8 Mistakes to Avoid When Entering Art Competitions

by guest blogger John R. Math

Entering art competitions can be stressful and confusing. This guide will help you avoid mistakes and make the best impression.


Cedar Island

“Cedar Island North Carolina” by Robert Houston Sneed


Every month Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery receives, processes, administers and judges hundreds of entries for our monthly themed art competitions. For the year 2012 we processed, administered and judged more than 8,300+ entries for the 12 competitions that we held.

Out of the above total, we estimate that at least 30 to 35% of the entries received, are not being submitted properly, thoroughly or are not showing the artist’s artwork in its best light. It is a shame, as there is some very good art that does not get into some shows due to the manner by which the artist has submitted their art.

The following are some of the most common mistakes that we see each month. When entering any art contest, try to make sure that you are not making some of these common mistakes when entering juried art calls and juried art competitions:

Thoroughly Understand the Competition’s Theme & Allowed Media

Understand what the art organization (who is running the competition) wants from the artist. If the prospectus or rules state that the competition is for 2 dimensional art, do not submit your jewelry, sculpture or crafts. If it says no photography, do not expect the organization to provide to you an exception. There are numerous other venues and organizations who are conducting calls for your type of art.

If you have any questions or concerns about the theme or what is acceptable media, contact and discuss this with the organization’s event staff first, prior to submitting your art. You can save yourself and the event staff a lot of trouble, wasted time, effort and money.

Apply Only to Competitions That Truly Fit Your Art

In their haste to submit, artists will sometimes miss what the organization is really after in terms of the theme or the parameters of the competition. For instance, an artist who submits their “Black and White” photography into a competition with a theme about “Bold or Bright Colors” will get rejected. I know there are people reading this who are saying “but black and white are colors too!” Yes they are, but black and white are not in keeping with the spirit of the theme and within the scope of the show.

Many times the submitted artwork is fantastic, but again it is not what is asked for and the artist has wasted their time and money by placing their art into a competition that just is not suited for the media or for what they create.

Follow the Rules and Event Prospectus Instructions

This means that in order to have your application and submissions handled and administered properly read the application thoroughly and follow their instructions. It also, means that the application should be filled out entirely, with the correct amount of images and the image files labeled properly, according to the organizations specifications.  I suggest that the rules be read 2 to 3 times prior to submitting.

Label the Entries in Their Format, Not Yours

The art group or organization who is conducting the call for art will want the entries in a certain form for identifying, administering and for judging purposes. By not labeling your entries properly, your art may not be judged if it is lost or mishandled due to this issue.

In many instances, we receive files which are not labeled at all. This may set the artist up for not getting their art viewed at all, as there is then the possibility that the files could get lost.

Follow the Organization’s Sizing Requirements

If the group or art organization is asking for certain size submissions in terms of pixels or inches and resolution, follow it. There is no excuse to not have the art sized properly as there are many free art editing programs that can be downloaded from or used online.

Follow the size, resolution and quality settings that they are asking for. The main reason for this is that they are trying to standardize the judging process and if all of the entries are the same size (longest side of the image) and same resolution it will help the juror to make a better judgment and decision about your art.

Provide Good Quality Images Without Frames

There are many times that we have had to choose someone else’s art over another where the quality of the image/entry was poorly presented. We see entries where the paintings have been reproduced (photographed or scanned) for presentation purposes and as submitted they are poorly cropped (where you see part of the mat, background or frame), the image maybe too dark or is too light and overall the colors and contrast are out of balance.

The artist’s presentation to the gallery and the jurors should be as if they were trying to sell your art to them in person. You only get one chance to impress the juror and this is not the time to get sloppy with your art submission.

Provide a Biography If They Ask For It

Many times we do not receive a biography with the artist’s submissions. Either the artist is too busy, is lazy or embarrassed to provide a biography. This brief amount of information could possibly help the artist in getting accepted into that show. There have been times when a certain artist’s work has been accepted into the show, only to find out that they have not provided a biography. This will usually lead to the artwork not being used for that exhibition. Have several different sized bios ready-made and available that will help in this purpose for future competitions.

Do Not Exceed What is Asked for or Required for the Competition

This will sound stupid, but just follow the rules. Do not deviate from the rules. This can be anything from sizing, to resolution, to image type, to quality settings, to framing specs, to artist statement, to deadlines, etc.

As an artist, when I first started entering art competitions I exceeded what the rules required, by sending in with my entry my bio, my resume, along with my business card, press clippings and art postcards from my last exhibition. Guess what? They did not want that and I was rejected because I had included those materials.

Entering your art into a show is not like school where you will get extra credit. Just follow the rules, exactly as they say to. If you do not understand something then call the appropriate person in charge to get your question answered or clarified.

It takes courage for an artist to enter their work into art competitions, as they are potentially exposing their art to the possibility of rejection. Yet, it is through these competitions and being accepted into these shows that your art will be considered “serious”. Art shows and competitions are a necessary evil and it is something that all artists must go through.

In order to increase your chances of being accepted into an art competition, follow these suggestions and Good luck!


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  1. last year i entered 7 competitions…they cost a lot of money, so i always make sure i have re-read the instructions at least 3 times. (i’m sorta paranoid about this, so usually it’s more than 3 times!) but every gallery has their own preferences in how to submit your work, there’s no point in wasting my money by not following the directions!

  2. I’m experiencing deja vu while reading this. Brian Sherwin over at FineArtViews made some of these same points last year about online art competitions. It made me think about my submission habits. It looks like these mistakes are common with art competition organizers. I know I won’t be making some of the same mistakes now.

    • Yes, I saw the same article! Brian Sherwin is excellent, and always writes good articles. It’s my experience that John Math also does an incredible job, and his online gallery is very reputable.

  3. There are other common mistakes but to me, these are the most important ones to watch out for when entering any organization’s art competition.

    Though we are all want to enter certain competitions, sometimes our art just does not fit. I would say to many artists that they should become more selective to the competition themes that they are entering . Over time, I believe that they success rate will increase.

  4. Hi, i have been in an airbrush illustrator in the advertising industry for a some decades now solely concentrating on producing fine art…….. i have won first prize in the prestigious Mosman Art Prize which is held annually and was then judged out of 913 entries by Margaret Olley an artist of some repute.
    I am interested to know if you have any artists beyond your shores as i am a resident of Australia.
    If that is possible i can show you a number of images of more recent paintings that are not on my website.

  5. Lauren Hoyt says

    Thank you for posting this article. As an artist just starting out I found it very helpful. I really appreciate that you took the time to compile and share your expertise.


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