Ancient. Alive.

Oldest Living Things In The World, By Rachel Sussman

Oldest Living Things In The World, By Rachel Sussman

Very cool new book, detailed on one of my favorite visual art blogs. I couldn’t figure out how to reblog it, so the link will have to suffice. Enjoy :)


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New Weekend, New Pots

Added some new pots to the store, fresh from the kiln. None have my Hanko yet, we’re still a couple weeks from having any of those completed.

IMG_6370 IMG_6383 IMG_6385 IMG_6394 IMG_6401


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More Pots…

cropped-img_6364re.jpgI’ve had a chance to update the store. Take a look at a few of the new pots up on Etsy!

Also, be sure to favorite my shop on Etsy. I should be able to add new ware every weekend, make sure you don’t miss them!

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Open for Business

cropped-img_6320re.jpgHello friends and followers! As you may have noticed in my last post, I’ve taken up a new hobby to occupy my (already packed) time. At least this will occupy me until bonsai season gets into full swing. I’m just starting out making pots, but it’s a lot fun!

I’ve decided to sell some of my ware on Etsy, with the hope that I can at least partially cover the cost of my new-found hobby :) I only had time to add a couple of the pots last night, but there should be a couple more up tonight. Also, with the way the kiln cycle works hopefully I’ll have new ware every weekend to put up online.

Here’s the shop link:

I’ll also post it permanently on the blog.

Hopefully I can spread a little joy during the upcoming potting season!

Happy potting!

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New Pots!

Just picked-up some new pots. Any guess as to who the maker is?

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It’s me! Hope you like them. Maybe at some point when I get around to it I’ll setup an Etsy site for anyone interested in trying out my (slightly lopsided) pots.

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IMG_6291What’s this? A package from Japan? In the words of my girlfriend, “did you buy another pot?”

… maybe.

IMG_6294This one comes courtesy of my new found friend in Japan, Yukiko. I’m always excited to get a new pot, but I especially appreciated the hand written note inside with best wishes for what she said was one of her favorite pots. You can check out Yukiko’s Instagram @yuki_mono to see some great pictures. Thanks Yukimono!

IMG_6300If you’re familiar with this potter’s work (especially the recent work) then you’ll know immediately who it is. Satomi Terahata. Really a lesser known contemporary potter, but definitely an up and comer. The solid color with a single, double, or triple lighter colored drip is signature for the current work. Check out some more Satomi work courtesy of Ryan.

IMG_6304Just a quick post for now.

Next up, some photos of this pot’s brother!

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Glazed and Confused


I love glazed pots, and it’s easier to justify buying them even if you don’t have a tree for them in because they look just as good on the shelf as on the bench. And this feature comes in handy, since many of the more outlandish pots you’ll find are difficult to match with a tree.

A glazed pot is not the same as a painted pot. Glaze is essentially a slurry of dry ingredients suspended in a liquid medium (usually water). Glaze generally has a minimum of 3 components. Silica usually comprises that majority of the glaze, while a second ingredient (generally a metal oxide) acts a flux to lower the melting point of the silica. A third ingredient, Alumina, is added to affect the glaze’s molten viscosity (and keep it from sliding off the pot). Finally one or more chemicals can be added to produce a range of colors when fired.

So at the end of the day, glaze is basically glass, that when brought to a high enough temperature, melts and bonds to the clay of the pot. While the original function of glaze was likely to waterproof clay products, today they’ve taken on a mostly artistic purpose.

Today in the world of bonsai there are many popular glazes: cobalt blue (ruri), white or cream (shiro), yellow (kii); as well as more unique colors like blood red or pink. In addition to the standard, single tone glazes, there are also potters that use layering techniques and specialty glazes to create beautiful effects in the kiln. Often you may hear the term Yohen or kiln change glaze, which refers to really any technique in which the glaze changes in the kiln during firing. Sometimes this may mean adjusting the heat or the duration of firing to achieve a certain effect. Other times it may involve layering specific types of glaze on a pot so that an under-glaze bubbles up through an over-glaze. Or this could mean that the glaze changes color or shape during firing. There are really endless techniques, and seeing as how some of the best potters in Japan develop their own glazes, the possibilities are endless.



