Sunday, 14 October 2012

The sun's not shining on me, but..... !

'Like a kid in a sweet shop', that's what my friends would say if they had seen me going through some suiseki images I have just been sent from a good friend in Italy. A few days ago I received my new order of bronzes and now today I have received some emails with suiseki offerings. Someone is definitely smiling down on me from on high.

Here is a taste!

OK, one more!

I love suiseki. I have have had an affinity for stones since I was a boy. Long before I had heard of suiseki or Gong Shi I would spend hours on beaches, river banks or anywhere that had rocks and stones, just hunting for that special stone that appealed to me. I would walk home with my pockets weighed down by my treasure. I have no idea why I was drawn to stones, after all as someone once said to me, they are everywhere.......................aren't they?

The stone that really got me started was a bi seki or beautifully patterned stone; as opposed to suiseki which are object or viewing stones. It was from the Eel River California and was a gift from Harry Hirao of California, USA to Dan Barton. Dan gave me the stone to get me started in stone collecting in 2003, and it certainly did that.
I was lucky in that during the late 1990's early 20's I worked on Pius Notters bonsai collection in Switzerland. And Pius has one of the great collections of suiseki in Europe, and so I got to see so many high quality stones from Japan. Since then my love for stones has simmered on the back burner as I have always had several time consuming passions/hobby's on the go.

I have slowly been buying a few stones over the years, but it was a visit to Mike Pollacks when I was in the USA in 2010 that really fired me up again and made me determined to firstly learn more about stones, especially suiseki, and to start collecting them again seriously. Since then I have been more focused on stones and I have started to add to my collection and I have also bought some stones that I could pass on to students or clients who wished to start collecting suiseki.

In the UK suiseki have never been very popular or followed by many. There has always been a very small group of people collecting stones in the UK but it has never become main stream.
In the UK some people are now noticing suiseki because they have seen that they can be displayed with bonsai. And so like the bronze sculptures, TEN KEI  (TEN PEI), they are slowly finding favour along side the more familiar accent plantings. I think one reason is they are something different, and everyone seems to be using accent plantings for display. But also another reason is because they do not need tending i.e. watering or feeding. So if you think about it, they are versatile and user friendly. A suiseki or bronze can be bought and it can be displayed with the tree and also of course appreciated in the home. But it can also be packed away safely until the next time it is displayed with a tree, unlike accent plantings which need tending just like our bonsai.

I find it funny when I think back to my early days spent with Dan Barton in the late 1990's. I remember Bill Jordan driving up from London to visit Dan to take some photo's for a book. For those of you who don't know or remember Bill, he was a superb photographer and very active in the UK bonsai scene regularly contributing to magazines etc. He also pioneered the making of cement fondu and chicken wire rocks. He has also taken many of the photo's in Peter Adams books.

While he was at Dan's home Dan and I were cleaning out some of Dan's accents. Bill said" what is this all about Dan" pointing to an accent. " I don't see the point, it will never catch on". Well just look how popular accent plantings are now, and just how much their beauty and sophistication has developed over the last 12-14 years.
It was the same with scrolls. No one was really using scrolls in the UK until I asked Paul Goff to put on a display at the JOY OF BONSAI at the Bath Pavillion using bonsai, scroll and accent. He was surprised to be asked to do it, but after a bit of pressure from me he did. It was a great success. This awakened peoples interest in scrolls, as most people were not familiar with what happens in Japan, with the use of scrolls and bonsai.
However I must add, before someone shoots me down in flames. We do not use scrolls here in the UK how they are used in Japan. But I think that as more people understand the correct aesthetics needed when using scrolls for display with a bonsai, then we can hopefully start to get people to use them at the right time and in the right setting. One step at a time.

But back to stones. Suiseki is an art form in itself, and I would hate for people to only think of suiseki as an accompaniment to bonsai. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact many many stones are too big to exhibit with bonsai. At this present time I am drawn more to the Japanese aesthetic than I am to the chinese stones. But I do have some Chinese stones too. Collecting stones is addictive however, so be warned. I look forward to seeing if suiseki will become as popular here as they are on the continent. I cannot see them being as popular here as in Japan in my lifetime.

