Holly E. Thomas
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; 12:00 PM
Our fourth-annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest drew more than 1,100 entries. The results, impressive for their creativity and craftsmanship, range from clever to cute and silly to serious.
Holly E. Thomas of The Washington Post Magazine took questions about this year's contest, how we chose our finalists and why the winner impressed us. The transcript is below.
Arlington, VA: I LOVE this contest. I hope to enter in it myself next year if possible. So my question is: What makes a finalist entry stand out? Creativity? Humor? Attention to detail?
Holly E. Thomas: Glad you like the contest, and are considering entering! For finalists, we look for attention to detail, artistry in the execution, creativity with materials (ie, making furniture instead of buying exclusively dollhouse furniture), a sense of humor, a relevant topic or some sort of fun, witty play on pop culture.
Rockville, MD: How many "Up"-themed entries did you get? My wife and I had the same basic idea as the winners, but I'll hand it to them - theirs looks miles better than ours.
Anyhow, thanks for the great contest!
Holly E. Thomas: We received a handful of "Up"-themed entries -- maybe three or four in total. Pixar's film was so colorful and visually stunning, it certainly made for good creative fodder. Thanks for participating!
College Park, MD: I was struck by how more professional the dioramas look each year and did a quick Google of the names and addresses of the finalist. Sure enough, a majority are professional architects, interior designers, and others who make models and even dioramas for a living.
Could you please note when this is the case?
I am not suggesting that this be an amateurs only contest - just asking for full disclosure. Thanks.
Holly E. Thomas: If you read the coverage online, you'll see that the occupations of all the finalists are included in the story ...
Frederick, MD: I believe I saw at least one entrant from Chicago. Are entrants shipping their dioramas from outside the DC metro area? Seems like they would be far to delicate to ship.
Holly E. Thomas: Anyone can enter the contest, but per our rules, the five finalists have to be from the MD, VA or DC areas because their dioramas have to be brought to the Post to be photographed. So we can have semifinalists from all over the world, but only local entrants can make the top five.
Mclean, Va: I am one of the creators of the the Dupont Circle Snowball fight. I love this contest - it was a huge amount of fun. I was wondering how you chose some repeat themes for this year's semi-finalists? There was a peep-a-cotta warriors last year, and a Hitchcock's the birds theme the year before. I assumed the Post didn't like repeat themes, or does it matter?
Holly E. Thomas: Before judging this year's contest, we looked back at previous years' entries to familiarize ourselves with the topics and themes that made a splash before. For repeated themes, we make sure that the execution is different (ie "The Birds" from 2010 felt very different from the one from 2009). On a side note, I'm always pleasantly surprised that we don't get entries that are carbon copies of previous winners. Just goes to show how much creativity and individuality is really out there!
Washington, D.C.: Just a quick comment: I LOVE the Peeps show. I don't think I have the patience or talent to create a diorama, but I am totally impressed by others' work, and I appreciate the entire project. Thanks for bringing some fun and joy to everyone.
Holly E. Thomas: Thank you for tuning in!
Arlington, VA: I'm a little disappointed that none of the Tiger Woods dioramas made the final cut. Any particular reason?
Holly E. Thomas: Mostly it was an issue of execution. A lot of times entrants have great, funny, witty concepts, but those concepts aren't immediately obvious just by looking at the diorama. A scene that needs an explanation or a long back-story isn't going to stand out as much as one that is clear from the get-go, and a good current events theme still has to hold its own against a great classic theme, such as the "Goodnight Moon" finalist.
South Riding, VA: When I separate Peeps out into individual chicks and bunnies, I get an exposed marshmallow side where it was attached to the next one in the package. Any ideas on how the winners were able to make their Peeps look uniformly color sugar coated, without the marshmallow showing where they were separated? It seems like it would make a difference in helping the diorama seem more polished.
Holly E. Thomas: I think some entrants use paint, but glue + colored sugar might also work. Any dioramists out there with tips for this chatter?
Fairfax, VA: I submitted a Peeps diorama entry for the 2010 contest. How do I know whether or not you received my pictures?
Holly E. Thomas: I personally looked at every submission that was sent to the Peeps contest dropbox -- all 1,137 of them -- which took roughly two full weeks and caused me to dream about Peeps for several days. We're not able to send individual confirmations for every submission, which we realize is frustrating for those who poured their time and effort into their dioramas, but as the Mistress of the Peeps, I wouldn't let a potential winner go unseen.
