Friday, February 3, 2012

A Note on Arts and Sciences Competitions in the SCA

And The Winner Is...

For anyone who was wondering whatever happened to "Underneath Her Clothes", my 14th century shift project,  I entered the project into the Tir Mara Arts and Sciences Championships in November 2011.  The results?  I did not win the competition but I came in 2nd place, which meant that I was awarded with being named the Tir Mara A&S Prince's Champion.  It was an honour for me and I was very proud to stand in court that day.  Here's a photo of me doing just that...of course you can't see my face but I was smiling from ear to ear!

So, because I did not win this competition I was allowed to enter my project into our Ruantallan Baronial Arts and Sciences Championships held at our 12th Night event in early January.  This competition I DID win!  Unfortunately there is no photo of me in court here because the poor Baron and Baroness were both too ill to attend the my day in the sun will come soon enough.

I am very VERY proud of my results after all the work I put into this project.  It's always nice to be recognized for the work you put into something you enjoy.

With all that said I would like to offer my advice on preparing for an Arts and Science competition.

Do It For Yourself First

First of all, I want everyone to know that the most important person to impress in these competitions is YOURSELF.

Arts and Science competitions are likely the most subjective competitions you will ever encounter in the SCA.  It's not like heavy fighting...where the last person standing wins.  No, there are SO many different things that people can offer into an A&S comp and SO many different people who can be called upon to judgt these comps that there is really no definitive way to say who is "The Best".

So, if you are entering a competition just to win, don't bother.  Enter the competition to show off the results of something you have enjoyed doing and to show others how you have done it.   Whether or not you win, be proud of your entry.

My Work Isn't Good Enough

Bollocks!  If we could all just push aside the word "competition" and replace it with the word "display" I think more people would feel better about showing off their work.  I will repeat:  If you are entering an A&S competition to win, don't bother.  There are so many other reasons to enter these competitions.  First and foremost, it is to share your interest with others.  Believe me, there will be someone out there who has an interest in what you're doing and wants to know how you do it.  This is one of the only ways we have to share our information, tips and research resources.  Second, it is a perfect opportunity to get some feedback on your project.  Although not every judge will know everything there is to know about what you are doing, there is likely someone there who knows even just a little about it who can offer you their own tips and research resources.  And finally, A&S competitions are much more interesting when there are lots of projects to peruse for the rest of us!

What Do I Need to Do to Enter?

Here is an example of the parameters of pretty much all the competitions I've entered since I joined the SCA:

Each artisan should submit a single entry, being a single item, or collection of related items that can be judged as a single entry. It must have been completed within the last 2 years (i.e. since the last regional arts and sciences championship). Entries that have previously won a regional or kingdom championship cannot be entered.
Pure research papers are not allowed. Performance entries should have a large component of original work (e.g. a new composition in a period style).

Written documentation is required for all entries. The main written text must not exceed three pages in 12 point font. References, figures etc. may be on additional pages.
Judges will be marking the entries according to the following criteria:
  • Complexity and technical difficulty (out of 5)
  • Skill in execution (out of 5)
  • Authenticity of the work, and quality of the documentation (out of 5)
  • Novel artistic value and/or originality (out of 1).
"Quality of documentation" refers to the substance and scholarship of the documentation, NOT to the elegance of the writing.

The last criterion, "Originality or novel artistic value", is a bonus to reward entries that represent meritorious artistic input by the artisan, or display a novel, or rarely-used, art or science (or a novel application of an art and science): For example, an artistically excellent portrait of Her Royal Highness, the Princess, in the style of Leonardo da Vinci would certainly score the bonus point, whereas a reproduction of the Mona Lisa would not. A replica of a pilgrim badge in cast pewter would not score (pewter casting is a very well-established art and science in the SCA, and here used in a typical context), whereas an acid-etched piece of armour probably would score (especially if the design were novel and artistically meritorious).

EEK!  This Looks Like a Lot of Work!  I Can't Do That!

Yes, you can.  All you REALLY need to enter is a project. Though not all competitions have the same parameters many of them are simply open to anyone with a project, whatever that project is. You don't even have to write a novel about it...though just a little explanation for those of us who may have no idea what it is that you are making is always helpful.

Now, if you are one of those people (like me!) who like to go head over heels into an A&S project here is how I interpret the "rules" and what I have done:

Documentation Length:  Yes, it says "3 pages in 12 point form"...that does not mean you have to have 3 pages.  This is simply the limit, because judges don't want to take all day to read through the projects.  For someone like me, 3 pages is a challenge!  If you have the same problems as I do, the only thing you can really do is play with the margins of your pages.  And if you are not sure if your project is too long, see what it looks like without the pictures or big titles...if it fits on 3 pages after that, you're fine.  Remember, references are not included in the length either.

Complexity and Technical Difficulty:  This is one of those subjective things to judge.  Only those who know how do do what you are doing know how difficult or technical the project was.  There is usually at least one judge who will be able to know this.  If this is your first project, don't worry about how difficult it was for you.  We all have to start somewhere!  When you are writing about it, though, if there is some technique that you used that you know is generally difficult for people to grasp, make note of it so the judges realize this.

Skill and Execution:  Again, another subjective judgement.  These points, however, should have nothing to do with how difficult a project might be.  These points should be about how well you mastered the techniques presented.  If your project was simply to show how to hem a skirt, make sure you do your best job on that hemming, using the best materials you have available to you!  If your project was to construct an entire medieval village to scale out of authentic materials, make sure you do your best job on that construction, using the best materials you  have available to you!  It doesn't matter what it is you are making, just do your best!

Authenticity of the Work and Quality of Documentation:  In my opinion, this is the area of judgement that is the most difficult to get right.  What the judges want to know is if your project really could have been something made in the time period from which it is being drawn.  Pictures and references are very important here.  And I don't mean pictures of what someone else has made before.  I mean historical copies of paintings, illuminations or drawings...photographs of actual pieces found in excavation...even your own photographs of these items you've seen in museums.  The judges want to know if the materials and techniques you used are authentic, so find a reference for that material/technique being used in the time period of the project.  If you weren't able to use an authentic material/technique due to non-availability or financial reasons, explain what you would have done if you could and site a reference.  As for documentation, it has nothing to do with how well you write.  It has everything to do with your research and references.  Site your references.  Make sure you give your sources for your images.  With this said, the quality of your sources is going to be judged as well.  Make sure your Internet references are relevant, up to date and that they have their own references for authenticity!  Make sure you use the most up to date books with the most recent information regarding excavations on your project's time period.

Though the look of your document is not being judged, when you go to put it all together, I find using as many pictures as possible is very helpful, whether it includes historical images or photos of the progress of your project.  It makes it more interesting for the judges and other people to read!

Novel Artistic Value and/or Originality:  Again, another subjective thing.  But you will get more originality points if you've made something rarely seen in competitions.  As for artistic value, beauty is in the eye of the beholder as far as I'm concerned.

And so, Lords and Ladies, that is how I approach my projects!  I personally enjoy the research just as much if not more than the production of the project itself.  I like to document as much as I can about what I do...I keep a "journal" of sorts on what I've done throughout the process...failures and successes included!  I keep a binder on references and even little sketches that I may have done.  This is all usually because it's been so long since the beginning of a project that sometimes I forget what I was doing in the first place when I go to write my paper on it!

In any case, for those who still feel intimidated to enter an A&S competition, get over it!  The SCA is just for fun!  If it's not fun anymore, don't do it!  Enjoy everything you do in the SCA, that's the most important advice I can give!