Saturday, June 30, 2012

Latest wood-fired bonsai pots

Finally, I made some bonsai pots this year. It is only a handful, but they are all wood-fired. It was a very “dark” firing in a sense that there was very little oxygen in the kiln and all pots came out darker than usual, but I am not complaining. The results are shown below.

Image above: stoneware, wood-fired, naturally formed ash, round, 13 × 10.5 cm. As shown on the photos this pot has three fronts. It’s my favorite from this kiln load.

Images above show the pots which have been sold. Image on the left: stoneware, wood-fired, rutile glaze, round, 14.5 × 9 cm. It’s my second favorite. Top right image: stoneware, wood-fired, blue stoneware glaze, round, 18 × 5.5 cm. Bottom right image: stoneware, wood-fired, white stoneware glaze, round, 19.5 × 3.5 cm.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vintage and antique bonsai pots in Singapore

During my recent stay in Singapore, I was privileged to view a private collection of vintage and antique bonsai pots. It was probably the most interesting experience of the entire trip. The collector specialises in purple sand ware from Yixing, Shiwan ware from Foshan and porcelain. The oldest pots in the collection date from Ming Dynasty, while the most recent pots date from Cultural Revolution. A sample of purple sand pots is shown in the images below. This ware is usually fired to 1100°C with the clay remaining a little porous.

Purple sand is a generic term which is divided into three clay types based on their colour. They are: purple clay, orange clay and yellow clay. Examples of pots made of purple and orange clay are in the images above, while images below show pots made of yellow clay or pots decorated with it.

Seals on Yixing pots are important. The information they carry influences the value of the pot. Both seals in the images below are from Cultural Revolution period. The one on the left tells us that the pot is made in Yixing, China and give us the name of the craftsman. The one on the right is in Chinese and English. Apparently, bonsai pot makers working in Yixing weren’t allowed to sign their pots between 1965 and 1975. 

The next part of the collection was Shiwan ware. Typically, these pots had patterns created by application of lighter clay with translucent green glaze. They are fired to stoneware temperature (1300°C) and the clay is fully vitrified. See a sample of Shiwan bonsai pots in the images below.

The collection also featured Shiwan storage jars and large planters, which can be seen in the images below. They make exquisite stands for displaying bonsai too.

There was also a number of exquisitely decorated porcelain pots. I wasn’t sure about their age, but some of the oldest bonsai pots are made of porcelain. In fact, I recently came across a mention of such pots in Kakuzo Okakura’s ‘The Book of Tea’ published in 1906. He writes: “With the development of ceramics during T’ang and Sung dynasties we hear of wonderful receptacles made to hold plants, not pots, but jewelled palaces.” I can’t imagine this passage implying anything other than porcelain pots. Anyway, some of the “jewelled palaces” are shown below.

Bonsai pot, however, is not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear porcelain and there was plenty of that other stuff. Images below show imperial porcelain bowl, calligraphy water pourer, porcelain pillow, vases and urns. I was even introduced to the wonderful and weird world of vintage porcelain bird feeders (quite collectable they are).

Small pots form a special part of this collection and there was a multitude of them. Despite their small size they can fetch high prices. They are very collectable and some of them are shown below.

Finally, I want bring up something used for displaying bonsai, but rarely mentioned in Australia - Chinese ceramic stands for flower pots. Below you can see a couple of them. The one on the left is leached and rustic and could be used for displaying Japanese bonsai, while the one on the right is more ornate and would be more suitable for Chinese penjing. 
I spoke with the owner of this amazing collection about many things that day. He told me that twenty years ago when he started collecting, he was perceived in main land China as a ‘wealthy’ Singaporean. With the help of a local scout he could obtain antique and vintage pots at reasonable prices. Now, the times have changed and he almost reversed the roles with his scout in China. His contact in China is willing to buy back many of his pots for good money, because now they will fetch substantial prices in China itself. These days, he said, wealthy Chinese buy a lot of old Chinese pots from Japan as well. I also asked the collector how many friends does he have with whom he could have a meaningful conversation about ceramics in his collection. His reply was: “Not that many, probably four.” Well, he is much better off than me in this regard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bonsai soil mix used in Singapore

