Documentation by Mynjon du Jardin
1. Let me begin by saying I am not a Laurel and this is just an opinion piece. This article represents the collected knowledge I have gained after speaking to a number of people judging A&S pieces from new-comers to Laurels. Each had their own opinion, likes, dislikes and preferences in regards to tone and style for A&S documentation. This article represents the average of these opinions with my own bias and preferences over the top. Take what you agree with and disregard that which you do not consider relevant. If you feel really strongly about something feel free to pass your comment to me, the e-mail address is at the bottom.
2. I am not the expert but what I do know I now share with you.
3. The purpose of documentation is to explain to a judge what they are looking at and how it came to be. As long as you explain those basic elements the rest is additional so focus on the what and the how.
4. Research. Before everything there is research. The research should tell you what direction to go in, what you are making, how to make it and what you should end up with. If you make first and research second it is much harder to get the two to meet. For serious A&S pieces the research has precedence over just ‘making something cool.’ The research should guide the end result. Unfortunately if you make the object first and do the research second history may not be as co-operative as to provide a good example of what you have just made.
5. What is this object? The purpose of your documentation is to explain to a judge, who may know nothing about the piece, what this object is and what period object it is modelled on. This leads on to what differences and similarities there are between this object and the period object and what the role of this object was in period.
6. Define the object. Define what type, from what specific period, what country/kingdom and perhaps used in what famous event or what person is related to the object. This helps the judge put the object in to context and establish a relationship with the work. For example:
a. This is a helmet. It is a houndskull basinet which was common to Western Europe in the period 1350-1450 with a face-plate style specific to France and England around 1400. Helmets of this style would have been used in the battles of the Welsh rebellions in the early 15thC and also battles of the Hundred Years War on the Continent. This is an expensive piece of armour that would have only been accessible to nobility and professional soldiers who could afford the highest quality armours.
b. This is a drama piece. It is an Italian style called Commedia dell'Arte, which was performed in the village square and city piazzas of Italy in the 16thC and eventually spread wider through Europe in the late Renaissance. The performers improvised the performance from a rough story line using a stock set of familiar character types who were identified by the distinctive masks they wore. The performances were like the sit-comms of the day being fairly low brow humour incorporating quick-wit, dancing, acrobatics, sexually challenging language and physical comedy. A performance would frequently involve satire of current political events or personalities. Some high-end Commedia troupes were also able to perform inside theatres.
7. Immediately the judge knows what they are looking at, what period and place it comes from and can relate it to other things they know about that area of time and geography. They know who used it where and for what.
8. How this piece came to be. Now that the judge knows what the piece is supposed to be you have to explain how it came to be. What was the process that led up to this work sitting on the table in front of the judge? Start from the original period piece or pieces that the work is modelled on, what was your inspiration, what caused you to put in the effort to create this piece. At this stage pictures are good, if it is a physical item, to help the judge relate your work to the original period item.
9. What process did you use to make this piece? It is important to document period and non-period practices and what materials went into the project. This helps the judge assess how much effort went into the piece. If you raised the period sheep, sheared them with period tools, spun the wool, grew the plants and made period dye and then wove the wool on a periauthentic upright loom prior to hand stitching that t-tunic, that is different to someone who bought a bolt of polyester and knocked up a t-tunic. Always define what was your work and what was someone else’s. Most of the time a judge will assume you used practical commercial products and processes unless you define otherwise so explain what you did with what materials to create this piece. Talk about the tools, the materials and the process so the judge is not only judging the end result but understands the journey that got it there.
10. Referencing. I have stated research is the basis for all good A&S and referencing is the means of acknowledging your research. Wherever you have taken an idea, a concept, a direction of a technique reference where that cam from you need to reference that fact. There should be a solid bibliography at the bottom of your documentation that proves to the judge you did not just make this up but did some research. For simplicity I recommend using the same bibliography style that outlined in the Submission Guidelines for Cockatrice articles on the Lochac homepage.
11. Be careful as to what you use as reference material. A reference is only as good as it’s credibility and there are some references which are more credible than others are. Always seek to use primary references. These are actual objects or documents from period. Tertiary references are books about primary references. Anything that is not the actual in period object or document is a tertiary reference and will not be as highly considered as a primary reference. Unfortunately primary references are not available in all cases and most A&S research ends up a mixture of both. Feel free to give you opinion of different references as this may assist others researching in this topic area.
12. Those are the critical elements of documentation. If you have those two parts the judge will be in a good position to fairly judge your piece.
Style and Tone
13. Duration. Documentation can be of epic duration but don’t expect everyone to read it. Judges have their areas of interest and if you’ve written a thesis, on something they are not interested in, they are not going to plough through a book just because you wrote it. Writing a huge documentation is of benefit to those with an interest in that area of learning and can enhance the wider SCA knowledge pool on that particular object. For the sanity of judges always put on a summary coversheet. No more than A4 with the critical information, who you are, what is this object, what is it based on and a paragraph on how you made it and what makes it special. For those seeking the ‘Readers Digest’ version of your documentation this will give them something to work with rather than having them just ignore your giant tome of written work.
