Refocusing as a Hobbyist

markyscott

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Yes Mentorship helps. As does practice. There are examples. Here’s one - raw material to the National Show with help from Boon and Daisaku. Without the skills I learned and confidence I gained through guided practice under their patient mentorship, I would not have accomplished anything close.

79006840-4C39-4D8A-AAE5-12BB29E4E454.jpeg

41038D12-6758-496F-99DF-167E019099F9.jpeg

This year I’ll be submitting three trees in two displays for the national show. All grown in Houston and two of the three are 99% my own work using the skills I’ve learned from good teachers over the last ten years. The third was purchased from Suthin and redesigned by me. So trunk by Suthin, branches by Scott.

03F690A2-3CBA-4527-B57D-4EADF82DFC60.jpeg0A2883C9-50A2-41F3-80F8-C003A29F892E.jpeg929501F5-8CD3-464B-AFCA-BD0F50EE0CBB.jpeg

Here are links to the threads recording the development of these trees:


Scott
 
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sorce

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I have the desire, but I'm missing the skill.
I never really thought that way about you, since you are rather intelligent, and that's all it takes.

So that's why I'm telling you what I'm telling you. Don't want you to be confused.

If you are truly at this point of, really, just getting better at wiring, maybe, understanding where to prune for good taper and direction..... repetition is all you need, unfortunately, like the 30 Nana's, it falls under the stupid umbrella.

Though I don't actually think it is stupid, since it's required.

However, and this isn't just for you...

To avoid being sold the grandeur, don't wish to develop mundane skills. These can be eternally sold.

Wish to have a tree in a Show, (I see you have) and all it takes to get there will follow.

Michael Jordan didn't set out to endorse a great pair of shoes to play the game in.
(You being an excellent wiresmith)

He set out to be the greatest.
(Your tree In a show)

The shoes just happened.

MJ did the basketball equivalent to wiring 30 Nana's.
......

There is interplay between a good skill set and a good collection.

We MUST consider them different though.

Doing stupid stuff Will lead to a junky collection, if you lack stack ranking skills.

But it is the only way to get good at those mundane skills.

Plus the discipline of timing.

I couldn't stay in a perceived "attack mode" toward @Leo in N E Illinois, since he is correct that you shouldn't do stupid stuff....
Except when necessary!

Sorce
 

sorce

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For the responsibility of Bonsai.

Don't sell the shit material.
Burn it.

28 of those 30 Nana's should go in the trash.

Sorce
 

rockm

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I have a totally different view on all this. I have heard at least a dozen people tell this guy to get a mentor, seek a club, join a study group, watch video's.

I would like to ask a question. Is there anyone here of these people or any of those not so inclined to post that could show a before and after of maybe five years and what the mentors, and video's and study groups have done for you. I have listened to dozens of people on this site tell of the wonderful video's of Ryan, and Bjorn and whomever is the flavor of the month, yet I never see any work nor any work improve. If watching video's is such a great thing why don't we have some really great trees floating at this site?

I'll tell you why, because while mentors and video's are good for a day, they don't give you any help for the next tree. If they did, we should see pages of great bonsai here. We don't. I am the 32 poster in this thread and so far there has not been one picture of a tree, not one. This is where I was three years ago and this is what a workshop did for me, or look at what I was able to do to my crappy tree after that video.

If a person wishes to get better, then post the pictures. Post the pictures with the attitude that your tree is shitty. You know it's gonna receive flack. Take the criticism, use the criticism. Do what was told to you to do. Don't have an attitude that I'm going to do this workshop and then blow off everything you were told because you wish to do it your way.

You wish to get a good at bonsai, you have to spend money. Want to tie flies like a pro, have to spend the money. Want to bake like a pro, have to spend the money. You say you want to be better at wiring, let me give you a little clue. Buy about 30 nana junipers. Buy a two kilo roll of each wire. Just use aluminum, you can bend most anything on a nana with Al.

Take a before photo of each one. Wire it and take another picture. Move to the next one. bend the things to within an inch of their life. You have to spend the money to get the practise. Your going to spend about 300.00 on wire and about 300.00 on material. You will learn more than 600.00 worth of workshops and classes combined. Why, cause you will do it 30 times and learn something on every tree you do. After you complete the trees, hopefully you have kept some sort of sequence so you know what you did to the first one, and how the thirtieth one looks. You now have 30 styled junipers, sell them off if you wish, give them away as gifts, whatever.