After finding how different bonsai soil mix used in South India is (see, I was curious about the bonsai mix used in Singapore. A couple of Singapore bonsai growers told me that they mix two components ‘burned soil’ and ‘top soil’. Burned soil (bottom left image) is imported from Malaysia. Apparently it is collected from oil palm plantations after they have been on fire. The top layer of clay soil gets baked and that’s what is collected. It is pretty much their equivalent of Akadama. What they call ‘top soil’ (bottom right image) is a good quality compost with coarse particles. The soil mix they use in Singapore is not that different from the one I use in Sydney after all.

Penjing at Singapore Chinese Garden

I am continuing with the entries about bonsai in Singapore. It was raining cats and dogs when I visited Singapore Chinese Garden, so all photos I took that day are a bit dark. The garden offers beautiful vistas augmented by classic Chinese architecture. It is all there: majestic pagodas, serene lakes, graceful pavilions, meandering canals, elegant bridges and quiet cloisters. You can see some of it in the photos above and below.

The part of the Chinese Garden that houses penjing trees is called the Garden of Abundance and at the time of my visit it was under renovation. Nevertheless, most of the penjing collection was still on display (images below).

The penjing collection there is quite large and features reasonably old trees. Looking after such collection would be a mammoth task, hence the trees are not in immaculate condition. Nevertheless, the collection is quite impressive and distinctly Chinese in its character. A small sample of the trees is shown in the images below.

One part of the display was devoted to rock landscapes, some of which are shown in the images below.

The weather was so miserable that I couldn’t pay a lot of attention to bonsai pots. However, one pot caught my attention. It was a large and garish piece, which featured eight Taoist immortals. See it below for yourself.

For posts about bonsai gardens I visited in China see these:
Tiger Hill Penjing Garden, Suzhou:
Penjing Garden at Shanghai Botanic Gardens:
Penjing Garden at the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Demonstration by Pat Kennedy: Making a ‘Cracked Pot’

During his demonstration at ‘Bonsai by the Harbour 2012’ Pat Kennedy also made two of his signature ‘cracked’ pots. Pictures below show how he makes the round pot. These pictures would be handy for those who use potter’s wheel.

1 – Throwing a cylinder.
2-3 – Creating grooves on the outer surface.
4 – Applying sodium silicate on the outer surface.
5 – Drying the outer surface with a heat gun.
6 – Applying a coat of white clay.
7-11 – Expanding the outer rim of the pot.
12 – Cracks are examined on a stopped wheel.

He attaches the feet later when the pot is leather hard. After drying, the pot is bisque fired and given a ‘wash’ with iron oxide to highlight the cracks. After that it is fired to stoneware temperature.

Demonstration by Pat Kennedy at ‘Bonsai by the Harbour 2012’

This weekend I attended ‘Bonsai by the Harbour 2012’. The venue is beautiful (see the view above). The most interesting demonstration was by Pat Kennedy and below is the summary of how he makes one of his free-form pots.

1 – Making a clay model of the bottom part of the pot. It has to be 12% bigger than the intended size (clay shrinks when dried and fired).
2-3 – Putting a clay wall around the model to contain plaster.
4 – Making the clay surface smooth.
5 – Putting plaster into water. Avoid introducing air bubbles into the mix.
6-7 – Pouring liquid plaster onto the model to create a mold.
8-9 – Removing clay from the mold when plaster hardened.

10 – Plaster mold.
11 – Strips of clay are thorn from a 5 mm thick clay slab.
12-15 – Strips of clay are joined together to form a pot.
16 – Finished pot ready to be dried. Dry pot is bisque-fired and ‘washed’ with iron oxide to highlight the overlays. After that the pot is fired again to stoneware temperature.
17-18 – Finished pot (different from the one made at the demonstration).