I recently spent a few days judging at a county fair as I do each summer. This year, I judged a wide variety of arts & crafts, upcycled projects, and paper crafts. It was inspiring, exhausting, fun, and often very hard.
I carefully examine each and every entry, compare it against the scorecard, and take a lot of notes. I put a lot of thought into which item will get the coveted 1st, 2nd or 3rd and the cash prizes that do along with them. I leave constructive comments for each entry. My hand aches by the end of the day. I joke with my fellow judges that I wish I could have rubber stamps made with some of the comments that I have to write over and over. "Carefully remove all glue gun strings before submitting project" would be the first rubber stamp I'd have made. What I ACTUALLY would want it to say is, "Seriously... you spend 5 hours on a gorgeous project and don't spend 2 minutes removing glue gun strings?! What is wrong with you?!"
As I worked, I started making a mental list of all the things I wish I could say to the people whose projects I was judging. It goes something like this:
Thank you for submitting your project. I have spent the last five minutes carefully inspecting it. There are some things I would like you to know, things that I can't fit onto the tiny comment area they give me on your scorecard.
- For the love of crafts, remove glue gun strings and visible adhesive. Workmanship is a huge part of the judging criteria. If I see globs of glue, tape runner mistakes, or glue gun strings, you probably aren't going to win, no matter how good your project is otherwise. If your card or layout is so sticky with adhesive errors that I can pick it up with one finger, you definitely aren't going to win.
- If I can tell that you have multiple pets because your project is covered with three colors of dog or cat hair, you are not going to win. Frankly, you're lucky your project was accepted in the first place, since the criteria says that all projects must be clean and ready to exhibit. Take the 30 seconds to remove pet hair from your project.
- Yes, there are points for creativity, but I only award them if the project makes me say, "Wow! So creative and unique!" I do not award points for "Wow! That is the weirdest thing I've ever seen and I'm disturbed that anyone thought to make it!" Shock value is not what they meant when they put originality on the scorecard.
- Along those same lines, I appreciate a well-made, unique greeting card. But if Hallmark doesn't make it, there's a reason. Inappropriate items aren't going to catch my attention in a positive way. I'm guessing you thought your project was clever, but it's actually more alarming than clever. It's not going to win.
- If your project is so fragile that breathing near it results in a pile of sequins dropping off, don't enter it. Use better adhesive or fewer sequins. Your project is handled at least 7 times during the course of the fair. I judge it fairly early in the process and I can tell when damage is due to poor construction vs. rare mishandling.
- When two items are neck-and-neck and I have to choose one, I check the backs, edges, seams, etc. of each project. If the back of one of them is a mess and all other things are equal, that will be the difference between placing and not placing.
- Sometimes I don't understand your project. I am a craft expert with a lifetime of crafting experience and more than a decade of judging experience, but I haven't seen and done it all. If your project is very unusual or you've put a unique spin on it that I might not realize, include a note to explain it to me. I appreciate the extra information.
- Try, try again. But take judges' comments into consideration. If you keep entering scrapbook layouts and the judge keeps writing on the comment card that they lack a focal point, learn what a focal point is and incorporate one into the next layout you enter. As judges, we want you to improve and we do our best to let you know what would make the difference in your project.
- Sometimes, there are a lot of awesome things entered. As much as I love them all, they can't all win. I really agonize about this and I wish there were a way to explain to you that this very project that doesn't place this year could have gotten Best of Class last year You never know what the competition will be like. Please keep entering because you are so talented.