Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Design Competitions—Sweet Dreams or Nightmares?

One of the benefits of growing older is that you tend to be philosophical about a lesson learned rather than bummed and depressed.

Lately I entered a piece of mine—a necklace I titled ‘Molten’—in a well-known jewelry design competition. There was a hefty entry fee, so I did my homework and viewed the work of previous winners, then decided that I would make an entirely new piece. I planned to incorporate my latest techniques, newest handmade texture plates and work from a total concept so all the elements would enhance and illustrate it. I love volcanoes and the idea of deep processes at work within our planet, so I wanted my polymer elements to reflect those colors and forces. I chose the tektite stones as spacers because they are said to contain microscopic remnants of the meteorites that caused them to form when they hit the Earth.
I happily set to work.
'Molten' - polymer clay, acrylics, Kroma Crackle, tektite stone chips, steel wire

Since my body of work consists mostly of experiments that help me develop my teaching methods, I don’t have a huge resume of past exhibitions for my polymer clay work or wins in other competitions. I’ve mostly chosen to showcase my work in others’ books or in jewelry magazines. I have been, however, included in a few shows and events in past years that will always make me feel like I was a successful artist, from the days when I was doing textiles and pottery. For me, to have the award have any meaning, I have to first respect the work and expertise of the person or organization doing the judging or making the choice to include me.

One thing I’ve learned—it’s a big world out there and if you stay true to yourself and your vision, not everybody will understand or validate it. Primarily, it’s your own self that you have to please. Ask yourself --does this reflect my aesthetic, my ideas, my original thought and concept? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you are a winner, despite what the world says.

Although I was pleased enough with my piece to pay the fee and submit it, I wasn’t chosen for final judging. I wasn’t too surprised—I’m not trendy, my work is complex technically and intellectually and the stories I tell do not resonate with everyone. If I had to exist off the sales of my work, I would probably starve!

But I made the decision many, many years ago to do only one-of-a-kind and that has kept my work fresh and growing. I don’t want to be picked up by a major retailer or make a million of the same piece. I show my esteemed customers respect by making them a singular piece of work each time.

So if you want to compete, just know that acceptance or rejection by others—a competition, a gallery, a website, an exhibition—doesn’t mean anything in the total scheme of the lifetime of your art. It’s art, not sports. The ‘best’ work doesn’t win because there’s no agreed-upon criteria for art that’s as cut-and-dried as who jumps the highest or gets over the finish line first. It’s somewhat subjective when it comes to craftsmanship but very subjective when it comes to choosing ‘best’ over ‘also ran’. The question becomes “what is ‘best’ anyway”?

Enjoy the process, dig deep to express yourself and don’t try to please others—be authentic. Don’t cater to what you think others will like. At the end of the day you will be happier and more self-fulfilled than if you try to please a panel of strangers.


  1. Your piece is stunning and absolutely beautiful! :)

  2. Well it certainly resonates with me. This is an outstanding piece.

  3. An absolutely breathtaking piece of work, Christine. But what I love most is your dedication to your work, to not compromise your vision, to be true to yourself. Deep admiration of that.

  4. how absolutely, positively so. this is a deep piece - your passion runs deeply through it, your knowledge creates a depth of color, texture, shape, form and space. my guess is that truly it goes over the heads of many. to achieve what you do requires a dedication that most cannot touch - or don't even know how to try. i have a deep admiration for you and your work. you show up, you push yourself, you remain inquisitive, you value process. while not chosen for this competition, it shines. i am personally glad you entered - it created a deadline and goal for you to give 100% to a design. it may not have been born otherwise. and how sad that would have been.

  5. I'm in total agreement with everyone else here. This is incredible!! And yes - staying true to you is what matters.
    Jurors have ideas and values that are so often hard to fit in with. My thoughts on that? Their loss. And then their loss also creates a huge loss for everyone else.
    Going ahead and entering - that's a gigantic leap for anyone. I'm wondering what they actually chose if they passed up this wonderful piece? What on earth were they looking for? Ah well - it's gorgeous!!

  6. Your piece looks "hot" and it looks as if it could still be "hot". If I could be a patron of the Arts as in days past, I would purchase it QUICKLY hoping no one got there before me. As for your post, I wish that it could be the study of a Lesson Plan meant for undergraduates from Kindergarten to 12th. How much better self-esteem people would have from youths to the eventual adult! Brava!