If you spend any time looking into glazed Japanese bonsai pots, you’re likely to hear “Oribe” over and over again. Originally Oribe referred to a type of pottery (not just a glaze) produced in Japan as early as 1600. During Japan’s Keicho period (late 1500’s- early 1600’s) general and tea master Furuta Oribe promoted his preference for tea bowls that were flawed in some way, either in shape or coloring. The traditional Oribe pottery combined iron oxide and copper green colors to create asymmetrical designs in this tradition.


The traditional Oribe glaze used feldspar, oak ash, and 1-10% copper oxide. Now days, Oribe refers to a glaze color that is generally made with copper carbonate as the colorant. At modern day concentrations around 5% this generally leads to a bright transparent green color. Using copper concentrations of .5 to 2% yield blue, and concentrations above 10% can yield black when fired correctly. You are likely to see a variety of colors in Japanese Oribe pots, and this is in partially controlled by the concentration of the copper component in the glazes. If you didn’t read the evolution of Oribe post on Nebari bonsai (with the help of Ryan Bell) check it out here.


The really cool thing about the Oribe glaze is that it packs a little surprise. Oribe glaze is generally a high firing glaze, usually cone 9 (around 2,300 F) or above. When the Oribe glaze is fired in an oxidation kiln (in which there is enough oxygen to supply the burning fuel) the glaze turns out green with occasional highlights of blue. If you fire the Oribe glaze in a reduction kiln (in which there is not enough oxygen in the kiln to supply the fuel) the flames will pull oxygen molecules out of the glaze and the clay, thus changing the glaze and leaving it a lovely red with pinkish highlights.


You’ll notice that many Oribe pots have small grey specks throughout, almost as if someone has sprayed them with white or grey. After looking into this a little further, I’m almost positive this due to one of two techniques.

One possibility is carbon-trapping. The original Oribe-ware used this technique (likely by accident) as well as the older Japanese Shino glazes. Unlike most glazes (a slurry of insoluble dry ingredients) Shino glazes have a high proportion of soda ash, which is soluble in water. During the firing process the sodium from the soda ash traps bits of carbon from inside the kiln. As the glaze dries these trapped bits of carbon float to the surface of the glaze and produce the attractive grey or black imperfections. This effect can be produced even without using glazes containing a sodium element. If you do not use a sodium containing glaze, the kiln must be force-fed smoke and ash so that bits stick to the molten glaze, and are trapped by the time it starts to harden.

Usually carbon trapping creates black spots that are flat. Since the occlusions on this pot are raised my feeling is that it is more likely a type of leaching. This happens whenever chemical elements burn out of the clay or glaze during the glaze firing. The bubbles that this gas creates are trapped at the surface in the form of pinholes.


The second possibility, and you’ll have to look very closely at the piece in question, is the formation of crystals in the glaze. I say you’ll have to look closely because usually these look like little snowflakes instead of specks. From what I can gather about glaze crystals (from my scouring of pottery forums and the book The Complete Guide to High-Fire Glazes: Glazing and Firing at Cone 10 by John Britt) they are formed during the drying process in the kiln. Basically what happens is you start out with a pigment over-saturated glaze. This means that the colorant agent (copper in Oribe) takes up a high enough percentage of the glaze (some forums have indicated 10% or more in Oribe glazes) that it becomes over saturated, and given enough time the colorant solids will fall out of the glaze solution. This effect is achieved when the kiln is cooled very slowly, allowing the glaze to remain in liquid form for a longer period of time. During this extended time the over-saturated elements will fall out of solution and crystallize back into solids. When the glaze hardens they will be stuck in the glaze. If you click one of the photos below you can probably see that the light pinkish areas of this pots are formed using this technique. Up close it looks like frost on a window.