Kansas City MO: I LOVE this project! I posted it on my facebook to share with my friends, but why is only the Obama Peep an option for the thumbnail image? It's the same on the home page promo for this chat, only Obama Peep face...seems like it should be the WINNER...?
Holly E. Thomas: This might be a size issue, I'm not entirely sure -- the EEP image is quite large and probably doesn't work as well as a thumbnail. Thank you for sharing the contest on Facebook!
Team Peepthedral: We went to the Washington Post Happy Hour prepared to sneer at the obviously inferior creations who had edged us out for the top prize. Instead, we were floored by all the creativity and whimsy on display, and were SO happy to have made the semi-finals. Also, kudos to the Post for putting on such fun events as the family day and the happy hour. Thanks so much!
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks, Team Peepthedral, for your great submission and the nice words about our events ...
Annandale, Va.: When and where will be the winners appear in print? We want to send them to family in California.
Holly E. Thomas: The Peeps contest is the cover story for this weekend's Washington Post Magazine, which publishes on Sunday, April 4 (but you might be able to find it on Saturday).
Washington, D.C.: So, when do we get to see the peeps dioramas in person?? LOVED seeing them last year.
Holly E. Thomas: The Post's Marketing department hosted a series of events last week in our lobby that showcased 38 of the best dioramas, starting with a family day over the weekend, open hours for visiting during the week and a Peeps happy hour event. In previous years, Artomatic has displayed the dioramas during their exhibition, but we learned a few weeks ago that there won't be an Artomatic event this year, unfortunately ... so if you missed the Peeps Week events, your best bet is the photo gallery and video features on the five finalists. (Update on Artomatic)
Washington, DC: I enjoyed all of the entries immensely. I was so surprised to see that an old co-worker of mine was one of the semi-finalist on the peep #16 display, Miss Christine McCann. If you have a way of sending congratulations to her on my behalf I would appreciate it. My name is Traci Outlaw and thank you.
Holly E. Thomas: Consider it done ... now just send her a link to the chat!
Cincinnati, Ohio: Re: the local requirement for finalists--but what if you picked one from someone who lived far away and was willing to come in person? Would you let them show up with it in order to make the top 5? Just curious, because I thought I saw one from Seattle.
Holly E. Thomas: Nope -- we consider the locations when we choose the five finalists, and we wouldn't let someone from out of the area show up with a diorama because it's simply not fair. The Seattle entry was a semifinalist -- anyone from anywhere can be a semifinalist, but you have to be local to be a finalist.
Washington, D.C.: How come no one uses chick peeps?!
Holly E. Thomas: The winner used a chich Peep, as did the Korean War Veterans Memorial diorama. I think bunny Peeps are easier to work with because the shape is more vertical and slim, like the human form ... rereading that sentence, it seems incredibly odd ... but I think that's why we see more bunnies than chicks.
Rockville, MD: Were the dioramas featuring Tiger Woods and Gilbert Arenas of poor quality or were they not thought to be appropriate for family friendly viewing
Holly E. Thomas: They weren't necessarily poor quality, but they didn't hold up as well against our semifinalists and finalists. Family-friendliness isn't as big of a concern -- we've shown dioramas of "Reservoir Dogs," "Full Metal Jacket," and Guantanamo Bay -- since the most enjoyable, funny and interesting themes are aimed at adults, rather than kids. We're considering a kids' winner for next year, though.
Washington, D.C.: My diorama entry last year didn't even make the semis, but it lives on in Flickr! (So there!!) I hope the other also-rans will add their photos online so we can see their work.
washingtonpost.com: And now you can do just that right here: Peeps Show IV: Post Your Own. Upload photos of your own Peeps dioramas for the world to see.
Holly E. Thomas: Start posting your creations!
Stafford, VA: Hi! Just a response on how to cover the bare marshmallow spots. There's always some sugar loose in the package, and you can get more by gently rubbing the peeps you don't intend to use. The trick is to press the bare sticky spot into the loose sugar as soon as you tear it off!
I had a great time making mine!
Holly E. Thomas: For the chatter looking for tips ...
Herndon, VA: I make my own peeps. To get a uniform color, you just reroll them in the colored sugar. No glue is needed.
Do you ever have a finalist come to the post office and be disapointed?
Love the peep show! Highlight of the season.....
Holly E. Thomas: More tips, thanks! We've never been disappointed by a finalist, as it turns out ... in fact, we're usually humbled by the creativity.
Washington DC: Last summer some of the Peeps dioramas were on display at an arts festival in a building near the ballpark. Will that occur this year as well?
