New Projects for 2018

I’ve started quite a few new projects for the year, hopefully setting them on a path to become excellent bonsai in the future.

Perhaps when I take them further in development I’ll give them their own designated posts but for now check em out.

 

Ficus Microcapra “Tiger Bark” (2014–)

This tree was actually among one of the original bonsai I started with. It began as small cutting grown material from House of Bonsai in late 2014. I proceeded to repot it and let it grow freely for the year. Unfortunately the nebari on this tree was typical of the ikea two leg bulbous roots so in late 2015 I opted to ground layer  the tree and completely rebuild a new root system. This spring I’ll do further nebari work as well as give the first major cutback and preliminary styling.

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2014
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2016 Ground layer in progress, protecting new roots with foil

The tree now:

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2018

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Hackberry (celtis occidentalis)

The next project is a hackberry I purchased from Bob at Kimura Nursery. It was excellent material with lots of low branches to choose from, a decent nebari, and nice graceful taper. I cut back the main leader and will allow a low branch to run to give additional girth near the base.

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as purchased
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Leader cut, Note: use the putty type past for hackbery. Even in the winter after making the cut the tree still bled a lot compared to other deciduous varieties. The liquid paste will run off and the tree will lose a lot of sap

On this tree I chose to screw the base to a wooden board. Doing so forces the tree to grow roots laterally and prevents downward growth. This enables the surface roots to thicken more building a better nebari or root spread.

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Roots cleaned. Ideally I should of thinned it more and secured desirable surface roots flat against the board, but given I had already removed 80% of the root system I wanted to play it safe.
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Wired and screwed on. Next spring I can do much more thorough cleaning and lateral root selection.

The tree was potted in a wooden grow box I made. No photos of it but nothing special. Onto the next project.

 

Monterey Cypress:

I was fortunate to find a nice sized monterey cypress as regular nursery material. It had a decent sized trunk as well as good nebari or root flare. I went ahead and purchased it and set out to do a full styling from raw material. It was quite a challenging project for me but I’m very happy with the results. I reduced about 50% of the root mass and probably ended up removing about 70% of the foliage to achieve the final design. Unfortunately no pictures prior to repotting to a terra cotta trainer but here it is before styling.

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I’ll have to remove large surface roots and tap roots in the future but will do so in the future when it is established with more feeder roots

 

In styling the tree it was important to me to create a convincing design but also to incorporate elements seen in the iconic monterey cypress peppering the California coast. The harsh coastal winds produce twisted contorted growth and flat foliage pads.

I chose to initiate the orientation of all branches upwards before flattening out at the tips to emulate their natural counterparts. Wiring all the branches in the same fashion also helps bring cohesion to the design

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As “younger” nursery grown material it had multiple sub trunks. I opted to remove the thicker trunk that would be hard to introduce movement to while keeping leaving those that would lend towards clean graceful lines. Here is the finished tree:

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As with any 3-D object, a tree no less, it is hard to portray depth in a photo. The back center trunk appears to be competing with the main left trunk and the foliage feels cluttered and messy. Unfortunately I do not have a good lighting set up so the highlights on the center trunk also give the illusion it’s on the same plane as the front left trunk.

While I can ascertain (that’s what they all say right) it looks better in person there are still several things you can take from a flat photo. It helps bring out lines and focal points you’d otherwise wouldn’t notice. Also excellent trees often look good in person (3-D) and in photo (2-D) due to a clear definition of lines and movement. Good or mediocre trees can look good in the 3-D aspect but fail in the 2-D lacking that same clarity.

To my defense as nursery material there is a lot of strong outward apical growth. To style the tree I end up removing most of that leaving the weaker interior foliage. I could remove another 20% of the foliage and do more fine wiring but it would stress a tree that already has had considerable work done to it. Admittedly my wiring still needs work but it improves with every project I do.

Typically I like to do a rough styling and then after the tree has recovered with lots of strong interior growth I do the fine foliage wiring. I’ll have to keep close watch on the aftercare on this tree to ensure I don’t lose any branches or trunks.

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Here’s an outdoor shot that may have better depth

There’ll be more to come but that’s it for now. I also thought I’d take this chance to update you guys on my apprenticeship ventures.

