How to make it to the top 16



  • Hi @Jeremiahbrown,

    I’m with you, I love the monthly contest!

    Like Jake said at the beginning, it’s not just about the glory of making the sweet 16, or winning it all, but rather about creating a diverse and unique portfolio piece.

    I started SVS with zero portfolio pieces, and took the opportunity to make a piece each month and join the fun during voting.

    Admittedly, I’ve made the sweet 16 cut once in seventeen attempts, and honorable mentions three times. Although it would be nice to make the cut every time, I join the sessions with zero expectations of making it. Sure, I hope my piece is on the board, but when it’s not, I know I have to do better next time.

    With over 100 submissions each month, it’s really hard to make it! Especially if the artist is lacking in skills (like me).

    Cheers to everyone who keeps trying to get better with each piece despite not making the cut, month after month.

    Keep going!


  • Pro

    @Jeremiahbrown These are all very astute observations, though #1 is a double-edged sword. I definitely remember instances of exceptional pieces that were discarded because they did not follow the prompt. I remember one last year with the prompt "isolation" or something where someone made an amazing piece with penguins social distancing each on their little patch of floating ice. I thought it was a really nice interpretation of the prompt and really skilled piece, but it was voted down by the judges for not following a more typical interpretation of isolation. In general, since this contest is so competitive, I wouldn't say it's a safe bet to not pay attention to any one of the official guidelines. Wanna put all chances on our side right?


  • SVS OG

    This is a neat breakdown of what you've seen. I was taking notes last night as I watched the replay.

    I would say an adjustment should be made on the prompt not really mattering. It's the prompt. It's what we're all operating off of for the contest. Just looking at my own piece, I missed elements that would have made her look more like a traveller. Jake even listed off some during a critique (compass, backpack, bed roll). So there is a standard set, maybe it should be the final review element before the 16 is locked.

    I do wonder if the notes posted with final images are read by the judges, or if they're just looking at the images. It's probably just the image, but that's unclear.

    @Jeremy-Ross nailed it with mentioning Jake's portfolio piece comment. The element of competition can cloud that perspective.



  • Yay! I love these responses! I'm realizing maybe it's a bit absurd to try to create a formula for winning at something that has so many variables that is probably can't be made into a formula but it's fun to try!

    @chrisaakins Great point, they, in particular are big on anatomy!

    I @Jeremy-Ross I agree wholeheartedly agree with your portfolio comment and just having fun and @RachelArmington
    great point with the "chance aspect of it all is good practice for submitting work!" It's a truer experience to what we'll experience in the professional world.

    @jaepereira You're probably right about the prompt but there were at least two top 16's that had minimal "traveler" gear or story but they nailed my 4th point. They were very readable and likable upon initial view so I believe that story and prompt took a backseat in regards to where they were ranked. I think in some cases the gear made the characters less readable/likeable and actually worked against the piece.

    @NessIllustration You're most likely right with your "double-edged sword" amendment but I am wondering if the piece you mentioned lacked #4 on my list? I think a strong #4 eliminates the need for following the prompt...at least until "the people" vote on it. I wasn't part of SVS at that point so I'm not sure.

    Again, thank you for taking part in this sort of ridiculous conversation. I love critique arena and have really enjoyed trying to crack the code/formula even though you probably can't! I'm going to though! Haha, jk. Thanks for dorking out with me.


  • Moderator

    So one the the quotes on the march post was: "What can you do to make the character stand out from ALL the other designs of fairy tale characters you've seen? "

    I think that is main reason they chose the old man, they loved the Shark hat/sidekick and thought it was very unique, and it was, it stood out for that reason. Since the prompt was for young, not old, yeah it probably shouldn't have made it, it ignored a key part of the prompt. I really think they just felt that it was very unique. It's hard to know what anyone will like with each contest.



  • Hmm, I think maybe instead of "this isn't important" and "this is important" it's more like a scale?

    For example, if you need a total of an imaginary "35 points" and each category has a max amount of points, for example:

    Story - 15 points
    Technical Skill- 15 points
    Personal style of judges - 5 points

    So if someone has no story but INCREDIBLE rendering and style they could still get 20 points, which could beat out someone with an AMAZING story but not great technical skills.

