As a beginner, I am not yet confident enough to make an entry into a bonsai contest yet. Achieving the balance, symmetry, and proportion that a trained judge’s eye is going to look for is not something that can be learned overnight. I do enjoy following the contests though, because they can be a good learning experience. Right now, there is a couple of forums running contests that would be easy (and free) to enter or just to watch and learn from.
The Knowledge of Bonsai Progressive Styling Contest
The contest objective is to obtain stock and style it into a presentable bonsai within the time frame allotted by the rules below. In order to include all levels of enthusiasts and all levels of stock, we have created a professional and a non-professional category and sub-divided these into different stock categories. There is no price limit on stock.
Before photographs of the stock must be received no later than midnight (CST or GMT -5) July 31, 2008 in order to enter the contest.
BonsaiSite.com “Create a tree that mimics nature” contest
You must have a photo of a tree in nature you wish to mimic, then search for nursery stock from a non-bonsai nursery to use to mimic your photograph of nature. You may also use seedlings you grew yourself, rescued garden plants, and collected materials so long as no work has been done to them with the exception of a repotting. Do not collect the tree you are intending on mimicing!
Deadline for Initial picture submission of the tree you wish to mimic: December 31st, 2008
Deadline for submission of initial tree material you are using: May 31st, 2009