Last month, the Bonsai Society of San Francisco invited stand maker Austin Heitzman to talk about his craft. Club members learned about Austin’s design process, the materials that give form to his designs, and the treatments the materials go through on their way to becoming stands.
I’ve been a fan of Austin’s since seeing his work at the inaugural Artisans Cup. For the BSSF presentation, Austin brought a single stand and a large selection of “jita” – the wood slabs used beneath accent plants.
Austin’s jita feature live, or natural edges, as often as they feature cut edges. The combination of natural and geometrical lines can make for some interesting pieces.
On its own, a thin walnut slab displays strong lines.
Beneath a “kusashita” or accent plant, the lines appear natural.
Saxifraga and selaginella
Strong lines in jita can be used to create different feelings depending on how they are oriented. Here’s another accent from two different angles.
Slab perpendicular to the viewer
Slab at an angle
On its own, I like the above slab at an angle, but I’d hesitate to say which option is best without seeing the tree and stand it’s displayed with.
What to do with straight edges and an irregular shape?
Slab with irregular shape
Here is the slab oriented three different ways.
Option 1 – Ardisia japonica and selaginella with hen and chicks
Option 2 – narrow in front
Option 3 – wide in front
One nice thing about slabs with straight lines and irregular shapes is that they can be used with different sized accents depending on how they are oriented. Larger pieces can take advantage of the width offered by diagonal orientations while smaller pieces can work with narrower profiles.
Here’s a slab that preserves the rough cut made by chainsaw along its back edges.
Rough cut along the back edges
Austin consciously uses the rough-cut edge as a nod to the process that went into the creation of the slab – in this case, the cuts made on-site when the burl was harvested.
Slab paired with a smaller accent
The same slab with a larger accent – Ardisia japonica with selaginella
Austin also selects material that exhibits special features like graft unions that add complexity to otherwise simple shapes.
Parallelogram featuring graft line
Contrasting colors with live edge
One of my favorites is a heavier piece with three mostly straight edges. It’s larger than the other slabs and will be a great anchor in a larger display.
I’d prefer a larger piece with this slab, and it’s a good time to make some as next year’s exhibits are coming up soon.
The Pyrrosia below could be a good fit after some clean up.
Will try this piece as well as some additional options ahead of Bay Island Bonsai’s 19th annual exhibit in January. (I can’t believe it’s been 18 years since the first one.)
In the meantime, learn more about Austin and see photos of his work here.