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  • Writer's pictureTom Lau

Sean Smith Led Workshop

Sean Smith was our leader our January club meeting. Sean comes from the East Coast and brings a different perspective that what we are used to here in California. Sean has been on a world wind tour of Southern California and we were lucky to pick him up; thank you for Fred M. and Doyle S. for bring his personal tour guide and Uber driver while he was in Southern California.

Sean started with a short video of him doing what he does best, wood carving. Sean is a renown daiza and wood stand maker in the bonsai community. In this youtube video, Sean was carving some major character into an old Ume tree.

Sean went around the room giving everybody that brought in a tree suggestion on where or how to progress with their target tree. In the picture above Walter and Octavia brought in a medium size itoigawa juniper. Sean did ask about some yellowing of the foliage. Sean thought it was more cold weather causing the discoloration like some junipers turning a deep shade of purple in Japan. He suggested to follow one of the main trunk lines and work within that frame work.

Andrew C. a new member brought in a prostrata juniper with a very interesting trunk line but all the foliage was near the top making a ball shaped silhouette. Sean suggested he make bunjin style tree with current branch structure he has. Sean went up to the chalkboard to illustrate this concept for Andrew.

Next was Greg's little tree. This trident maple was one of Greg's first attempt 21 years ago. It is a root over rock style tree but the tree has been neglected for too long. Sean suggested to concentrate his energy by removing most of the main trunk and letting the lowest branch becoming into a hankengai style main trunk. If not their is not much interesting feature in this tree.

Greg brought a 2nd tree an old Olive. This tree has been neglected for 20 years by Ken Teh. It has an impressive nebari but the branches on this tree are way far out there and are rather weak. Sean suggestion was to cut all the branches short and feed the heck out of the tree. Hoping in the spring that the tree will respond by make new shoots lower on the trunk line.

The next tree was mine of course. A 15-20 year old nursery stock Kiyohime Japanese Maple. He swears that I'm crazy for picking up this tree. Because of the following reasons: branches are brittle, weak vertical grower, and slow growing. He was amazed to see the branch growth then noticed the escaped taproots at the bottom of the can. He suggested to restart all the branches and drastic cut all the branches to basic structure for this tree. Or I would never development a descent bonsai if I continued to use the current branch structure as my foundation.

The last tree of the night came down to Gus. He brought in an old Chinese Elm tree, that he picked up from Barry last year. Sean quickly asked Gus what was your plan. Gus said he wanted to heal for one huge wound and develop a medium size tree. Sean suggested for Gus to air layer the top of the tree off and make a convincing bonsai. The wound heal would probably take too long and current trunk line would disappear if he followed that path.

The final person was Lindsay. Lindsay took advantage of Sean's expertise in woodwork asking suggestion for a daiza for this stone. Sean recommended a rounded bottom daiza to stop the eye from seeing the cut flat bottom stone. Having a daiza will help with an illusion that the stone is not flat and stop the eye from just following that line.

Sean went up to chalkboard to illustrate this idea by comparing a flat bottom daiza and a round bottom daiza. It is pretty clear to me that a rounded bottom daiza with rim that follows the natural shape of the rim helps define this stone that a flat design hands down.

Thank you Sean for your help tonight. I hope to see you again at the next convention making some awesome root stands! That's all folks for tonight. Our next meeting will feature our very own Tom Vuong!

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