Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™
How exciting! The cookie competition of the year is here in its brand new, shiny virtual format! Here is where you will find all of the information to help you register for and later submit your entry into the 2021 virtual edition of Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™. But before we get into the details of category definitions, themes, and entry requirements, just a few general words about this year’s competition.
First, you can get all of our competition updates by following Julia’s competition category on this blog. Second, we have eclipsed last year’s prize value by a lot, thanks to our wonderful and generous sponsors. Total prizes (both cash and gift certificates) now top $13,000 (of which $7,000 is cash). This incredible jackpot will be divvied amongst just six people (the first-, second-, and third-place winners in each of two categories), making the possible upside for any one person quite high. In honor of the venerable, late Kerry Vincent, my mentor and the primary reason this competition exists, we will also be awarding the first-ever Kerry Vincent Best in Show Award to the one person, in either category, whose work most impressed the judges. Kerry held herself, her Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show, and all of her many protégés to impeccable standards and, as such, I can think of no better name to associate with this highest of competition honors.
Prizes aside, I want to remind you that my competition is and has always been, first and foremost, about learning, personal growth, and fun. In other words, it’s not about whether you win or lose, but rather what you take away from the competition and how that learning enriches you as a cookie artist. Even if you’re just starting out, I encourage you to enter if just to challenge – and maybe even surprise – yourself!
So let’s move on to the competition details . . . Please read everything here before you register to enter (which you can do as early as today) and submit your entry. We would hate to disqualify anyone or deduct points because of failure to read or understand a rule. If you have any questions about these details, please leave them in the comments below so that everyone can benefit from my answers.
Entry into the competition is a two-step process that takes place on two different platforms: first, you register on Eventbrite; then you submit your entry materials on Cookie Connection once your entry is complete. Registering is required to convey your intent to compete. Though you can register anytime between now (July 12, 5 pm CDT) and the entry submission deadline (October 15, 5 pm CDT), I urge you to do so as soon as possible to help with our competition planning. Since 2021 is the first year that this competition has been conducted virtually, having an early estimate of the number of entries will help me and my judging team immensely – and will likely lead to a smoother experience for you!
- July 12 (5 pm CDT): Registration opens (REGISTER ON EVENTBRITE; non-refundable $15 USD entry fee per entry, to cover competition admin costs).
- July 12 – October 15: Competitors prepare entries.
- October 15 (5 pm CDT): Registration closes and all entry forms and supporting materials are due. (Links to entry forms will automatically be emailed to you, via Eventbrite, as soon as Eventbrite has processed your registration form/payment.)
- October 16: Judging begins.
- November 15 (subject to change): Finalists announced!
- November 30 (subject to change): Winners announced!
What is 5 pm CDT in your part of the world? Use this time zone converter.
The competition is open to anyone, anywhere, of any age and background! (My competition welcomes diversity!) Again, there are no skill level classes (or sub-categories), as we have not found them useful in years past. However, we will be collecting some basic demographic information on the Eventbrite registration form to assist us with making decisions about competition classes and sub-categories in the future. Please provide this information when filling out that form to help us with future competition planning.
In an attempt to keep things simple in this first year of online competition, we have the same two categories that we’ve had in years past: 2-D and 3-D Cookies. These categories are defined below. Please be sure you understand the distinction, as competition administrators will not recategorize miscategorized entries. Again, questions should be left in the comments below so that everyone can benefit from the answers.
2-D Cookie Definition
A single large flat decorated cookie or a collection of flat decorated cookies (no maximum cookie count) arranged laying down, artistically, and also minimally overlapping, so that the decorative details on each cookie can be seen. (By “flat”, we mean the cookies themselves must be flat; they can be decorated with icing and other media to create added dimension.) The entire entry must fit into a 3 x 3-foot (91 x 91-cm) space. The entry may be smaller than this area, but it cannot be any less than 1 x 1-foot (30 x 30-cm). The cookie(s) must be arranged, photographed, and videotaped on a solid single-color backdrop with no additional photo styling or staging. Clarification (July 29, 2021): Stacked diorama-style displays, where the cookies are laying flat and some are stacked on top of others, are best suited for the 2-D category. But, again, judges need to be able to see decoration on most of the cookies, so stacking should be kept to a minimum.