I’m still probing Taiwan and have sent out letters but no bites yet. On the contrary I may have a possible opportunity to apprentice in Japan. No guarantee yet, but it’s something worth exploring to see if I can pursue. I may have to swap my studies in Mandarin to studies in Japanese if it works out.

I apologize for not getting out articles and translations on the Taiwanese bonsai book I showed 2 posts back but it’s been a bit more busy than I had hoped for. I’m still heading strong towards my goal though and I’ll keep you guys updated along the way. Thanks for taking a look and I’ll see you on the next post!

Julian

 

Apprenticeship.

I’m fuming. The steam’s cracking out of the lid. Convention tells me otherwise and my insecurities tell me no. I’ve heard it all. Both from myself and others. Stabilize your career and keep it on the side. Do it in the future after you have more money. Better to have it as a hobby than to fail and not have it at all. If you leave your career now you won’t be able to return in a few years. So I spent a year to let it simmer and to ask myself, “what is it that I really want?”

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(I actually wasn’t thinking anything like that in this photo. I was just trying to pose for a cool shot. Felt fitting to throw it in though haha)

People who know me well know that I have a lot of hobbies and interests. A job in high school for a knife dealer exposed me to metallurgy which led me to my current academic pursuit, material science. Outside of academics I’ve involved myself with cycling, climbing, photography, and recently even boxing. I try to invest enough time and effort in all of them so that I have some degree of competency…but at the same time I’m never quite “good”. I don’t have the talent to excel at something with minimal work.

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(A favorite local cycling route while I was working at Argonne National Lab this summer)

Between school, my career, and long term goals I’ve spread myself thin with too many half-way commitments. It’s mentally straining for myself, but also unfair to my peers and employers who expect my full attention. I realize that if want to succeed in my career aspiration as a bonsai professional I need to give it my 100%.

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(These aren’t my hands, just some random dude’s I photographed during a workshop)
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(A daiza I hand carved myself, the first and only, for an interesting mountain suiseki)

Am I afraid of failing and fucking up my current career? Hell yeah! Do I really want to pursue bonsai? Hell Yeah! At the end of the day all I know is how I feel. I love working with my hands and building things. My current career is not sustainable for me in the long run. I ain’t a rash or dumb guy. I’ve taken time to understand my current industry and directions for career growth as well I asked for advice from many people well seasoned in it. And after a year of thinking I know it’s not for me.

At this point it ain’t gonna help me by throwing more what ifs around. I just have to give it a shot and if I fail it’s on me. I can’t say I’ve been completely unsupported either. I’m fortunate to have the support of my parents and a few mentors I’ve gained in the past year who’ve greatly helped and encouraged me to pursue my goal. Hoe, Jeff, Owen, Bob among others who’ve helped me out.

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(Ben Oki repotting stick Jeff gave to me during my stay in Chicago–Ben Oki is considered one the early influential bonsai artist when bonsai was in its’ infantile stage in the US)

If I had to give myself a New Years resolution it would be to take the first steps in my career and begin an apprenticeship. My chinese is complete ass right now but I’m beginning to practice and study with the intention of possibly apprenticing in Taiwan.

I’ve been working on a letter to send over to some of the professionals to explore the possibility of apprenticeship.

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(Big thanks to Hoe Chuah for giving me some contacts to look into and my Dad helping me with translation and writing this letter)

To help me learn and better retain commonly used words and characters used in the bonsai scene I’ll be attempting to translate a Taiwanese bonsai book. The idea is to translate pages containing techniques (perhaps some unfamiliar to the domestic scene) and share them on my blog! Perhaps this is too ambitious but I hope to translate and share 1 page or technique a week. At best all I can understand are the pictures and some characters I learned in high school so it will be quite the challenge.

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During the interim between college graduation and an apprenticeship but also to give me more of a buffer to improve my mandarin I’m looking to study domestically briefly. I recently applied for a paid internship at the US National Arboretum Bonsai Garden so we’ll see if that pans out.

I am equally hopeful and afraid, but mostly excited to try my new venture. I hope I can find the support of my readers and invite you to watch my success or failure.

Happy Holidays.

Julian