Friday, December 25, 2015

Last pots of 2015

This is my most favourite time of the year. At 8:30 pm it is still bright enough for pottering about in the garden. I tried this blue glaze on two different types of clay in an electric kiln and the results are quite pleasing. Both pots are square and small size.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Bonsai artist Naoki Maeoka

This post is a little tribute to the craftsmanship and artistry of Naoki Maeoka. He was my “oyakata while I was playing a deshi-for-a-month during my residency at the Fujikawa Kouka-en in Osaka (see the post about my work there at Naoki is a resident bonsai artist at Fujikawa Kouka-en Bonsai Nursery in Osaka. He graduated from Osaka University of Arts and spent sixteen years working as a graphic designer. He began to pursue bonsai as a hobby in 2001. Eventually, his passion for bonsai grew so strong that he gave up his corporate career and completed a traditional five-year apprenticeship under the 2nd generation bonsai master Keiichi Fujikawa. This led Naoki to attaining professional bonsai qualifications awarded by the Nippon Bonsai Association. In 2012 Naoki began teaching bonsai at the Fujikawa International School of Bonsai. He has instructed dozens of students from all over the world and I am privileged to be one of them.
Here, I put together few before-and-after images of bonsai I witnessed him styling in June 2015. They represent about two thirds of the trees he styled during that month. Let’s start with the pine tree next to Naoki in the image above. This is a classic Japanese design where the tree evokes that famous pine bonsai illustration from Somoku Kinyoshu (see;view=1up;seq=4). The very first tree I observed Naoki to style is shown in the image below. It is a Black Pine variety with flaky bark. This bark gives a tree the aged appearance and makes the trunk look much thicker.
Below is the top view of a wired and styled branch of this tree.

Below is a Red Pine. Image ‘A’ shows it before the styling, image ‘B’ shows the tree after the removal of old needles and image ‘C’ shows it after the styling. This tree has been sold before Naoki finished styling it.

Below are before-and-after images of two more pines.

The Black Pine shown in the images below is somewhat odd. The images show the styling done by Naoki in June 2015. To see the previous work done on this tree see episode 37 of ‘Bonsai Art of Japan’ on YouTube ( This kind of tree presents an artist with a real challenge, a true test of his abilities so to speak and I believe that Mr. Fujikawa and his apprentices were able to utilise most of this tree’s potential.

Apart from working with the trees, Naoki is a highly skilled bonsai pot maker. He carved the pot shown below from a single slab of clay. This method of making bonsai pots allows a lot of creative freedom, but it is very time consuming, therefore pots like this are very unique and valuable.

For Naoki’s latest work see his website at For more of his work plus the latest events see his Facebook page at You can also watch an interview with Naoki on Bjorn Bjorholm’s ‘Bonsai Art of Japan’ on YouTube at

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Spring kusamono

I don’t have impressive bonsai trees in my collection, but this spring a couple of my kusamono looked nice. The left image shows a native orchid Dendrobium kingianum in flower. The image on the right shows a South African succulent Adromischus cooperi with flower spikes. It is satisfying to see plants thriving in containers made by oneself.

End of year pots

This post is to showcase a couple of bonsai pots that slipped under my blogging radar. They are not awesome, but they are decent and worth showing here. Pot ‘A’ was a custom job where the shape, colour and dimensions were specified by a friend who needed it for an oddly shaped gardenia. The pot was hand-built and electric kiln fired (15 x 11 cm). Pot ‘B’ is slab-built and electric kiln fired. Pot ‘C’ is hand-built and wood-fired with no glaze. All are fired to stoneware temperature.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Kinkaku-ji and Rikusho-no-Matsu

During my recent bonsai residency in Osaka, I had only four days off and I used them to visit some temple gardens in Kansai area. One of them was Kinkaku-ji. Looking-up “the Golden Pavilion” on the Internet parades a long string of idyllic images like the one above left. The image above right however, shows the reality behind those “heavenly” shots. During my visit, the temple was crowded and noisy. Getting to one of the better look-out points required a combination of waiting in a queue and pushing through people.  

On a different topic, Kinkaku-ji has a small place in the bonsai lore. Its garden features a 600 year-old pine that goes by the name ‘Rikusho-no-Matsu’ (see the image below). The tree was originally a bonsai planted in the ground by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358 – 1408). The place was his house at that time and he was just planting a tree in the garden. These days, the tree is shaped as a sailing boat, which is reportedly heading to the "Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss". Let’s not get too excited, it’s only a tree.