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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stuff They Don't Tell You & Unwritten Rules

The time has arrived for me (and maybe for you!) to consider the possibililty of entering Bead & Button Magazine's premier competition, Bead Dreams.  A message from Bead Dreams last week informed past participants that the rules have been posted.  (EDITED TO ADD:  It's a new place every year, and for those reading for the first time, here is the 2016-17 link:
The rest of the links in the article are likely no longer functioning, just so you know. )

This information is posted publicly on the Bead&Button Show site. Almost everything you need to know is posted there.  I LOVE this event, and I began a potential entry yesterday evening.

Take a good look at the Rules and Eligibility.  I read it all twice to make sure I understand.  Some of my not-from-the-USA friends were horrified to discover the cost of getting their work safely to the event.  I was surprised myself to realize that shipping my work, insured for its value, to Milwaukee cost almost $50, not counting the box I bought to ship it in.

Scroll down to check out the nine categories you can enter, and the prizes generously donated by the sponsors of the event. These are mostly gift certificates or gift packages, and in one instance, cash.  Although to qualify to win anything, your entry must be accepted as a finalist.  And then, the finalist entries are judged to determine prize winners. More on that in a moment.

Finally, here is the entry form.  It says on the right margin, that if you have Adobe Flash, you may take a guided tour of the application, and although I was not able to make that work, DO IT if you can, or mock your way through the form (carefully not submitting) and then make a list of information you will need to apply.  Write whatever descriptive sentences or paragraphs beforehand,  re-reading and editing for clarity.  I had a very hard time editing the form last year, so beware of inputting info before you are ready.

Should you enter?  If you have the time, desire, and capital, why not?  But if your beady soul will be crushed by not becoming a finalist, or not winning your category, or even Best in Show, then maybe not.  Because, that is the worst that can happen.  One way to help that decision along is to take a look at the handy galleries of past winners and finalists, and think about how your work might measure up, if that matters to you. Whatever your impression, there are no guarantees.  Artists who got in last year might not get in this year, and vice versa.  How you do in any competition depends on who else shows up and what they bring.  You might make the most amazing art you have ever created and be wildly proud of it, and not become a finalist.  But the experience might be worth more than any placement or prize.  Here is anther opinion about the question of whether or not to enter beading competition, (in this case, Battle of the Beadsmith) with some really great points and opinions.

Now on to a few bits of information you might find useful, which are not part of the official info links above.

The Judging Criteria

Here is something they do not tell you. Finalist entries are judged on three points, and given a numeric score between 1 and 10.  Those scores determine winners.  I know this from the judging sheets that have been returned to me for the last two years, and I will share them with you, because I find it helpful to have the information, and you might too.  I would even share my scores if you asked. Since it is not official published information, it could change at any time, should the organizers decide on different criteria.

1) OVERALL PRESENTATION;  Use of color, shape, texture, and other design elements; effective, well thought out; wow factor; design message.

2) TECHNICAL EXECUTION;  Mastery of technique (i.e., no excessive thread showing, no unintended gaps, precise wraps, etc.) proper choice of materials (beads, threads, findings, etc.) to achieve highest quality; superior craftsmanship (proper construction of materials); no unsightly connections, workings, clasps or breakage; workable - if an element is supposed to open, it should.

3) CREATIVITY;  Original design or design elements within the overall piece; creative use of materials (i.e., using common materials in an innovative way, using unexpected elements or materials, inspired new ideas); pushing the field, medium, or technique forward; keeping the craft evolving.

COMMENTS AND NOTES are also written, and I have found both the scores and comments extremely beneficial and helpful.  The judging is done by people who know what they are talking about.

The Unwritten Rules

To be perfectly clear, I am writing tongue-in-cheek here.  None of these is a real rule, and you do not need to follow them... but you may encounter unintended consequences, and forewarned is forearmed.  I find my own opinions and ethics are presented here as "good ideas."  You should find your own truth and ethics, I think.  Shows me how easy it is, to think you know what is best for all!

