Wednesday, February 10, 2010

20 tips for entering art competitions

What do you need to know when thinking about entering an art competition.
Here's twenty tips - what are yours?

Two irises and three buds (a work in progress)
10" x 8", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

  1. Aim for a good fit between your work and the competition. It's a complete waste of time, effort and entry fees to submit to competitions which are not a good fit with your artwork. It's wise to do some research before you start to create an entry. If possible, I always try and see an open exhibition first before submitting work - partly to see what sort of work gets hung but also to decide whether my work is, or could be, a good fit. Another goord reason for researching the competition is to understand its purpose and to see whether again it's something that you'd want to be associated with
  2. Be yourself. Genuinely innovative work or work which provides a 'new look' and a different way of creating art is like a breath of fresh air. 'Being yourself' AND 'being different' can often get your work noticed. This may sound as if it contradicts the first point. However there's a lot of difference between being aware of what a competition is about and the sort of work it attracts and copying what seems to be popular. Do not do the latter - make your work your own.
  3. Research the chances of getting selected. Undoubtedly it's a terrific boost for your artist's CV if you can get selected for a major competition. Even better if you win. However many people act on this notion and as a result some competitions attract a huge number of entries while only hanging a relatively small proportion. Numbers are often mentioned in calls for entries (or on this blog!) and it's often possible to work out what are the chances of getting picked. The bad news - if you submit to some competitions you have a 97% chance of being rejected. The good news - you'll be in very good company if you are and be able to boast big time if you do get selected.
  1. Only submit eligible artwork by an eligible artist. This means you MUST Read the terms and conditions of the 'call for entries' at the beginning very carefully. Then read it again. Read once more just before you submit to make sure you got it right. You'd be surprised how many people make very simple mistakes - such as framing work and then realising that it exceeds the size limits! Given the trend towards internationalisation, it's wise to check whether a competition is genunely open to all or whether entry is limited (eg to artists who live and work in the UK).
  2. Check the copyright arrangements. It has been known for some art competitions (naming no names but they know who they are!) to equate entry to the competition with the release of ownership and copyright of that image by the artist. The organisations that do this very often keep this fact in the small print and don't make it obvious. This is just plain WRONG on all sorts of counts. Frankly from my perspective this sort of arrangement ranks pretty close to exploitation (and I do name and shame when I come across examples). It certainly is when the competition is effectively disguising a cost-cutting measure (ie avoiding making a fee payment to an artist in the normal way). Any use of an image outside an exhibition should ALWAYS be the subject of an appropriate payment. There is also no legitimate reason whatsoever to give up copyright at all as licensing arrangements can release works for specific purposes. For example illustrators rarely give up copyright even when working on commission.
  3. Check the security/insurance arrangements. If you are submitting highly valued/priced work you will probably want to be confident it's not going to walk out the door. Competitions vary as to the insurance cover they provide while it is in an exhibition. An annual insurance policy which covers artwork in exhibitions can be a real asset should anything untoward actually happen. Is it clear from the terms and conditions of entry, who carries the liability and responsibility for an exhibition. Is it the gallery or the organisation?
  4. Work out what's the time and cost involved in submitting your work. If it's a national competition, shipping or travel costs associated with submission might be very expensive. However also be aware that quite a few national art society compeititons have regional pick-up points and this can make a big difference to the costs of submission.
  5. Create a timetable for getting the work submitted - and don't forget to include some contingency time for things going wrong.
  6. Make sure you can get your work framed correctly. Book your framer well in advance. Do not assume that they can turn around your frames in the time you've allowed. Remember that framers do have holidays! I'll never forget the August that I couldn't find a framer who could do my framing in time for exhibition deadlines! Some competitions are very specific as to the type of framing they will allow. There are also 'styles' of framing which can get you excluded from selection - and I've seen it happen. However styles vary from place to place. In London, neutral and minimal impact framing is the current favoured format - with the emphasis on seeing the artwork rather than being distracted by the frame.
  7. Make sure you submit top notch digital images. Organisations running art competitions are often criticised for the expenses involved relative to the chances of a successful submission. One of the ways they can cut costs is to ask for initial submissions by digital image. The importance of good scanning/photography, colour balance and cropping images accurately is often highlighted when you get a chance to see entries online. It's a good idea to either employ a photographer or get better at taking photographs and then preparing/presenting them for submission
  8. Check out the jurors. Is your work likely to be a good fit with the art they appear to like? For example, if you paint traditional realism and they appear to like cutting edge contemporary there may well be a problem!
  9. Remember selection is personal! By which I mean that not getting selected does NOT mean your art is no good. It just means that it just didn't appeal to this particular juror or panel in this particular year. I've seen artwork rejected from one competition win top awards in the next competition it gets submitted to. Ask Jeff George CPSA - one of his pieces weas submitted to the CPSA Open in 2008 and was not selected but he resubmitted it the next year and it won the major prize at CPSA 2009! (see below for image and my comment)

The CIPPY Award and CPSA Best in Show Award
Life and Death
8.5" x 32", coloured pencils
copyright Jeff George / image used by kind permission of the artist
Jeff George CPSA - Life and Death - this is the painting I was absolutely convinced was a dead cert to get in last yearb (2008). Instead of which his other piece "Empty Nest" got in - and then won the major prize!
  1. Think about what gets artwork noticed. Bear in mind that selection processes tend to be a lot faster than most artists realise. You have a few seconds to make an impression - and that is generally going to be from a distance rather than up close to the image in question. The design of an artwork and the contrast it employs makes a huge difference when artwork is viewed as a digital image or very quickly during a juried selection process. Size also may play a part - see my post Juried art competitions - does size matter?
  • Exhibitions are often held in rooms a great deal bigger than the ones we produce our work in. Pictures which 'carry' across a distance have impact.
  • Larger paintings often have more impact - they're much more difficult to ignore
  • Artists want to make a statement and have an impact in a juried competition - so produce work which is larger and more significant than maybe the size they usually use
  • Some might suggest producing bigger work is a shortcut to getting noticed - take a look at this BBC item about larger works of art Arts gets bigger and bigger
  • Larger paintings tend to have a higher value. On the the basis of "high value=good painting" that presumably makes bigger paintings better. (I'm not saying this is true - just that it may well be an implicit assumption in some people's minds)
  • If a juror is also the gallery owner collecting the commission if the piece sells, one might hesitate to think there could also be some incentive to awarding prizes to larger pieces - but it's got to be a possibility!
Juried art competitions - does size matter?

