Deadwood 17

Technique explained – Sandblasting a Yamadori Yew Bonsai

I sandblasted my first deadwood way back in 1992 and I guess I have blasted over 50 trees since then, I have perfected the technique of protecting the live veins, foliage and soil so that the aggressive nature of this technique does not upset the wellbeing of the tree.

As will any intervention on a bonsai the tree MUST be in great health. Never work on a tree that is recently collected yamadori or is not in the best health. This tree has grown well over the last three years and the deadwood was desperate to be worked. If I had waited another year the foliage would have restricted the access to in inner part of the tree, this is where the most interesting areas of deadwood are on view.

A few days before I removed an upright trunk and disguised by carving and stripping the cut, this can be seen in the photos as a bright orange area.

The process:

  • Gather the foliage up and bind with fine wire so that you have access to the live vein.
  • Using air-dried modelling clay cover the live veins right to the edge and at least 4mm thick, When dry (about 3 days) cover with Duck tape.
  • Completely cover over the soil and as close to the base of the trunk as possible, I use rubber inner tubes first then bind with commercial cling wrap.
  • Wrap the foliage in an old towel and then cover with a thick plastic bag.

The Blasting:

  • I use a commercial blasting service, you can find these locally via the internet.

The results are simply amazing, the deadwood is clean the splinters are removed from the branches I have snapped and all the detail is revealed. I do not put Lime Sulphur on immediately, as I like the wood to weather slightly prior to application.

ABC4 Africa Bonsai Convention 2015: Cape Town

Next Year I am pleased to say that I am one of three International presenters with Ryan Neil and Francois Jeker at This is coming together to be a great show, I am looking forward to meeting all the guys who I have been chatting to on Facebook and here on my Blog. This is only two weeks after Bonsai Europa… so its going to be a busy time.

South Africa event screen grab

Bonsai Triennale 2014

Germany Efficiency you better believe it!

I was a guest artist at the Bonsai Triennale, 20-22. June 2014, Pillnitz, Dresden, Germany.

Hand drills remove the screwsThe Bonsai Triennale is the joint project of the Central German Bonsai Regional Association and the National Bonsai organisations in Poland and the Czech Republic it’s in the fourth edition and returns after 2011. The event took place in the beautiful ambience of the orangery of the castle and Pillnitz

Almost 2000 visitors enjoyed a high level exhibition and a packed program of demos and lectures. What impressed me the most was the team behind the show.

Having a good team is crucial to the success of a Bonsai show, you have to have people you can rely on, who work hard and are prepared to take on any job to ensure that the event is a great experience for visitors.

I did not see the build up of the show but witnessed the breakdown, the guys and girls worked like a well-oiled machine; everyone knew EXACTLY what to do and where to be to clear the venue as quickly as possible. The whole event was cleared in under 2 hours… AND they were not happy as they had done if faster on previous occasions… Germany Efficiency you better believe it!

The cloths are carefully removed

everything stcked neatly

Everything in one van


EUK Bonsai Ten in Diepenbeek, Belgium

The teamLast weekend I attended the rather special EUK Bonsai Ten in Diepenbeek, Belgium. I attended with a friend from Italy. I was a trader and a demonstrator and this being my first time at this club I did not know what to expect. What very quickly became apparent was the incredible organisation and planning that had gone into the staging of this ‘club’ bonsai show. It was Friday evening, the whole show was staged and ready for business, a few traders had set up their shops and the excitement was palpable. I finally met up with Tom Benda an amazing potter from Czech Republic, we are working together…watch this space!

The exhibition featured an excellent club show with many superb trees worthy of a national exhibition and a show from Mario Komsta that was literally breathtaking in presentation and quality of trees, each being in a black Tokonoma individually lit. This was a benchmark for bonsai in Europe.

untitled-6942The demonstrators Viriato Oliveira and Márcio Meruje from Portugal,  François Jeker from France, Enrico Savini from Italy, Mark and Ritta Cooper and ME! Most of the guys worked on trees however Mark, Ritta and I gave digital presentations that were very well received with many people standing and crowding the doorway.

A Huge thanks for inviting me to this amazing show to the guys and girls of Bonsai Club Eda Uchi Kai, in particular Hans Vleugels, Inge and JP Polmans for their generosity and opening their house to a bunch of renegade bonsai artists.

All photos supplied by Roland Petek, take a look at his extensive blog and lots more photos of the Bonsai Club Eda Uchi Kai show

Pine 11

First styling for a Mugo Pine

Pine overlay

The styled tree laid over the raw material (Photoshop)

I traded a small Yew for this Mugo Pine at The Burrs workshop 2012, it was planted in a large flat plastic seed tray in a soil mixture not suitable for the rather damp conditions where I live. Whilst re-potting I saw that all the roots were on one side so decided to change the angle and make a cascading tree. The tree responded well and has thrived all year. Today I styled the tree, I have not wired to the tips of the needles because at this stage refinement is NOT my objective. Branch placement and the establishment of the design. The next few years will be bud development and refining the design.

