Did you know the Kingdom of Æthelmearc is home to a wonderful albeit reclusive lady called Aunt Æthel? She likes to reside behind the scenes,  but welcomes any and all of our mundane and wacky arts and sciences questions. If you have a question you do not see answered here, please email her, and we at Kingdom A&S will make sure to post her answer when she does.
- Aethelred the Unready: Why do artisans enter competitions? It seems like an awful lot of work.
- Aunt Æthel: My dear, unready gentle, my artisans have shared with me over the years that they enter either for feedback or for exposure.  Not all see the need to enter and compete: those interested in creating the thing to wear or use can share just as well in person, at events.
- But if you are also interested in sharing your work to a broader audience otherwise unknown to you, perhaps to find someone who knows even more than you to learn from, or become known to those part of an Order you might be interested in joining someday, then visibility through participating in competitions and displays is well worth the challenge.
- Nike the Shoeless: I normally only enter a competition if I think I can win. But what if I only want to share; should I still enter an A&S competition?
- Aunt Æthel: If you are just there to share your cool project and get feedback, that is fine too: tell the judges that “tangents,” also known as “rabbit holes,”  are welcome and encouraged. You never know what might shake loose!
- Hector, Tamer of Kittens: Dear Aunt Æthel, what would you recommend to have a good shot at winning a competition?
- Aunt Æthel: My dear Hector, if you are in it to win it, then go all out and make a show piece. Use the judging criteria, have several people proofread your documentation journal, practice your presentation, test run your display and ask for critiques before the competition. Will you win then? Maybe. That’s always the answer – you have no way of knowing all the factors ahead of time, just make it the best you can each time. And then take the critique and make the next display/project/documentation/presentation better. Up your game any way you can.
- Lou Zerr: Do you have a trick to share to help me up my game?
- Aunt Æthel: My dear, Lou, use the rubrics, they are here to help! The rubric or judging criteria is a grid of scoring criteria, and is not only intended to guide judges to score less subjectively. Judging criteria are also intended to give entrants – or even just those wishing to improve – guidance on how to improve their art. Dear entrants, please read the judging criteria and self-score your entry beforehand. You can identify any issues before entering a competition or display, while you still have the opportunity to do something about it.
- And judges, the rubric can help facilitate feedback to reach the entrant, even when under time constraints, by marking each topic on the form that applies to the entered project. Keep in mind that the highest score should be for entries so good – museum quality – that the most authentic recreator would consider it perfect. Dear, dear entrants, please remember that the highest score of the judging criteria reflects expert work. Reaching this level should be the goal of the entrant, someday; but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Then when you do reach this milestone, it will be an achievement to be rightfully proud of – a true masterpiece!
- Carol of Carolingia: When I share my project does that automatically mean my work will be critiqued?
- Aunt Æthel: My dear worried Carol, no, it should not. Unless you, the artisan, specifically invites someone to critique your project, feedback should be kept to compliments. Keep in mind, though, that once you, the artisan, enters into a judged competition this will be considered consent to critique. Judges are recommended to keep their commentary focused on the project at hand and serving the compliment sandwich (constructive critique sandwiched between two feel-good compliments);  making sure every part “tastes good”.
- Unfortunately, not all commentary from judges will be helpful, and you may not like or agree with what a judge has to say about their project. That’s part of the deal though – take what you need, disregard the rest, and please, don’t take it personally. Aunt Æthel recommends not to let the judging sheet be the end of the dialogue, especially if you don’t like something or feel like you can gain more from a longer conversation. Follow up and – hey look! You made a new friend. 
- Sleepless In Siena: I entered a competition once and did not like the feedback, they asked questions about things I had already explained in my documentation. I feel like they did not know what they were judging and had not read my documentation. How is that possible?
- Aunt Æthel: My sweet but disappointed entrant, remember, the judges are all volunteers. Sometimes judges are the perfect person to judge your project, but sometimes they step in at the last moment to help fill spots and they know little about your project. You never know who you are going to get.  Your job as an entrant is to present your project in a way that someone who has no clue about what the object is can come in, see the object presented in a pleasing way, learn about it in a few minutes via documentation & presentation (project plus visual aids, clearly labeled),  and have enough context to have a semi-intelligent conversation about it, with references and sources so they can follow up if they want to.
- Even if you do get a judge working in your field, it is LOUD in A&S competitions, and not everyone reads well in noisy rooms with lots of distractions. Stupid questions and assumptions are going to happen, and sometimes have to happen for clarity. Note them and recheck your documentation. It could be that the judge missed that due to distractions, or you could have mentally filled in with your own prior knowledge and your audience has no way of knowing. Ideally, the artisan learns from the judges, but sometimes, the judges learn from the artisan, too.
- Alexandria the Apprentice: I never went to grad school and have no idea how to write a thesis: where do I even start to document my A&S project?
