Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Competing with the Ice Dragon

I have a love-hate relationship with competition.

Sure, I love to win, but I don't take criticism well (it tends to stop my progress in its tracks, even if it's well-meant and constructive), which is a failing of mine.

However, since this is a hard thing for me, I did put it on my list of goals, and therefore, I have now accomplished it by entering the Ice Dragon Pentathlon last weekend.
The Festival of the Passing of the Ice Dragon is an early-spring SCA event in Buffalo every year, which features both large amounts of Fencing and Heavy Fighting, and an Arts and Sciences Pentathlon competition.

You can enter things in one or more categories in the Pent, but the idea is to enter in five categories. Each category is scored separately, and has its own winner, but the judges then tally up the entries of those who entered in five categories, and there is an overall Pentathlon winner. This person may or may not have placed first in all or even any of the categories they entered.

I have entered the Pent three times over eight years.

The first time I entered, it was with a purple raw-silk cotehardie with cotton floss celtic knotwork embroidery on the collar. I stayed up all night finishing the embroidery (thus setting the tone for my SCA future). I didn't have documentation, because I hate doing documentation, and at the time I had no idea it was required (I'm not sure anyone said it was required, actually).
I don't have any memory of how well I did score-wise, but the comments were anonymous and nasty. One person commented that they weren't going to bother scoring it because I hadn't included documentation. Though I had been involved in the SCA for about ten years at that point, and so while I was upset, I wasn't tempted to quit. If I had been new, that would have been my last event.

The second time I knew more of what I was doing, and included documentation (maybe not great documentation, but something, anyway). I entered three items with two cross-entries: a particolored cotehardie (proper, this time) with embroidery and hand-made cloth buttons, a scroll I had made for my husband's knighting with Mongolian lettering and a stamp, and some wool I had drop-spun.

The commentary was better that time (they had been working hard with the judges to improve it), and I think I scored better that time as well.
I still left feeling icky about my work, which was more upsetting because I felt my purpose in life was art and handcrafts, and was very unused to having my work in those areas criticized. As I said, it's a personal failing.
I determined after that entry that I did not have the temperament to enter competitions, and so I just didn't. It's been six years since that event.

So here I am, having come out of the third time entering the Pent.
I'm a lot more okay with it than I was last time. Maybe it's personal growth, maybe it's just that I went into it expecting not to do well, so I wasn't disappointed. It could also be that I did much better in a couple of categories than I have before.
For reference, the ribbons are: yellow: last place, green: third place, red: second place, blue: first place (this is based on number ranges, not on a comparison with others--I have no idea how I ranked compared to others in these categories).

I entered four items, one cross-entered.
1) My boqtaq, which I've been posting about recently: red ribbon

2) The cochineal dyeing I did for the boqtaq: green ribbon

3) My houppelande: green ribbon

4) My birgitta cap (embroidery): blue ribbon

5) My Black Hours scroll: green ribbon

I got some good commentary, and a lot of lovely little tokens. People leave tokens if they like a piece, whether or not they are judging it. My personal tokens are little porcelain discs with a stamp made of strawberry leaves and my first initial, glazed in green, made by my friend Honnoria, who is an amazing ceramicist.


I know I fell down on some of the documentation:
My documentation for the Black Hours scroll was basically just a link to the piece I based it on, and a description of the way I made it. If I'd really wanted to do well, I would have used dyed parchment and shell gold instead of gold ink and black paper, and I would have done a bit more research into the source material.
My documentation for the Birgitta Cap was mostly internet sources, and the one non-internet source I used was in Swedish, which I barely read. I was trusting the readings of the people who had made it before me.
The documentation notes for the Boqtaq and the Houppelande were taken directly from my class notes, and modified. I did this at the last minute, so especially with regards to the Houppelande, I could have done a better job.
I had removed all the references to techniques I hadn't actually used in the construction of that piece, but it seems some of the judges would have preferred to see the options. I also didn't include any mention of the specifics of my piece, such as the lining of the sleeves and the fur collar.

There was one thing I wanted to respond to, though, which was a comment on the Boqtaq that I should have used more period decoration.
I didn't talk about the beadwork in the documentation (clearly I should have), but I don't know why the judge thought it wasn't period. I used pearls and coral, both of which were available and prized by Mongols in period. The beadwork in the paintings uses both of those materials, as does the beadwork on the headdress I included in the notes. The only potentially modern bit on it was some thin brass leaf-charms (partly used because I had a lot of them around, and partly because I use leaves as my tokens), which, though modern, could certainly have been made in period. Mongols worked in brass a lot.
Khalkha plait covers, coral and pearl, Bogdo Khan Residential Museum

That's probably the one real gripe I have about the Pent, and it's not a huge one, really. I understand that it is really hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time. People want to fence or fight and also enter or judge the Pent. People want to socialize and also do one or more things. To require judges and entrants to be there the whole day would be a lot to ask.
That said, I really appreciate things like the display at Pennsic, where you are often expected to sit with your work all day and talk to people about it. Of course, at Pennsic it's two weeks, and you can skip your other activities for four to six hours to sit in a display and not miss much.
That's a lot harder at a one day, multi-focal event like this one.

So, while I would have preferred to get the chance to talk face-to-face with the judges and defend my choices, I also was pleased to not have to sit in a room all day long.

A friend of mine told me today that I had come in second in the Pent. I was not expecting that at all. I don't know if there will be a fourth time, but I can honestly say I feel better about this competition than I ever have before, and that's a plus.