META: A word about judging

I think it's worth a word or two about how I choose the Finalists for each character design contest.

At the end of the process, I want a good cross-section of submissions showing a variety of approaches and techniques. I go into it with the mindset that I want someone who hasn't seen any of the entries to come away impressed with how different success can look, with a good idea of what the whole contest was about.

With that in mind, sometimes I'll select a given submission because one element is intriguing enough that I think a wider audience would really benefit from seeing it. For example, I didn't think gendonesia's "Kung Fu Wrath" fit the concept of the contest all that well, thematically speaking -- I didn't get "wrath" from just looking at it -- but besides being just a really nice illustration, I wanted to point out what a great background technique with the silhouettes used in it. I hadn't seen that done so well before.

Sometimes wanting a good cross-section means picking out one or two that make me laugh, like Atomic Punk's. I thought it was a funny and clever twist on the concept of "Wrath" and that people would enjoy seeing it.

Mostly, though, I pick entries that, when I first see them, make me go "Wow, what a good illustration!" I then ask myself how well it fits the overall contest theme. If it doesn't fit, I look to see if it has a feature that stands out as something I think more people should be exposed to (as in the gendonesia example above).

Quite often there are great illustrations that don't really fit the theme in my subjective opinion and which don't really have a particular feature I want to call out. Those are the ones that are quality products that just don't make it in to the final list.

Sometimes I'll notice a new user who hasn't entered very often (or at all) before, but who's done something really nice. It might not have qualified if it were done by dblade or Imp or one of the more frequent and "veteran" users whose entire body of work has set a certain high standard, but for someone I haven't seen much before it's of good enough quality to merit a mention.

With all of that, I try very hard to keep the total number of finalists to a reasonable number. These files are usually pretty big, and with 15-25 on the page they already load pretty slowly for those on weaker connections. Plus, if you have TOO many of them on a page, people get bored and leave without going through them all. So sometimes you might have an entry that on another week with fewer entries might have made the cut, but this particular week doesn't due to there happening to be an unusually high number of other, great ones.

When taken together, the end result is that I have to get a limited number of Finalists, which taken as a whole show good variety, including some that might not be as strong in terms of concept or execution generally but which have at least one callout-worthy feature. That means some very (very) good entries might get left out in a particular week.

And ultimately, as I've said time and again, this is just my personal subjective judgment on what fulfills the Finalist post's goals.

The key takeaway with any kind of artistic endeavor is that you must do it because the doing of it gives you fulfillment. If you only get that feeling if recognized by someone else (even me!), then you are in it for the wrong reasons. The point of these contests is not to become a Finalist or to win. The point is to have fun, to stretch your creative side, and to engage in sharing your creativity with a wider community. My personal judgments must not and should not be the final arbiter over whether or not you are happy with the work you have done. That must purely and solely come from you and you alone.

18 Responses to META: A word about judging

  1. If I may make a suggestion, why not make a limit of two entries per contest. That being said it would make the person look deep into their picture and see if it does really fit the contest or not. Another idea with that would be have a galley room set up to post all the entries for that week. It would be really nice if there was a way that we could have a galley section connected to this site for the people that don’t use the forums(or not as much as they once did).

  2. I never enter any of the contests to receive any special recognition (though being able to create something interesting sharing it is a treat).

    That being said, there is another motivator to enter these contests… the prize.

    Lucky for me though, people are creating pieces that I would have requested (mostly female body parts).

  3. That last paragraph needs to be on the top banner of the site. I feel so bad for the kind of people who slave away at a picture for hours, getting no enjoyment out of it, just doing it to try to have the “best”. Simply creating something new, seeing how your own personal spin on a concept works out is, in my opinion, the best part of entering the contests, or of creating a picture here at all. Don’t ever let not being a finalist, or not winning make you think less of yourself as an artist or as a person. Not everyone can win everything, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as good as they should be. Awesome topic, Jeff…

  4. On the one hand, I wonder if this article ever needed to be written (yes, I did read that TarkaBarka expressed some frustration about not making the list of finalists in last week’s contest, but he also said it would inspire him to do better next time). And yet I also wish that this article had been written much earlier, when I was just starting to enter contests, as it felt like I had been creating for character contests for a while before I got my first finalist nomination. Frankly, it was feedback from Open Critique Days that encouraged me to continue trying.
    I still think the human condition is that we like getting constructive feedback, and we enjoy getting praised and recognized for our efforts, whether that is at our jobs, or at school, or for making illustrations here. And, frankly, getting rewarded by deciding what gets added to the HeroMachine program also is a big incentive to try winning here. But in regards to creating to please others: it will become evident when you try to create something that you don’t really have your heart committed to making, so the first person you should be trying to please is yourself. Or to paraphrase the words of Norman Jewison after being presented the Thalberg award at the Oscars, as advice for aspiring young auteurs: “Don’t make movies to get awards, or to win the praise of critics. Don’t make movies to break box office records and make money. Just make movies. Make the kind of movies you want to see.”