  1. Only submit your best work. It sounds obvious - however to know which is your best work you need to have some feedback from people who are equipped to comment and people you can trust. If submitting more than one work submit a body of strong and consistent work. think about the added benefit of a series or a group of works which relate well in terms of topic and palette and the overall calibre of the work. The chances of getting your work are enhanced if you demonstrate that you're not just a 'one trick pony'. Remember though that one weak work can harm the chances of the other work submitted and one standout piece of work can also do the same - for different reasons!
  2. Check out the location of the exhibition (gallery / website / journal). The issue here is about whether your work is actually going to get seen. For example try finding out the answers to these questions.
    • Is this a reputable gallery? Does it generate a good attendance at the Private View
    • Is it in a good location? Does it get a good footfall (number of passersby?). How accessible is it? Are there problems with parking?
    • Is there an online version of the exhibition? An exhibition doesn't have to be in a B&M gallery to be seen. (One of the other advantages of online exhibitions is that you can also check out the work in last year's exhibition!)
  3. Research prices and consider price points. There's nothing worse than having your pricing completely pitched wrong for the area, the gallery and the calibre of the company you are keeping if you get selected. It's very helpful if you can get hold of catalogues for previous exhibitions to see what the range of prices look like. This is again where a visit to an exhibition in an advance of entering a compeition can be such a good idea.
  4. Don't expect to make any money. Treat any profit after costs as a nice windfall. Do not expect to sell your work (and not all competitions handle sales in any case). Do not expect to make a profit (after you've paid out for exhibition framing; entry fee; shipping costs, commission on sale etc.). Very many artists look on art competitions are a marketing exercise and charge up the costs to their marketing budget.
  5. Keep a list of things to remember to do next time! Every time I'm getting ready for an exhibition, something prompts the thought "must remember that for next time". I didn't think it possible - but it is!
  6. Keep a box of exhibition essentials. Mine contains: brown sticky tape for taping down frames, a jar oif different sized D rings and associated screws, my foam core cutter and a jumbo pack of spare blades for my Logan mat cutter. I've also got a store of spare foam core, full sheets of neutral mountboard and a can of comnpressed air to clean frame and work prior to sealing into the frame
  7. Attend exhibitions associated with juried entry and major art competitions. It's a wonderful way of learning what is possible!

Can you tell I've got submissions on the brain? The image at the top is a reworked version of one I produced during my Georgia O'Keeffe project which I've always liked a lot. It's hopefully going to be finished/matted/framed by Saturday and taken with others to the Central Hall Westminster next Monday to await the deliberations of the Society of Botanical Artists.

Links to my information websites:


  1. One of the most common problems with submissions to competitions is simply people not following the directions the organizing committees provide and getting their submission trashed.

    So my addition would be read the submission package carefully. Then read it again, make a check list and don't send anything til that check list is complete.

  2. Those are all great tips, and I'd loved to have had them before I entered some contests, because I got caught on a point or two.
    Here's my tip: This may seem like an no-brainer, but...Read all the instructions in the prospectus VERY VERY CAREFULLY. Print it out so you can peruse it closely.

  3. With 3 entries to fill out today, this article is SO well timed!!
    Now all I need to do is decide on what to actually enter!
    Thanks for such useful information!!

  4. The irises are beautiful already, I hope nothing prevents you getting it finished and framed at the weekend.

    Great tips too, I can't think of anything else to add...except perhaps trying not to leave anything til the last minute, but thats not always an option is it?!

  5. For those trying to leave comments marketing their services re art competitions

    1) If it's a relevant link to a relevant service I may post it
    2) Do not be silly - I look at the source of every comment! If it's a paid service and you neglect to mention this in your comment, your comment will be reported to Blogger as spam and it will not be published - no matter how relevant it might be. This blog does not provide an advertising service for commercial endavours!!!

  6. Hi
    I am entering some works this year in the Sunday Times Watercolour competition. I have got the works photographed well (I think) and they fit the bill for being me and maybe a bit different. The three I'm entering form part of a series (there are 2 more but they got rejected by me). My problem is with pricing. I have entered juried competitions in the past and think my pricing has sat well in the range ignoring the unbelievably cheap. However, this is a big one. I couldn't make it to see the exhibition last year (new house, new marriage, new job :-)) so I have no information to go on. I have also not worked at this large a scale for open exhibitions. I think the price I would normally put on them would be too low (I am "up north") and I don't want to look foolish. Are there any guides to help with ballpark figures? How much would you think for a full imperial watercolour?
    Thank you btw for such a fantastic website. Long may it continue!

    Regards, Janice Gill

  7. I'd recommend pricing to be consistent with your work shown in different places over time. Do NOT price for a competition. Apart from anything else if somebody looks at your work in an exhibition, is interested and then goes to your website - and finds the artwork is priced very differently - what do you think are the chances that they will then think twice about buying your work.

    Not to mention the number of times they might tell the story about the artist who priced two different ways depending on where the work was shown!


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