Original photo 2

update image due to a discussion on EBF 

new bend

Create the smallest Bonsai possible with the material you have

In the dark depths of my memory I remember a phrase spoken by another artist during a lecture/demo… “Create the smallest Bonsai possible with the material you have” … and lets face it BONSAI are supposed to be small trees. Despite the plethora of large trees being shown in major exhibitions I have noticed an upsurge in ‘small’ bonsai… Note the recent major Shohin exhibition here in the UK and the growth of the British Shohin Association over the last few years. Certainly many artists of my generation (and older) suffer from ‘Bad backs’ due to carrying over large bonsai.

Many large bonsai do possess drama and ‘presence’ but so do small trees… AND I believe that small trees are more challenging, far more attention to detail and a delicate touch is required.

I have just styled this ‘Kifu’ Taxus. When the tree was collected from the cliff face it was over 1.5 metres in height and a double trunk. The original idea was a Chuhin size but the fascinating area around the nebari and a twisting live vein leading to a strong branch enabled this tree to become a Kifu size bonsai. It is planted in a lovey circular pot by Milan Klika.

Kifu Yew April 2013

the Kifu taxus styled today

Kifu Yew original

Not quite as collected, the top of the tree has been reduced

Kifu Yew original style

This was how the tree was originally styled but it simply did not look OK


white pine comparison

Styling a Chuhin White Pine in a Dan Barton Pot

white pine nebariFor my personal collection I have always worked on native European trees, this is for three key reasons. First: I live in the cold wet north of England and working on local material should give me the best chance to create bonsai that will thrive and survive in my climate. Second availability of good ‘imported’ material, for sure GOOD raw material worth buying was in short supply when I started in bonsai 30 years ago, simply put the trees coming out of the far east were the runts of the litter, we got the crap that that they did not want. Thankfully that appears to have changed over the last few years as the art is in decline in Japan more material is becoming available and at the right price. Third: Most material coming from the Far East is either ‘finished’ or ‘semi-finished’ I am an artist who prefers to work with totally raw material even though it takes longer, the satisfaction is greater.

white pine needles

This year however a Chuhin White Pine caught my eye… It displayed all the attributes and potential to create a great tree… Almost 100% of imported White Pines (WP) are grafted on Black Pine (BP) stock, this is done because BP is stronger and the bark quality is great, the problem is the graft is usually so prominent to render the tree quite ugly because the transition from Black to White is pronounced. On my tree it is almost invisible.

The tree was very healthy, had an abundance of foliage, good nebari, movement and taper… all things that you should look for when purchasing a bonsai, I was smitten… I bought my first ‘import’. Immediately after purchase it needed repotting as it was pot bound (this was why the price was favourable) I slip potted the tree into a lovely Dan Barton Pot.

white pine wiring

That was six months ago, this week with the help of Mikey I completed the styling started by Hans van Meers and a few of the guys at the Burrs Event… THEY were supposed to complete the tree but never got past needle plucking and wiring a few branches… I believe beers and chatting got in the way! So it was down to me and Mikey to do the work.

The tree had an abundance of needles that needed to be removed. After selecting those branches I no longer required we set about wiring the remainder. This took over seven hour’s work fine wiring and bud selection. WP only has one growth per year and back budding has to be carefully managed, this first styling involved branch placement and random bud removal with a view to the final image being a refined fuller canopy in a couple of years.

White Pine Bonsai styled

The tree finally wired for its ‘first’ styling

Styling a European Larch Bonsai Video

I received this tree from Matija Triglav my Slovenian friend a mountain dweller! Matija had the tree for a year and I kept it a further year before repotting and styling.

Some may say the trunk is ugly and had too many thin and fat parts. This larch has endured the worst of weather and environments; I am sure it has been hit by the odd avalanche and crushed under many meters of snow.

The bulbous growth is a result of callusing and ‘recallusing’ caused as the tree was under constant attack from the elements.

I wanted to create a compact tree that reflected that struggle for survival, so the canopy cradled in the bosom of the trunk.

I look forward to the canopy developing and the ramification improving, I prefer Larch as a winter image so the styling must be perfect.

deadwood (15)

Refining the deadwood on the Big Taxus

I have been refining the deadwood on my very large Yew. Good preparation, cleaning, removing remnants of old bark, clearing out the deep holes and hiding any work done by man will ensure that this tree will present well. Three years since the tree was collected it has thrived, it will be styled in my garden the day before the Burrs event, Burrs participants who will visit the garden will be the first to see this great Yew.