    But also, someone with a GREAT story and little technical skill could best a great rendering with less story. So the goal really is a balance between these sets.

    Also just as a note the two examples you gave in 1. both lost in the first round because (I'm guessing from the comments in the chat at the time) because they didn't quite hit the prompt. And although they hit the prompt less, they DID still have interesting takes on the idea of a fairytale traveler (Which is what Lee was mentioning in the jump session).

    PERSONALLY - I would not adjust my art to try and "please the judges" (aside from the fact that you don't really know who the 2 judges will be and that you should use the contest to build your portfolio so you should pick stuff that you actually like and want to do not just to try and win) I remember struggling in school for years, and the moment I had a huge breakthrough was the day I decided I would stop trying to "please my teachers" or "make them happy" or "get a good grade" and instead just did what I liked and thought was cool. Literally, the FIRST time I did that on a project, I suddenly got a ton of attention from the teachers and excitement around my work for the FIRST time and started getting better grades. It felt like magic lol

    There is something about art that allows you to tell when someone is excited about what they are making. So if you are forcing yourself to make something that you might not be excited about just to "please the judges" I don't think you'll make good art, and you are less likely to get picked. So that's to say.. don't make "cute" stuff because "cute wins" unless YOU like making cute stuff.

    There will be plenty of time to do that when you're taking on client work lol



  • @carlianne I think this is smart. It's that for me the biggest question surrounding the contest with all the changes isn't how to win, it's whether to enter at all these days - it's as if they streamlined it to be less flexible to exactly what I want to do for my portfolio. I miss the one word prompts from Lee.

    With this prompt it's the frustration that even if i had time this month, I would not put a building without an environment around it in my portfolio. Even if I went through the trouble of designing this for my version of the story (which i see now does not fit their idea of hte story) i would want more flexibility in putting it at whatever angle it needs to be in whatever environment would be best, so it's best to take my portfolio work my own way. Putting it in my portfolio is what made me interested in the contest.

    Plus there is a lot of luck involved. It will always feel a bit random.



  • @carlianne I think you're right about it being a scale and not necessarily right or wrong. I enjoyed your point system too and think it does a good job of representing where to aim!

    That's interesting that you approach the contests as making something you'd want to make. I like it! I've been approaching it as an illustrator/client trying to do my best to make the clients (Will, Lee, Jake, and y'all) happy. It works for me because solving the puzzle is part of the fun of the illustration but it definitely can be a bit stifling to creativity. It's being added to the spreadsheet of my formula. (Also, I loved your entry and knew right away it'd be top 4 minimum!)

    @CLCanadyArts The old man one was very creative and wonderfully executed! I hope it's clear I don't mean to take anything away from any of the winners as they were all exceptional. G.chris's character just made it clear to me that the prompt wasn't as important to follow as I had been making it which can be liberating for others like myself. (Loved Peanut by the way! Fantastic silhouette.)

    I didn't plan on naming anyone so as to remain neutral but @Tiffany-Thomas not making the top 16 or runner up really threw the formula I was creating out of whack and got me wondering how my formula could account for that. I viewed it as creative and incredibly executed in a similar way to how I viewed the stunning @Gaelle-Grizzly Yeti house. Formulas really are silly in this Critique Arena scenario but as a 90's kid who mastered Super Mario 3 my urge is to continue to try to master this, haha.


  • Moderator

    @Jeremiahbrown Thanks, trying to push silhouettes, never took it into consideration in the past.


  • Moderator

    @Jeremiahbrown There were many that I was surprised that didn't make it. Part of it is the judges, different judges, different taste. 🙂 Just because something didn't make it into the top 16, doesn't mean it's bad, they have so many to choose from.



  • @Jeremiahbrown aw thanks so much! I think seeing it as client work is another great way of challenging yourself, just not my personal approach! I already have client work so I don't need to practice that skill so much as I want to just build my own portfolio and brand. I think there is a lot to learn from approaching it that way though 🙂 kinda depends on what your personal goals are <3.