Holly E. Thomas: Unfortunately, Artomatic will not take place this year ...
Alexandria VA: Can't say I agree with the winning entry. Even the Wash Post video on it focuses on the construction of the plywood/popsicle stick house. I thought this was a Peep show, not a popsicle stick/plywood house contest?
Holly E. Thomas: Choosing a winner from our five finalists comes down to an anonymous vote among the Magazine staff, and the "Creating a Masterpeeps" diorama finished as a close second to "EEP," mainly because of the way the artist implemented Peeps into every aspect of her creation. Glad to hear all your opinions about our winner ...
Denver, CO: Hi there,
I moved to Denver recently from DC and was surprised to see the Denver Post do a Peeps diorama contest too. Did you know you had started a trend?
Holly E. Thomas: Peeps Madness sweeps the nation! There's no doubt that this contest really appeals to people, probably because the medium is so accessible and kind of silly. And seeing all the amazing entries is always bright spot at the end of winter, too.
DC: Hi Holly, I really love this contest! Do you remember seeing the entry depicting the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland with Sarah Peeplin as the speaker at the tea party? I saw this at a party a few weeks ago (the host had it displayed) and was blown away by the creativity and the cleverness of working in the political tea party theme w/the AIW scene. And the detail was incredible too...little notes on Sarah Peeplin's hands, cool Johnny Depp-looking mad hatter, hand-made furniture, etc. I was sure it would make the finals...but alas, it did not. Can you briefly comment why the "traditional" tea party diorama was chosen over this one?
washingtonpost.com: Tell your friend to post a photo so everyone can see!
Holly E. Thomas: Sometimes, the more complicated the theme is, the more difficult it is to understand what's going on at first glance. That sort of initial understanding, that gut feeling of "Oh, I get it, that's hilarious" is what we're looking for. We got a lot of Tea Party and health care reform entries that just fell a little flat in the end. The "traditional" tea party scene felt crisp, clean and colorful, and the lighting feature was a nice touch.
Alexandria VA: Just wanted to say thanks to the Post for the family day. It was great to see the dioramas in person, and our kids loved making their own dioramas. Looking forward to next year....maybe we'll even enter the contest...
Holly E. Thomas: Thank you, and please do enter next year!
No Artomatic?!?: That's disappointing for many reasons, but definitely including not being able to see the Peep-o-ramas in person.
Holly E. Thomas: Agreed -- I'd watch the Going Out Gurus space for any updates about Artomatic.
DC: Is the use of Photoshop type software frowned upon? I submitted one of the Tiger Woods diorama and used quite a bit of Photoshop to just to create backdrop. The only rule I saw was that all characters must be peeps.
Holly E. Thomas: Not in terms of creating backdrops, etc -- the "Alice in Wonderland" diorama team used Photoshop to make a backdrop of bunny-shaped hedges. As long as you're bringing some creativity and original thought to the table, there's no harm in using Photoshop for backdrops, scenery, etc.
Washington, DC: I'll be the one to say it: I DO want it to be an amateurs' only contest. It's ridiculous to have professional graphic designers/architects competing in this.
Holly E. Thomas: On the other hand, it's silly to exclude a professional artist/graphic designer/architect from a competition based around marshmallows. Just some perspective ...
4 corners: Were any peeps harmed, or eaten, in creating Peep Show IV?
Peeps Enjoying The Attention
Holly E. Thomas: Yes, and yes, I'm sure.
No Artomatic? : What a shame that we won't be able to see the peeps in person - I hope someone might be on the lookout for a venue to show them off that benefits from foot traffic -- the Post building is just a bit too off the beaten path. That said, I might have come but I was assuming I'd get the chance at Artomatic -- I wish you'd noted in the advertising that the Post displays would be the -only- chance to see the peeps.
Holly E. Thomas: We only just learned about Artomatic a few weeks ago, after the Magazine had already gone to press, and the events were actually organized/hosted by the Marketing department. I understand your disappointment though, and hopefully the exhibition will be up and running again soon. Again, stay tuned.
Cleveland Park, D.C.: I love this contest. I especially love the DC themed entries. Gives things a nice local flair.
My favorite was the Peepthedral, but the winning entry -- albeit, not DC-centered -- was pretty amazing.
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks for following!
Alexandria, VA: Would the kid's winner that you're thinking of for next year be kid-created, or kid-themed-content?
