StoneForest

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Hello to all, new to the forum and looking forward to your valuable input. I have been a full time potter for sixteen years, and two years ago I began studying bonsai. As a master gardener the art drew me in and I have several trees of my own. I began making bonsai pots alongside my functional ware and now feel drawn to venture into bonsai ceramics full time. I am a painter and sculptor as well as a potter, I have access to reduction and wood firing, so the potential of what I can create is exciting to me. However, I admit to being a bit confused and bewildered while trying to figure out exactly what type of pottery the American bonsai community is interested in. When I began I was fortunate to find support and encouragement from some bonsai enthusiasts in my area who pointed me in the direction of "traditional" bonsai work...the pot is to have no ego, and "the spirit of the pot serves the spirit of the tree". I began posting some work on the auction sites and have had success, but was surprised to see many pots that were "all ego", one might say, with bright colors and sculpts/textures. They attracted a strong following. I have studied the work of many of the more popular bonsai potters in America, and find them to be mostly "traditional" in style with some exceptions. So I would like to ask, respectfully, what type of pots do you think are most popular in the US today? What would you, personally, like to see? What color glazes/finishes, what shapes and sizes? I'm open to all suggestions, and feel capable of producing just about anything. I am most grateful for any advice as I venture into this art form full time. My website is www.stoneforestpottery.com, although I don't have many bonsai pots listed there. I am also on Facebook as Stone Forest Pottery.
 

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Bonsai Nut

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Welcome to the site! I really like what I see of your work!

One bit of advice I would give is to always remember that the pot and tree have to complement one another. You never want a pot that is the primary focus of attention. One reason why most bonsai pots use earth tones is because that is what most bonsai trees use :) Many earth tone pots can be used with many trees... while if you have a colorful glazed pot, its use is generally more specific - and may be purchased for only one specific tree in an enthusiast's collection; perhaps to complement its blooms, fruit, or fall color. I often will see people who first get into bonsai potting creating unusual designs and using brilliant glazes, but that's not where the market demand is. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for tons of creativity, but always keep the tree in the back of your mind. Simple shapes sell well... but if you want to be creative try to use organic shapes and natural textures. For example if you start thinking about making pots that look like stone, or the side of a cliff, or a pile of leaves, or a hollow piece of log, or a piece of bamboo... there is no limit to your creativity. Also crackle textures and finishes that mimic bark, lines that mirror the shadow of a branch, or drip glazes that look like water, things along those lines.

Also, keep in mind that it is not just the design and color of the pot that matters... it is the patina; the feeling of the pot being old and being used for a long time. To the extent that you can make your pot look old (even if it is new) you will attract more buyers. (Make sure you are familiar with the Japanese art asthetic of wabi-sabi).

Because most potters start with wheel-thrown pots, there are a lot of round pots out there, when rectangular shapes (slab built pots) are the number one shape of pot. Something to keep in mind. Additionally, I think the market is over-supplied with small pots. I understand the risk and cost associated with larger pots, but I have very few trees that would be planted in a pot smaller than 8"... and I can't tell you how many pots I see offered that are smaller than that, when my interest usually starts at 12" and goes up from there. A 12" pot would normally work for a 12 - 18" tree (as a general guideline depending on a lot of things). Just looking at all the trees on this site, how many are smaller than 12" tall? (not many)

My all-around favorite domestic potter is Sara Rayner. I have been following her work for over 25 years, and her pots are pretty universally excellent now - both showing plenty of creativity and individuality while working well for bonsai. She is a good example to look at because I think her portfolio is both uniquely American and yet embraces Japanese esthetic.

A new pot that looks old:
rayner.jpg

A simple pot with organic glaze. Note that the glaze gives the impression of wearing thin on the edges and rim of the pot - as if it had been handled for years - even though the pot is new.
rayner2.jpg

Also for ideas look at high level exhibition bonsai, and the pots they are displayed in. @Walter Pall is a member here, and some of his exhibition pots are incredible - particularly some of his Japanese maple pots.
 
