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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Call It A "Teaching Demonstration" on Wiring

     I could almost title this post, "Learning some things in spite of a mistake." The mistake I refer to was my own. I'll get to the reason I could say that, in a little bit.

If you're like me, wiring is one bonsai technique that is often more challenging than most others. Explanations and demonstrations can only teach so much: in the end, one has to buckle down and practice until one can do it right without conscious thought. But without explanations and demonstrations beforehand, practice is pointless. My old trumpet teacher used to say: 'Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.'" (Thanks, Dick Whitmire.)

The Fort Wayne Bonsai Club has enjoyed an influx of new members recently. For their benefit, and because we old-timers can always learn more, we invited Mark Fields, owner of Bonsai by Fields LLC in Indianapolis, to teach a session on wiring at our November meeting yesterday. Because it was my idea and I've known Mark for a number of years, I was the one who made the arrangements.

Mark Fields has been interested in bonsai since the age of 9, when he asked a neighboring nursery owner why the man had weights hanging on the branches of some mugo pines. Over the ensuing half-century he has developed his skills studying with multiple teachers in the USA, Europe, and Japan, served as an officer in a number of bonsai organizations - he is currently President of the American Bonsai Society - and taught and given demonstrations in too many venues to name here. For more about his bonsai career, click here.

Since we weren't interested in an all-day workshop, I asked Mark to fit an explanation of theory - why wire in the first place, basic principles, alternative shaping methods, and so on - and some supervised practice time for our members into our usual two-hour time slot. As matters unfolded, I felt a growing sense of blunder: four hours would barely have been enough time to do what I asked and do it well! (In my defense, I can only plead abysmal ignorance of the full scope of what I was asking. Now I know.)

But Mark did his best, and he still gave us a session worth anyone's Saturday morning. The club recently received five fairly large potted pines as a gift from a local nursery, Blue River Nursery. Four of them will best go in someone's landscape, but the fifth, a lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta 'Spaan's Dwarf'), has definite bonsai potential, and was selected for what followed. 

(Please forgive the quality of some of the pictures. I have no better one of the tree chosen for the work.)

The five gift pines from the Blue River Nursery, Columbia City. The one chosen for the work is at the far end of the row.

Mark Fields assessing the tree chosen for the morning's session.
Mark's best and most natural teaching mode (it appears to me) is not lecture, but to teach and explain as he works. So we lifted that lodgepole pine onto a table in the garage of club co-president Pat Guido, and gathered around. Mark started working and talking, explaining the whys and wherefores of wiring as he went along, stopping sometimes to answer questions or expand on a point he had just made. All the time the first shaping of a pine bonsai was beginning under his hands.

Mark explains a point while he works, as Bob Mortenson and Bruce Kennedy watch carefully. 

He was assisted by his son Lincoln, whose interest in bonsai started at an even earlier age than his father's. Lincoln has already shown some of his bonsai in various venues, including the Indiana State Fair and last year's MABA convention. Besides being his dad's gofer and tool-finder, he created a jin on a branch stub his father indicated, and then suggested a shari leading from the jin down to the soil line. Mark looked at the spot, thought for a minute, and then concurred; Lincoln went to work.

His work on the jin finished, Lincoln starts carving the shari that his father approved.
As it turned out, and using the term I suggested in this post's title, the morning might best be called a "teaching demonstration." Mark wired and shaped the pine's first major branch, including its secondaries. As he did so, he demonstrated and explained a number of the important concepts of wiring, including selecting the proper thickness of wire for a given branch, anchoring, transitioning to a smaller gauge, wire position at a bend, and other aspects.

There was no time for supervised practice as I had envisioned - again, four hours would barely have been enough. Even so, the session served its purpose: I think even the most experienced members learned something about wiring that was new to them. I heard a number of comments along the lines of "This is so helpful," "I'm learning a lot," and at least one "This is great!" Our sincere thanks to Mark and Lincoln!

Mark's nursery is only about 2½ hours' drive from Fort Wayne, and he will soon resume his practice of holding open workshops on Saturdays. Our people are already talking about a field trip to Bonsai by Fields next spring or summer.

Last picture is of one new thing I learned: when it's actually OK to cross wires!

Red arrow: it's acceptable to cross wires when one secures the end of the other.

:-)  :-)  :-)