Tuesday, 26 February 2013

An interesting few days.

I have been looking at some of the statistics behind my blog over the weekend and it makes for interesting reading.
One surprising statistic for me has been, that there are a few professional bonsai guys who read my blog which I find interesting indeed.
The most worrying statistic however is that in general the most visited pages on my blog to date, are those that contain the most images. Now I assume that I have both men and women reading my blog so I am guessing most of the men visiting my blog also read, and I use the word 'read' in the broadest sense, those glossy magazines off the top shelf in the plain wrapper from the news agents. You know the ones, all photo's no written content. And I am guessing then, that the women read all of my posts and not not just those with pictures. You guys just love looking at the pictures, it is so much easier than using your brains to read. Ah Bless! But then does that make my blog Bonsai Porn??  It makes you think.
Someone who reads my blog pointed out to me recently that in one of my posts I used the comment "as thick as a mans leg" or "as thick as a mans arm". I would like to point out, it is just my way of trying to paint a picture for you all, I do not have a fetish for male anatomy.
Anyway enough of the frivolity.

So what has happened over the last few days.
Well in brief, since my last post I have had some One to One workshops here in my studio. I had some trees arrive from Spain which are fantastic. I attended the Swindon Winter image show on Sunday and while I was there I delivered some copper wire. I sold a few bronzes from the new designs, and I parted with the huge Prunus mahaleb that I posted on "A rather lazy day" on 3rd February. All one way traffic you might think. But I did come away with a great English Elm stand from John Brocklehurst and two Doug Mudd tables.
I have two school nights here now this week and I am just waiting for the yamadori trees to arrive from the Pyrenees, hopefully tomorrow (please) , and that will be a nice way to round off this month.

So as usual the Swindon Winter image show held at Stratton Community Centre, Grange Drive, Stratton St Margaret, Swindon on Sunday was a great success visually, although the numbers of visitors were down. Was it the cold as someone hinted, I don't think so. The weather certainly did not affect the Noelander's Trophy which experienced polar conditions. But nevertheless Swindon was a bit quieter this year, although the sales rooms and the bacon butty counter were always busy.
One of the things that makes this show so successful is the fact that it is a Winter show and so we get to see deciduous trees as they are best seen, naked without any leaves. But it also helps that among the Swindon BS membership, you have talented growers like Terry Adams and Reg Boulton who from day one, have been able to assure that there have been quality deciduous trees in the exhibition. And it is this that has established the shows reputation. Of course they are not the only ones exhibiting high quality deciduous trees nowadays, as anyone who has seen some of the shows of the last few years will attest. But nonetheless, it's reputation was undoubtedly enhanced by the quality of the deciduous trees at the beginning.
It is a great place to catch up with old friends and of course make new ones and the isle of chairs down the centre of the main room is a great place to kick back and take it all in.

