An Tir Kingdom Arts and Science Competition

Hi there, it’s been quite a while since I posted on my blog. Quite a while… but I have stuff to share, so here I am! I just returned from a Society for Creative Anachronism event that is my “local” kingdom’s arts championship, which I won! I am planning on making a series of posts about my entries and about researching, competing, and speaking in front of an audience.

It’s late, and this is going to be quite the series of posts, so today I’m starting with an over-view and some generalized advice.




The competition:

This competition can accept a number of forms of entries: objects, research papers, research projects, performances, and I may be missing something. You can enter a single item, or enter for overall champion. I’ve entered four different times, three times for overall and one single entry.  The forms and rules have changed a bit over the years, but this year we had some great new forms that are being fine tuned, and each full entrant was required to have three entries, in any of the forms mentioned above.

My entries:

This year I entered three objects. I entered: a viking style glass mirror in the form of a silver wire wrapped pendant, based on one found in grave 559 at Birka, Sweden; a Roman style blown glass flask in the shape of a fish; and a set of Kievan Rus style silver, three-bead temple rings with filigree and granulation, based on an extant item in my possession and others in various museums.

This year there were also several new prizes presented by our King and Queen. I won several of these! The first is that I became one of the first four people awarded the honor of Scholar of An Tir. This is awarded to anyone who’s entry receives 80 or more points. All three of my entries scored over 80 pts each. I was also made the premiere member of the order of the Sable Bonnet, awarded to the highest scoring entry of the competition. My entry that won was the viking mirror entry, which earned over 100 points. I also received King’s choice for my temple ring entry.

It’s incredibly exciting and gratifying to have done so well. The last time I entered this competition was over ten years ago, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it, and experience what the current set of rules and forms are like so I can better advise my apprentices and students. Honestly, I also needed the bump to my self-esteem and to focus on some things that are fun for me in the SCA again. As I’ve spent the last couple years making much of my living at events, I’ve gotten a bit burned out and stopped enjoying them very much. My hope was to focus more on the things that initially drew me to the SCA, and it definitely worked! As I did so well, I want to share with anyone who is interested, what I did, how, and why. Especially when it comes to research and writing up documentation, as I know many people have issues with this aspect of competitions in the SCA. I also want to address how to do a presentation, both in a more intimate setting with several judges, and presenting in front of a large audience during finals. I have a lot of skills that allow me to do well in these area as I have a degree in Art History, which helped me develop good writing techniques, and I have a history in performance arts(I have also been my kingdom’s bardic champion) and public speaking. I firmly believe that almost anyone can develop these skills, but it does take practice, and good feedback helps a lot too. I know I can’t help everyone individually, but I’m hoping that something I write may be of use to you.

I mentioned that I have entered this competition four times. I want to elaborate a little on that. The first time I entered was in 2004. I was insane to do it… I was finishing up my senior year in college, getting a double degree in art history and sculpture, applying to graduate school, working, and somehow though it would be a great idea to show off what I could do before the possibility of leaving the kingdom. At that point in time four or five entries were required. My entries were a research paper on celtic penanular and anular brooches, a byzantine style bronze polycandelon with glass lamps, an anglo-saxon claw beaker, and an enameled islamic style beaker. I came to the competition with two pieces that were still in process after experiencing a number of failures, and I learned the important lesson that process is almost as important as the final object. The lessons you learn along the way, and the techniques you develop are things that judges love to see. I won that year, much to my amazement, and was catapulted into the public eye of the SCA for a year.

Two years later I entered again. This time with a paper on coptic funerary stelae, a newer and more successful cast bronze polycandelon, and a juggling performance. I got into finals, but didn’t win, and I learned that just getting to finals was great – my achievements were noticed, but I didn’t have to assume any of the responsibilities of champion. Sure, it lacked a little of the luster, but in many ways it was the best of both worlds. Later that year I entered our kingdom bardic competition and won (because I needed some more things to keep me busy, LOL). There I entered a juggling performance, a Chinese diabolo performance, a puppet show based on Chaucer’s A Nun’s Tale, and a Japanese style seragaku dance and object manipulation act.