Now to the "unwritten rules."  Stuff you have no idea about if it is your first experience with the show. And these rules are not the rules of the organizers of the event.  But should you ignore any of these unwritten, unpublished rules, others may take it upon themselves to make it known that you are breaking these rules, and that you should be ashamed of your behavior.  I broke the rules, and was called out for it, and was wretched for a long time because of it. So I am going to share these unwritten rules, and you can decide for yourself whether you want to follow them, knowing the potential consequences.

UNWRITTEN RULE #1 - Before the submission date, feel free to mention that you are assembling an entry to Bead Dreams on social media.  But post NO pictures!  No progress shots, no finished shots!  Some people do show tiny portions of their work in sneak peeks, or the detritus on their bead mat when they are done. I have not seen anyone shamed for sneak peek/detritus postings.   I am not sure how it came to be a rule, but I have heard it discussed, and I can see the logic to it.  It might be terribly embarrassing to proudly flaunt your baby, only to discover that your work is not designated as a finalist, and not accepted to the show.  And I think some people are superstitious about the procedure.  Maybe they have to wear the right sox and not clear their bead mats until after finalists are announced.  Now, this is NOT a rule put forward by the organizers of the event, and in no way an expectation of theirs. So whether you follow along is up to you.  But beware that there are those with this expectation, and they could make your life miserable should you choose to ignore it.

UNWRITTEN RULE #2 - This one is where I got my nose whacked.  Should you be fortunate enough to become a finalist, DO NOT post pictures on social media in celebration.  Again, this is a rule created by past participants, not by the organizer.  I was so crushed and destroyed by this, I wrote to Julia Gerlach, editor of Bead & Button to get the full story and apologize for my behavior.

Here's what I said:

"When I received the finalist letter, I posted the images I sent with my application on facebook, and a message about being thrilled to have been chosen on my page.  I titled the post, "Bead Dreams Bound."  The album and individual images were spread far and wide across fB through sharing, much more so than I would ever have anticipated.  Then it was pointed out to me that I and several others who had also posted images of their finalist work, were wrong, ignorant and foolish.  Various reasons were given: spoiling the surprise at the event, ruining our chances of placing, getting unfair views by judges online, disrespecting the event and the organizers: generally a very log list of complaints.  I carefully re-read the rules and my contract and nothing was said about keeping the work under wraps until the event.  I am a rule follower at my core, and was devastated to think I had broken unwritten rules.

Then I began to wonder, what exactly are your expectations?  And if you have a preference as to how and when we state that we have work in the show, and make our images public, and write about the experience in our blogs, I wondered why these are not clearly stated in the rules, or on the contract.

So my question is, did I make the horrible error I was so publicly humiliated for?  If so, I apologize most sincerely!  In my experience, some competitions and events do require secrecy and others like publicity and encourage promotion of the event in any and all ways, actually asking for blog posts and tweets, etc."

And here is what Julia (who is really nice!) said, which I publish here with her permission:

"I'm so sorry you were called out for posting your BeadDreams entry.  We don't have anything in the rules about it and we do not plan to add a rule stating that you can't post your entries."

So, I felt better. And the next year, I wrote a blog post about my entry, including my images, and posted a link on facebook with a spoiler alert, so that those who did not want to see images of my work splashed on their home pages could avoid it if they chose. I find there is a time, if I have something to say, that is optimal for the writing.  If am a forced to wait, I find I no longer am excited to tell my story, or have different things to say, and I prefer more immediacy and truth here. But I have another purpose too.  Which brings up the next unwritten rule.

UNWRITTEN RULE #3 - Do NOT do as the event organizer requests, and post the link they send you by email for voting for the People's Choice Award. I think what the creators of this rule were trying to avoid was ballot box stuffing by enthusiastic finalists, who want every single one of their facebook friends and all of their family, and everyone on whose e-mail address they know, to VOTE FOR THEIR ENTRY.  In my opinion, that is indeed not an appropriate thing to do. But asking interested parties to visit the poll and vote for their favorite work is how the thing works.  SO unless you wish to ignore the organizer's direct instructions, you should ignore UR#3 and post the link, requesting that people vote, not for YOUR entry, but for their favorite work.

