Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Post 99 Trident pot commission

It's always good to see my pots appreciated and even better to see them put to use.

Pot 55 was commissioned for a well developed mature trident maple, that was housed in a beautiful pot that was just a little on the small side.  This is the picture I worked from to work up a proposal for a new pot; with the coke can for scale! The owner also wanted to get the tree a little lower in the pot for future nebari development as well as provide a little rootspace buffer for summer.

The result was Pot 55, a 395mm oval pot which suits the tree nicely. It has just a little more length and depth and is glazed in my buttermilk cream/beige colour, applied to give just a few breaks.

Finally the tree and pot are united, with the folliage revealing that the process takes a little time. With the tree now in full autumn colour the union has proved to be a good one.

Photograps posted with the consent of the owner.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Post 98 Canberra show

After a very long time growing bonsai my first bonsai conference was an interesting experience. Perhaps it was complicated by doing a little pottery promotion on the side, but in the end I was rather pleased not to be locked down into being a shopkeeper for the duration, selling pots, instead able to enjoy the demonstrations, presentations and company.

Ryan Neil's demonstrations were everything they could have been; good horticultural science and good bonsai; art, aesthetics and practice. The absorption of mature elements of Japanese culture is also present. He was also a prime example of many Americans in public life - very good at using just the right number of right words to get the message across, and then in an entertaing way. He has a great future ahead of him and is not to be missed if you have a chance.

Here are a few pictures of trees in the show. Pardon the photography but the camera obviously didn't adjust to the lighting well.


Shimpaku Juniper  1976. I've only got a few small shimpaku myself; they sure are slow growers. After seeing all the native junipers in the SW USA I am more than ever inspired by them. I actually called into Leong Kwong's place in Caringbah on the way home and pickup three Sargent Junipers to work on. I'll show these soon in a post.

This one is a Banksia Integrifolia of 1980 and my pick of the trees on display. I was impressed with the number and quality of the Ausrtalian natives under cultivation and on display.

Dwarf Hinoki Cyprus 1981.

Banksia Ericifolia

This Privet has been a bonsai for 40 years but has a confirmed history as a hedge plant back to 1873.

And to finish off here is a picture of a mature eucalypt just outside Canberra. Hard to photograph but a beautiful old thing full of twists, texture, deadwood and nesting hollows; a prime example of Australiana.

The final result of the pottery business at the Arboreetum was very positive. I left a few pots there for an ongoing presence and came home with no more than a handful of pots and a number of new commissions. The customer feedback was universally encouraging and helpful; thankyou. The cupboard is bare and it's time to get back into the workshop.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Post 97 Canberra Arboretum sales

Over the last couple of days I've had a very enjoyable drive down to Canberra for the AABC Annual Conference. After dropping off some pots along the way my first stop here was the Arboretum and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.

The new 'Village' building is a very impressive architectural statement with soaring laminated timber trusses and beams.


And the arrangement of the space for the bonsai collection is really well designed to create a great environment for them to grow and be seen. The collection of both exotic as well as Australian indigenous species has some marvellous specimens. I really liked the banksias and will go back over then next few days to be there when the light is in the right direction.

The main purpose in going to the Arboretum today was to establish their representation to carry my pots in the gift shop over the duration of the conference. In the last couple of hours of the day we worked to get a display set up and here is a shot of the pots with the inimitable and soon to be former collection Curator Grant Bowie.

If you are coming to the conference or Arboretum call in and have a look. There are nearly 30 pots which show a fair representation of sizes and styles.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Post 96 Some new large pots

In my last post I had a pot with a pretty agressive rocky texture which appealed to more people than I thought it might.

Today I have another pot in a rustic style, this one, Pot 64, in a round semi cascade pot 262mm in diameter and 94mm high. The clay body has been heavily grogged with more impressed into the surface and then glazed with a good reddy brown satin. This glaze relies on Red Iron Oxide for the red tone and a little brown from Chrome and Zinc. I think the zinc supercharges the impact of the RIO too.

While on semi cascades here is another, Pot 61.

This one is a pretty sizable square, bowed wall pot coming in at 330mm side and 165mm high. Is it glazed or is that a fired unglazed surface? No it's glazed, including the feet using the same crystalline brown I used on an earlier Sabani pot no 47. It has some interesting breaking tones and is intended for a mature big trunked semi cascade Juniper; should be a good match.

Now when you look at a picture you just never know how big a pot is. This pot, No 62 is a bowed wall rectangular pot that is about 520mm long in a mottled subdued blue glaze. I think some time ago I posted pictures of this pot and the next one when freshly made.

