This weekend I was asked by the Bonsai Society of Brevard to give a demonstration. They gave me freedom to choose my material and I used an ilex I’ve been prepping for about 3 years for the demo.
Here it is before

I consider the Brevard club one of my home away from homes. I’m good friends with many of its members and the group is just the friendliest in the state.
It’s also one of the biggest.
The leadership has taken it upon themselves to bring bonsai to the community in various ways in order to spread the Art.
They have a very functional kids group (The Youth Auxiliary), a public, permanent exhibit at the Brevard Zoo (Rob Kempinski is the curator) and they participate in an annual Art show in downtown Melbourne. Plus all the usual membership things like advertising, participation in horticultural events etc.
It’s a very welcoming and energetic group.
Here is the crowd
Personally, I counted 172 people (the official count was closer to 50. I trust my count…)
When I give a talk I usual begin by asking how many beginners are in the crowd.
It also helps an artist when the more advanced people (the ringers) in the room ask the simple questions. Sometimes those simple questions aren’t very obvious.
This is me taking a sip of my tequila
I try to be funny when I give a demo, but I’m terribly subtle. Terribly.
This tree lends itself to the Southern Live Oak style (or, cow tree if you prefer. Meaning, imagine a two hundred year old oak tree in a cow pasture with giant spreading limbs where, in the heat of a Florida summer, some cows can pass the time in the shade, chewing their cud until the afternoon thunderstorm blows in to cool off the day)
I begin to talk about the species a bit.
Ilex vomitoria “schillings”.
I tell the story of the native Florida tribe, the Calusa, and their pre-war ritual brew- Black Drink.
It seems like they were paying attention
Then I get into the conspiracy

Every demo needs a good conspiracy theory.
It seems that the name ilex vomitoria was chosen by a man who happened to own some coffee plantations. Why is this a conspiracy?
This “Black Drink” also happens to have a high caffeine content. Enough that it would have competed with his coffee. So, he gave it the name “vomitoria” to scare people off.
Or so the story goes.
Anyway, you may know, I am known to sketch a bit.
Here’s me, drawing upside down, explaining that, perhaps the term “apex” is not a good name for the top of a tree.

Here’s the sketch, one of my masterpieces:

That big barrel looking thing on the top right is a cross section of a branch. It’s a bit surreal. It just needs a floating goat, á la Marc Chagall, and it would be complete.
Here you can see the tequila starting to take effect

It seems like the top half of the tree is beginning to levitate too. Or at least it did to me then.
You wouldn’t know it from my blog but I’m a bit shy and quiet. When someone asks a question it really makes the process easier for me

I believe the question was “What’s your favorite tree?”
The answer is always “The one I’m working on now” (I stole that from Mary Miller)
Or my answer might have come out like this:

It’s great having your friends take the pictures for you, isn’t it?
Some are epic

Some not so

This is the point where I begin to get sad. I’ve been looking at and preparing this tree for about four years. I’ll be saying good bye to it soon.
At this point I get the two minute warning.
Shit, I have at least three minutes of work to do.
Nose down and to work

That’s my serious look.
Damn! Those are powerful looking forearms (and pretty bad bags under my eyes. And I need a hair cut too. Ya hippie!)
So I do finish it within my time period (sorta)
The lovely Portia was the raffle winner

I look a bit crazed there. 3 hours of talking, tequila and bonsai are rough on a soul. Dave was ready to pick me up if I fell. Look at the concern in his eyes.
Portia was thrilled to win the tree.

I was happy at the final shape.

It seems that every time I provide a tree for a demo I end up wanting the tree more than when it was sitting in my yard.
I would like to honestly thank the Brevard club for inviting me to perform a demo again.
I got to meet a friend on Tumblr (Godzilladontplay) who ended up joining the club, which was cool.
And I assure you, I did not have any tequila during the demo (my buddy Mike failed me…alas)
Here is the final sketch

I just need some cows under it.

The various photographers were Dave, Guaracha and Ronn. I won’t say who took what as it might incriminate them.
Check out Brevards website and visit them if you’re ever in Melbourne.

9 thoughts

  1. Wish I’d known about the exhibit at the zoo when I was in Melbourne last month! And the tree looks nothing the boxie, black and white cow tree I remember seeing while there. (Good thing!) Cheers.


  2. Nice job on the ilex and a good presentation. I’ll bet it’s hard to crack some smiles and loosen up the audience, when everybody is *seriously* into every move you make. Maybe “they” needed the tequila !! :)) I would have been just as happy as Ms. Portia, had you simply handed me that one. I know you really hated to part with it. How long do you think it’ll take for it to fill in similar to your illustration? one or two seasons?


  3. A friend of mine here in Central Florida sent me the link to your blog. It was a fun read, thanks for sharing.

    It’s interesting that you were working in an ilex recently as I was trying to sell one of twelve which I salvaged from a rental property. They are roughly 60 years old and I asked the owner if I could have them for bonsai purposes, they said “sure”. I dug out one and tried to sell it on ebay but no one was interested, so then I re-posted it with more details (such as): black tea, indian lore, etc. I got a bid of $100 but I knew it was worth more so I held on to it. It’s massive, 32 inches in circumference and 21 inches in height.

    I normally don’t like shrubs for bonsai but the ilex is a forgiving specimen. It grows quickly, has a thick canopy and it also has a very high tolerance for freezing, salt, over watering, drought and shaping/cutting mistakes.

    I’m going to keep this specimen for personal use. It will take me several years to get it to where I want it.

    I would post a pic, but the website doesn’t allow for it so I added it to my Gravatar (if you can see it).


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