In all fairness, this is a flawed award process.  It is theoretically a blind vote.  But it is not difficult to figure out mostly which work belongs to which artist.  And some of the work, which can be created anytime throughout the year, has already been widely seen, for example in Battle of the Beadsmith. So the idea that the vote is blind is not realistic to begin with.  I personally believe that most people are sufficiently ethical to look at the staggering body of work and vote for the piece they find most awesome, whether they know who created it or not. Sadly, sometimes, finalist's friends and relatives go to work to solicit votes, without the entrants knowledge. And sometimes a finalist does aggressively solicit votes for themselves. And, in my opinion, those results are sad.  But until the event organizer chooses to rule differently on this matter, I will follow the rules as they are written, and ignore this unwritten one..

EDITED TO ADD:  Wow. I just was shown an entirely different perspective on this third rule by someone who I believe wants to remain anonymous.  Please go and check out rule commentary #19 at the Land of Odds Ugly Necklace Contest here.  It suggests that part of being an artist is self promotion, and that learning to do it (I might have added gracefully) is a necessity for all artists.  It goes on to suggest that it might even be appropriate to explain your work to make it appealing to voters.  In a way, I suppose that is why I write this blog.  I am promoting my jewelry and myself.  I learn so much from my readers and discussion!!!

And about posting my own pictures before the People's Choice vote?  Here is why I choose to do it.  I work REALLY, REALLY hard to take accurate photos of my work, with the best possible lighting.  I work to represent the colors, shapes, and techniques as they actually are.  I take at least 100 shots under different conditions, with different lighting and camera settings to accomplish this.  I find the "official" photos used for the public voting, and serve as reference on the galleries of past winners and finalists, sometimes to not meet the criteria I demand of my own pictures.  So if I am to be judged by the general public on my work, I would prefer that voters see the best possible representation of the work.  Chances are I will continue to post my pictures on my blog.  I mean no disrespect to the Bead Dreams photography.  I am glad they post images!  I also appreciate that doing every piece justice would be a monolithic task.

Compare for yourself here.

So, what do you think?  Will you enter BeadDreams 2015?  The clock is ticking!


  1. Just like you, I am already at least mentally working on my entry. gathering goodies, sketching, prepping.... I wish there was an article like yours when I first entered, all the pain it would have saved! The rules are complicated enough, the unwritten ones are of course even harder. Thank you for another wonderfully insightful blog post Marsha!

    1. Kinga we suffered together, didn't we? Hopefully, no one else will!

  2. I have been THINKING about attempting an entry... but I am scared... not of rejection... of the application rules... and photography... but maybe.. THANKS for all this info!!! It will come in handy should I decide to take a stab at it.

    1. You can do it! I find photography hard too, but practice and education helps. Courage, my friend!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. A mildly scary post to write, because I did not want to be hurtful, having been hurt myself. But I also promised a friend I would write about my experience... Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Getting knocked around Bead Land for things is NOT a fun experience, and I'm so sorry you had it happen to you, too. Odd, the things that folks find infuriating... I loved your entry and was thrilled to be able to see your photographs as opposed to BD's. I mean no disrespect either, but the photo they posted of my entry years ago was AWFUL, so I am doubly aware of how much it means to have a valid view of a piece. Color is especially important, I think. Your photos are glorious. I don't know if I will ever enter again, although my husband pushes for me to do it every year. I am perhaps a little disappointed in the competition, in that I see the same artists showing up every year with great regularity and it damps down some of my enthusiasm. I would be so happy to see someone new and different win some of the top prizes (not me, just someone new!). Go, Marsha - I hope one of them will be yours!

    As a PS, as one of the 'public' - I only vote for whatever makes me gasp with delight, and not whose it is. :)

  5. I remember that photo Nancy! No competition is 100% perfect or fair. But entering does push me as an artist, and I like that push. This one is my personal favorite, and I, personally, would love to see another NED entry!

