 big ones, a few little shohins, an interesting new ROR "rock" and about 30 new glaze test tiles; always something in the pipeline.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Post 132 Ficus Hairpin Insertion Grafting

A couple of posts ago I showed a sample of my "hairpin insertion" grafting technique on a swamp cypress.
I've got another one today on a Queensland small leaf fig; Ficus obliqua.

To start here's the tree. Obviously structurally flawed with three close branches, then a gap and another three close branches. I really don't want to cut them off- isn't it always the way so the only answer is to close up the gap and get a little branch cover over the problem areas!

Today I'll start by filling in the left hand gap with a branch that comes from the trunk half way from the left hand side and the back.

Just here.

The start of the process as with the swampy is the preparation of the hairpin scion. This time I've used a separate young plant for the scion, as you can see prepared the scion with the 180 degree hairpin bend, bound up with string.

Here it is alive and well and unwrapped and ready for insertion.


 Next step is to drill the hole where I want it and about 5 to 7mm deep. This is good working from this direction because you can get the orientation just right and having the scion inserted into a neat hole means it is well supported in the early part of its time after separation.


Then it's just a matter of insertion, wiring and sealing. With a young shoot like this there is no need to scrape the surface to promote bonding. I expect to get a good result within a month to 6 weeks. If I was doing this with a thread graft it would take that long just to get the shoot re-foliated.
Now have I just stumbled onto a new process or was it inspired by something I saw somewhere searching the net? Has anyone ever seen this process done before?

 Note from March 2014:
Update posts from this work can be seen at:
Post 144
Post 158
Post 198