10 Things...about Competitions

Greg Manchess

Lots of art competitions coming up again. You can still enter Communication Arts for a small fee per late entry, and there's Spectrum 20...due by January 25th! Again, here's a few thoughts to keep in mind about this frustrating and rewarding endeavor...

1 You have to enter to get in.
It’s surprising how many artists complain about not getting into shows, but haven’t entered them. You read that right: many artists prefer to whine about not getting into shows without having sent any entries in...to any of them. Don’t be that guy. The only way you’ll ever get accepted is to actually enter your work. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s a pain. We all want to get accepted and we build such fear about it. You’re not alone. EVERYONE feels this way. Get in line.

2 Advertising you can’t pay for.
When you do get accepted in a show, it’s the best kind of advertising for your work. It’s so good you couldn’t possibly pay the amount of money it would take to get that kind of response. Competitions instantly put a spotlight on your work. Getting a medal? Priceless advertising.

3 They are fair.
I’ve judged every major competition but one. I have watched and studied the individual processes and I can say without doubt that even though each method is different, all of them are interested in fairness and respect. The process allows judges to see what they need to see, and to think about their decisions. From there, it’s a matter of whether or not your individual piece grabs their attention and causes them to react in your favor. Remember: some people just won’t like what you do. Period.

4 Learn to weather them.
Again, as with other parts of the illustration business, you’ve got to build up a very thick skin. You’ve got to take it as a process of showing off your work and getting better. Loads of us don’t make it in. Professionals and amateurs alike. Let the disappointment be temporary. Take it in stride and continue with your work. It’s not about what’s in vogue. It’s about how you can compel judges to be excited about your work. Any style, any approach, can become popular if you are the expert at it. That expertise will turn heads.

5 Keep trying.
Giving up, giving in to the madness and frustration is easy. It’s exactly why so many don’t enter, and create less competition for those of us that continue to strive for it. There’s a reason why only 2% ever stay with this business. It’s because 98% GIVE UP.

6 Pay attention to what gets in.
But don’t write the experience off to nothing. Pay attention. When you don’t get your work accepted, take time to study why it wasn’t, then start to work smart and study what does make it in to a particular show. Make your very next piece show-worthy for your portfolio.

7 Work smart, show smart.
Now that you’ve researched what’s out there, what’s getting accepted, what’s interesting to judges, you can make a game plan. You can gain attention by following that crowd for a while. Then, as you build interest in your work, you’ll also watch your style, your approach shift and change and become more unique to you. This is how it works. Those are the pieces you now have to judge whether they are up to your new level of skill.

8 Edit your work.
As this happens, you must be able to pick the right pieces that show your particular thinking. YOU must judge first. It can be a slow process, but a richly rewarding one. Don’t be distracted by the artists that get instant attention. They’re in store for a different kind of wall down the road. At some point, we are ALL forced to persevere.

9 Stay positive.
Hey...it’s ok to whine and complain a little. Just do it with your close friends and make damn sure you cut your complaining off before you get to that point. You know the one. The point at which you start hating the process, the people, the business, and start seeing the world as out for your demise. It’s not true, and never has been.

10 It’s difficult.
Gaining attention for your work so that you can get the kind of jobs and so-called glory that you want, crave, hunger for has never, ever, EVER been easy. Those that say it is don’t understand life on Planet Earth. Some of my first pieces got accepted into the Society of Illustrators. Bang, bang, bang. Then....8 year dry spell. But I kept entering, kept paying, kept striving, changing, evolving, growing, and finally breaking through into what had become my way. That’s when people recognized my work.

This process has never been different, and never will.

ps....I didn’t get anything into the Society show this year. Talk about irritating. But one of the rejected pieces managed to get a gold medal at the Society of Illustrators of LA. Different judges, different day. Go figure. (This piece:  http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2012/05/dress-your-marines-in-white.html )