3-D Cookie Definition
A multi-cookie construction, where decorated cookies are arranged in any orientation and pieced together to create a freestanding, dimensional piece of cookie art. A minimum of 12 decorated cookies must comprise this construction; there is no maximum cookie count. The cookies in the entry needn’t be flat; they can also be contoured, embossed, molded, modeled, sculpted, or otherwise shaped. The entire entry must fit into a 2 x 2 x 3-foot-tall (61 x 61 x 91-cm-tall, L x W x H) area. The entry may be smaller than this area, but it cannot be larger. The cookie construction must be presented, photographed, and videotaped against a solid single-color backdrop with no additional photo styling or staging.
Important: A 3-D cookie is not a flat cookie onto which royal icing has been pressure-piped or added as a transfer to create dimension. Likewise, a 3-D cookie is not a flat cookie onto which molded or modeled fondant (or some other decorating medium) has been added for dimension. Cookies of these descriptions should be placed in the 2-D Cookie category.
Your entry must relate to the theme for its category. There are two different, though related, themes, one for 2-D Cookie and another for 3-D Cookie.
Both themes acknowledge that there isn’t one of us who hasn’t been indelibly impacted by the global pandemic. (This competition is obviously no exception, having gone from in-person to online at the drop of a hat!) The themes also celebrate the fact that, even in the face of enormous challenge, we have proven to be a strong and resilient cookie community! Over the last year and a half, we’ve had to make life changes that we never imagined. We’ve had to reset our priorities and redefine what’s “essential” to us. We’ve had to “pivot” on a dime, adapting our family and business routines to stay healthy, happy, and afloat. In fact, the very words “essential” and “pivot” assumed such heightened significance that they became commonplace terms in our everyday vocabulary.
And so . . . your challenge is to show us in cookies what these words – “essential” and “pivot” – have meant to you over the last year, and even now.
2-D Cookie Theme: Essential
(adjective: of the utmost importance; synonyms: basic, indispensable, necessary)
3-D Cookie Theme: Pivot
(noun: a marked change, especially an adjustment or modification made in order to adapt or improve; verb: to turn on or as if on a pivot; to adapt or improve by adjusting or modifying something)
Tip: The definitions above are the actual Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions, which may be helpful to those whose native language is not English. However, the judges and I want you to think beyond the literal definitions of these words. Tell us what significance these words have had for you. Tell us, through your cookies, your personal stories of how you have (or have not!) redefined what’s “essential” or “pivoted”. Tell us what you’ve prioritized or done differently in the last year, and show us why and how you did that. I think you catch my drift!
RULES FOR BOTH 2-D AND 3-D CATEGORIES
- A completed registration form and paid entry fee (non-refundable $15 USD per entry) are required before you can receive a link to the entry form(s). Again, I urge you to register as soon as possible to aid our planning process. REGISTER ON EVENTBRITE no later than October 15 (5 pm CDT).
- There is no limit on the number of entries per person. However, a separate $15 USD entry fee is required per entry.
- Entrants must submit a complete entry form that contains the entrant’s name, email address, phone number, theme interpretation, description of techniques and media used, a video, a hero photo, several supporting photos, and a few other items. Please review the “Category-Specific Submission Requirements” in the section below, and have the items listed there prepared before you sit down to submit your entry.
- Again, links to entry forms will automatically be emailed to you, via Eventbrite, as soon as Eventbrite has processed your registration form/payment. The links will direct you to a secure area on Cookie Connection (this site) where you will be prompted to upload the items listed in the “Category-Specific Submission Requirements”.
- Very important: The name, email address, and phone number that you use to register on Eventbrite must match those on your entry form on Cookie Connection. Otherwise, we will not be able to verify that you paid an entry fee, and your entry will be eliminated.
- Absolutely no markings (names, logos, etc.) that identify you or your business should be on or in any of the videos, photos, or text descriptions that you submit on your entry form. Likewise, you must maintain the anonymity of your entry until judging is complete (meaning you cannot display your entry on social media or show your entry to judges in advance). All judging is done blind, without knowing the entrant, to ensure the most objective evaluations. (Names, email addresses, and phone numbers submitted on entry forms will be masked before judging occurs.)
- Again, entries must be arranged and photographed/videotaped on a solid single-color backdrop with no additional photo styling or staging. The cookies should speak for themselves!
