Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why You Didn't Win!

A quick note before I get started: This week has been really bad for me. I haven't been able to post at all. I'll try to make up a bit for the lack of posting. Monday I will be attempting two posts: My regularly scheduled Ready. Set. Write! post and a special post that's part of the "The Not So Accidental Blog Hop"! Today I'm going to post a bit about contests in general.


I had meant to make this post sooner. This post is partially in reference to the Tomie dePaola award (or at least the award sparked the idea), but mostly to address contests in general. It's been a while since the Tomie award has been announced so this post is a bit late that way. It may be for the best, because I think by now the sting of losing is getting easier for those who didn't win. This is not a post for me to complain about losing. Judging a contest is really hard, so I hope you will all respect Tomie in not bashing him or his award. I respect the decisions he made. Any comments that attack the Tomie dePaola award, Tomie dePaola or any other contest (or judge) will be immediately removed by me.

I keep forgetting to post my entry to the Tomie dePaola contest, so here it is:
You can view many (but not all) of the entries here and the winners here. I totally should have won, right? Ha, ha! Any artist who has put their heart and soul into their work will say they think they should have won a contest. No one is wrong for thinking this, but there are many valid reasons why an entry isn't selected. I've compiled a list here. Some of these apply to the publishing world as well as contests.

1. Art is Subjective Chances are if your entry was put before a different judge your entry would have been chosen. Actually, I can almost guarantee it for almost everyone. Everyone has their own idea what makes a good work of art.

2. The Guidelines Weren't Followed It's the same with submitting to an editor or agent. They have guidelines for a reason. Sometimes a really good piece of work that will skirt the guidelines, but this is the exception not the rule! More often than not a contest judge will nix an entry because it didn't follow one or more of the guidelines. Sometimes work is slightly outside of the guidelines, and even these risk disqualification.

3. It Wasn't What the Judge Wanted This is much like point #2, but it's a bit more individualized. There is no such thing as an unbiased judge. I don't mean this as an insult. All judges bring all their past experiences into the contest and use that as criteria to judge artwork. Every judge has their own unspoken list of guidelines. Judging artwork isn't an exact science. Unlike math you can't have 10 people judge the same artwork on the same criteria and still come up with the same outcome. 

4. The Characters Looked Licensed I can not say for certain that this was the reason that anyone didn't win the Tomie, but I did notice several entries that looked like they used licensed characters. My artwork would fit into this category. I can completely understand why this would cause an entry to be thrown out. Using an licensed character would be cheating. There is no judge out there who would know all the licensed characters out there, so it would be perfectly reasonable if a judge threw these out to save on future difficulties this would cause.

5. The Artwork Wasn't Seen First The first entries to any contest are partially responsible for the judging of subsequential entries. This doesn't always mean that the entries received first are seen first. This also doesn't mean that later entries wont be judged fairly, but they wont set the standard (though they can raise the bar for those seen after).

6. There Was Just Something Wrong This is for the whole list of random things that could have gotten your piece disqualified. It could be that the artwork didn't look finished, the skill wasn't quite there or any number of things that looked wrong with the artwork. Something in the piece could seem offensive or it could be misjudged. One of the worst things that can happen is your work just isn't received on time! 

What was wrong with your entry? In most cases I'd say "absolutely nothing"! It certainly does not mean you are a bad artist (there is no such thing) it just means you weren't selected. It certainly doesn't mean you wont win any contests in the future. If you learn anything from entering a contest then you have already won! Congratulations on your entry, and good luck in any future contests. 


  1. I agree except for 2 things: A professional judge should consider composition, value balance, color harmony,
    draftsmanship, competence with the medium, etc. Added to this, for an illustration contest like tomie's, is story flow,
    character consistency, suitability for children, and pictures that are readable. Personal taste shouldn't be on the list of criteria anywhere. I'm only talking about contests, our acceptance by the general public is and should be very subjective.

  2. The other thing I'd love to hear more opinions on is: "no such thing as a bad artist". I feel this is true if we're illustrating for just ourselves, which is fine, I do that most of the time. But if we're throwing it into the arena of a contest or a commercial application or a picture book it has to meet all the criteria I mentioned above, and be really exceptional. It's exciting and fun, and takes courage, because part of the excitement is knowing we could get shot down in flames! I'm willing to accept that there was something "wrong" with mine (not objectionable, just weak art) and that's why I didn't win. It'll make winning next year all the sweeter!

  3. I totally forgot about this since I didn't enter and was on vacation when the finalists were announced. Thanks for the reminder (just looked them up). So sorry you didn't win though.