Tips for Entering Art Competitions

by Cass Art

Entering art competitions and awards can be both times consuming and overwhelming, knowing which to enter, what to submit, and what to do whether you are successful or not are just some of the concerns we hear from a number of the artists in our community. After 6 years of running an art prize, these are our top tips on entering awards and making the most of opportunities.

Do your research

Art prizes aren’t for everyone and it’s okay if it’s not something you want to do (there, we said it!), so first decide what the reasons are for applying to prizes and whether now is the right time for you to be putting energy into it.

If you’ve decided it’s a good time to try some out then get researching! Compile all the relevant art prizes and opportunities you can find into a spreadsheet, list the rough dates of the call opening and closing, the timeline of the awards, benefits, rules & eligibility, cost, and links to relevant pages, also look at any themes and spend some time looking at any previously shortlisted and winning artists – this will help you get a feel for the “personality” of a prize and decide if and when you may suit it. Bringing all of the information into one place like this will help you create a great overview of what happens when throughout a year and it will help you decide what to submit, prize timelines tend to stay the same year on year as well so when you’ve done this once you can refer back to it each year, update the details and plan what you may like to apply to when.

A final note, always read the rules, there may be size restrictions, certain mediums not permitted or the work may have needed to be produced within a certain time frame, note all this down to avoid putting a lot of work into an application then realising you’re not eligible!

Think about what you submit

Your research has helped you decide what you’re going to apply to – great! Use this to help decide what you’re going to submit, think about the personality of the prize but also look at practical things like if selected do you need to get your work to them and how will you do that, what kind of space are the exhibiting in, these things may help you in deciding what is feasible to submit.

This is also the point where it’s important to go over the application very carefully, see what supporting information you can submit – is it an artist statement or a biography? Do they allow more space to talk specifically about the artwork(s) you’re submitting? Word count? What image file specification do they request? Make sure you plan time to understand this.

Submit early

Please! You then allow time for errors to be corrected if they crop up.

Supporting information is important – don’t miss it off. 

Certain elements of the supporting information may be optional, but we can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have this. If a prize is asking you for supporting information this is because they are using it to get a better overview of you as an artist, think about including; your background, the ideas you wish to explore through your practice, why you use the medium you use, what specifically you’re exploring with the work you are entering… Panels will be reviewing a large number of applications and it’s likely the first stage will be digital so give them as much information as possible. Submitting the artworks alone in this format is hard to review so support your work as best you can and remember judges may not be looking with internet access so don’t rely on links to do the work for you.

 Keep it simple

Welcome to our biggest bugbear! Keep the language simple, keep sentences punchy, keep ideas to the point, keep your text structured. You want to ensure the largest number of people on those panels understand what you are saying so keep it simple, that doesn’t mean dumb down your ideas, but be confident in not being over flowery or complicated in talking about your work. Top tip; get someone you know who has nothing to do with the art world to read your text and if they understand what you’re saying you’re on to a winner, if not, listen and edit. Second top tip; write in Word first so you can spot grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors, and if you’re feeling diligent run your writing through the free version of Grammarly online – it’s a brilliant tool for reviewing the tone and clarity of a text and will offer helpful changes.

We can’t stress keeping it simple enough, and if you’re not a strong writer we hope that what we’ve said above makes the process less intimidating for you.

You’ve entered, now what?

Firstly, save your application, if it’s not downloadable put what you’ve submitted into a document. You can use these to help with future applications. It can help support your self led development also, review your applications at a later date (when you’ve had space from it) to see what you like, don’t like, and what you’d change.

 If the prize or opportunity has social media platforms give them a follow and interact with their posts, attend their live events if they have them. We’ve had feedback from artists in our community who’ve met others via our profiles and built networks that have resulted in organising exhibitions together – great! It helps to keep pinging on the organisations radar – we do notice it – and while this won’t affect judging remember that the people on the panel could be working on other projects which may present different opportunities further down the line.  

The results are in…

Win or lose be positive!

If you’ve won get ready to be asked for lots of information from the organization! But also plan how you will share and make the most of your success; how will you share it on social? Can you contact the press with the news? How will tell your existing audience and also perhaps use your success as a way to engage new people – gallerists, collectors, consultants, etc you’d like to connect with.

If you’ve not won, look over your application with fresh eyes and see if you’d make any adjustments, some opportunities will give feedback – seek this out and take it on board. Equally if not successful that doesn’t mean you have to drop off that radar, stay involved and support those who’ve been successful, yes it may be hard but it’s great to be part of these communities, and as we said – keep pinging on radars.

Most of all though, remember this does not mean your work isn’t good, many factors come in to play with who wins a prize, we’ve got artists in our prize’s 2020 shortlist who have unsuccessfully applied 2 or even 3 times in the past so your practice not winning once does not mean it may not be a good fit in the future. Try to look at what you can learn from the experience, understand these opportunities are part of a much bigger whole to building your career and are far from the be-all and end-all to creating success.

 The Take-Aways:

  1. Research opportunities out there and keep key information in a spreadsheet which you can update annually.
  2. When you decide to apply to a prize look at this research as well as things like the rules and the “personality” of the prize to decide what artwork to submit.
  3. Look at what supporting information is needed and provide as much as you can! Don’t leave blank boxes.
  4. Keep language simple and to the point. Write in Word and run through Grammarly.
  5. Submit early.
  6. Get involved with the platform by following and interacting on social, attending events and connecting with others in their audiences. Ping on their radar.
  7. Win or lose see what can be learnt from the process, stay in those communities and support those who were successful. Keep pinging on the radar
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