What is a Bonsai Show For?
Every February, as we get to within less than two months of the annual show, (at the San Mateo Event Center now) I start to panic a little about whether or not enough members will turn out to show trees and about how the show will turn out.
As I mentioned last year, it takes a lot of work to prep trees for show. Here are a couple articles I wrote about the process:
In the article above I start by saying when I teach people, 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. This may warrant some further explanation and exploration.
From my perspective, the reason to show a tree in a public venue is to push the envelope of what you can accomplish. Think about the number of people that will be viewing the plant and imagine what each may think. The more time and artistry you can put into your composition the more powerful it can become as an ambassador 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 YOU to become a serious bonsai enthusiast. Showing a tree will teach you something, it may teach you a lot of things in fact. So don’t discount the possibility of putting a tree in the BSSF annual show. Here’s the 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 of a workshop with Peter Tea, Matt Reel, myself or anyone else; take the trees and get a second opinion. 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? Jonas Dupuich of Bonsaitonight.com told me that when he visited Aichi-en nursery in Nagoya that the way they did show prep was to do everything that they could until they knew they were done…then work for at least another hour on the tree.
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. Go for a walk at Round Valley Regional Preserve outside Livermore…(there’s lots of moss there.) When you get to the show you’ll need a stand. See if you can borrow one; see if you can make one. Attend the BGLM fundraiser and see if any of the vendors are selling one 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.
Take a look at the show information sheet, sign up for some docent shifts. I hope to see a lot of you at the show this year!