Next year, you may wish to prune them back in the spring and take off all the wire and do it all again. You prune and style and wire 60 trees and you will see how much you improve. You don't need no mentor, you don't need no workshop, you don't need no video. what you need to do is get your butt outside and work over trees, by the assembly line.

I have taken workshops many times in the last 35 years. I haven't taken any in the last seven or so. I was just so tired of hearing the same crap over and over. All the basics again, how to water, etc, etc. There are many here that will disagree. That's OK. Your ace in the hole is always "show me your trees".

"Everyone is born with a big mouth, but few are born with talent". ak

In the end, if you see no improvement by tree thirty, then maybe bonsai is not for you. I can show anyone how to style "one" tree. Thats easy, but thirty trees, you will learn something. Then, after all that, go out and buy the better piece of stock equipped now with the confidence of styling 30 trees. You will attack that material with a vengeance. It will be so easy you will wonder why everyone makes this seem so hard. It isn't.

This juniper below I did in 2003. It was for a styling contest at BonsaiTALK. I did 5 of them and decided on this one. It was the last one. Walter Pall was the judge. I came in second. I gave away a custom stand as the prize. TreeBeard won. I wonder what he is doing now?
I post this so much I know people are sick of it, but hey, you asked for it. The pics are of my live oak from collection in 1993 to how it looks now. The form in the "final" picture is not "all me" As this tree grew, I had significant help with it from mentors at the bonsai nursery where I store it in winter. Over the years, we've talked about how things should go and what should be removed/kept, health issues, etc. Sometimes this advice and consultation were free, other times I paid a "private lesson" fee for help. It's been a back and forth process. I've had to explain the species' quirks and needs to them, as it is native to Texas not Virginia.

And FWIW, if you plan on showing native species, be prepared for disappointment if the tree is anything other than a native conifer. I entered this tree in a show one year that had a flown-in judge from the U.K.. He didn't know what he was looking at, as he was unfamiliar with the species and what is required to develop it. He reportedly said (I was unable to attend the judging, as I was working) "too bad they didn't do more with this tree."
 

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Cadillactaste

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Well of course I seek better trees. That's why I've stopped buying bargain trees and making impulse purchases. I guess I'm at the point in bonsai that I want to learn all that mundane skills because that IS bonsai to a large degree. It's the patience and year in and year out work that builds the trees worthy of showing (let alone winning). I have the desire, but I'm missing the skill. No illusion there, just recognition that it's time to roll up the sleeves and make it happen.
Like to really focus on ones who also share progression threads. Like when Walter Pall shares early beginnings. Starting with superb yamadori trunks would make it even more fun to take them to the next level. My biggest accomplishments are looking at the most raw material and seeing where they are now.

If I had one I admired near me in the hobby...and had more desire to go a few hours. I would make time to be friends. Learn from their working on their trees and asking questions. But I hate to travel...horrible but true. I'm a homebody. I doubt I will ever be more than my own backyard hobbiest. Though a few trees I have had ones say...could go into a smaller scale show. Traveling with my trees. I don't see that my cup of tea either. But I commend all who do it. And if the desire is there...you will get there. (I always thought you one of knowledge in bonsai pots...and admired that of you.) You are wanting more in where you are at...that is what one needs to take that next step onto a path they have not traveled. Good luck to you.
 
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I'm kind of in that same boat. Far enough along to realize that I need to start dropping the cash on better materials and workshops, but unable to afford either off the cuff. I have made up for it by attending all the free or low priced events I can. I try to attend every club meetup and event, as well as taking advantage of any affordable workshop I can go to. The drawback is I drive a minimum of an hour and a half to get to anything bonsai related. I wish I could afford Bjorns intensives as Eisei-en is less than an hour away for me - its definitely on the bucket list but is out of reach for now.

Currently I am participating in our clubs 101 classes that are going on once per month started back in October and will run through next April with a break in December. Some of the stuff is pretty familiar from all of my web crawling but it is nice to have mentor types to work with and verify what I think is correct actually is. My goal when I am finished is to start gauging interest in the hobby in my home town and try to form some kind of study group or regular meeting here, at the least try to find 6 to 10 people willing to pay for a workshop to come to us :)
 

mattspiniken

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If you are obsessed with bonsai you will become great at it. Obsessed people figure out a way because they have to. There is a book by Grand Cardone called be obsessed or be average. I think that sums it up.

I love the idea of buying a bunch of trees and fully working them. Also I think its an important point that @Leo in N E Illinois made in noting making the mistake of loading up your life with crap trees.

