Why Am I Not Winning Art Contests?


  • SVS OG

    alt text
    Art by Josh White

    This week, Jake Parker, Lee White, and Will Terry take on listener questions and provide their own opinions and solutions. They tackle minimizing the difference between the thumbnail and the final, getting selected for the monthly art contest at SVSLearn, the nitty-gritty on pricing your prints and originals, and what to do if a publisher doesn’t pay you.

    Click here to listen and to read the shownotes.

    Questions about illustration, business, education, or all three? Let us know your questions in this thread for the chance to get an answer in an upcoming episode.


  • SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker ooh!!! I'm really interested. I'm going to listen to it now.



  • Awesome, thank you for sharing Jake!


  • SVS OG

    Loved the podcast as I do all of them but I want to quibble with Jake, Lee, and Will’s assertion that storytelling is as important in the contest as rendering (and this isn’t personal because I don’t enter often.) I can think of numerous times when one of the top 16 was beautifully rendered but Jake, Will, or Lee’s critique included “I’m not exactly sure what is going on here” but I can’t think of many times when one of the top 16 had a great story but was quite poorly rendered. I agree that the final winners always have both qualities but I think in the early rounds, the quality of the art tends to outweigh the quality of the storytelling. That’s not a surprise because artists are always going to look first for good art when selecting our favorites because it’s what catches our eye first and since that’s probably true for art directors as well, it’s not a bad thing for the contest to lean that way but I often think that it would be fun sometime to have kids pick the pieces for the first round. I think children are much more captivated by the story than by the art.

    Of course, that also raises the question of the actual audience for illustrators - even though supposedly the audience is children, in reality the audience is art directors and the parents who buy the books, in which case we’re back to the art being more important. I just argued myself full circle 🙂


  • SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker Amazing podcast as always. I was really hoping my question about how to get better jobs when in an agency would be picked. I'm still crossing my fingers. Maybe you'll do it some other time? please?


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz that is a very tricky topic and so specific to a smaller pool of people that we didn't pick it. The answer to that is that you need to have a very serious talk with your agent. Show them examples of the work that you want to be doing and come up with a plan to get there. You need to be able to turn down work during this process which your agent may or may not like. But ultimately it's your career so you have to drive where the work goes. You have to direct the agent. I have turned down the last 10 jobs my agent has given me. They just don't line up with where I am going. You may find that your needs have changed and maybe there is another agency that might be better for you. That is a very serious thing, so weigh it carefully. Typically you should not start talking to new agents until you have left your old one. Which of course leaves the illustrator in the tough position of quitting one thing with the possibility of not finding another. Which I have always hated. In most other industries people get recruited to a new company, then quit the old company. But illustration almost always favors everyone but the illustrator (sadly).

    Anyway, some tough decisions, but you need to figure out exactly what you want and then go after that exact thing. It's a job for you as much as it is your agent.

    Hope that helps a little bit! Good luck! : )


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @demotlj I agree with everything you said here. Good rendering and art will take you to a certain point. Everyone is enchanted by good art, even if it doesn't hit the story exactly how it should. Some people have had whole careers based on doing nicely rendered work. But it will only get you so far. Good story telling with not so good art will always lose in an art contest. To really succeed it needs to have both to really pull it off and get into the top levels.



  • Great episode gents!

    Personally, I really enjoy challenging myself to make the best art I’m capable of for the monthly challenges.

    I’m not sure I would push myself to make these pieces if they weren’t to go up against the amazing artists in this community. My wife and daughter also encourage me each month and give me solid advice along the way.

    @Lee-White, it’s funny you said your wife is your biggest critique, because my wife is the same! You don’t know how many times I revise my pieces before I get her blessing! I have my own personal art directors!

    Thanks again for a great podcast!



  • Great discussion, as usual! I found all the factors that go into pricing to be interesting.

    The tension between "original art" and a digital workflow is also something I've struggled with. For example, I was commissioned to do some original drawings. I drew and inked them traditionally, but wanted to color them digitally. Now suddenly they became prints because the last step was digital and I can't deliver an "original" in the same way. This affected how much I felt I could charge even though the pieces were exclusively created for the client.

    Any thoughts on how to get around this? Does the last step of a piece just have to be done traditionally to make it an "original"?

    Thanks, and keep up the great work on the podcast!



  • @verysamish I have done pieces the opposite way, although they weren’t commissions for a client, just for fun. I started out with a drawing done digitally in just black line art. Then took the thumb drive of the file to Office Max to have it printed on canvas or heavy card stock in a larger size. (If card stock, I paint on clear gesso or acrylic matte gel before the next step) Then I paint the colors in with acrylic paint or gouache. (If gouache, the final step is several coats of spray Krylon, if acrylic paint, that is enough.


  • Pro SVS OG

    @verysamish I usually don’t care (when coming up with the price) if the illustration is done traditionally, mixed media or entirely digitally. If it’s done just for one client and I cannot sell the piece multiple times, the price goes up no matter the media. If I do a piece for a client on paper or canvas, I still usually deliver digital files and keep the original (which normally I still can sell, even though I cannot myself do prints and digital copies or sell other rights). Or at least I can keep the original art and hang it in my kiddo’s bedroom knowing that’s the original... So ironically, for me, the illustration I do digitally and can only give out one copy for the client (because he wants an original piece, so it cannot exist otherwise) this illustration I would probably charge more, because after delivery, I cannot sell the original, nor I can’t keep the original (if that makes any sense.) of course in case where I make completely traditional art, this gets pricy as well if I sell the original and cannot make other prints....
    hope this loooong rant helps you a bit 😳🤔


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