Let’s pretend for a moment.
Pretend this is a lovingly-made very-first attempt of someone entering a Kingdom Arts and Sciences novice competition.
How would you judge it? What would you recommend the entrant do for their next creative steps? How would you inspire their creative passion and persistence?
In Calontir the premier novice competition is Queen’s Prize Tournament, a non-competitive competition conducted in a face-to-face manner against the current Kingdom novice criteria. Although most SCA A&S competitions are conducted by a panel of judges who determine winners and losers Queen’s Prize is different. Its intent is to coach entrants on their technique, research, and process. Even so, this learning experience may sting if you find guidance distasteful.
In the SCA along with the entry item, the entrant provides information about the period inspiration sources and creative resources. For novices in C and I you only have to provide a 3X5 card with information. But I’ve never been able to keep my information to that amount. You are supposed to provide the country and period of your inspiration’s origin and its style characteristics. And list the materials and skills you used to complete your project along with the methods and tools you used. Plus you give at least one source and one visual or descriptive reference. Even as a novice I couldn’t limit my information to something so small as a 3×5 card.
For this thought experiment let’s say the documentation is outstanding. And the entrant uses Reeves gouache paints and a pointed nib dip pen with Higgins Eternal ink. To help you critique here are the current calligraphy and illumination criteria.
Judging a novice entry can be challenging. The entrant presents you their prized creation like it’s a swaddled newborn babe, but sometimes it feels like you’re cooing over an “ugly baby”. So how do you judge this virtual entry?
As the judge at Queen’s Prize, I ask the entrant how they wish to be judged. Do they want a full-on judging experience or more a conversation about their work?
Then for this entry, I’d comment on the entrant’s use of gouache paint. There is documented evidence it existed although not in tube form. And their use of a non-waterproof modern ink is also good. I’d compliment their efforts.
Then I’d talk about paint choices and color mixing. Reeves paints are affordable entry-level paints. They are difficult to mix to match period sources. I recommend upgrading tube-by-tube to better paints when the entrant runs out of paint.
Using Eternal Higgins ink is a good choice for a novice ink. But I’d suggest learning to use a broad nib pen for most scripts. And recommend they work with Drogin or Harris’s books for future works. I might suggest ways to create straighter text lines.
Now the tricky “ugly baby” part. What do you say about the human forms? And the knotwork? And their script choice?
This is where I begin talking about developing their medieval artist’s eye. Learning to observe the details and layers in the original inspiration.
Then I finish up with positive comments. Their entry’s large undertaking, especially for a novice. The human forms, knotwork, and calligraphy all used in one work. Plus they created the letter “R” with human and animal forms. I want them to finish believing they impressed me. That they are a developing into a good artist.
Judging is a skill similar to teachers grading students. It becomes difficult when you don’t know the reason the person entered and who they really are. They could be shy or a grandstander. They may be new to the group or moved from a kingdom far away. Or they’re just looking for exposure to unknown A&S endeavors.
The truth is a C and I Laurel – an expert in the field – may be a lousy judge. They know their history, technique, materials, and sources. But their most challenging skill is encouraging a competition entrant’s passion and persistence.
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