The exciting bit about Oribe glaze and others like it, is that no matter how skilled the artist, you can never completely predict what the finished product will look like.

105As I mentioned in the last post I’ve been on a bit of a pot buying spree. As with the other pot I bought, these two are Koyo. The Hanko on these is from the “second tier” of Koyo pots, and are made at his home.


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Japanese Pots

I (intentionally) haven’t talked about pots on the blog yet because I didn’t know anything about them. Most of the trees I’ve bought have come with generic pots, or the pots I’ve purchased have been budget pots. Up until now my motivation for buying pots has been based purely on utility, mainly as just something my tree can sit in while it grows. I’ve slowly moved most of my trees from their nursery pots to either cheap garden store clay pots or wooden boxes of my own construction. But as my collection grows, and specifically during the winter when there is nothing else to do, I’ve taken a strong interest in nicer pots.

This past Christmas season (combining my birthday and Christmas in a single week) I received a pretty good amount of money in gift cards and cash, so I decided that having the funds and the time, it might be the perfect opportunity to acquire some nice pots. When you look across the internet, both domestically and abroad, you’ll find a variety of pots from a variety of artists and companies. So which ones should you buy? How much should you pay? And how do you know that what you think you are getting is actually what you are getting? And the age old question (I guess?) do I buy a pot for one of my trees, or buy a pot I like and find a tree for it? Or do I put a tree in it at all? Do I just like pots? Do I even like bonsai at all? HA! Of course I do!

All of these are valid questions, and as always, I won’t have an answer for you. But what I can do is tell you about what I’ve been into lately and maybe you can find an answer buried in there for yourself.

In my mind there is really only one place to start, if like me, you know absolutely nothing about pots. Ryan Bell. If you speak English as your primary language Ryan’s blog is really the only place I would even think about starting to get information about bonsai pots. And that’s what I did. Over the past couple weeks I’ve read every post, from the first to the last, on his blog. Ryan’s posts are not idiot proof, and he essentially starts writing from where he’s at (at the time of the first post, about a year and a half into pot collecting). So in reading there will probably be quite a few names or terms that you’re not familiar with. But that is sort of the point in my opinion. If you didn’t have to actively work for a little knowledge, what would be the point of knowing it? If you don’t get it, read it again, and again, and look for more information, or even better, e-mail Ryan. He’s a really nice, informed, and helpful guy.

After spending the time to read through his blog, you’ll find that you have a fairly solid idea of what you like in a pot, and what you dislike in a pot. You will probably know which artists or kilns produce your favorite work, or pots that work best with a certain species of tree, And you’ll even have a rough (probably very rough) idea of whether the price tag is worth it. This is an awesome way to start and like anything in bonsai, the only way you’ll develop an eye for it is by seeing as many examples as possible.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting the pots I purchased as they come in from Japan. Hopefully I’ll be able to give you a little background on each.

The first pot in the line up is a “Koyo”. Sometimes you will see this as “Kouyou”, “Aiba Koyo”, or in the founder’s name “Aiba Kouichirou.” A great compilation on Koyo can be found at Nebari Bonsai, including a brief bio from “Potterie Du Monde” and a photo gallery from Ryan on the “Evolution of Oribe” a type of glaze Koyo is known for.

There are a few things to notice about this pot. First of all let’s take a look at the hanko. The hanko (also referred to as the rakkan, chop, stamp, seal, etc…) is usually located on the bottom of the pot. Different artists and kilns use a variety of methods for marking their pots, but generally the mark is imprinted, scratched in, or painted on. The hanko can represent different things depending on the artist, but more than likely they indicate either the artist, the kiln, the location it was made, or collection it is a part of. Some artists change their hanko over time, so knowledge of that evolution can help you date the pot and establish its value. Ryan has spent a good deal of time putting together one of the largest hanko databases around, which is especially helpful if you don’t read Japanese (or Chinese for that matter).

