Beginning Your Arts Journey
So you have just joined the SCA or have just decided to try an art or science. You see all of this fabulous work at Kingdom Arts events and you wonder if you could do that too. Remember every artist has been where you are, at the beginning. Start by reading the Ansteorra Artisans Handbook.
Let’s cover a few tips on how to get started in a particular art.
Finding Like Minds
First, remember that artists love company. If you are interested in a particular art start on the Ansteorra Arts and Sciences Guilds and Study Groups page. There is probably a group that studies what you are interested in, and you do not have to be an expert to hang out. Just be willing to read, listen, ask and learn. We all love new people to our art and love to geek out on our favorite thing, but don’t get discouraged if you run across someone with bad manners. It can be frustrating for a list of experts to always get the same basic question, and not everyone has the patience and bearing of a peer. Use the group search and see if your question has been asked before, and read those sections first before you ask. No one minds a question being asked if you say “Hey, I want to learn to make underwater baskets. I was going through past messages and read about the beginning of underwater basketweaving but can I ask a few specific questions about how to get started?”
Another good place to look is the Ansteorran Laurels page. The page lists all of the people who have achieved membership in the Order of the Laurel, the highest honor for artists in the SCA. The list contains the names and study areas of all the Master artists in the kingdom, past and present. Many have included their contact name and would love to help a new person started on their arts path.
I Can’t Find Anyone Interested In My Topic. What Now?
This can be frustrating if you do not know where to begin. Sometimes it is best to take a look at what you want to know about a particular topic. Do you want to make something or study something? If you want to do either, it is best to know if it was done in period. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to learn an art for the SCA and then finding out it is not something period at all. For example, needle felting…felting is totally period, but needle felting was invented in the 1980s. When in doubt, Google the history of what you want to do. Is this something that was done before 1600? Find out on the web. This is where sites like Wikipedia can be helpful. Wikipedia is not a good site to use for real research, but it does give you a general idea of what may be known about a subject.
If you want to make something you will want to possibly learn a craft’s basic skills before you start researching how it was done in period. There are often community organizations, maker spaces, and guilds that are willing to teach classes in the basics of most arts. Classes often have a fee, but it is usually low for beginner classes. This is a great way to find out if you like something before investing time and money in it.
What if you just want to study something? A good place to start is your local library. Most libraries have reference librarians that can help you find books for your topic of choice. If you are in a small town you may want to start at WorldCat.org The World’s Largest Library Catalog. This is a list of books all over the world. This will tell you at a glance how easy or difficult it will be to obtain books on your topic. If you don’t know, even the smallest library can borrow for you from a larger one. Go in and ask how you do inter-library loan. Google Books is another great place to start. One thing to keep in mind about researching any historical topic. History is like a river, new rocks are turned over all the time. A book from 1913 may not be as useful as one from 1998. We are adding to our historical knowledge all the time. It is also great to get more than one book to see if they agree.
Know that being a beginning artist can be both a road and a destination. If you want to know the basics of a lot of pre-17th century knowledge that is great. You can still be an artist or scientist even if you never enter a competition, teach a class or pursue the path of the laurel. The idea is to have fun learning, and you will probably find it infectious.
The next step…Getting Feedback
You have read the arts and sciences handbook, and you have learned a few things about your art or science. Now you want to know if you are headed down the right path. You have talked to people interested in your topic, but no one has seen your work. There are a couple of ways to go about getting some feedback.
You should know who the SCA journeymen and experts are in your field by now. See if they are willing to meet with you at an event to look over your work. Also keep in mind, it can be really hard to receive criticism on something you have worked really hard on. It can also be really hard to give good criticism on something if they do not know what you are looking to know. Be specific in what you want to hear back. Ask for one thing you can do to take your art to the next level. That way you can work on one thing at a time and not get overwhelmed with all that you need to learn. It is a process; love the process.
Though most are really good at giving you good advice, not everyone is. Even members of the Order of the Laurel, have bad days, get tired and aren’t able to focus on what you are asking. Don’t take it personally, if you don’t like what you hear. If someone seems, tired, distracted or unable to collect their thoughts, remember they are human. Ask if you can contact them later once they have thought about it. You are learning and nothing is ever perfect, especially when you start. Also, if you do not feel the ideas are valid, still respect the person’s time. See if your sources back up what they said. Regardless if they do or do not, find a second opinion.
Most artists in the SCA will never go beyond this level. They love what they do and continue because they love what they do. Crown’s and Nobles love small art objects as largess. Consider making some of your items to give as encouragement to others. There is nothing more rewarding to an artist to see someone wear or use an item that is now prized because it was a gift from the crown. It represents their journey in the SCA.
Competitions can be a good form of feedback but not all competitions are equal in the SCA. If you are looking for affirmation that you are doing work that is interesting and attractive, you can start with populace vote competitions. These will not get you more than a thumbs up or down feedback in most cases. However, many artisans will leave largess and contact cards for you on your display. This is often an invitation to contact them further about your work. Take them up on the offer. Ask the same questions and take the same considerations away as you would in just asking.
The next level of competition is the body of work competition. For these, you will sit at a table with your work and talk to the various artists that come by to see it. Don’t be concerned if your body of work is one item. At the Kingdom level we have Laurel’s Prize Tournament that is in this format. This is an excellent place to start showing your work. Let them know how long you have been doing this kind of work and they will give you feedback on where to go next.
The final level of competition is the form judged competition. The forms can be found under Judging Forms on the Forms page. Many people have a misconception that these are only for the most advanced artists. You have the ability to tell your judge that you are a beginner and ask for feedback accordingly. If you are highly competitive, then take a deep breath and approach this format with some guidance from all those wonderful artists you have met while you are learning.
Most people dread this, and find this very difficult to do. We can have a lot of emotion wrapped up in our art, but giving feedback is a skill. You have to balance what a person needs to do next without overwhelming them with information. Like all skills, it takes practice to get it right. Here are some articles that discuss the topic of giving feedback to artists and reflect wide views on the subject. Keep in mind it can often be best to ask what kind of feedback an artist is looking for before you begin.
The information above is the thoughts on the topic from Biatrichi Canzionari the arts web minister. Your mileage may vary and she is always open to additional information on this topic. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org