Several years later (I don’t remember exactly which year, perhaps 2008?), I did a single entry of a Venetian style blown glass goblet. It was a good experience, but it felt anticlimactic after the rush of doing so many full entries.

In addition to entering, I student judged, then judged, and was a finals judge several times for both Kingdom A&S and Kingdom Bardic.

All of these experiences have given me an excellent view of how these competitions work, and how to provide the information judges want to see, know what kinds of questions they will probably ask, and how far I should dig and when it’s too much. There have been several other well known laurels who have worn both the bardic and arts champions cloaks, and worn the mantle of arts and sciences champion several times, and I feel that we have insight into the process that can greatly benefit those new to these competitions.

I have some preliminary pieces of advice to anyone wanting to do either a single or full entry to a kingdom level competition. The first is to sign up to student judge. It is an excellent way to get insight into the thought processes of judges, and once you know what kinds of questions to ask, and the hard judgement calls judges are sometimes forced to make, it will not only help you prepare in advance, it will allow you to retain a thicker skin during feedback. Feedback can be as kind and gentle as possible and still sting, because you are bearing a tender part of your soul to the world when you display your art and research this way, and most people don’t have a lot of experience with feedback from competitions if they are artists. In fact, they may not enjoy competition at all. And since no one is ever perfect, there WILL be constructive criticism and feedback, no matter how wonderful your entry is. But these competitions also allow you a valuable way to share your passions and hard work with the world, which can be a wonderful and exciting thing. I want everyone to come away with a positive experience that encourages them to do more, and inspires new and interesting projects.

My second piece of advice is to take part in any sort of group art critique, where you get together with other artisans and practice giving and receiving polite and kind constructive criticism. We don’t have enough opportunities to do this in the SCA (at least in my opinion), but you can also participate in modern arts groups, or even have your own arts gathering geared towards having these experiences.

Thirdly, get your hands on competition rule books, judging forms and rubrics, as soon as you can. If your entry could fit in multiple catagories, read through and see what judging sheets are best suited towards your entry and how you want to present it. Make a list of every single thing on those judging sheets, and turn that into your outline. rearrange them to suit the logical flow of your project. Think of all of the questions you might ask about your project and add those into the outline. Then start writing. If you do some crazy side project that is really neat, but ends up not being totally pertinent to your main line of inquiry, share it in an appendix. If you have trouble writing, start with bullet points. You don’t have to write beautifully, as long as you get the points across, and bullet points can do that in a concise and easy to follow fashion. Then find images of your inspirations and take pictures of your project and process, and use these to help illustrate your points.

When you are writing, use a citation style and stick with it. Generally I prefer a citation style with footnotes, so references are easy to find without flipping pages. It can even be your own style. Just make sure that you include author, date, title, publication, publisher, and page numbers. If you can get ISBNs, those are nice too. and remain consistent in your treatment of sources. If you are using on-line sources, try to figure out if articles were originally published in a paper journal, and include URLs. When considering how many sources you need, a good minimum is at least six or seven, and at least two or three of those should be journal articles, and hopefully at least one is an extant object/writing/or other form of primary source. These days it is easy to get access to journal articles online, which is fabulous. My favorite ways of finding these are through JSTOR and But you can also just google “journal article on underwater basket weaving” and sometimes come up with publication locations at museums, specialized online databases, and more. If something looks promising but access is limited, look up that exact article title and see if it’s free to read or download somewhere else. It used to be really hard to research if you weren’t associated with a university or institution, but that has changed a LOT, and in good ways! Remember, you don’t have to stick with art, art history, archaeology, and history journals. Consult science journals covering things like materials as well. Brainstorm ways that subjects might be able to link back to your area of research, especially if it’s something without much writing done on it. Look for information on adjacent areas, cultures, trade routes, anything that might tie in. Don’t be afraid to write to museums to ask for more information – the worst they can do is ignore you. And often it’s pleasantly surprising how happy they are to help. Museums will also often have lists of places artifacts have been published – tracing those down through the web or inter library loan can be great. If you only find one article, see what it cites and try tracking some of those down. Also ask friends and mentors for help researching if you need it. And give your drafts to first readers well before the competition so that they have time to give good feedback and you have time to implement it.

