The Black Pine Duet

After we got through all the Trident Maples, I was task to work on two Black Pines.  The work is never over it seems.  Haha!  Mr. Tanaka says that the wiring season is starting to I’ll be doing a lot of that for the rest of the year.  The first Black Pine I worked on belongs to a customer and the second one belongs to Mr. Tanaka.  Normally, September is not the best time to work on Black Pines because the needles are still soft so I had to be very careful not to break the needles.  The safest time to wire is after November.  These two Black Pines were not de-candle this year so the needles had more time to harden off.  Lets do this!

Here is the customer’s Black Pine that I worked on. It’s a root over rock style.  I always appreciate a root over rock Black Pine because they take so much time to make.  Mr. Tanaka at this point had already cut off unwanted branches so all I had to do was wire and style the tree.  The tree is about 53cm tall.

Here is the tree after I pulled off the old needles.

Here is my final product.  This tree took me a little less then a day to finish.

Here is a picture of the tree after Mr. Tanaka made some adjustments

What I did and what I learned

The main thing I did on this tree was bend many of the branches downwards.  Black Pines always look older when the branches are down.  I wired most of the branches and made fan shaped pads out of them.  I cut off skinny branches that were too long instead of bending them around to shorten them.  Shortening branches with heavy bends is one way to make a tree look good for a show or a demonstration, but inevitably always have be to removed and replaced with a more suitable shorter branch in the long run.  The ends of the small branches I slightly curved them up so that the needles are pointing slightly up and outwards.

For the most part, Mr. Tanaka didn’t  change the tree too much.  He did however moved the lowest right side branch to the right to show off more of the trunk.  It’s important to show off the transition from roots to trunk.  How I set the branch hide that transition so that it went from roots to foliage and the trunk was missing.  The lower part of the trunk is the core of the tree and always needs to be seen.  If you don’t see a trunk, the tree doesn’t really look like a tree anymore.  It looks more like a bush.  I always thought that the roots and rock were used in place of the trunk but it turns out that that is not the case. That was what I learned the most on this tree.

Future plans for the tree

Next year the tree will be de-candled to develop more ramification in the branches and shorter needles.  Obviously the needles are way too long for this size tree.  We’re also going to focus on the over health too so the tree might get repotted in the following Spring.

To the next one…

Here is the second Black Pine that needed to be styled and wired.  This tree is about 74cm tall and the trunk is about 21cm wide.  I was surprised that Mr. Tanaka gave me this tree to work on.  He bought this tree earlier in the year and I didn’t think he’d allow me to work on it so soon.  It was a funny story when we brought it into the workshop.  He was talking to a visitor and the visitor ask if I was going to be working on the tree.  Mr. Tanaka says yes, then said that I do good work.  I looked at him and laughed (nervous giggle really) and Mr. Tanaka looks at me and says, “oh, is your work not good?  We can put this tree back if you feel you’re not ready for it?”  I quickly said no! and told him I was ready!

Here is what the tree looked like after I pulled all the old needles off

Here’s a picture of the tree after I wired the two lowest branches

Here’s a picture of the tree after I finished wiring the middle area

Here is a shot of the tree from underneath.  I put a lot of wire on this tree!  The tree has got to be about 5 pounds heavier now.

Here’s a top view of the tree after I finished wiring.  Can you see how multiple fan shaped pads make up the overall tree?

Here is a picture of my final product.  This tree took me about 3 days to complete


Here are before and after pictures for comparison

What I learned and what I did

I don’t have a picture of Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments because Mr. Tanaka said he wasn’t going to change the tree at all.  We sat down and looked at the tree and the photograph together and he suggested one thing.  He said that on the top right of the tree, there is a branch that looks like it’s bend too far down and a small empty space is seen above it.  He said that I should bend that branch up slightly and bend a branch above it down to fill in that space.  I thought it looked a little strange too but decided to see what Mr. Tanaka would say, and what do you know?  All the trees that I have worked on so far, there were a lot of things that I wanted to do and always hesitated because I’m just not 100 percent sure of myself yet.  It always seems to turn out that I should have done it because Mr. Tanaka ends up doing it when he adjust the tree anyways.

On this tree, I did mostly the same thing as I did with the first Black Pine.  This tree has a lot more branches then the first one so I was able to play with the pads a bit more and practice in getting them rounder and fuller looking. Awhile back, Mr. Tanaka said that the lower pads should always be larger then the ones above it.  I had a chance to practice doing that on this tree by slowly making the pads smaller as I moved up in the tree.  This also forced me to make the necessary cuts to reduce down pad sizes.  I’ve always wondered what was going through a professionals mind when they started cutting branches that they deem unneeded in the over design. By thinking about pad size, I now have one more piece of information I can use when decided what branches needs to stay and which needs to go.

Future of the tree

Unfortunately this tree will be going to auction in the next month so I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it.  Hopefully it will go to a good home and the tree continues to develop.  I can see the tree getting more ramified and fuller in the future.  The bark on the trunk will continue to get thicker which will improve the feeling of age in the true.  The biggest concern with this tree is that the main lower left branch is too skinny and needs to thicken up.  Allowing that lower branch to grow out and thicken will greatly improve the interior structure of the tree.  I hope that the tree can make Mr. Tanaka some money and prove the little value I have to the nursery ;o).

