I can clearly remember the day that Danny User asked me to demonstrate at his 2007 “Ginkgo award”! He called me (which he never those) at work and asked if I had something to do in September of next year? And if not, would I like to demonstrate at his next and last “Ginkgo awards”? He knocked me right off my feed and I accepted with a full-hearted YES!!! The “Ginkgo award” holds a special place in my heart and to demonstrate there is and was a dream come true for me, so I could not be any happier!
Two days before the event I drove to Danny and Ingrid Bonsai Centre “Ginkgo” in Belgium to bring in my 4 bonsai that were selected for the show, and to find a suitable tree for me to demonstrate on among the literary many hundreds of raw materials that you can find there. After I brought my Bonsai to where they were photographed for the commemorative “best Bonsai in Europe” book, I headed outside to look among the many hundreds of trees to find an inspiring tree. But even with this many choices, finding a tree among the many that Danny has in his enormous place is not as easy as it might seem! I searched for the right tree as if I was buying it for my own collection. The tree had to appeal to my taste in Bonsai and tickle my imagination at the same time. My demonstration trees always reflect where I’m at that moment in Bonsai and it must always end up looking the same as when I had styled it in my own garden as a future Bonsai for my private collection! A big part of my Bonsai collection today, still consists of my former demo trees. After a long search, I ended up with two possible candidates! Both Yamadori “Yews” are from Japan. One with a lot of fantastic deadwood to work on with heavy machines, but almost now foliage to work with. And one with a lot of problems to solve, but enough foliage to work with. They both had a good possibility to demonstrate and to become a good pre-Bonsai that reflected my approach, taste and style. Because working on the first tree mend, I had to be doing wood carving for most of the two-day demonstration, making a lot of noise with my power tools, and bothering the other demonstrators and the stand workers that were all in the same big greenhouse with me! So I chose the second tree, it was more challenging for me anyway, with a lot more nice Yamadori problems to solve or incorporate into the design that I envisioned when I first looked at this lovely tree. The tree gave me lots of good Bonsai vibes!
Picture 1: shows the chosen front of the tree.
Picture 2: shows me when I just discovered my demo tree.
Picture 3: shows the very hot demonstration airier. Some big names with on the far right, U can just see William “Bill” Valavanis from the USA, next to him Udu Fisher from Germany, next to him Sandro Signeri from Italy and I’m the one on the left and I’m from Holland.
Picture 4,5,6: The start of my demo, Here I am cleaning and plucking the branches to prepare them for wiring.
Picture 7: here you can see me removing the too-long and too-highly-placed top branches. Leaving some stumps that might be useful later, when I start working on the deadwood design!
Picture 8: Here I am looking where the all-important live lines of the tree are running. I do this with a small sharp chisel, peeling away the bark until I reach the live parts. In this case that was quite difficult to determent, because of the little difference in colour between the life and the dead part. So needless to say: I had to be very careful.
Picture 9: After I was really sure where it was safe to work, I could start working freely, without any fear for the health of the tree in the back of my mind. All I just had to do, was stay between the lines! I worked with both power tools and hand tools to first remove all the rotted wood and other unwanted parts. Then I just started to free flow, taking bits away, discovering a point of interest or beauty, a Little creating or revealing. But always working very carefully, following the grain of the wood. Gradually I worked towards the point where smaller bits were necessary on my power tool, to create, or reveal more detail in the deadwood. It is advisable to always wear Eye protection and always use a mask! The dust from working on a Yew with power tools is irritating to your eyes and can give you bad chest pain and cough for days! BELIEVE ME!!! I know what I’m talking about! (ugh ugh) :).
Picture 10, 11,12: My good old friend William van Vlaandre (inventor of the “SAMURAI” power tool bit), gave me one of his specially made power tools, loaded with his biggest “Samurai”, to use on the bigger parts of deadwood at the top of the tree. And it went like a warm knife through butter! Amazing you could make a small canoe out of a big tree in half an hour with this monster! Even the otherwise almost unworkable fresh and therefore wet wood, was no problem! It left a smooth surface! And with some care it was even possible to create more subtle details as well, it worked great! Only both my arms would disagree with these statements, they looked like I had been carrying 3 hedgehogs on fire! LOL! 😬😊
Picture 13: More detailed carving on the top “JIN”.
Picture 14: View of the demonstrating area.
Picture 15: The three top branches that would make up the whole top part of the tree, we’re way too thick to be bent with just wire! So they first had to be protected with tight applied layers of in water-soaked Raffia. Then 4 strings of copper wire were placed lengthwise along the part of the branch that needed to be bent. Then another layer of wet Raffia was applied and then some more normal wiring with thick copper wire on top of that layer. Now I was sure that I could bend the branches with minimal risk of harming the tree. It would only need great force!
Picture 16, 17, 18: Now I could safely start, to gradually bend the very tough branches into their desired positions. Taking my time, piece by piece, until I could secure them with the help of some thin copper wire attached to a couple of Jins and one small screw.
Picture 19: After a wild long night playing snooker (pool) with my Bonsai friends and only 4 hours of sleep, I started with the detail wiring of the tree. Trying to keep in pace with the marching band in my head!🥴
Picture 20: Finally the real fun part of styling a tree hat arrived. When I am bringing all the branches into position, I am totally in the zone, I love it, it is magical to almost paint with foliage until I feel it looks good. Trying to create something I like and find beautiful in Bonsai, within the boundaries of what each tree has to offer to me, is always a wonderful experience. To do it on this stage with this valuable material Danny entrusted me with, made it even more elevating and meaningful to me!
Picture 21: Close-up of the basic first deadwood on the back part of the tree and the branches.
Picture 19, 20: Some last detail works on the deadwood using a very hard plastic brush, that left a grain-like texture on the still soft fresh part on the top.
Picture 21: YES! I finished and was drained, but happy with the result and the beer that was waiting on the other side of the camera!
Picture 22: The final result. I hope you liked this little demo story and the final image of this pre-bonsai? It was, as I said before, a great honour to do! Especially because this was the last “Ginkgo award”! It was a very happy and a bit melancholic experience!
My “Ginkgo Award 2007” demonstration tree.
A “Taxus cuspidata“ Yamadori from Japan.
Hans van Meer.