- Videos should not be professionally produced; a simple video taken on your mobile phone will suffice. The primary goal of the video is to ensure that judges can see your entry from all angles.
- Videos and photos cannot be digitally altered in any way. The use of filters, color enhancements, removal of flaws, and any adjustments that change how the entry views in real life to the human eye are strictly prohibited. Exception: Exposure adjustments can be made to correct for poor ambient lighting.
- The entry must be made, in its entirety, by the entrant. Faux or store-bought cookies or icing cannot be used. No one else can assist with the entry. Collaborations are prohibited.
- The entry cannot have been previously entered in another competition, show, or exhibition. The work must be fresh and tailored to this competition’s theme.
- The entry cannot contain copies or close facsimiles of others’ copyrighted designs, art, logos, or other material. Remember: Originality is rewarded in this competition!
- The entry cannot contain inedible materials, including those labeled “non-toxic” or “for display use only”. Any items that could be construed by judges as inedible (including, but not limited to, luster dusts and glitters) should either not be used or be clearly identified by brand name on your entry form in the area where techniques are described. Exception for 3-D Cookie Category: Internal supports are discouraged, but allowed if they are clearly visible to judges in your hero photo (without looking at any work-in-process photos) and could easily be removed from the cookie(s) if they were to be eaten (i.e., such as sticks in cookie pops).
- You must conduct yourself in an ethical and professional manner, and treat others in our global community just as you want to be treated yourself. This competition celebrates diversity and inclusivity, and we expect our entrants to do the same. Good sportsmanship also matters!
- By submitting an entry, you are giving us permission to share any photos or videos you included in your entry form, but only after the competition winners are announced, and only with proper attribution of your material. Use of photos/videos will be limited to publicizing finalists, winners, and future competitions.
- By submitting an entry, you certify that you have read and abided by all of the above rules as well as the specific submission requirements for your category (or categories), below. Judges reserve the right to deduct points or to disqualify any entry they feel violates rules or doesn’t meet requirements, or any entrant who behaves in a manner inconsistent with the values of this competition.
- Judges’ decisions are final.
SPECIFIC SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR EACH CATEGORY
Please review the following “Category-Specific Submission Requirements”, and have the items listed in them prepared before you sit down to submit your entry. The required materials vary by category in some key ways, so read them carefully. These documents are also attached and downloadable at the end of this post.
Tip: Better yet, review these requirements even before you start designing your entry!
JUDGING CRITERIA AND FEEDBACK
- Interpretation of theme (2-D Cookie: Essential; 3-D Cookie: Pivot)
- Number and difficulty of decorating techniques used (Decorating techniques include, but are not limited to, outlining/flooding, dipping, dimensional pressure piping, wet-on-wet/marbling, stenciling, airbrushing, painting, stamping, fondant work, edible paper work, isomalt, etc.)
- Mastery of decorating techniques used
- Cleanliness of icing/covering and cookies
- Originality of cookie designs (Again, no close facsimiles or copies of anyone else’s work or copyrighted material are allowed.)
- Overall appeal
- Number and difficulty of dough shaping and construction techniques used (Dough shaping techniques include, but are not limited to, contouring, embossing, molding, modeling, and sculpting; construction approaches include stacked or sandwiched constructions, up-ended stacked constructions, mitered corner constructions, and cookies on sticks, each with or without moveable parts.)
- Mastery of dough shaping and construction techniques used
- Scale, balance, and viewability of entry from all angles
On feedback: In previous years when the competition was in person and the number of entries was constrained by local geography, judges prepared written feedback for each entrant. Since the number of entrants could be substantially larger this year due to the online nature of the competition, we are waiting to determine our feedback plan until we have a better idea of the number of entries. Feedback is an important part of any competition, so we will certainly do our best to address this need.
Tip: In the quest to impress judges, it can be tempting to load every conceivable technique into an entry. While judges do appreciate a wide mastery of skills, we don’t appreciate the gratuitous use of techniques that don’t fit with or complement the design, or which clutter and distract from the overall aesthetic. Throughout your entry creation process, step back every so often to take stock of what you’ve done. Make sure each technique you’ve used has a purpose, and that your entry is cohesive, not overworked or overdone.
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
Relax and have fun with this challenge! While we award prizes, every entrant comes out a winner for having made an investment in him/herself! Just by participating, you are assured of achieving your own personal best! Now . . .