That is way more than I intended to write tonight, and probably a lot to absorb, so that’s all for tonight. Tomorrow I’ll try to start going through one of my entries and my processes for researching and making it.

-Vandy / Ælfgifu


See you at Radcon!

Hi there! This is just a quick update to let you know that I’ll be a panelist at RadCon 7 this weekend, in Pasco, Washington. I’ll be getting there on Friday afternoon, and I will be on panels and have some of my artwork for sale in the art show. I will also be doing an art demonstration from 4:15 – 5:15pm on Saturday in the Art Show. I will probably be demonstrating armature-making and sculpting techniques, and perhaps how I do my faux metal painting. I will also have some copies of my coloring book and calendar with me, available for sale.

In addition to my coloring books, I will have some exciting new items for sale in the art show. I will be showing some of the artwork I made while in Mexico last summer, for the first time at a con. They are 8”x8” original mixed media & encaustic on wood, and bidding will start at $40 (or direct sale $50). I also developed a new method of doing prints of my encaustic and multi-media work and will have my first of these prints in the art show. They are on wood, with an encaustic finish, and look more true to the original than paper prints, and they don’t need to be framed! Bidding on these will start at $30 (or direct sale $40).

Here is my schedule of panels for the weekend:

RadCon 7
Itinerary for Vandy Hall

Fri Feb 12 5:30:pm
Fri Feb 12 6:30:pm
Fantasy Coloring Books for Adults
Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore! There has been a recent surge of interest in adult-oriented and fantasy-themed coloring books. Let’s discuss the phenomenon and learn why it’s okay to be coloring those unicorns again.
Gibbitt Rhys-Jones Herb Leonhard Kamila Miller Roberta Gregory Scott Brown Vandy Hall
Fri Feb 12 6:45:pm
Fri Feb 12 9:45:pm
Art Jam
Sage Room (Puppets)
Sit down and draw for an hour! Toss around ideas with other artists at Radcon and flex those art muscles. All skill levels are welcome.
Amy Calkins Douglas Herring Durlyn Alexander Herb Leonhard Jeff Sturgeon John Gray Kenneth Siefring L James Martin Cameron Meg James Roberta Gregory Stephanie Law Vandy Hall



Sat Feb 13 10:00:am
Sat Feb 13 11:00:am
Collaborations: Across the Arts
Many endeavors are by nature collaborations – books, graphic novels, and comics combine writing, publishing, and art, audio books are a collaboration with the recording artist, and film combines everything from music to script writing. We sometimes choose more unique collaborations such as paintings where several artists leave their mark on the canvas, or collections of short stories set in a specific world. What are examples of collaborations that have worked well or worked poorly? What skills are needed to successfully collaborate or manage a collaboration? Hear the panelists personal collaboration stories and the most important lessons they have learned when working with others.
Doug Odell Elton Elliott Roberta Gregory Rory Miller Vandy Hall

Sat Feb 13 11:15:am
Sat Feb 13 12:15:pm
Tales of the Working Artist
Can you really make a living as an artist? Our panel of professionals share their stories a nd discuss ways to support yourself by doing what you love.
Herb Leonhard Jeff Sturgeon John Gray Stephanie Law Vandy Hall

Sat Feb 13 12:30:pm
Sat Feb 13 1:30:pm
How Big a Fish Do You Need To Be?
You’re an independent writer. You’re an independent musician. You’re an independent artist. How big do you need to be to make a sustainable living? The traditional track to success has involved the large imprints and labels, but that’s not working so well anymore, particularly not for musicians. Come listen to our pros talk about alternative ways of building your own career niche as an independent creator.
Joyce Reynolds-Ward Kevin Wiley Tom Gondolfi Vandy Hall