This year I felt the quality of the conifers was not so high overall, that is excluding the shohin displays which had some lovely conifers in the compositions. There were one or two good trees but the deciduous trees dominated for quality and in numbers present. This is unusual, as usually you struggle to get a good balance of deciduous trees for a show. Usually conifers dominate in numbers.
There were some very good individual trees there like Simon Temblett's Willow, Mark and Ritta Coopers Trident on rock etc and there were some nice trees on the society stands. As usual the Wirral boys put on a good collective display and again proved what a small group of dedicated bonsai lovers can achieve. (I mean bonsai growers who love bonsai, I was not inferring any secret dalliance's here).
As is often the case in large exhibitions, there were a few questionable trees. By that I mean trees which were being exhibited too soon, and a friend of mine from down south referred to one tree as a 'nice piece of material', harsh, but I think summed up neatly. There were several trees that had very little ramification and this was made even more obvious due to the quality in the ramification of many of the trees in the exhibition. One tree had a dirty pot, there is no excuse for algae, and no attention to the top dressing and there was a pine that looked like it had been styled that morning. A couple of junipers looked like material trees with their 'clipped poodle' foliage.
Now before you all say here he goes; Please don't think that from these comments I am trying to put down the trees or the show, because I can find many more glaring faults than this in the first BEST OF BRITISH BONSAI exhibition believe me. No on the contrary, I feel it is a great show and I always try to support it.
But what I am trying to point out is that the selectors of the trees could maybe tighten up the standard of the trees they select. Likewise the exhibitors could take a little more time before putting their trees forward. This would then immediately lift the show to a new level which would be good for everyone and especially good for bonsai. Raising standards is always to be encouraged. I have spoken before about the premature exhibiting of trees, but let's look at it another way, can you imagine Mark and Ritta Cooper ever putting on a display of shohin bonsai, that included a pine that looked styled that morning, deciduous trees with no ramification, pom pom junipers and dirty pots! NO!
Now do you see where I am coming from. It is the attention to detail or bonsai foreplay as I like to think of it, that makes the difference. (What a great adjective).
Maybe less trees but of a higher standard is the way forward for this show. I think that the organisers at are a critical point now where they may be thinking do we go bigger and move to a new venue. I would say to them stay small but be selective. Oh and get rid of those sodium lights  They play havoc with the photography and render green foliage a hideous colour. However I would encourage anyone interested in bonsai to attend the Swindon show at least once, if only to see the quality of some of the deciduous trees.
Among the many good deciduous trees there were some old favourites there like Reg Boulton's Korean Hornbeam, the Coopers super Trident Maple, a very good selection from Terry Adams etc. But there were some very good Chinese Elms present that I would hope got a lot of attention. It is amazing how flippant some people are about Chinese Elms, they have this 'bought at B&Q ' label attached to them and they are not taken seriously enough. Please lets not let snobbery into bonsai, we already have enough trouble with politics and egos thanks very much. I can't recall the names of the owners of all the good Chinese Elms but certainly the one of Marcus Watts was a very nice tree and I believe he has worked on it for over twenty years, but there were several other good Elms present. All you need to do as an observer at an exhibition is ask yourself is it a good tree, and that is all. Don't mentally add, 'shame it's only a Chinese Elm, or a Privet etc. Either it's good or it is not irrespective of the species.
There were two trees that I found really pleasing. One was a Hinoki Cypress raft belonging to Bill Gordon of the Wirral Mafia, sorry I mean club. The other was an Ilex crenata covered in berries which I believe was John Brocklehursts, but please correct me if I am wrong.
I had seen the Hinoki of Bills when judging the Wirral show last year and I commented then on how I like the tree very much. It has that something that all good trees should have, 'individuality'. I had mentioned to Bill at the time that there was a slight disparity in the texture of the foliage. By that I meant some pads were thick and strong and others though healthy looking, were sparse and for exhibition this always need correcting. And I also pointed out a few areas to fine tune with regards to branch lines. Well Bill did a great job on the tree and it looked fabulous on the Wirral Club stand.
John Brocklehurst's Ilex looked vibrant, it is almost Trident Maple like in the power of the trunk, particularly the nebari, and yet it looked also feminine with it's delicate branches adorned with lots of exquisite berries. It was nice to see this species displayed so well. It is not an easy species by any means to grow well and I look forward to seeing this tree in ten years time.

Unfortunately I did not take my camera with me on the day and although I did resort to taking a picture or two on my iPhone, due to the sodium lighting in the main room they came out horribly yellow and not fit to publish here. Sorry folks. Letter to self, 'Try harder'.

I took the opportunity of meeting up with people to deliver some copper wire that had been ordered. I only wish I had thought to take extra with me as I am sure I could have have sold another 20 kilo's. But that's me all over. However the new bronzes I took with me were very well received and I sold quite a few pieces at the show and also took some orders. I must say that suiseki and also bronze sculptures or Ten Kei / Ten Pei as they are known in bonsai now give a lot of pleasure in my life.

Unfortunately for me, I did not have time to visit all of the traders as I was on a very tight time frame. I had a nice chat with Adrian Long who makes innovative bonsai work stands and despite the fact that Dave Sampson was on the neighbouring stand, we merely exchanged hello's and 'that's a nice suiseki'.
I usually have a long chat with Paul Goff and his lovely lady Vivienne, but again it was a quick 'Hello' as we whizzed by each other. There was no time for me to look closely at Pauls scrolls and I will need to catch up with him at some other event.
Even the 'Boss' Dan Barton only got a few minutes of my time but it is always good to catch up with the old bugger. And we usually carry on from where we left off last time. Which is usually with some very childish joke because as a lot of you may be aware Dan is 70+ going on 13.

I did have a nice chat with John Pitt who had some fabulous new pots on his stand. John not only has not pots and nice glazes but every now and then he will do something a bit different. Which as an artist I appreciate. It is always good to push yourself and not sit back being complacent and think you have arrived. You always need to push yourself, and John took the time to show me one of his new ideas, which had come out really nice. I know I have said it before but we are so blessed in the UK with great potters.
Sharing Johns stand was John Brocklehurst (Bespoke stands) who I have mentioned before in a post. There were some lovely display stands for sale and two in particular that spoke to me. Unfortunately one of the stands was already sold, however I did manage to buy the other and John took an order from me to make me a stand like the one already sold.
And so guys, here's the moment you have all been waiting for, the pictures!