Holly E. Thomas: Kid-created, most likely -- a way to recognize the best entry from a young contributor. Whenever kid-themed content surfaces in a great diorama (as it did with this year's "Goodnight Moon" finalist and last year's "Sesame Street" semifinalist), it's considered in the main competition just like all the others.
Washington DC: I had a very funny Peep moment when I was at the happy hour and saw that my "Peep and Prejudice" submission was beat out by "Peeps and Prejudice and Zombies." Very clever. You really have to applaud people's use of blood and guts and Peeps! They certainly stepped it up a notch on the creativity scale!
washingtonpost.com: It didn't make our gallery, but please post yours here for everyone to see! Peeps Show IV: Post Your Own
Holly E. Thomas: The "Peeps and Prejudice and Zombies" diorama made great use of the novel's pop-culture cachet, and I especially liked the zombie Peep breaking in the window. Thanks for participating!
Alexandria, VA: Is the contest limited to bunny and chick peeps, or could I save peeps-Christmas trees from the holiday season (I'm thinking Macbeth)...
Holly E. Thomas: Any Peeps will do -- we've seen trees, ghosts, pumpkins, teddy bears. But be forewarned, we get a LOT of Macbeth dioramas.
Name of winner: I should probably go back and check this before asking, but I wondered if the name of the winning entry was "PEEP," not "EEP," because the balloon forms the "P" of "PEEP." Just wondering. Such a fun entry.
Being from New Mexico, I also liked the "Georgia O'Peep" entry.
Holly E. Thomas: It was "EEP," a play off of "UP" ... the position of the balloon was just an accident. I really loved the Georgia O'Keefe entry, too, which just narrowly missed being a finalist.
Chick peeps: I just read that comment as 'chick peas', and starting mentally making an Obama-themed chick pea display. Given the push towards healthy eating, maybe you could launch a new bean-themed contest.
But on a serious note--awesome job this year. I'm so impressed by all the hard work and am amazed that they just keep getting better every year.
Holly E. Thomas: Me too! Every year, I think the contest entries can't get any better than last year's ... but every year I find myself proven wrong by so much great talent.
Fairfax, VA: Submitting early due to a meeting. Wow! The finalists and winner were really impressive. Would you consider starting a "family-constructed" category for future contests, to give little kids and their parents a chance to see what they, and others like them, can do?
Holly E. Thomas: A kids' winner is a possibility we're weighing for next year, but I think creating a "family-constructed" category probably won't happen. If a family constructs a great diorama, they most certainly can win, but there's no need to create a special category just for them.
Manassas, VA: Just curious...I submitted an entry and my sister submitted an entry (hers was much better than mine!), but they did not make the top 38. Is there any way to find out who made the top 100 out of the 1100 entries, or do you only rank the top 38? (Speaking of...why did you select the number 38?)
Holly E. Thomas: I narrow down the 1100+ entries to 50, at which point the Magazine staff convenes and we assign rankings from 1-5 for each of those 50. At the end, any entries ranked 5 are narrowed down to become our top five finalists. Anything ranked 3 or 4 makes it to the semifinals (which is why there are 33, and not a nice, round number).
Washington, DC: "it's silly to exclude a professional artist/graphic designer/architect from a competition based around marshmallows."
Not when you're judging based on the architecture of the entry. Full disclosure: I've never submitted an entry, only viewed them for the past few years.
Holly E. Thomas: Not all the entries were judged on architecture (see the other four finalists, which are fairly simple), but we didn't want to eliminate a great winner simply because of it.
I agree with Holly: If architects and graphic designers want to spend their weekends making dioramas out of candy, more power to them.
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks! It's kind of like saying a chef shouldn't participate in a cook-off.
I thought my Washington Post Hunt themed diorama was a shoe in thanks to its DC (and Post) connection. But now it totally makes sense that I didn't, considering I had to explain it to everyone that I showed it to. Think Gene Weingarten wants it for his desk? I'm having trouble throwing it away!
Holly E. Thomas: I remember your diorama -- very clever!