    Though - fun story - when I was right out of school I had to do "Art tests" for job interviews and even if it didn't fully fit what they wanted, I still did illustrations that I was excited about. I did NOT get those jobs, BUT I did land the perfect job as a game artist for Disney using the work from those "failed" art tests in my portfolio.

    @carolinebautista I also take that into account when I do the prompts! I think I do something similar to what Jake suggests which is to try to slightly adjust the prompts so that it is still something you'd like to do? But it is harder when the prompt is so specific like a building from a certain angle.

    Though I'm sure there is value in taking the time to design the building (which I know I wouldn't usually do in a full illustration) So even if it's not something I could put directly in my portfolio, it would provide a good learning experience. And you could always use the building in a full illustration after you've done the work to design it. But I agree you should be thinking about how these challenges are helping to push you forward towards your goals 🙂

    sorry to derail the conversation of the OP haha, it's just a fun thing to talk about!



  • I think while all this has a solid layer of truth to it, a lot of that is debatable too. At the end of the day I have to ask myself what can I actually control? The only thing I have absolute control over is making a portfolio piece I would be proud to show a prospective client OR challenge myself to do something I am not normally good at and treat it as a mini-slowvember assignment. Otherwise, if I'm honest, at least for me, the process of actually trying to win is quite frustrating.



  • Great comments!

    @jdubz Well said Josh!



  • @Jeremiahbrown I thought the shark was the traveler and the old man was his way of traveling. There seemed to be dialogue bubbles from each character and the title put the shark first.

    Since I'm a writer learning to illustrate, for me, story is king. This prompt generated a full story for me in the first day so it was hard not to make illustrations more complete than a character on a white background. I didn't make the cut but I do have a complete story that fulfills my lifetime goal of writing strong female characters. I also tested my images and ideas with local folks and parents and they're all excited to see more. So I won without winning and am quite pleased with how it turned out.

    I do find that trying to please the judges does prompt me to reach farther and more boldly than I might on my own. So that's a win too.



  • I agree story is King. My take on getting in is to have the image tell the story completely. Unless there is text provided I would avoid it at all costs. First, the hosts/judges can’t possibly be expected to read 110 stories! They need to get through these to pick 16 pretty quickly. Second, the voters on each piece can’t read any story during the presentation and rely completely on the visual. Any writing at all just makes no sense to me.



  • While I did have a brief explanation of the character, I hardly told a full story. Knowing the story can help develop the character. I thought the prompt indicated that the traveller was going for help. The problem to solve is what in a character design says they are going to find help? Among the 16 finalists, I didn't see indications from all 16 that their character was going to find help. Maybe it was there and I didn't see it. I'm still learning. But that is the story that is king. Going to find help.



  • Im not sure adjusting what you're drawing to make it into the top 16 is smart, as a few others have said.
    Make something you love, try to follow the guidelines, but a good portfolio piece is the truest win🙌



  • I love that you’ve brought this up and put it into points like this. I’m a beginner story illustrator, and I have always thought that these contests were to help us follow, design and execute a very specific prompt. So I do get somewhat confused when I work so hard to follow the prompts, to train myself to be able to deliver what is being asked (I don’t though, I think I have to work on my style and learn to break out of my comfort zone more but you know what I mean..) I would definitely like to get more clarification on this 🙂
    You are very spot on with your points and they’re really good advice, thanks so much for sharing



  • @Kim-Hunter I didn't notice the shark was the Traveler. That is a really creative idea now that you've pointed that out! And yeah, that struck me too that there was barely any mention of the getting help aspect of the prompt and that most of the entries didn't address that.
    @jakecrowe I think your advice on keeping text out unless provided is wise and has shown to be true! Great advice, thanks!
    @KristyM I'm so glad you liked the points!
    @kylebeaudette I tell myself that a good portfolio piece is the truest win but the devil on my shoulder continues to tell me that a win or making it into the top 16 is a better type of win and sometimes the angel joins him, haha.



  • @jakecrowe Another comment on text. Many of the 16 were very text heavy. Getting the story across without any text would be the ultimate goal but many really nice characters free of text did not make it.


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