Koyo has several hankos that are used on a variety of his pots. Pots stamped with a Koyo hanko can be made by Aiba, his wife Kouso, or their son Juko(also appears as “Jyuko”). Pot’s made by Kouso or Juko should be stamped differently than those made by Aiba. (info I pulled from one of Ryan’s forum posts.)

This first pot bares (what I understand to be) the standard Koyo hanko. It is one of the production line series, and as such is likely the least expensive of the Koyo pots.


Courtesy of

Courtesy of

IMG_6215reThe thing I really like about this pot (aside from being relatively inexpensive for its size) is the fact that the clay is nearly black. The glaze is a transparent blue which is hard to notice until you shine a light on it and see that it’s really the clay’s color that makes the glaze look so dark.

IMG_6222The glaze also has micro bubbles and some pooling around the bottom which gives the rim between the legs a wavy appearance.

The second most valuable Koyo pots bare the arch stamp and I understand they are made at Koyo’s home kiln. I will have two of these to show in the next couple of posts. The third and most valuable type of Koyo pot bares the Koyo Hanko, Japanese fan stamp, and Aiba’s hand engraved signature between them. A great example can be found at the Nebari bonsai post I mention earlier.

Thanks for reading. More to come!

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Winter Wonderland

Well this past week in the mid-Atlantic we’ve seen snow, ice, rain, sleet, and all that wonderful winter weather. I’m glad I got back from vacation just in time to throw the cover on my cold frame. Last year I essentially had a few posts holding up a plastic sheet which was then held down by several bricks around the corners. While it did the job just fine, I also started the spring with several broken branches due to the wind blowing the plastic up against the frozen branches.


I though this year I’d try to create a better (while still cost effective) solution. I decided to build a simple cold frame out of PVC and cover it with two layers of 3mil plastic sheet. The total ran around $150. For the frame I used 1 inch PVC pipe and for the ribs I used ¼ in PVC pipe. I’ve read several articles that say that the plastic sheeting *is degraded by the sunlight*(thanks Brian). However, since the price is very cheap I don’t mind replacing the sheeting, even if I have to do it every year. I also considered a wood frame for more stability, but ultimately I went with the PVC so I can completely dis-assemble the structure in the spring.


A cold frame is a great solution for winter protection for a few reasons. First, it creates an air bubble which makes changes in temperature occur slowly. It can help your trees adjust if there is an unexpected cold snap. Second, it blocks the harsh winds during the winter which can really dry out your trees quickly. Finally, it shelters your trees from precipitation, which it’s typically not harmful to them, but excess ice can lead to broken limbs.

Happy Holidays!

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Just a Little Progress

Now that my trees have been tucked away for the winter, I thought I’d take a really quick second to post progress on my favorite tree.

The rough stock

The rough stock

At Brussel's Bonsai Spring 2012

At Brussel’s Bonsai Spring 2012

After a 4 hour workshop I had roughed out the primary structure of the tree. There were some thick branches on the top of the tree, and others that were out of place, but for the health of the tree we left these in place for the time being. The goal for the summer of 2012 was to improve the ramification of the branches and help the tree regain its vigor after the hard pruning.

Early fall 2012

Early fall 2012

The tree really responded well considering how hard we had cut it back. There were lots of new leaves especially sprouting from the trunk and old wounds. The tree was fertilized through the summer and fall. It really paid off as the tree flushed out very vigorously in the spring. I spent the entire spring and summer trying to keep up with cutting back the shoots. In the fall when the leaves fell off I did a second basic wiring and removed some branches I intended to replace.

The larger branch is too high up on the tree, so i grew a second shoot to take its place in the design.

The larger branch is too high up on the tree, so I grew a second shoot to take its place in the design.

On the advice of Owen Reich, I rotated the the tree 45 degrees counter-clockwise and established a new front which helps to eliminate the strait section on the upper half of the trunk. This is by far my favorite tree in my collection. Hopefully Fujikawa-San approves :)

Winter 2013

Winter 2013

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