Workshop with Ryan Neil - February 2012

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#1
I have been meaning to write this thread for the last couple months, sorry guys.

I had the opportunity to work with Ryan at the end of February and jumped at it. I sold a few of my trees and bought a nice sierra juniper from Ned Lycett of Deadwood Bonsai ( http://www.gsbf-bonsai.org/bonsai_shopper_2_List.html ). I picked a tree with some interesting movement and a decent sized trunk. I have seen a dozen or so sierras that Ryan has worked, so I kept his abilities in mind when choosing material, with the intention of learning as much as I possibly could.

There were 5 other participants in the workshop which took place from 9am-5pm, so Ryan made his rounds and helped each student with their various projects. When it was my turn, we had a discussion on what my abilities were and what I wanted out of the tree. I basically stated I want to learn as much as I can. He then asked me "Why do we like junipers?" To which I replied "Uh... foliage? Er... twisted trunks? Uh..." The correct answer was deadwood, the visual representation of the struggle between life and death. A bit more eloquent than my previous mumblings. We then chose a trunk line, changed the planting angle, and he told me to Jinn the rest.
 

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#2
The live part of the trunk was laying way down in the back of the now dead spire. This large (3" diameter) trunk was then anchored to the deadwood, and moved at least 4 or 5 inches into a more vertical position with the aid of a tourniquet and some serious manpower. Ryan then let me go to work clearing out the branches that I thought were not needed and we started some of the larger wiring tasks. The lower left branch had heavy wire applied, but still was too thick to bend properly, so another tourniquet was used.
 

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#3
I was then instructed to wire the rest of the branches with appropriate guage wire. This was a difficult task for me because I rarely wire trees with such large trunks, and anchoring without wrapping wire ALL the way around the trunk takes a bit of skill and practice. Ryan gave me tips on this kind of wire anchoring and I finished most of it. Fine wiring was just a pain, and I was running out of steam after 6 hours or so, but we got it done (and by we I mean Ryan).

I had wired a branch in front of the deadwood so as to tie in the image and intermingle the living foliage with the dead trunk. He commended me on the concept and made a simple change of branch placement from front-to-behind to behind-to-front, if that makes any sense. The result was a less forced and more natural feeling to the branch. Those kinds of changes taught me a lot during the styling.
 

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#4
I had a snack and some additional caffeine and decided to bring out my second tree, which was a collected Mendocino Pygmy Cypress. Ryan asked me what I wanted to do with the tree and I simply said "I like the one on your website." If no one has seen it, the one on Ryan's website is a cascading, twisty little number that has a great "coastal cliff" kind of feeling. I bought the cypress over a year ago with the specific intention of creating a similar image, preferably with Ryan. He said ok, and the teaching began, just as everyone else was heading home from bonsai exhaustion and sore "wiring fingers."

We first tilted the tree all the way over and discussed exactly how to create the new apex out of the existing branches. Of course all my suggestions were wrong, but I came to learn, not to be right. He said the apex should be a continuation of the main trunk line, and the remaining branches will create the foliage pads. Precise wiring was done by Ryan to create the new apex, and I was tasked with placing the rest of the main and secondary branches. Once I finished wiring, there were many changes to my work. I tend to compact foliage pads and add lots of movement, which is unnecessary. Ryan just told me "flat and simple." Once done, the image was exactly what I was after...
 

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#5
Overall, this was one of the best, if not THE best, bonsai experiences to date. I knew Ryan was a master at his craft, but until you work with him one on one, it's hard to comprehend. Not only did I come out with two of my best trees, but the techniques and advice given will be with me for the rest of my days, and I have since applied that knowledge to recent projects with great success. For anyone who has the opportunity to work with Mr. Neil, I say make it happen, any way you can. Though expert advice is never cheap, I would gladly take a workshop per month with Ryan if I had the chance. I may even drive up to Oregon to be an apprentice for a week or so at a time, we'll see...
 

Dav4

Imperial Masterpiece
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#6
You sure got your money's worth out of that workshop. Great post! I've got my all day workshop with Ryan in May...I hope to get as much out of it as you did.

Dave
 
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#7
Wow great trees - amazing the kind of development you can get out of them in just a few hours with him. My club is hosting Ryan later this year, and I'm hoping that I can be lucky enough to land a spot in the workshop :)
 

Bill S

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#8
Had him to our club meeting last night, the kid is a WEALTH of info, very personable, well educated, well spoken, entertaining. Makes a hell of a nice tree too. No pics mama couldn't put her hands on the camera last night. Dave did you take pix???
 
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#9
So, regarding the pygmy cypress.. Picture #3 was your wire job and picture #5 was Mr.Neil's? Just want to make sure I'm understanding that correctly. Nice trees :)
 
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#10
Very nice Brian! I too took a 4 hr workshop with Ryan last year. I just wish I had a bit more experience under my belt to take 'full advantage' of Ryan's advice. Spent half the time on some basics, but I now have a better understanding of identifying and then using the trees' positive attributes...deadwood, trunk movement. It too for me was one of the best workshop I've taken to date, the other was with Walter Pall. Different styles of teaching for sure, but both were awesome.

Thanks for taking the time to do a write up Brian. And I see now how you anchored the heavy wire around the trunk without having to wrap it all up. Nice technique!
Chris
 
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#11
Thanks everyone! It was a treat for sure, one I wish to repeat as soon as possible. Pic #3 of the pygmy cypress is after Ryan's adjustments, my work didn't deserve a picture...
 

Brian Van Fleet

Imperial Masterpiece
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#12
Thanks Brian, great work, tasteful! I'm very excited to have Ryan in Birmingham next fall...(PM me if anyone in the area wants to join)

One thing I've noted with the guys studying in Japan is the new tendency to wire in wider coils...no exception here. The old 45 degree angles has been widened to 60 or more. Looks better, applies easier, essier on the tree, and holds better.
 
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#14
Man, what a nice post and what looked like a great time. Thr sierr was a nice piece of material, and I really liked the cypress as well.
 
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#15
Update!!! Second styling!

I had the opportunity for another workshop with Ryan yesterday and brought my "learning tree" back for another round.

We started by discussing what we had previously done and where we wanted to take the tree. He explained that this next step, the second styling, is by far the most tedious and grueling part of the process. It involved LOTS of small shoot removal, rewiring of old branches that had cut in, and wiring of new foliage. Lots of foliage was shortened by cutting back to inside buds with growing tips. The design didn't change, it just got more refined.

The tree will finally get a new pot this February at the next workshop, and hopefully it's the one I already bought...

Here are the before and after shots of the day's work; DSCF2230.jpg DSCF2239.jpg
 
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#16
Really coming along nicely !!! I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Ryan, and he was as good as you say. He was full of information, great guy, limitless energy. Worth every penny.
 
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#17
Wow nice material. Hard to get a grasp of the real size of the tree..

Nice progression, inspiring ..thanks for sharing
Rose
 
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#19
Nice job Brian on this one, as well as the other two trees you updated! This one's going to be terrific! And I second how much I also enjoyed working with Ryan. A real great person.
 
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seattle,Wa
#20
was a nice thread to read thru and always apprecite it when someone shares their experience with photos-thank-you.

I've switched to Ryan as my teacher for next year. been to several workshops of his. he's expensive, but someone fun to be around and great teacher. I don't believe I've ever heard anything negative about him.

he's up to seattle this month (november) to do a demo for the club and i signed up for a half day lesson while he's up here.Toying with taking a limber pine (native white) or an englemann spruce.
 

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