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Bonsai Nut

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To continue on this theme, I wanted to share my thoughts about your koi pot. I love this pot because of its subject matter as well as its technical excellence... but I don't think it would work for bonsai. It is far too strong of a pot. The imagery is bold, the colors bright, and contrast dramatic. If you think about the tree that would work best in this pot, it would perhaps be a small azalea with white blooms, maybe a dwarf quince, or perhaps a small tree in a weeping form to build on the pond theme. Any tree like that would be visually overwhelmed by the pot. For it to work as a bonsai pot, everything would need to be dialed down (in my opinion). Instead of a deep blue, perhaps a light blue. Make the brush strokes finer. Make everything less literal, and more suggestive. (My personal opinion, but others might disagree).

That's not to say that I wouldn't love to own that pot. But it would be a display pot - never to be used with a tree.
 
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Forsoothe!

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... Additionally, I think the market is over-supplied with small pots. I understand the risk and cost associated with larger pots, but I have very few trees that would be planted in a pot smaller than 8"... and I can't tell you how many pots I see offered that are smaller than that, when my interest usually starts at 12" and goes up from there. A 12" pot would normally work for a 12 - 18" tree (as a general guideline depending on a lot of things). Just looking at all the trees on this site, how many are smaller than 12" tall? (not many)"
Yes, in spades.👍 There are lots of 6" round pots out there for whatever price and too many very shallow pots. How many people have a tree that is worthy of going into a 40 or $50 6" pot? Almost none.
 

Adair M

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Small pots, suitable for Shohin display, can be brighter. Shohin display is a whole separate aspect of “bonsai”, and allows more freedom of expression than does traditional bonsai.

I agree with Bonsai Nut in that there are too many potters making round and oval pots. There are hardly any potters making really good rectangles. Especially unglazed rectangles.

I don’t like the rough textured looks, or the oxide finishes that attempt to make a new pot look “old”. They just look “fake”. Instead, just make good high quality pots that will age naturally.

Study the pots of Gyosan, Bigei, Shuzan, etc. They make pots that will be considered treasures in 30 years.
 

Bonsai Nut

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One other comment after visiting your site - make sure your bonsai pots are functional. That typically includes:

(1) Heavy; stable; not easily overturned
(2) Proper drainage
(3) Wire tie-down holes
(4) No thin edges
(5) Frost-proof

Because these pots have to sit out in all sorts of weather and be subject to all kinds of situations, they need to be built to take some abuse. The last thing you want is to pay $$$ for a nice pot, be working a tree, accidentally drop your wire cutters, and break off part of the rim. Pots are moved around on benches and will occasionally bump into each other. They will be picked up, put down, and spun around while full of dirt and a heavy tree, etc. They will be in blazing Arizona sun on a 110 degree day, or huddled under a Minnesota bench when it is -20. I have even had pots with trees in them get blown off a bench during a thunderstorm, and be none the worse for wear. So make sure that the function is at least as good as the form.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Small pots, suitable for Shohin display, can be brighter. Shohin display is a whole separate aspect of “bonsai”, and allows more freedom of expression than does traditional bonsai.

Yes. Also look up kusamono pots, which are pots designed for companion plants in traditional display. They follow different rules than bonsai display pots.

You might also benefit from research around traditional Japanese Tokonoma display - not as a literal application but to understand how the disparate elements come together to form a sum greater than the parts. The bonsai pot is one important element in the greater display.
 

Adair M

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One other comment after visiting your site - make sure your bonsai pots are functional. That typically includes:

(1) Heavy; stable; not easily overturned
(2) Proper drainage
(3) Wire tie-down holes
(4) No thin edges
(5) Frost-proof

Because these pots have to sit out in all sorts of weather and be subject to all kinds of situations, they need to be built to take some abuse. The last thing you want is to pay $$$ for a nice pot, be working a tree, accidentally drop your wire cutters, and break off part of the rim. Pots are moved around on benches and will occasionally bump into each other. They will be picked up, put down, and spun around while full of dirt and a heavy tree, etc. They will be in blazing Arizona sun on a 110 degree day, or huddled under a Minnesota bench when it is -20. I have even had pots with trees in them get blown off a bench during a thunderstorm, and be none the worse for wear. So make sure that the function is at least as good as the form.
It depends.

Shohin pots should be as thin as possible! The reason is Shohin trees have small rootballs. If the walls of the Shohin pot are thin, then there’s room for more soil inside the pot.
 

