There is something to be learned from everything, but when it comes to making your trees ready for exhibition, you will have to overcome all the faults and little details that you have been ignoring.
Every year, as the days creep closer to show time, I start to panic a little about whether or not I can pull off an exhibit of my trees that really shines. It takes a lot of work to prep trees for show. Here are a couple articles I wrote about the process:
When I teach students they sometimes indicate that they just want to grow bonsai, not show them. My advice to them is to take it one step at a time; and not to limit themselves in what they will do until they understand the entire process.
From my perspective, among the reasons to show trees in a public venue is to push the envelope of what you can accomplish as a bonsai grower. Think about the number of people that will be viewing your trees and imagine what each may think. The more time and artistry you can put into your compositions the more powerful they can become as ambassadors of bonsai to the public.
Show prep is not just about the tree – it is about the journey you take with the tree, learning, appreciating, refining your eye, refining your skills. I recall as a beginner thinking that I would never be able to accomplish the type of detailed trees that I saw the senior members working with. But years later, I find myself on the opposite side of the table, encouraging students to become a serious bonsai enthusiast. Showing a tree will teach you something, it may teach you a lot of things in fact; don’t discount the possibility of putting a tree in an upcoming show. Here’s a path that I would suggest:
Take a look around your collection and choose two or three trees that you think are the most interesting. Sign up for a workshop with a visiting bonsai professional, or take them to a teacher you respect. Choose the best of the contenders and settle in for some serious work. Is the tree wired? Can you adjust the crown shape to improve the appearance for the show? Can you find a better container to use before repotting season ends? Can you find a source for beautiful “Super Silver” moss? Do everything that you can until you think you’re done…then work for at least another hour on the tree.
Even if you think you’re done, challenge yourself in these ways: Make a call to a friend and ask them the last time they saw a nice patch of moss. Go for a walk in the park or go for a hike in a nearby wilderness looking for moss. When you get to the show you’ll need a stand. See if you can borrow one; see if you can make one. Attend a different regional bonsai show that has vendors and see if any of the vendors are selling a stand that would work for you.
Preparing for and then actually entering a show will also teach you that trees must conform in some ways in order to work in the context of a show. When you arrive with your tree it will be placed among other bonsai. The height, directionality (flow) and the species are all important for the setup of the exhibit.
This article is an edited and rewritten version of one I wrote for the bssf.org site in January of 2016.