In this one, oval Pot 63, I've put in some glasses in the shot so you can get a better feel for the size of about 540mm long. Pots this size are the limit of what I can fit into my kiln. Even if I had a bigger kiln I don't quite know how I'd manage to move a bigger pot around.

The process of making these pots necessitates turning them over a few times and this size is definitely the limit of what I can turn on my own. Particularly when the clay is still mobile the turning carries a lot of risk. The technique I use is a bit like that applied to making skiing turn - the old 'up-unweigh' technique - where you get just enough vertical momentum to turn while minimising the impact of gravity.
So with a flat boards sandwiching the pot you kind of throw it upwards with one hand, rotate at the top of the throw and then catch with the other. Strong one handed dominance doesn't help!

Here's the detail of the glaze, a deep ocean copper/cobalt blue/green with a little rutile speckle for visual interest.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Post 95 And yes there are more

Ok so here is the batch from the last firing. There are still more from last week, featuring some pots over 500mm, that I'll post soon.

The first one is Pot 65 another 'Tenmasen' rectangular pot. This one with a beige breaking red glaze. This is almost the latest pot I've made and the pot engineering is very pleasing.

Pot 59 is a custom build oval about 353 x 261 x 68 close in shape to my 'Wasen' pots but with straighter walls and smaller overall. Makes for an attractive pot. Mint green glaze and again in great shape.

Pot 56 is a 'Wasen' oval at 409 x 303 x 85 in a fairly uniform buttermilk glaze.

And the last one, Pot 52, has virtually broken the mould. Its an oval, at 345 x 260 x 62, with a stratified highly textured surface designed to look like some sort of extruded eroded rocky material, with the glaze breaking red brown on the highlights. Here's the detail - one you'll love or hate for sure.

Post 94 New Pots

 Since getting back from my little mission looking at trees and pots my friend the kiln and I have been busy. I've had two bisque firings and two of a scheduled three glaze firings with the third on for tomorrow. There has been a queue of commissioned pots and others that I need to finish before next week when I hit the road to head to Canberra for the AABC (Australian Association of Bonsai Clubs) annual National Convention from May 17 to 20.

I was always planning on taking about 10 pots to Canberra to show anyone who may be interested, but the trip will now also be to deliver pots in Newcastle and Sydney on the way as well as a couple of 'show and tell' calls.

My first port of call in Canberra will be the new Arboretum and now home of the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, which sounds like a pretty impressive development.

 So there are a few pots to show from all this effort.

This one is one of my big Taraibune oval pots, number 40, so it's been sitting there for quite a while waiting its turn. Final size is 422 x 310 x 94, would be good with a big ficus.

The glaze on this one is formulated from John Post's Tomato Red glaze. I've used it quite a bit and have used this blue before but previously with 6% Rutile as well as the Copper and Cobalt.  I have a very nice Lilly Pilly in another big tub like this one that has the opacified blue and looks great. This time I just used the 0.5 Copper and 1 Cobalt straight and the colour is much brighter. The application itself has provided some nice colour differentiation.

This next one is a round Literati pot, number 60, of 304 diameter and 68 high. It's been commissioned for a literati pine and so it's almost mandatory to have a darker tone which looks a bit like a dark iron rich waxed unglazed pot. I think it's all of that with the added benefits of a glazed finish. I've put the glaze on reasonably heavily to get uniformity and also glazed the feet for the overall look.

The detail picture has come up a little lighter with the flash but shows the depth of glaze finish. The uniform satin finish has that nice tangible hard but soft feel of polished timber about it . The full pot picture is more faithful to the actual colour.

The glaze is an Iron red brown with just a little Titanium and Tin, again using an adapted form of John Post's Tomato base. The Iron source I used here is the Yellow Ochre. Now I think that's what it's called but I also think it's more of a pigment than any pure for of Iron Oxide. Typically you don't get the normal 'truth in labelling' rules applying in pottery shops! But I must ask. Regardless I've been experimenting with it lately too and find a much better red tonal response than with the Red Iron Oxide (which I'm pretty sure really is Iron Oxide). With the straight RIO the colour too often becomes a green toned bronzy brown. This Ochre stuff is great, really gives the colour a lift..

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Post 93 New cream / beige glaze

 My last glaze trial series of another 64 tests back in March was predominantly aimed at the brown end of the spectrum. I'm always looking at the same time for a useful lighter cream/beige tone and one of the test tiles looked just about right.

Here it is on Pot 58 a nice little ribbed oval about 346 x 264 x 67. I think it's one of the nicest little ovals I've made, perfect for an evergreen tree, if not a trident to offset some autumn colour.