Bonsai does cost money and if you want trees on a national level you will need to do one of the following:

-spend decades developing trees that are easy to find initially.
-collect great trees yourself
-spend a lot of money on quality stock
-collect great (large) landscape trees and work them.

Urban collecting is not being talked about enough. Many will complain that they don't have the money to buy great trees, and they dont have access to the mountains. Most people have great potential trees growing in there neighborhood that people are happy to get rid of and some can be incredible. Its hard to find the good ones but go for a walk on every street in your neighborhood, you will find.
 

Lars Grimm

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I am in the exact same situation. I've been doing it for 4 years now and have a new house with a bigger space. The three biggest things I have focused on are: 1) Limiting myself to just deciduous. There is so much to learn and restricting the species makes this much easier. 2) Limiting the number of trees to just ~30. I think too many people spread themselves really thin. 3) Get trees at various stages. I want to be able to practice different techniques and see how one leads into another.
 

leatherback

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Limiting the number of trees to just ~30
For me, I disagree.. Initially in my view you want so many trees tha you always have trees that need work. That way every spare hour you have you can work another tree, get skills at a rapid pace. Once these start to develop, you need to look at the time needed to maintain the trees you have. I am downsizing right now, going to try and end up with less than 100, which I hope I can take care of with ~16-26 hrs a week.
 

Smoke

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If a person is going to concentrate on deciduous trees, you will gain some years by learning to graft. Without grafting, either you wait a long time or pray to the bonsai Gods for a bud. Either way lots of years go by.

I would love to hear from someone like @William N. Valavanis and his deciduous trees. I would love to know how many have grafted branches versus no grafted branches?
 

thams

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Urban collecting is not being talked about enough. Many will complain that they don't have the money to buy great trees, and they dont have access to the mountains. Most people have great potential trees growing in there neighborhood that people are happy to get rid of and some can be incredible. Its hard to find the good ones but go for a walk on every street in your neighborhood, you will find.
I firmly believe this to be the case as well. There's a unique majesty to the high mountain yamadori to be sure, but there is some very good material scattered throughout the landscape if you look hard enough. I've found that putting out messages on neighborhood facebook pages and the nextdoor app has really opened up some opportunities for me. In a lot of cases people are fascinated that they're landscape tree/shrub that they don't want anymore will eventually be turned into a bonsai. Hell, in a few cases I've had people try to pay me to dig them up (I don't accept in case banking bonsai karma is really a thing).

I already posted a handful of these in a collection thread, but recently I dug up 14 (not all in the pictures) silverberries that have some good potential. These aren't really Nationals quality trees, but they're great to learn on and show locally once they're developed over a number of years. It only cost me about $200 for large pots and many bags of soil as well as some sweating and cursing. Finding trees like these has really rekindled my interest in bonsai. If I continue finding similar material then I think it will become a full blown obsession.

0A268003-A031-4242-BB1D-04F810C95BCA.jpegC02DF844-AE48-422A-9E86-2832858CF029.jpeg
 

thams

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(I always thought you one of knowledge in bonsai pots...and admired that of you.)
I appreciate that. I immersed myself in studying (and making) bonsai pottery as a way to stay connected to the hobby even though I couldn't really keep trees in my apartment. I'm glad that the website I created of American bonsai potters finally got some use by being linked to the American Bonsai Society page. It's a small thing, but it's kept me in touch with a lot of great bonsai folks.
 

thumblessprimate1

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If a person is going to concentrate on deciduous trees, you will gain some years by learning to graft. Without grafting, either you wait a long time or pray to the bonsai Gods for a bud. Either way lots of years go by.

I would love to hear from someone like @William N. Valavanis and his deciduous trees. I would love to know how many have grafted branches versus no grafted branches?
Grafting is a very good skill to have. I frequently graft branches on my maples and flowering quince.
I must have over dozen scion branches grafted to this by now plus a thread graft at apex.
IMG_20191107_111244_694.jpg

It's a hobbyist tree and will go only so far. To dream of national show, I'd better improve my game or hire professional help. A national show deserves the best.
 

leatherback

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Yes on grafting (Trying to learn it myself, need it for a couple of trees)

Yes o garden collections.
One of my plants found inner city last year:

tritrunkcascade.JPG
 

Smoke

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Grafting is a very good skill to have. I frequently graft branches on my maples and flowering quince.
I must have over dozen scion branches grafted to this by now plus a thread graft at apex.
View attachment 270125