Sat Feb 13 1:45:pm
Sat Feb 13 2:45:pm
Making Your Own Way
Living the creative life and making a living at your art seems like the impossible dream to some. There are conventional ways to go about this, but breaking the rules may be just the thing. A discussion on the trials, challenges, and benefits of escaping from the default world’s default choices.
Jennifer Brozek John Lovett Kevin Wiley Tamra Excell Vandy Hall

Sat Feb 13 4:15:pm
Sat Feb 13 5:15:pm
Vandy H. Hall Art Demo
Art Show
Armatures, sculpting, painting

Palouse Falls


I finally got a chance to start going through some of the photos I took while traveling to and from Miscon, and decided to share the ones of Palouse Falls in eastern Washington first.


The falls are breathtaking, showing a classing PNW array of colorful lichens, but in a canyon in the middle of the desert. In the spring, with blush and green colors from fresh growth, it is particularly amazing.




The falls are inhabited by numerous critters, including yellow bellied marmots. Very fat yellow bellied marmots, that were convinced that I should have paid them in treats for their excellent modeling job. :)


In addition to the glut of marmots, I counted over twelve other photographers armed with tripods. I felt totally outclassed! But the scenery and inhabitants are so picturesque that it would be hard to leave without a few good shots.


Slav Temple Rings

This weekend I got to wear my new slav temple rings for the first time! They are pretty much the best birthday gift ever, they were made for me by my dad, Morgan Hall. While he’s not going to be making these for sale, it is possible that he may be pursuaded to make some simpler ones, and hopefulky I can put some up on our etsy site. So excited, they are sooooo pretty!





Hiking at Silver Creek Falls State Park with Corgis

image Sunday I hiked at Silver Creek Falls State Park with my friends Cat and Jamie and their two corgis. Because we had the corgis with us we eschewed the normal waterfall loop (no dogs allowed) and started up the first dog friendly trail we saw where there was a parking place. The trail started out nicely enough, some gradual ups and down, with an occasional wider muddy spot.image While it certainly wasn’t the dramatic beauty of the waterfalls trail, it was a lovely amble through mid and old growth fir. I always enjoy the dramatic directional lighting of the spring shining through branches and illuminating moss covered trees with green-gold outlines. image image It also had the advantage of not being over-crowded, which is definitely a possibility on a Sunday afternoon with nice weather. image We reached a junction in trails where we had the option of heading up the hill on a loop, or down to the horse camp. We chose to go up on the theory that we’d rather go down while headed home. It was good at first, until the path became one long uphill slide of muddy doom. image In addition to the mud, there was a fair share of horse dung, which delighted the corgis. Despite these difficulties, we conquered the summit and continued on a while before turning back, as we thought it too late in the afternoon to complete the entire loop. We later discovered that we’d gone more than half way before turning back, thus going further than if we’d completed the loop. At least this meant more miles covered for my backpacking training hikes. image While we didn’t pass many people, only a couple of sets of hikers, we were passed by some horseback riders, giving one of the corgis, Delta, her first experience with a horse. image The slog back down the slipper slope of mud was even more exciting than the hike up it, causing me to be very grateful for the trekking poles I picked up at Costco. image While a little boring scenery-wise compared to my usual waterfall finding expeditions, we did see many lovely spring wildflowers, some interesting fungi, and of course the woods in the spring are always inspiring. While we didn’t have and wide open mountain views of the sort that photograph well, there were some good views going up the hillside. image image image And of course there was some silliness along the way! image We returned to the car covered in mud, with two very dirty and tired puppies. image We decided to get at least one waterfall viewing in, so we drove to the main parking lot and dodged Japanese tourist to reach the first good viewpoint. imageimageimage      I must admit that after the day’s activities I was glad to not have any evening plans. I was tired enough that I fell asleep in the car on my way back to Cat and Jamie’s house. I rested really well last night, and woke up pretty sore, but mostly in a good way.