Club News – May 2021

Club Show Now Available

Normally at this time of year we’d be welcoming the public to our annual show at the Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto. But as we all know this isn’t a typical year so instead we’d like to welcome you to our show online.

Visit Our Show


Rollout of Virtual Show

May 21 @ 7PM via Zoom

by Idris Anderson

It’s show time, but then you already know that if you’re one of the many members who’ve submitted photos and text for our annual show. The show team is working 24/7 (with time out for naps, etc.) to put it all together in time for the Opening Night Gala scheduled for 7:00 PM on Friday, May 21.

As we enter our second year of being unable to hold our regular show, we’ve once again demonstrated that Kusamura is a club that has the creative depth and “can do” attitude to not only persevere in the face of obstacles, but to respond by trying something new.

While the show team has been instrumental in providing the support and encouragement needed to make this project come to fruition, the real “stars” are you, the members who’ve shared your love of bonsai in this show. And, best of all, unlike our regular show, this one can be enjoyed over and over again.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Friday, May 21 when we roll out the red carpet, light up the searchlights and open the show!

Monthly Tasks

Each month there are a number of tasks you need to do to your bonsai – from repotting, to fertilizing to spraying for pests. We have put together a checklist, customized for the San Francisco Bay Area to help you. This checklist is adapted from earlier work by Mitsuo Umehara. 

This month: May Tasks


Election of Officers and Board Members for the 2021 – 2022 Term

The following nominations for Officers and Board of Directors for the July, 2021 – June, 2022 fiscal year will be announced and voted on at our May meeting:

  • Charlene Fischer — President (new)
  • Dave Curbow — Vice President (new)
  • Hal Jerman — Treasurer (continuing)
  • Idris Anderson — Recording Secretary (continuing)
  • Barbara Phillips — Corresponding Secretary (continuing)
  • Maryann Hinden — Board of Director (continuing)
  • Richard Murray — Board of Director (continuing)
  • Christine Weigen — Board of Director (continuing)
  • Lynne O’Dell — Board of Director (new)
  • Suresh “Mo” Mohan — Board of Director (new)
  • Jiechang “JC” Zhang — Board of Director (new)
  • Richard Phillips – Past-President
  • As a show participant, you must:

As per our Club Bylaws, Rita Curbow, Nominating Committee lead, will present the slate to the membership present at the meeting for voting. Rita will also ask if there are any nominations from the membership at large at that time too. Swearing in of new officers and board of directors will take place at our June 18 meeting effective July 1.

The Nominating Committee, which included Charlene Fischer and Donna Farmar along with Rita, did an exhaustive search to find this new slate of nominees for the 2021-2022 timeframe. The Committee thanks all those involved including those who expressed interest in serving the club in a leadership capacity in years to come. As a club member, please be aware that the club is stronger when more members come forward and volunteer in whatever capacity they best see fit no matter how small the task or how big. Remember that you are reaping the benefits of what 61 years of volunteers contributed in the past to make the club what it is today. Something to be very proud of indeed.


Beginner’s Class on May 15 @ the home of Richard & Barbara Phillips

The date for the next workshop is Saturday, May 15. Richard Phillips will be contacting those members who are eligible. To be eligible, you have to be a newer member of the club and/or a member who has attended one or more of the Monday night Zoom workshops and need some in-person help. The May 15 workshop is a free workshop led by Richard and Rita Curbow. Again, participants must wear a mask and continue to social distance.

When attending, bring three to four trees because sometimes it may not be the right time of year to do the desired work on the tree and you want to make sure you have enough material to work on for the three hours allotted. The morning session is 9AM – Noon and the afternoon is 1PM – 4PM.

We had a very productive and fun class on April 17. Attendees included Marlon Diokno, Jiechang “JC” Zhang, Katherine Glassey, Barbara Phillips, Kathryn Low and Ethan Kim. Some members stayed all day. Some members worked on a show tree and were able to get Richard to do a photoshoot of it before they left.


Recap of Our April Zoom Meeting

Steve Iwaki of Sei Boku Bonsai Kai was our guest speaker and we had over thirty members Zoom in. Steve gave us a fabulous demonstration and Idris dubbed Steve as the Michelangelo of carving bonsai. Jiechang “JC” Zhang sketched some drawings as she took notes. As newsletter Editor, I have included some of her notes in this article along with notes I took.

Why Carve?

  • To emphasize age and add interest to tree
  • Embellish scars vs. just let them heal
  • Fun! Power tools yeah!

Where to find inspiration

  • Trees in the wild
  • Trees in your neighborhood
  • Deadwood on trees at a bonsai show

What can be carved?

  • Any species
  • Hardwood carvings last longer
  • Embrace the natural rotting
  • Minimize carving on live wood

Steve covered carving on a number of different species of trees. When discussing redwoods, he said redwoods will start rotting on the bottom as they get older and rotting starts inside the tree. One option can be to carve out a large cavity in the base to represent a burned-out redwood in the forest. This can be further enhanced by painting the carved area black. JC depicted this in one of her drawings. Because redwoods are also usually lopped off at the top to create a bonsai, you will want to carve the top of the tree to make it look like it got hit by lightning or had some other natural mishap; for example, another tree from higher up on a slope fell on it and broke its top off.

When carving any given species, carving on deadwood can be done any time of the year. But Steve suggested you work on the live wood first and then let the weather get to the harder wood to soften it. And while the elements are working on the hard wood you can look for inspiration for further carving. Do a little carving at a time because it doesn’t always come to you all at once. The most intriguing concept Steve discussed was the idea of creating layers of carving which gives the carved wood “shadows”. And remember to create a hole in the carved area so water will drain out. Steve suggested you do the carving on a tree before you start working on the foliage.

After discussing various tree species, Steve got into carving with power tools. Your goal should always be for the carving to NOT look like it was carved by man using a power tool. It should look like it was created by nature over a long period of time. This of course is easier said than done but Steve soon proved he is a master at this. Why use power tools you might ask? Power tools with extension bits allow you to get further into the interior of the wood. As you carve deeper into the interior you are creating layers which gives the wood “shadows”. Your carving should also respect the grain of the existing wood and not add grooves or striations that conflict with that existing grain.

These are the power tools and bits Steve focused on:

  • The die grinder
  • Dremel – battery powered
  • Dremel – electric
  • Dremel bits – 1/8” shaft
  • Dremel bits – 1/4” shaft
  • Sphere bits – most universal way to get desired carving results
  • Saucer shaped bits used to create grain
  • Wear hearing protectors and eye goggles
  • Use good bits because they will last. Don’t buy Harbor Freight bits.

These are the steps Steve normally takes when carving:

  1. He uses the die grinder and hollows out an area rather quickly
  2. Change to the 1/4” sphere bit and take off more wood. Go back and forth. Then use a smaller bit to give the carving more character. Don’t make things straight
  3. Create a hole for water drainage
  4. Constantly change the size of the sphere bits to get into the cavities of the carved area
  5. Use a saucer bit to create some grain in the wood
  6. Finally use a bit to smooth everything out.

Remember to take it slowly and don’t try to do all the carving in one sitting. Carve, wait a couple of weeks to allow the wood to rest, and then carve some more.

When using carving tools, note that most of the heat that is generated is coming out of the tool itself versus the wood being carved.

Steve recommended the following resources for tools and bits:

A Closer Look

Before and after photos of a California juniper collected by Harry Hirao and later carved by Steve Iwaki. Awesome!

Before Carving
Before Carving
After Carving
After Carving
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