  5. I know at one point Jeff was jokingly considering renaming the character contest prize the “Kaldath Award” however I don’t think I won a contest in about a year now, and made finalist only a handful of times in that year, yet I continue to enter as I enjoy making characters with Heromachine and the contests let me think of you things to make. THAT is what these contests are really about for me, the fun of it and using it as a way to expand my imagination.

  6. Hammerknight:
    If I may make a suggestion, why not make a limit of two entries per contest. That being said it would make the person look deep into their picture and see if it does really fit the contest or not. Another idea with that would be have a galley room set up to post all the entries for that week. It would be really nice if there was a way that we could have a galley section connected to this site for the people that don’t use the forums(or not as much as they once did).

    I agree with Hammerknight’s ideas

  7. I agree with some of the others, this is a good post, and one worthy of having a look at. I understand the frustration of not making it into the finalist category, I think its’ human nature 😉 I’ve been on both sides of that line more than a little bit, almost won quite a few times too from some of the comments Jeff has made in previous contests, but you can’t let it get you down. There is a hundred plus entrants every week, each has their unique quirks, many has developed a foerign style to that of the program, some are new, some are new to sharing, others veteran users, none is better than the others, though a piece with time invest will more likely look better than something thrown together. I spend 6 to 8 hours on any given creation easily, the reasons behind why I don’t do more “zyping”, and usually only have one or two entrants for a single contest, and so I wait in anticapation for the results. I slowly go through them reading what Jeff’s opinion is on each entrant, and upon reaching the end I feel a bit disappointed if mine is not in the mentions, but I understand you can’t always “win”, in fact sometimes not winning is the better benefactor. By not winning you look for your pictures faults or what could have been better, then you try try again next time. That said these contests have many benefits other then a mention or win/prize, they expose you to other’s talents and techniques, they push you to give your best, they are plain and simply enjoyable to look through, they allow you to put an image to your imagination, and my favorite part, the push to create something you normally wouldn’t, thus, in my case, giving me a wide variety of characters and exposure to those genres.

    I will say just because your not in the finalist doesn’t take anything away from the creator or his/her work, I think Jeff does a great job of explainig it in the original post so I’ll say look for the silver lining, it’s in abundance, and leave it at that.

  8. I think i need to reply because this personally start about me.

    First of all i want to ask apology for Jeff and the community. I don’t want to start this.

    So the second a lot of people think my problem is the jury mode. You all misunderstand me. I 80 – 85% agree with the choosen picture. The creators make a great work, and Jeff do his best when he choose that pictures. If i have any problem with a pictures i personally tell for that’s a bullsh*t. (I never do that, i think that not fair from the creator).

    The third. You think my problem is for i not win or not in the finalist. This is the second misunderstand. Personally i really don’t care if i in the finalist list or i win contest.

    This is a fun, we are here all to show our expression and artistic skill.

    The fourt.

    I tell i finish contest entrance, that not a sulky man angry answer for this. I know before the last contest that will be my last for a while. There are some reason what i think it’s my reason and need to tell everyone, but I want to fill the glass with clean water, so explain my reason.

    I work lot and no after 12 hour of work i haven’t got time to think about what picture i make for contest. My back hurts, really hurts. Now when i wrote this the pain is going on my body, and very hard to do this. I need to go physiotherapy.

    Yes i frustrated, angry, sad, and Dissapointed.

    Frustrate to things don’t going well, angry to i think i only waste my time (thats not correct, i love to make pictures, but the anger not a good friend), sad and dissapointed to know that was my last contest for a while.

    And few personal note.

    – Jeff. – First of all I appreciate what you do for the community. I don’t feel anger for you. You give me a lot of critique, and i accepted that. Maybe good or maybe bad that critique. I think we have same taste of the pictures. But i think we aren’t in the same frequency and i feel a little antipathy in my direction. If i give reason for this i apology, my emotions lead me not my calm mind. I really sorry for it but i personally feel this.

