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The Gazette thanks Mistress Bronwen Rose of Greyling for this thoughtful article. 

This article discusses commentary from this year’s King’s and Queen’s Arts and Sciences Championships, where twenty-seven bold A&S entrants brought their A-game to the Barony of Concordia in February. (K&Q’s Bardic Championships were held concurrently but are not discussed here.) When looking to improve any repeating event, some thoughtful post-event contemplation and information-sharing is helpful. As a part of that post-contest analysis, here is a summary of written judges’ comments that may be helpful to future K&Q’s A&S competitors and judges.

This year’s contest featured face-to-face judging using score sheets that can be found at http://www.kqchamps.org/a-s-competition/judging-as under General Rubric and Research Paper Rubric. The contest format, organization, and scoring were developed by the Kingdom Champions, Mistress Lissa Underhill and Master Magnus hvalmagi, who built on the experience of Champions, entrants, and judges from the past several K&Q’s A&S Championships.

Numerical scores averaged 17.8 of a possible 25 points, but numbers tell only a small part of the story. Some judges gave in-person verbal feedback, and organizers expect this to be standard going forward. Written comments were also given to every entrant on Feedback forms. These comments remarked on successful strategies and suggested ways to make entries more understandable, relevant, and comprehensive.

Feedback form comments give a good idea of what the judges were looking for and what future participants may expect. To keep the true flavor of the written feedback, direct quotes from the forms are reproduced below in italics although identifying info has been removed. Judges’ comments have been organized into some common themes to provide guidance for artisans not able to attend the event and those who have aspirations to enter it next year.

Delight was evident. “I wanted to sit down with a knife and fork and eat. ♦ Crazy-good project. ♦ Thank you for entering. You showed great courage to put yourself and your work out there. ♦ You did a wonderful job of thinking outside the box to come up with solutions in the process. ♦ Super fun! Huge project. Massive undertaking especially with your tools. Love it! ♦ We appreciate you traveling to us and taking the risks—it shows you care about your art and are reaching out to others with your knowledge.”

Judges were excited by excellence in technique, great workmanship, home-made tools, and elegant experiments. “Gorgeous execution. ♦ Great level of detail. ♦ You show a clear understanding of medieval aesthetic. ♦ Making and showing your tools is also great. ♦Your skills are exquisite! ♦ You made the “thing” to make the “thing”—and then you made the “thing.” We were so excited! ♦ Your enthusiasm is contagious and your knowledge of subject matter is thorough.”

Feedback frequently gave specific advice to entrants about improving their entry.

Describe as clearly as you can what would have been done in period. Also describe what you have done. Try to include images of period examples that you used for inspiration. Photos of your work during the phases of construction help people visualize what you have done to create the work before them. “Be clear about what materials were used in period and whether or not you used those materials. ♦ Include photos of the extant items you are trying to reproduce. ♦ Document process as you go—process photos. ♦ Try to recreate an extant example and include a photo of that for comparison. ♦ Pay close attention to details in your inspiration piece. ♦ Compare your creations (i.e. how did they work?). ♦ The in-process ‘failures’ are wonderful. Please keep them. Your explanation of the process is vivid and exciting and absolutely brings your project to life.”

Historical Background is vital to your judges and spectators who want to understand your work. Imagine you are telling a friend what you’ve found out about the construction and importance of your entry in its time and culture. “Give some historical context. ♦ In your documentation please include more references on what you are emulating. ♦ We would like you to describe how [this] was used, significance, the historical impact, in the time period. ♦ Provide documentation for more of the ingredients.”

Sources help your reader follow your journey to your conclusions. “Try including in-text citations to improve your documentation and/or annotated bibliography. ♦ It would be very helpful to link your “works consulted” more explicitly into the body of your documentation. ♦ Great sources!”

Go deeper. Find ways to make your work broader, more thorough, more period-focused.

  • Find more source material “Look at additional translations. Try multiple batches and/or find another source
  • Investigate a related culture. “Have you considered comparing a similar [item] as interpreted by different countries?”
  • Work towards understanding more period processes. “Try experimenting with period methods. Use more period materials. Try working with a quill. Wed like to see some work done in a period manner using original artwork.
  • Aim for the stars:Challenge yourself with additional ornamentation, be it in accessories or trim. We would love to see a more complex final piece to highlight your skills. Keep practicing and improving. You are going in the right direction by focusing on the details and process.