Thes two shots of front and back show how slight changes in the glaze depth brings out the darker break in tone. This shows why it's important when testing glazes to apply the glaze in a number of overlapping layers, but always test just a single coating, it will usually be a darker tone, but that depends a little on the clay body you are using too. Because I brush apply I also brush apply to the test tiles. After a while you get to calibrate your application technique to know how many coats and how much to apply.

And this is one photo from the end.

In the close up you get a much better idea of texture and colour breaking.

The glaze is an unfritted Custer Potash base formulated for a satin finish and the colourant is 2% Nickel. Straight Nickel with opacifiers can be a little bland. I've used 6% Rutile in this one too and while it is supposed to offer opacity with speckle my experience has been that it has more impact in imparting a little cream tonality. The thing that brings this one to life is 2.5% Zinc Oxide. You don't need a lot of Zinc to make a big difference in a glaze colour and for many base glazes it is a useful additive to test, more as a colour enhancer than opacifier.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Post 92 Old Chinese Pots

San Francisco has a fantastic Asian Art Museum. It seems like it was started almost just to hold Avery Brundage's collection. Mr Brundage is best know for his presidency of the IOC for 20 years from '52 to 72 but he made his money in reale state and construction and through the turmoil of the 30s and 40s managed to get captivated by asian art and then of course strike a good deal with all sorts of folks who needed to sell. So the museum now has some 7000 items endowed by him.

These are just a few ceramic pots that caught my attention and I thought they make an interesting counter point to the Anastasi pots of similar age.

This first one is called a 'flower pot ' and comes from the Northern Song dynasty (960 to 1127), glazed stoneware. Looking like it was made yesterday, it would pass as a great cascade or semi cascade bonsi pot.

And then another from the same location and time around 1100, also another great bonsai pot. Who would think these things are 900 years old!! Where have they been?

This one is quite young by comaprison, being a porcelain Ming pot (1552-1566). It has a classic shape that has been used for bowls from when they were first made. Superb execution and glaze application, a true masterpiece.

This one is of a style you see regularly used by potters today, with an incised floral design and 'celadon' style of clear glaze. From the year 1000 to 1100.

And finally another porcelain, this one with underglaze painted decoration of timeless design. Also from the early Ming, 1368 to 1398. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Post 91 Pueblo Pots

The other theme of the Colarado Plateau trip was the pottery of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples.

Plant domestication seems to be the defining trigger for societal advancement of earlier civilisations and cultures. It started with the domestication of cereal grains in the cradle of civilisation 10000 years ago. When people don't have to hunt and gather their food every day all day, they have time to think about solving other problems in their lives.

In the USA this transition didn't happen until the arrival of corn from South America around 2000 years ago and then peolpe started to stay in the one place, and build permanent structures. When you have to move a lot containers need to be light and robust so baskets are the containers of choice. When there is more food, less relocation, permanent housing and time people started to make pots.
It's interesting that in Australia indigenous past  plant domestication did not happen (no useful candidates perhaps) and so the shift from hunter gatherer to fixed farming population centres, did not occur.

So in the US from around the 5th century pottery proliferated and with that came decoration. Around 1250 there was something of a cultural collapse and the population centres were abandoned, leaving behind a rich trove of pottery. The surviving descendent cultures have maintained the tradition of pot making, now for the art and tourist market.

These are old pots as in the next shot - lots of very functional pots and utensils, including a big line of mugs!
The Mediteranean cultures were producing highly sophisticated pottery and design 1000 years before these pots were made but that again reflects more on the food domestication question than anything. The form and designs of the Pueblo pots are attractive and have an elegance in their simplicity.

More old pots - who can guess the purpose of the double mug?

And then over time as the anglos moved west the 18th century saw design changes with more figurative elements included and more colour eventually to suit the tourists of the 19th century.

Right up to the present day.

Much of the original making tradition is preserved. The pots are coiled up without a wheel, a bit of anvil and paddle work, smoothed and scraped until very thin, decorated green and then pit fired using animal dung and plant matter, so quite lightly fired and not designed to hold water.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Post 90 USA Junipers

Here are some Juniper pictures to enjoy. Most if not all of these are Utah Junipers I think.

 There is a California Juniper too with a heavier foliage structure, and both species are commonly used for bonsai in the US, often starting with collected trees.

All these trees are hundreds of years old and offer great natural styling models for bonsai.

This one on the edge of the Grand Canyon - yes right on the edge has an impressive trunk and  dead wood. Even the finest dead wood is firm and strong, resistant to insect attack and in a climate where fungal decay just doesn't seem to apply.

This is an interesting study into just how tenaciously these things clng to life if amazingly arid conditions over very long periods of time.