Chevy Chase, MD: PLEASE POST THIS! I LOVE MY WIFE! OK... so let me go on record as saying that both my wife and I LOVE the Post's Peeps contest, and plan to continue submitting entries for many years. That being said, in spite of the multitude of wonderful entries (the winner DEFINITELY deserved to win), and the understandably arduous task of choosing from amongst 1,100 different dioramas, I was genuinely SHOCKED that my wife's entry was not selected as worthy of the online photo gallery finalists. Instead of being bitter, however, I'd really just like to try to take this one final chance to let everyone see what she did, because I REALLY think that her idea is THAT clever. Her diorama depicts a Jay Leno peep crashing the "The Peeps Show with Conan O'Brien," an obvious allusion to the recent NBC fiasco involving both men. Also featured in the diorama are Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band and Andy Richter. This entry is really, REALLY funny, timely, involves a pop culture reference virtually EVERYONE will get, AND has a terrific pun for a name. PLEASE, PLEASE include this link to a picture of her diorama - people deserve to enjoy this before Peeps season is officially over! Thank you!! Here it is: http://twitpic.com/1645zf
Holly E. Thomas: Have you added it to our user-generated gallery?
Anonymous: Artomatic isn't necessarily held every year. It has been held in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Holly E. Thomas: True, but Artomatic has been held every year the Post has run our diorama contest, which explains why so many people are disappointed that it's not running this year to show the Peeps entries ...
McLean, Va: When can we vote online?
Holly E. Thomas: If you go to the online gallery, there's a link to the Peeple's Choice poll above it and you can vote now!
Silver Spring, MD: Please give credit to Clement Hurd for creating the iconic illustrations for "Goodnight Mood"! I love this book, but Margaret Wise Brown did not create the pictures.
Holly E. Thomas: True -- thanks for chiming in!
washingtonpost.com: Peeps Show IV: See photos and vote
Washington, DC: I attended the Post Peeps Family Day and got to see the finalist dioramas in person. Almost all of them looked like they had been done by professional artists. Entries were amazing this year. Was judging harder or easier than in previous years?
Holly E. Thomas: Judging gets harder every year, especially among the top five finalists. There was some spirited debate among Magazine staffers this year -- everyone has a favorite, and usually it's not the same one!
Jeepers Peepers: My husband is an architect and he says he is terrible at model building. Once you are out of school, those skills deteriorate because other architects hire students and interns to make them. And uh...they are Peeps. Not their usual medium. Besides, without talented professionals, the world would be denied this magnificent genre of art.
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks for this very helpful contribution! I think once you throw marshmallows, sugar and hot glue into the equation, an architecture degree can only get you so far.
Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, Virginia: We noticed that you mention homage dioramas in your article and are wondering if we are headed in the right direction. We submitted the scene from Patrick Swayze's film, Dirty Dancing, where Peepsy throws herself into the air, trusting Peeptrick Swayze will catch her. Are we at all close to the Holy Grail of Peepdom--being a WaPo semi-finalist? Congratulations to all of the finalists and semi-finalists--their creations are amazing and their recognition well deserved....there is some extremely tough competition out there!
Holly E. Thomas: You're absolutely headed in the right direction -- we got a couple Patrick Swayze dioramas depicting that scene from "Dirty Dancing," as well as the pottery-making scene from "Ghost." Many of them were quite good, and at least one nearly made it to the semifinals.
Winner's weigh in: As the winner this year I take offense to the implication that only graphic designers and artists can win. As an engineer who's spends most of his time programming I think that anyone, if they spend enough time and effort, can produce a high quality diorama.
Neither my girlfriend nor I are an architect, graphic designer, or artist. We just spent a lot of time working on a diorama that we thought everyone would enjoy.
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks for chiming in, Michael! It's certainly not an "artists only" competition -- one of the finalists is a mommy blogger, while two others are lawyers.
Arlington, VA: Did the shorter lead time for the diorama's (only 2 weeks instead of the 4 weeks of last year) decrease the number of polished entries you received?
I only ask this because I noticed there were only 38 finalists instead of last years' 40.
Holly E. Thomas: We actually topped our number of entries from last year! Moving the contest to a new home in the WP Magazine and giving 2 weeks to create definitely put the pressure on, but it didn't dampen the quality of dioramas we received. It probably helps that the contest has become something of an institution, and people start dreaming up ideas well ahead of time.
Reston, VA: Will the Post magazine feature all the top entries, or only the 5 finalists?
Holly E. Thomas: The Magazine covers the five finalists in depth and showcases images of some of our picks from the semifinalists.
Holly E. Thomas: Thanks to everyone who tuned in to our Peeps chat today, and to the many, many people who submitted entries and made the contest so much fun. Now it's time to go indulge in some slightly stale marshmallow Peeps (my favorite) ... signing off until Peeps Show V!
UPDATE (April 8, 2010): Holly E. Thomas: We just heard from the Artomatic folks, and they're hoping to have an event later this year. Stay tuned!
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