It's a hobbyist tree and will go only so far. To dream of national show, I'd better improve my game or hire professional help. A national show deserves the best.
Don't sell the tree short. This makes a great companion tree for a three point display with two trees and an accent. A tree like this would be right at home in The Nationals with a display like that.
 

shinmai

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Back in the mid-90’s, I observed that if you wanted to equip yourself with durable, reliable equipment for a hobby, you would end up spending about twelve hundred dollars. It seemed true for golf, skiing, etc. When I bought serious diving gear, that was the number, plus the cost of the UW camera and accessories. When I briefly raced open-wheeled cars at Road America, twelve hundred covered shoes, gloves, underwear, three-layer fire suit—but I will be forever grateful for the Bieffe F-1 helmet that cost another $800, but saved my life. [I had an instructor in racing school who said, you go on and buy a fifty dollar helmet, if you think that’s what your brain is worth.]
Today you could probably inflation-adjust that number to two grand and it would still generally ring true.
My point is that any hobby about which you become passionate is going to cost a paycheck or two, be it all at once or ten bucks at a time. Think about how many times each month we piss away three bucks at Starbucks, or pull into Popeye’s. It’s all about priorities and choices. I softened the argument with the brains of the outfit over dropping a couple of hundred on a tree by indicating my ‘plan’ to sell a pot for a hundred. She laughed and said, “I like you better happy. If bonsai does it for you, from where I sit it’s a good investment.”
I do bonsai because it brings peace to my soul, a few minutes or hours at a time. Other than really good whiskey and beautiful companions, what else is worth spending money on? Tom T. Hall once wrote that “It’s faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.”
 

thams

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I do bonsai because it brings peace to my soul, a few minutes or hours at a time. Other than really good whiskey and beautiful companions, what else is worth spending money on? Tom T. Hall once wrote that “It’s faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.”
I like this perspective and I agree with it. The older I get, the more time it seems like I spend indoors behind a computer screen (mostly for work). My daily run gets me outdoors, but in an exhausting kind of way. As I've settled into bonsai as a hobby over the past year, I've began appreciating the time I get to spend outdoors fiddling with nature - even if it's only 30 minutes a day to take care of this or that. Better still, I've found my 4 year old daughter becoming more interested in helping water trees and assisting me in light pruning. She still scares the hell outta me when I turn around to find her holding one of my bonsai pots (usually a Roy pot). I'm happy that she's showing an interest even if she doesn't ultimately get into the hobby.
 

markyscott

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Grafting is a very good skill to have. I frequently graft branches on my maples and flowering quince.
I must have over dozen scion branches grafted to this by now plus a thread graft at apex.
View attachment 270125

It's a hobbyist tree and will go only so far. To dream of national show, I'd better improve my game or hire professional help. A national show deserves the best.
Good tree. Nice work TP!

s
 

shinmai

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I like this perspective and I agree with it. The older I get, the more time it seems like I spend indoors behind a computer screen (mostly for work). My daily run gets me outdoors, but in an exhausting kind of way. As I've settled into bonsai as a hobby over the past year, I've began appreciating the time I get to spend outdoors fiddling with nature - even if it's only 30 minutes a day to take care of this or that. Better still, I've found my 4 year old daughter becoming more interested in helping water trees and assisting me in light pruning. She still scares the hell outta me when I turn around to find her holding one of my bonsai pots (usually a Roy pot). I'm happy that she's showing an interest even if she doesn't ultimately get into the hobby.
My insidious plan involves my five-year-old grandson, Julian. I want to get him hooked on bonsai in time to inherit my trees when I die. I am hopeful that he will start as a young man, rather than an old geezer like me. If I can put ten or fifteen years into trees that are already twenty years old, I’ll leave him some serious trees to work with all of his life.
If he finds in bonsai what I have found, his entire adult life will be better for it.
 

Forsoothe!

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"You can't make a baby in month by getting nine women pregnant."

I'm in it for the journey. The hunter has to go home when he fills his bag limit. Most endeavors are like that. The thrill of the hunt; the chase; planning the next move; keeping one eye open for the next opportunity. If it ever becomes so easy that I can do it without fail, does the adrenaline just peter-out?

I'm hoping that one day I'll develop, "The Eye". That's what the Masters have that most people will never understand, much less achieve. The ability to look into a prospect, assemble a plan in his mind, then execute that plan and deliver a good looking tree in an hour or two. I learn a lot every year, change my direction a little, focus more on this or that with a little less shotgunning. Is the game over at the end of the journey?
 
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