Competitions, Awards and Prizes are a great way to increase exposure and gain recognition of your work.
Many illustrators use them as a point in the year to reflect on previous work and showcase their most exciting pieces.
Awards can also offer access to new audiences and opportunities to network. They can be an important way of getting new commissions, and raising your profile as an illustrator.
‘…anyone who professes to be interested in illustration should consider their submissions to competitions and contests as business decisions. It’s not necessarily about winning. It’s more about an investment in your career as an artist. Take note on what the competition offers the winners and what kind of rewards you stand to receive if chosen. Ask yourself, “What can this do for my career as an artist?”.’ – Tony Rodriguez, World Illustration Awards 2017 Professional Editorial Category winner.
Should I enter?
Here are five questions to ask yourself about any competition that you might be considering entering:
First, and importantly, what is the objective of the competition?
Find out if it is illustration specific, or targeted at artists or designers more generally. Is it pitched at the right level for your career (e.g. student or professional)? Is it something you want on your CV and to be able to tell future clients about?
Next, are you eligible to enter?
Check that you can actually enter. Many competitions will have an age limit, or other restrictions, so check that both you, and the work you want to enter, are eligible.
Is it run by a reputable organisation?
Check who the organiser is! Are they an established organisation, and are they experienced in running competitions? Is the competition being judged by people with gravitas and experience? Are the partners and sponsors reputable? Would you be happy with your images on their website?
Read the terms and conditions, and check that you are happy with them. The AOI can review terms if you are not sure. You might want to watch out for:
- A competition asking for something that should really be a commissioned job.
- Onerous licensing and copyright arrangements.
- Is the fee very expensive? What benefits do you actually get back if you’re shortlisted or win (or even if you enter)?
- Is the competition ‘art-washing’ (i.e. being used by an organisation or company to make their usual activities look better)?
Are the benefits something you need or want?
Most awards will have a prize, whether cash, an in-kind benefit, an exhibition, a catalogue, an awards evening. And, make sure that the benefits such as exhibitions, digital platforms or printed books are of high quality to make it worthwhile.
Are you confident you can meet the deadlines and requirements if you’re selected?
If you are selected, make sure that you can send your work, pay any shipping or other costs, attend the awards evening, fulfil any interview or press requirements, etc. Also, make sure you think any additional costs, such as sending work, or attending events, is going to be beneficial in some way and not a one-way drain on your resources.
If the answer is yes to the above, then great, you’re ready to enter!
Preparing your submission
- To give yourself the best possible chance of being selected, read all the instructions carefully, and make sure you do everything you need to do to enter. There’s no point in spending money and/or time on something and not giving yourself the best possible chance.
- Make sure that you answer questions accurately and if you’re asked to describe your project or you’re proposing something new, try to cover the basic information such as what the illustration is for, how you did it, the outline of the concept, etc.
- Remember that the people reading through and judging your entries are not necessarily familiar with your work, or might be judging anonymised entries, so you might find you need to explain things that may seem obvious but actually might not be. Try, if you can, to cover the What, Who, When, How and Why of the project.
- Make sure your images are really good! You’d be surprised how often artists and visually-led creatives submit poor images to competitions or call outs. It’s your most important calling card, so make sure the images are fantastic, and of publishable quality. Don’t forget to double check sizing and formatting requirements.
- It’s essential to either title images as specified by the opportunity. If no particular title format is stated, it’s a good idea to use your artist name and title to identify your file to avoid your image becoming orphaned and ending up somewhere it shouldn’t.
- If you’re entering a professional competition, your entry fees are tax deductible as a business expense – awards, exhibitions and prizes are important ways to keep a public profile and make sure your work gets seen beyond your usual networks.
Make the most of being selected
- Ideally, the competition will have your shortlisted or winning entry on their website, and will send out a press release to promote the award. You can leverage this, by retweeting, reposting, and getting the word out to your followers on social media.
- It’s a good idea to use any hashtags the award organisers are using (hopefully they’ll make it clear) and tag them and any sponsors in! Also, tag your commissioners, agents, and others who can champion your work.
- Think about sending out a newsletter or press release, especially if you live in a different country or region to where the competition is being held. This is even more valuable if you want to spread the word in another language. Think about your ideal client list- tell them about your success and how you think it might make you a great fit for their work.
- Keep telling people – perhaps your shortlisted work is featured in an online article or picked out as a highlight, or there’s a piece of merchandise available using your work? Shout about it! Tell the story of your achievement and use it to let people know who you are and what you do.
- Don’t forget, add your achievements to your CV and biography. If it’s a major award, you could add it to your email signature or social biographies. Some competitions may give you a badge or logo, so make the most of the endorsement and put it on your platforms.
And if you are not selected don’t give up! It’s worth trying again, learning from the experience and re-entering the next year, as judges will change and so will your work.