Get some help from researchers, artisans, editors, scientists, and other experts around the SCA. “Society” is our first name–so ask around–there’s bound to be someone who has interests and experiences related to what you’re doing. It’s a big Kingdom and its people can be amazingly generous with their help.

  • For practical help look around for info on who’s good at something related to your interests—i.e. pottery, metalwork, dyeing, languages. Ask locally and at events. Ask at workshops and classes. Ask around on Facebook’s SCA East Kingdom and SCA Library of Alexandria “For additional [help] see if you can find a mentor. Get more references from practicing experts with experience in your field to help you make better choices.
  • For written documentation ask for pointers from experienced researchers and librarians. They really are there to help. “Discuss your research with librarians or research experts to better support your decisions and your next steps and to enlarge your knowledge base. Understand the chemistry involved. Focus on scholarly research.
  • For proofreading, find an intelligent, motivated friend who doesn’t know all about your work. (!) Get your friend to read your written documentation aloud to you so you can hear what you said instead of what you were trying to say. (This is all-but-impossible to do for yourself.) “Get people to read [your work] aloud for you. Connect with people who can help you with your documentation and prepare for next competition. Show more examples to make points clearer.
  • Find an editor, an experienced writer, or teacher to help you organize your thoughts and express them clearly so you and your readers have more fun. It is not simple to write a clear and comprehensive account of what you did and how that fits into medieval life. If somebody offers to help you, don’t be shy. Contact them right away and see if they have the time and skills to benefit your project. “Your work should be more analysis rather than just doing a report. Provide a clearer and earlier hypothesis in your research paper. We would have liked to see a more specific thesis statement with supporting conclusions.” You’ll know your written work is hitting the mark when you read “Paper was well-organized and easy to read. Clear and accessible to the non-professional. The graphic work was excellent. Depth of knowledge is very evident. You explain it very clearly in person. Practicality and usefulness is impressive.

Consider contest strategy.

  • Read the rules and documents of the contest carefully. Put yourself in your judges’ place: try scoring your entry using the contest score sheet. If you can’t find a specific score sheet for the contest you plan to enter, use the K&Q’s A&S rubric https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6FxAc78rj92ampicDVYRWxnRGc/view from this year. Scoring your own entry will help you see your work in a different light.
  • Edit your entry. Bring only items representing your very best work AND directly contributing to the “story” you are presenting. Focus your documentation on your entry today. “Target documentation on what specifically you are presenting. Tie your documentation to each pieces in a clear and concise manner. Pictures are good but only show ones that support the pieces you have.”
  • Presentation is important. An A&S Contest is about much more than a score. Most of the people who will view your work are not judges so try to make your work easily accessible to a spectator. “Work on presentation. This didn’t impact your score but would jazz it up.” Try to devise an eye-catching and intriguing display. Think about background, arrangement, illustrations, diagrams, or cards like you see in a museum with a few words in large print to label the items in your entry for the casual observer. What kind of excitement might you spark in a spectator?
  • Ask an experienced judge or competitor to go over your work with you a few weeks before the contest.
  • Look for the A&S Consultants table at an event near you. This is a brand new Kingdom Arts and Sciences initiative planned to connect you with experienced A&S judges to discuss your work. They’ll be there to provide insight and guidance. Use them.

Judges and populace simply cannot wait to see what the future of these researchers and artists will bring. “We have seen lots of growth and look forward to future projects! ♦ You are clearly passionate about your topic. ♦ Enthusiasm was plain to see. Keep going. ♦ We look forward to seeing more of your work. ♦ Rock on! ♦ Your excitement is inspiring. ♦ You have promising skill and we would love to see future work. ♦ Can’t wait to see what you show us next time.”

Entrants, spectators, royalty, and judges all seemed to have a rockin’ good time. Let’s do it again next year. Between now and then, let’s fan the fires of enthusiasm and vigorously support the artisans and researchers around our Kingdom. It’ll be exciting to see who enters the contest next year and what beautiful and fascinating knowledge they bring.