Adair M

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I love the koi pot WOW but I agree @Bonsai Nut that the colors could be a little more muted so as not to draw attention away from the tree.
I like the koi pot. With use, a patina will develop. This will “soften” the look.

If it starts off “soft”, after a number of years of use, the patina could obscure the painting too much.
 

Bonsai Nut

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I like the koi pot. With use, a patina will develop. This will “soften” the look.

If it starts off “soft”, after a number of years of use, the patina could obscure the painting too much.

Yeah... the fact that we are having a discussion about it means that it is "in the wheelhouse" of what a good bonsai pot is - and we are talking about preferences and application. Looking at it a little closer, it may be much smaller than what I initially thought it was.
 

Peter44

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I think you will sell what people like. Of the three pots you showed in you first post, I like the first one by far above the others. I have looked at sites where flashy, bright, poorly made pots sell well, and I have no idea why. I agree with Sara Raynor's pots being nice, but of the two shown, I would buy the first one and would not touch the second one. The size, shape, texture, colors make the difference to me, not the potter. I also agree that there are way to many smaller pots being made, and also not enough for conifers in my opinion. I don't like a plain jane, smooth sided pots...it has to have texture/design something to make it interesting but it needs to be balanced with the size and shape of the pot. Just my thoughts. I wish you success!
 

sorce

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would buy the first one and would not touch the second one.

I'm opposite! I'm not a fan of what is easily recognizable as a SR pot. Mad respect for her as a Potter though.

That top left joint though! Definitely agree with you there. Funny that it has the least views, like people think "oh a brown pot", but that's not just a Brown pot, that is marvelous! Sitting right in the correct pocket IMO.

@Leo in N E Illinois is a fan of Both Lynn August and Bigie, as am I, and that pot sits right between those 2, which is a killer market.

That could be your bread and butter.

Sorce
 

Nimster64

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Hello to all, new to the forum and looking forward to your valuable input. I have been a full time potter for sixteen years, and two years ago I began studying bonsai. As a master gardener the art drew me in and I have several trees of my own. I began making bonsai pots alongside my functional ware and now feel drawn to venture into bonsai ceramics full time. I am a painter and sculptor as well as a potter, I have access to reduction and wood firing, so the potential of what I can create is exciting to me. However, I admit to being a bit confused and bewildered while trying to figure out exactly what type of pottery the American bonsai community is interested in. When I began I was fortunate to find support and encouragement from some bonsai enthusiasts in my area who pointed me in the direction of "traditional" bonsai work...the pot is to have no ego, and "the spirit of the pot serves the spirit of the tree". I began posting some work on the auction sites and have had success, but was surprised to see many pots that were "all ego", one might say, with bright colors and sculpts/textures. They attracted a strong following. I have studied the work of many of the more popular bonsai potters in America, and find them to be mostly "traditional" in style with some exceptions. So I would like to ask, respectfully, what type of pots do you think are most popular in the US today? What would you, personally, like to see? What color glazes/finishes, what shapes and sizes? I'm open to all suggestions, and feel capable of producing just about anything. I am most grateful for any advice as I venture into this art form full time. My website is www.stoneforestpottery.com, although I don't have many bonsai pots listed there. I am also on Facebook as Stone Forest Pottery.
I am new to the art of bonsai but I do like several styles I like ovals for forest lay out and I like rectangular shape. Round ones to me are common but they do look good with a nice fat tree in it. So it all depends what market you are trying to reach. I might be interested in purchasing. I have a couple smaller pots but I am looking for one to make a forest out of umbrella trees
 
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Adair M

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I think you will sell what people like. Of the three pots you showed in you first post, I like the first one by far above the others. I have looked at sites where flashy, bright, poorly made pots sell well, and I have no idea why. I agree with Sara Raynor's pots being nice, but of the two shown, I would buy the first one and would not touch the second one. The size, shape, texture, colors make the difference to me, not the potter. I also agree that there are way to many smaller pots being made, and also not enough for conifers in my opinion. I don't like a plain jane, smooth sided pots...it has to have texture/design something to make it interesting but it needs to be balanced with the size and shape of the pot. Just my thoughts. I wish you success!
Roy Minerai makes some absolutely beautiful pots, that are “hard to use” because they are so bold and flashy. But, they’re also fun to have. I used one at the Nationals in my Shohin display.
 

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