This stand is made from English Elm. All the finish to the outer edge has been carved by John.
I have several of these now from John and I love them. John is a great addition to the bonsai traders we have in the UK and I wish him well.

And another image.

Here is a close up of the carved edge. A lot of skill and patience needed here I think you will agree.
It nice that I can use my blog to promote 'true' home grown talent. And I would not hesitate to recommend Johns work. He's not a bad chap either!

And for all you picture lovers here is a close up of the underside.

 While at the show I had arranged to collect a stand from Doug Mudd that I had reserved the last time I was up at the Wirral Club in September 2012. In the very first blog I ever posted I mentioned that I had bought a stand from Doug but also that Doug had shown me a table in the back of his car that I fell in love with. I mentioned that it's patina was almost antique. Well Doug had made the box for it and so I was eager to get my new table. Unfortunately, due to my being photographically challenged when it comes to cameras, the photo's do not do it justice Sorry Doug. But anyway here it is;

I have caught too much light here, which detracts from Dougs master piece.
This is a great stand that deserves a good tree.
I hope that Doug can reproduce this finish on a regular basis.

And here is a close up.

This picture of one of the legs is to highlight the detail Doug has put into this table. It is not fussy or over the top. It is a nice subtle piece of detail that enhances the table.
This photo actually shows the patina better than in the above photo.

Well with my new 'antique' table in it's new carrying box I was ready to hit the road and return to the 'ranch'. However before I new it, Doug had mugged me again before I had time to leave. I am beginning to think that Doug was a 'grifter' before he took up making tables. Well he got me again, slap bang in the middle of his stand, purposely posed so as to catch my eye and my wallet was a fabulous looking table. According to Doug, and I quote; " it is the best table I have ever made". Now this came as a bit of a shock as the table I had just bought fitted that same description, oh and thinking about it, so did the one before that. But Doug, like any good fisherman on seeing me enter the room had thrown out plenty of ground bait, a hand full of casters and then dropped in the loaded swim feeder. Guess who took the bait? But joking aside the table is a credit to Doug. So for all the men, here come the pictures.

The front view of the table.

Here is a close up of the cross rail and the feet.

Close up detail of the corners.

This is a close up of the 'clamp' joint that Doug used to stop the top frame of the table from opening up. It works to clamp across the mitred corners of the table frame as the top section is floating.

I think from these pictures it is evident why I buy stands from the 'Dougster'.

So that's my blog for today. Time for me to put on the hot water urn in the studio and get the fire lit ready for tonight's 'school'.
Hopefully in my next post I can report on my new yamadori from the Pyrenees and show you some of the new Sabina Junipers which I have not photographed yet. Until then................


  1. Once again Steve as good read, keep it up
    Dave Martin.

  2. You would have had a fight on your hands for that Doug Mudd stand. Nice piece of work. As for other bonsai professionals looking at your blog, those who keep their eyes focused only on their own worlds end up missing the bigger picture. I learn stuff from reading it...

  3. Hi Peter, yes it is important to not get too insular and especially important not to think you know it all. We can all learn, even from our students or even from an audience. In a room of 100 people I am the lucky one. I can learn from 100 people, they are only there to learn from one!
    Unfortunately the bigger picture you mention is lost on many.
    Re; The Dougie stand, he mentioned you had lusted after it. As for having a fight on my hands for it, look up 'futile' in the dictionary. It say's Peter Warren picking a fight with Steve Tolley LOL.
    See you in March.

  4. Nice one Sunshine.... and I thought you were dyslexic. Enjoyed the 'read' and the pickies and by the way, don't forget my next birthday..... I'll be 14!!! Luv ya. Dan xx

  5. Thanks for the good comments,steve. And thanks, Pete for your comment too.
    I promise not to ambush you next time we meet, Steve!

  6. Hi Steve, many thanks for your kind comments and PR, the pictures are great.
    It was good to see you and chat at Swindon.
    I've had the Ilex a few years now and it's been a real buzz seeing it develop from a stump with a few branches, I look forward to seeing the tree develop further ramification over the coming years.
    I took the berries off the tree the day after the Swindon show...it took bloody ages.
    Doug Mudd's tables are awesome mate, he is a true craftsman at the top of his game, I have a small round shohin table but I'm still saving for a big un......need to shift some more stands.....
    I've rough cut your ji ita by the way, will try to have it ready for Bristol, fingers crossed.
    Keep up the good work with the blog, I always enjoy reading your thoughts and comments.
    Take care bud