A note on Mr. Tanaka’s teaching

One of the things I appreciate about Mr. Tanaka’s teaching is that he’s never overbearing when I’m working.  He doesn’t say much and will only glance over every now and then.  He doesn’t stand over my shoulder and correct every little mistake I make.  We talked about it and he said that if he was to correct me while I was working on the tree, the work would no longer be mine.  He believes that even if one pad looks strange during the wiring, everything will get a final adjustment when the wiring is done, so there is no point in commenting about it until the end of all the corrections.  I believe by him doing this, my confidence level has increase greatly because I feel like I have control of my work and that he trust that I will do a good job.  There’s no atmosphere of anxiety in the workshop that I’m messing up all the time and that helps greatly living a life where I don’t have much control over anything.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a large White Pine that needs to be wired and styled…

Thanks for reading.

(If you would like to comment, please comment in the comment area.  Thanks)

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23 thoughts on “The Black Pine Duet

  1. Carlos says:

    Hi Peter!
    I love your work and yes, just like everyone else here i’m wishing that someday i’m able to work on trees the way you do…seriously? i’m not even sure if i can do the way you wired the second black pine heheh it’s so neat!
    More power to you and thanks for sharing mate!
    Carlos – Melbourne, Australia

  2. John Kirby says:

    Nice work Peter, it is great to see how you are doing.

  3. Alain says:

    Many thanks. It is really very kind from you to take time to write you enthralling messages and answer comments in spite of your heavy workload.

  4. Elliott Farkas says:

    I agree with JT. I was thinking the other day, when you are finished with your aprenticeship, you should put all your blogs together and make a book. Its hard to come up with a unique Idea for Bonsai study nowadays, but a book like that would be a great reference to have in your back pocket as you go through your collection on a daily basis for ideas and how to’s.
    I know you can just go to the blog, but I like books and there more conveniant. Just make sure that before you put this book together, You comeover to my house and teach me everything you learned, LOL!! keep it goin PLEASE!

  5. Thompson John says:

    I am constantly amazed at the ‘in depth’ view of bonsai you are giving us through your blog. The detail and nuances are awesome. I’m picking up great ideas and filling in gaps in my own bonsai knowledge. Keep it up. Looking forward to the next tidbit.


  6. Tung Tran says:

    I really love your wiring work. I actually saw it in person at Kasamura Club. It’s time for me to practice it now. Thanks Peter.

  7. PO says:

    Thanks Peter for the update. Very inspiring.

  8. Jeremiah Lee says:

    Thanks Peter, excellent article as usual. I hope you can re use these in a Magazine or book someday. I’m really curious to hear how much the pine on the bottom will go for.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks Jeremiah,

      We’re going to take it to Tokyo for a large auction in October. I’ll be attending this one so I’ll get to see how much it will go for. I’ll let you know when it happens. Thanks

  9. After posting some amazing work, my question is on the slab the tree is on. I purchased one under the name of Mountain Grape, but can’t find any references to it. It is the same thickness and approximate size as the one shown. Also to my eye, excellent photography! On the upper bar of your web site I caught the repair of a pot with gold leaf applied. I had this done to a Matcha Tea Bowl last year, but was a new idea to me.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Tom,

      I’m not too familiar with stones myself so I’m not familiar with Mountain grape. I was told that normally, when a valuable pot is repaired, they will fill it with a cheap type of metal and paint the exterior with gold. This particular repair was nice because they actually filled it with 100 percent gold instead of just painting gold on.
      Thanks for the comment! Take care

      • Hi Peter,
        Yes nice root over rock, may I request one, please? By slab, iI was refering to the stand that the large Black Pine is sitting on. Do you know the type of wood it is? The photo of your wireing is beautiful, I don’t name my trees, but the picture from above is minogame.

        • Peter Tea says:

          Hi Tom,

          Sorry about that. That slab has been there so long that it just became apart of the background. LOL The slab is Chinese quince burrow. Mr. Tanaka has one about three times as big inside the house too! I didn’t realize they could get that big.

          Thanks for the name. I told Mr. Tanaka and he liked it!

  10. Jay Conor says:

    Wonderful post. Keep up the hard work Peter.

  11. Elliott Farkas says:

    Hi. I’m new to commenting here, but definatly new to this blog. I (and probably many others) really do learn something with every entry. My only complaint is I don’t get a daily email telling me there is a new entry.
    Please move to Los Angeles when you are done. I would love to be one of your future aprentices! and we need more professionaly trained artist’s down here.
    I wish I was able to go and aprentis somewhere. I guess we will vicariously through you!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Elliot,

      Thanks for reading the blog and I’m glad you’re getting something out of it. Sorry I can’t make one everyday but I’m trying. LOL Did you know that I actually grew up in LA? I moved to San Jose in the early 1997.

      I hope to do some work in Southern California in the future so it would be nice to meet you in person. If you want an apprenticeship, why don’t you come over to Japan ;o)

      Thanks and take care

  12. Shawn Silbaugh says:

    I have such a long way to go! When read your posts they bring lot of understanding to me. Your a great artist, i hope i can reach your level someday….I’ll keep working at it!
    P.S. You’ll have to do a demo for us here in Santa Cruz someday =)

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Shawn,

      Thanks for the compliment Shawn! Just keep practicing and you’ll be doing good things in no time. If I can do it, anybody can do it. ;o)

      I would love to come to Santa Cruz to do a demo. Did you know that one my first demos I did was for the Santa Cruz club about two years ago or so? Nice club and nice people. Take care!

  13. Every time I read one of your blog posts I have an “aha” moment. And I think, so that’s the way it’s done.

  14. bonsaitico says:

    Every time I read your posts I think: Man, this one has to be the best so far!
    And every time I stand corrected. 🙂

    Best regards,


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