After two days of rain followed by our first heavy frost last night, the sun decided to appear today. First thing this morning, I had to break the ice so that the geese could get to their baths and topping the baths up was slow as the hose was frozen. So this afternoon the appearance of the sun was well received by everyone.
Even the last few late seasons butterflies were out basking on the late autumn flowers.

The last throes of autumn!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Wet and wetter!

Well it certainly looks like this years weather is continuing with an all too familiar theme; rain and lots of it. I have been trying to tidy up the nursery going into Autumn and to get on top of the abundance of weeds which we have not been able to kill because the incessant rain washes away any weed killer we have used this year. My head weed puller who goes by the name of 'Wife', has refused to tackle them anymore. There is so much to do this year including replacing display benches etc, but the weather makes it a miserable job. The task is not made any easier when it's so easy to get distracted by jobs you could do in the dry, which get more enticing by the hour. Well this morning I decided that enough is enough and that I would do something in the dry today. My severe attack of trench foot also swayed me little. 

I thought I would bring some trees into the studio and do some dead wood cleaning/preserving ready for the winter. So there I was scrubbing away with my vinegar water and bristle brush, my trousers totally soaked when I realised that a familiar theme had returned. Water everywhere, mostly over my trousers; I am just like those 5 year old boys you see who have been wrapped up to protect them from the rain, before taking them out to play. And the first thing they do is jump up and down in the nearest puddle of water.
So I am beginning to worry in case I am developing an aqua fetish!

Scrubbing with vinegar water I hear someone say! Yes I put a few drops in my water when scrubbing deadwood to help kill the algae. Vinegar is a mild acid and it does the job perfectly.

The 'DING DONG' of the drive alarm has saved the day. PARCELFORCE were at the door with goodies. I have received a delivery of 50 new bronze sculptures for stock so I decided to photograph a few to share with my Blog followers. Well, it keeps me in the dry a bit longer anyway.

These fighting cock Pheasants are a particular favourite of mine and I have added one to my own library of items I can use for display.
For use in a bonsai display, the fighting cocks would be used to depict the season of Spring, which is when the males fight over the females at the start of the breeding season.

This bronze of fighting Red Deer stags captures the movement in the animals perfectly.
The artist is phenominal for capturing movement in his subjects.
Like the cock Pheasants fighting, this is a very seasonal bronze that can be used to great effect for display and to convey the time of year. Obviously it would be used for an Autumn display as the rutting season is September/October. I decided to add one to my collection of bronzes. No surprise!

Something to consider for anyone wanting to use this particular bronze or even other bronzes featuring Red Deer. Is that you can use them with a low land tree as well as with a mountain tree due to the range of habitat of this species. However bronzes depicting Fallow Deer for instance, could only be used with with lowland tree bonsai as Fallow are a woodland/parkland inhabiting species. 

This roaring stag is fabulous and again can give seasonality to a display. I have also added one to my collection of bronzes.

This elegant Kingfisher on a Bulrush or 'Reed mace' as it used to be called, is a new favourite for me. With this bronze, your display is featuring water, hence the Kingfisher. But again it is defining the season because the 'spadix' or head of the Bulrush is intact. Therefore it is a Summer scene. Bulrush heads break up going into Autumn. Therefore the scene we are creating for our bonsai display using the Kingfisher bronze is in summer somewhere near water. We could have a lake or waterfall image on our scroll to complete the scene.
And you guessed right! I have added one to my collection.