    – Community. – I know here a lot of great artist. Artist not creator. A lot of guy and girl make awesome work with that pictures. If i see a picture without name i know who make it, and that’s awesome thing.

    I’m glad to know this awesome community, i like all of the post, i like to read what you joking in the caption contest and many many more.

    I try to join for the open critique event to help the others, if i have time and my back is regenerate a little, but now i personally don’t know what happens in the near future.

    I closed my words like my first sentence.

    I want to ask my apology for Jeff and the community, i don’t want to start this.

    Tarkabarka

  9. agreed with hammerknight. that’s a great idea. in fact, not much people submit more than 2 illustration per page, and usually, they give their best in one shot..

  10. Jeff, I also like the time that you had a guess judge. It took a lot of weight off your shoulders for that week and gave you a much needed rest. Plus it gave a different view of the art. As you said everyone looks at art different, the statement, the colors, the attention to details, and many other factors. Do the art because you love it and that it makes you feel good. Don’t do it for the win. I don’t enter as much as I once did because of the troubles I am having. When I do enter I am not always a finalist, heck I think that over the years I have only won once or twice, but I don’t give up. Look at the topic of the contest and show us what you see, show us how you feel about it, let us know that you did it because you wanted us to see through your eyes, don’t do it for the win. Look at most of the greatest artist in the world, most were not even noted until after they have past away. The art is for you most of all, other people are just lucky you like to share.

  11. Hammerknight:
    Jeff, I also like the time that you had a guess judge. It took a lot of weight off your shoulders for that week and gave you a much needed rest. Plus it gave a different view of the art. As you said everyone looks at art different, the statement, the colors, the attention to details, and many other factors. Do the art because you love it and that it makes you feel good. Don’t do it for the win. I don’t enter as much as I once did because of the troubles I am having. When I do enter I am not always a finalist, heck I think that over the years I have only won once or twice, but I don’t give up. Look at the topic of the contest and show us what you see, show us how you feel about it, let us know that you did it because you wanted us to see through your eyes, don’t do it for the win. Look at most of the greatest artist in the world, most were not even noted until after they have past away. The art is for you most of all, other people are just lucky you like to share.

    I agree with you. Except about the part of the “guess” judge. What is that? A judge from Guess? A judge that guesses the winner? A contest where we guess the judge? A guessing game with a judge? I’m stumped.

    Or maybe, JUST MAYBE, you mean a guest judge? 😛 😀 😉 HEHEHEHEHEE

  12. To add to Hammerknight’s idea of a guest judge. Perhaps allow the guest judge choose the contest theme (with your approval Jeff). Another option might be to allow the community to suggest/vote on contest themes.

  13. Tarkabarka: I work lot and no after 12 hour of work i haven’t got time to think about what picture i make for contest. My back hurts, really hurts. Now when i wrote this the pain is going on my body, and very hard to do this. I need to go physiotherapy.

    I can certainly understand how pain can add to your furstration. I have been dealing with back and neck pain for 12 years due to a car accident, and with knee pain for about 9 years how, so I do understand. I wish you luck in healing because it truly sucks having to live in pain all the time.

  14. Kaldath: I can certainly understand how pain can add to your furstration. I have been dealing with back and neck pain for 12 years due to a car accident, and with knee pain for about 9 years how, so I do understand. I wish you luck in healing because it truly sucks having to live in pain all the time.

    I also have bad back and neck problems, for over 6 years now, 18 of 24 disc are bad, that is why I don’t enter as much as I did before. Sounds like I’m not the only one that uses HM as an escape.

  15. Worf: I agree with you.Except about the part of the “guess” judge.What is that? A judge from Guess? A judge that guesses the winner? A contest where we guess the judge? A guessing game with a judge? I’m stumped.

    Or maybe, JUST MAYBE, you mean a guest judge? HEHEHEHEHEE

    Okay, I never said I could spell. Math, art, and history were my best subjects way back during my school days. But at least I’m not a text head that only knows how to write in txt. lol

  16. If I can chime in, maybe in addition to Jeff, we could have the winner be the judge for the next contest. I would say the only reservation is that that person shouldn’t be able to enter into that week’s contest. Could be a way to shake things up a bit.

  17. I like this idea of having others judge every once and a while, it could be fun.

  18. I dont like that idea, what if the contest theme really interesting for you and sadly, u cant submit any picture because you’re the winner last week?