14. Pictures. A picture tells a thousand words and pictures are good. Pictures of the original item or items that help the judge relate the period object to your object are important. Pictures that explain the process, techniques and raw materials of the project will often save a lot of words. If you include pictures you can refer to them in the text rather than trying to create a mental picture in the judge’s mind with words.
15. Subject and Paragraph Headings. If you provide a judge with a giant block of text you are forcing them to read everything to find the information they want. Use subject and paragraph headings to guide the judge through your documentation. For example if an Armouring Laurel is judging your helmet they probably already know what type of helm it is and where it comes from and they probably already know which piece you based it on. What they want to do is skip to your manufacturing process to see what materials you used and what techniques you used to make it. Subject and paragraph headings should take them directly to the part of their documentation they want especially when they are referring from the documentation to the piece and back again. I put in a lot of additional ‘nice to have’ information into my A&S documentation, such as costs and mistakes, which a lot of judges are not interested in so headings allow them to skip over the ‘bonus features.’
16. Paragraph Numbering. I use paragraph numbering to help judges give feedback, especially when they are only making a point about a specific part of my documentation. If they want to comment on something I’ve documented they often quote ‘in paragraph XX you have said…’ This immediately clarifies in my mind what I said and what the judges thoughts on the matter are. This is especially pertinent if your documentation is posted to the web at some later stage and people give you feedback by e-mail. Paragraph numbering is not critical but can male communication between you and judge easier.
17. Font Size and Type. Keep the font standard and business-like, such as Arial or Times New Roman. Professional looking documentation can enhance the credibility of the content. I once produced documentation in what I thought was a very nice Gothic script font that was of about the same period as the item I was documenting. I may as well have used Windings because no-one could read it and even those who could got headache from the effort. Save the fancy stuff for titles pages and certificates, for documentation keep it plain and readable with a font size around 10-12.
Nice to Have Additions to Documentation
18. These are a series of things you can add to your documentation to enhance the judges’ understanding of the piece. These bonus features may also assist others who attempt similar pieces and use your documentation as a start point or reference.
19. Success and Failure. Often a project will incorporate both success and failure. If you do something that does not work that failure is almost as important as doing something that does work. If you show your attempt at a technique and then document a revised technique after failing that shows learning, which is a lot of what A&S is about. Don’t hide your failures, talk about them in your documentation and show how you eventually achieved success.
20. What would you do different next time? This is something I add at the end of any piece. No piece or process is ever perfect so take the time to tell the judge what you did not like about the end result and/or the process that took you there. There may be a faster, easier or more period way that you wish you had used in hindsight. There may be some flaw in the piece that you would change given the chance so feel free to express that. If the judge is looking at the piece thinking ‘it is great but what about this?’ and you also identify that flaw in your documentation the judge understands that you acknowledge that aspect of the piece.
21. Cost. I have taken on more than a few projects that have cost me far in excess of my expectations both in time and money. For those who may attempt a similar project it is good to give them an idea of what they are getting into. For example a maille hauberk may cost just over AS$150 in links for materials but the cost in man-hours of labour is astronomical. If you are not prepared to take months making the piece than don’t waste the time purchasing the materials. I define what aspects of the work cost me how much to give an idea of where savings could be made or better materials could be used, such as using cheaper cotton instead of linen, using Beverly shears instead of breaking 58 jigsaw blades. Defining your tools, materials and costs will give the enthusiast who follows behind you a better idea of what they are getting into.
22. Options and Alternatives. Often along the way of making a piece you will reach decision points where you can choose between different materials, techniques or tools. Document these alternatives that you did not use in case they take someone replicating your efforts in a different direction or offer them alternatives where they don’t have access to the same resources you do. They may also help a judge in making comment on where you went right or wrong, or they may have comment on what alternate techniques they have seen.
23. Below are a series of websites that have other opinions on how documentation should be undertaken. None of us vary radically from the same theme but there are some diverging ideas, which may improve the quality of your documentation.
24. Not all people like their documentation the same way and some judges will put far more significance on the documentation than others. All judges want to see and understand more about the object in their hands than what they can just see for themselves. If you are not there in person to explain then your documentation alone speaks for you.
25. This article is a single opinion and should be treated as such. It is not a template for award winning documentation, nor will documentation alone win you awards. The foundation stone is quality research, which will lead to quality work. The documentation should be just that, documentation of your quality research translated into a piece of quality workmanship, and that makes great A&S.
Mynjon du Jardin
If you have any questions or comments on this article please do not hesitate to contact the author