  6. Great post Marsha! Last year I did consider submitting a piece of my beadwork to Bead Dreams, just to see if it could 'measure up' to past entries. When I read the Rules and saw the 'Entrance Fee: $50 to HELP cover the cost of return mail and insurance' I was out. I wish my finances enabled me to post an Entrance Fee, but sadly they don't. I will be a happy viewer of the entries and look forward to seeing yours! (And I will only vote once! :) )

    1. You know, I think the entry fee did slow down many people, but I also appreciate the cost of returning my work to me, insured and secure, is probably equal to the cost of my sending it to them... and that was close to the required entry fee. But I would love to see your work in the case at the show too! :)

  7. As usual a very informative and thought provoking post Marsha.

    I love bead dreams. I am in awe of the work that makes it to the finals.

    I do not care about winning but I do not feel as if my pieces fit into the contest.
    I do not do "big" work which is what I perceive as making it into the finals. I do think the "big" works create that wow factor and satisfy the creativity criteria. However, I think that bead pieces designed for a day at the office or school, or a picnic, or a graduation party can fit that criteria as well but cannot compete. I appreciate Nancy's comment about wanting to see new artists. Perhaps a new category might encourage more entries from new artists. Just my two cents.

    In all honesty, I just love seeing everyone's work.

    Best of luck to you Marsha I cannot wait to see what you create.

    1. KJ! You are back. Yay! You know I mostly agree with you, the work presented in Bead Dreams is generally not daily wear. But I also think that most of it is entirely wearable, and have seen some of the work modeled by makers at the event in years after it was shown. I am certainly biased, given my day job and the fact that I have spent a fair amount of time in company of women for whom false eyelashes are not uncommon, and dressing up happens frequently. I do not think my "From the Forest of Fairy Tales" piece is daily wear in any world, but someone did buy it from a gallery show. I debated for weeks, and finally contacted her to ask if she intended to wear it, and she said she would both display and wear the work, which really pleased me. My "Picnic in May on Lilac Way" is also theoretically sold, although the buyer was in an accident early this year, and has not yet actually paid for the piece. I think, although a substantial work, that it is much more wearable that FtFoFT. Certainly it is a special event piece, and not for the grocery store, but should that sale fall through, I would wear it myself. The Best in Show piece from last year, is also entirely wearable, IMHO, possibly even to an office, by the right woman. Certain categories (Seed Bead Jewelry, Lampwork Beads, Wirework) present better opportunities for day wear than, for example, the Crystal category But you are entirely right, a simple pendant would probably not fare well in the event, unless it was in some way ingenious, and here-to-fore unseen. I think the artists who are able to become finalists each year are wickedly talented, and I find their work consistently deserving, and am always glad to see more. But even those who have been finalists for years get no guarantee that their work will be accepted, and new artists do appear in the show regularly. I think that work that presents new ideas best suits the "Creativity" judging criteria, and the trouble with producing work with ideas that have not been done or seen before is, it can blow up in your face. Which reminds me I really have to write about BotB too. :) I always appreciate your insight and perspective, and should you ever choose to enter, I would love to see what you would create!

    2. I was glad to see my comment post too!

      I am rather more conservative in my jewelry than most- I even use crystals sparingly and gravitate toward stones. Knowing my limits is why I said office, picnic, and graduation rather than wedding or prom or opera. There is a place for BIG.

      I love that Thistle piece and despite my conservative nature I would wear that to work. Likewise your Picnic in May on Lilac Way (I just love that piece.)

      I also think bead dreams is the place to dream big and I look at every piece in the gallery every year and would not miss it for the world- although I may not like every piece I do appreciate the art, the creativity, the boldness, the lessons to be learned and the new perspectives to be seen.

      I was about to say I would still like to see something less than big but I get that in my magazines and in the multitude of blogs I follow as well as the books I buy... so perhaps Bead Dreams is the place for big. Still, there might be a place for something a bit more everyday.

      What a great conversation. Thank you.

    3. Lol KJ, I am working along on what MIGHT be my BeadDreams work, wondering if you would wear it! 😊