Well looking out the window it is still hammering down. It is amazing how something that we, in fact the planet, depends on so much, can also be such a downer when it is so incessant.
Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my Grandfather. I said "Grandad, what was it like being a prisoner of war?" He said "Bloody murder, it rained the first three weeks".
And on that note...............
You can see the current range of limited edition bronzes I have for sale on my website;

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What a difference the sun makes

As someone who can get a little down in the grey days of winter. The sight of the sun today has been a great lift to the spirits, and a welcome change to the incessant rain. At this time of year any sunny day is a gift.
It has been great in the nursery this morning checking on the trees. Over head a pair of Buzzards Buteo buteo, and two noisy youngsters have been revelling in the wind with the sun on their backs.
A family of Nuthatch's have been busy in the trees around the nursery, taking advantage of the insects that have been stirred into life by the warmth of the sun. It is amazing how we take this big glowing ball in the sky for granted. And yet it influences every living thing on our planet, including us and our trees.

Well, as I have been sat here in the kitchen waiting for my "meat feast" pizza to cook for lunch, yes we bonsai artists dine like Kings, Parcelforce have just delivered a box from Shanghai. This is a surprise as I cannot remember purchasing anything recently on the 'tinterweb' or ordering anything while on my travels.
However I am now the owner of a new stone from Mr Zhang Xi, and very nice it is too.
I guess I could blame this lapse of memory on being too busy and working too hard. Or just plain old senile dementia. I will leave that for you to decide.

Anyway, here is an image of my new stone (below).

Until now I have mainly collected stones that follow the Japanese aesthetic principles, and European stones that follow the Japanese aesthetic i.e. suseki as opposed to Gong Shi. I only have two Chinese stones. This is my third and I feel by far the best.
I have christened this stone "The Wave". If you look at the picture below taken from slightly off centre. You can imagine a wave crashing over a rock. This is wonderful to see in the flesh, but it is not so evident in the first image due to the image being 2 dimensional. It is a natural stone and not cut.

It is not just from Japan or China that we can get nice stones. In the USA there are some nice stones being collected and the Eel River has produced some wonderful stones.
There are some wonderful suiseki being collected and exhibited in Spain and Italy. The Ligurian Alps in particular are producing some wonderful stones, not too disimilar to Japanese Furuya stone. Although in the real sense, they are thought of as 'new stones' because they do not yet have an aged patina from years and years of being in mans company. Although the stone has actual age, a newly collected stone does not have that patina or 'skin' on it that only comes with time.
I do not subscribe to the short cut tricks of oiling stones etc to give a false patina.
As with bonsai, suiseki is also about time. Something which in the West, people are slow to understand.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Autumnal signs

I have been away from home for a while teaching and demonstrating and returning home I can see seasonal changes. Walking around the garden and the nursery today, I can see the changes that Mother Nature is making all around me. I love this time of year; if only for the tapestry of colours in the trees in nature and in my bonsai.
This little Cotoneaster (below) was a gift to my wife from my Budo teacher. It looks exquisite with its autumn red leaves and berries.

It is not just the Cotoneaster that is showing off its autumnal hues. Around the fields the Hornbeams are looking nice with their golden leaves.
In the courtyard the leaves on a Prunus sp var. Kojo - no - Mai are as beautiful as the leaves on the maples.
Our maples both Mountain and Trident are also changing colour, and we have them growing around the farm as specimen trees in the ground as well as in pots for bonsai. Interestingly the maples that are in the ground, as opposed to in pots, are still retaining more of their green colour still. Where as all the bonsai are showing various colours of red.

Just outside the living room window I can see nature at work through the plants and the trees.
We have plants in the garden still flowering for us to brighten up these grey days even though it is October.
The big Atlantic Cedar, a daily reminder of my first failed attempts at styling a tree for bonsai, is covered in cones for the first time ever. It has been stood in water for over three months due to the wettest summer on record. The cones are an example of nature making sure the species will continue long after the mother tree has gone.

As the seasons change, nature adapts, and it is wonderful to see. And while I may have potentilla's and other plants flowering around the place, some of the trees hint at the approaching climatic changes ahead. Looking at the Scots and Mugo Pines and the Spruces, you can see the healthy wax coating on the buds which will provide protection from the impending frosts.

Below notice the open flower, the new flowers waiting to open and the flower which has already shone, and now fades away.

And below the waxy coating on the buds of this Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris.
Can you see the droplets of water on the needles, like pearls.

Autumn, so much to see as long as you open your mind!