- Aunt Æthel: My dear Apprentice, documentation is not meant to be homework and a graduation thesis is not what the judges are looking for. Your documentation should be a combination of historical context combined with a project journal. It should tell the judges what you made, how it was made, and why it is historically authentic. And ask yourself: could a stranger to the topic understand and recreate your project using only your documentation journal? How much time will the judge have on average per entry? At an average reading speed 1500 words per 15 minutes, this limits the length of your journal. If judges need to speed-read supply keywords and highlights, and move side-quests to the appendices. Use a cover sheet summary, step-by-step instructions and photo journals to help organize the information and simplify navigation.
- Wannabeatrix: Someday, I would aspire to be a Laurel…?
- Aunt Æthel: Abso-effing-lutely!  My suggestion, however, is not to have this as a “goal” because you cannot, in the grand scheme of things, control this. You can absolutely desire it, but my recommendation is to make your goals the things over which you do have control. You can set goals about how many classes you teach, how many displays or competitions (if those appeal to you) you enter. You can make a goal of mentoring someone from start to finish on a project. You can have a goal to provide X amount of largess or X number of scroll blanks. Your goals might even be more detailed, such as buffing up your knowledge in an area enough to feel comfortable partaking in a round table on a topic. Maybe you want to get to a point where you feel comfortable hosting that roundtable. Every one of these acts can be intensely rewarding and all of them can lead towards getting your own work/teaching/research more visible so that it can better inspire others as well.
- Hopeful Janna: What is this I hear about needing to be visible if I want to advance in the Orders?
- Aunt Æthel: If the Path of the Laurel is one you think you might want to walk, you need to be aware that it is part of your job to be visible. This means you need to teach in some fashion (individually, or as a class), you need to share that information, and you need to put your work out there often enough to inspire others. Visibility plays a huge part in this entire process, and this is something that everyone needs to work out for themselves at some point.
- I encourage displays, blogging (if that suits you), posting your documentation online, being an active part of online forums about your topics of interest, and teaching (even informally). All of these things really serve far more purpose than giving your art exposure, and these are also learning opportunities for you personally. And these are all things that can inspire others (who might be inspired enough to write letters of recommendation which will then have even more people seeking your art). Online forums, displays and even blogs can also encourage a two-way conversation between you and others with the same interests. In addition to helping others through these venues, they are a great vehicle for feedback and for learning new-to-you things.
- Quirine the Skeptical: So it is not “all about who you know?”
- Aunt Æthel: It is not about “who you know”.  You do not need to be on first name basis with the Royals, you might honestly not ever have met them. That being said, the Royals do, absolutely, have to know who you are. Remember that the Royals are the ones who make the final decision on who is elevated during their reign. What this means is that your work needs to be good enough, and publicly visible enough, that even if they did not get the joy of seeing it in person at an event, people have been writing in to them about how you have inspired them as an artisan. Your work needs to create a buzz, be at a level that the Order is talking about it, which automatically means the Royals will hear these conversations.
- Ivan the Independent: But I just wanna do my own thing…
- Aunt Æthel: Artists are free to quietly work in their homes making beautiful things that they wear to events, but do not display, or do not teach. There is nothing wrong with that. But – if you do not really share the work with the community on a deeper level (and therefor open yourself to feedback of some sort), you might be doing yourself an artistic disservice. Which is fine if you just want to do your own thing, go for it! Unless you’re hoping for more, someday, down the road…
- Enabler of Largess: I am one of those people who love our inspiring Kingdom artisans… how can I help?
- Aunt Æthel: Thank your inspiration! You can do this in person, or by leaving a thank-you token with their display or entry. Yes, anyone can leave tokens – it’s fun to do so, as well has hugely rewarding in artistically meager times (feel blocked and unappreciated? Enjoy your jar of collective praise and supportive magic!). And the simplest answer of all? Write letters of recommendation.
Aunt Æthel can not stress enough that arts & sciences activities are supposed to be fun!
While most judges are careful about serving edible compliment sandwiches, sometimes you are going to get anchovies & pineapple on the same pizza.  It is unfortunate when that happens, but it does happen. It’s a risk of competition: take the feedback as it applies, disregard the rest.
A&S competitions are supposed to be educational. They are supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun for you, don’t do it. If you aren’t looking for feedback, don’t do it. But if you are, we are very happy you found us! Together, we can challenge and inspire each other and reach for the stars!
 Like Baba Yaga
 And the occasional cookie or donut.
 Not to be confused with gopher holes.
 With an aioli of encouragement and a pickle of feedback on the side.
 Or an A&S nemesis.
 Judging is like a box of chocolates: Out of period and sometimes filled with nugat.
 Powerpoint is an option, for those who dare.
 Excuse my enthusiasm!
 Well, it is 99% not about that.
 Don’t be that person.
With help from Mistress Abigail Kelhoge, Mistress Álfrún ketta, Baron Caleb Reynolds, Master Robert of Ferness and Mistress Elska.