Unleashing Your Creative Magic: 7 Reasons Why Artists Enter Competitions
Have you ever entered a competition? Of any sort?
Maybe a tennis tournament. Perhaps poker is your thing. Or something more cerebral like chess - now, I’m seriously impressed…
I used to run. I only did it for a few years, but I loved it and the way it made me feel. The surge of endorphins as you kicked down for the final sprint home. It was most often home, but sometimes it was the finish line of a race.
And here’s the thing. I was never going to win.
In each and every 5k, 10k, and half marathon I entered, objectively, I never won.
Whether it’s a tennis, poker, or chess competition, they all have one thing in common with my running competitions. They all have an objective winner
Art is different.
When I started doodling in 2020, I never imagined I’d enter art competitions. I never even thought I’d share my art. It was in a little sketchbook and it wasn’t going to be seen by anyone but me.
And then I started sharing, first in an online art community, and then I set up an Instagram and a Facebook art page.
Here’s the thing.
I’ve recently been shortlisted for SAA Amateur Artists of the Year 2023. It’s a prestigious competition that invites entries worldwide in a broad range of media, subjects, and levels. I’d entered the previous year, for the first time, and “won" Beginner Animal Artist of the Year 2022 and placed 3rd overall.
And I’m more than a little bit thrilled to be off to London as a finalist this year. But I recently learned that this time I’m not a winning finalist.
As I was waiting to hear whether I was a winning finalist, the following quote popped up on my social media feed.
“Artists are not like athletes.
We cannot win gold;
We cannot ‘beat’ other creatives.
We cannot come first.
Sport is objective.
Our craft is subjective.
Creating to ‘be the best’ is a waste of energy.
Instead, create to connect with the people who need you.
Because they’re out there.
Create in your own way because there is no right way.
Take the pressure off and focus on your unique brand of magic.”
The author of this insightful quote is the talented artist and illustrator, Emily McDowell. Her words capture the essence of embracing creativity in a personal and meaningful way, highlighting the unique and subjective nature of artistic expression.
Focus on Your Unique Brand of Magic
I love this idea. And as I look through my slowly growing portfolio of animal artwork when I’m entering competitions, I’m starting to see the sparkles of magic in my work.
I realise that my very best pieces, the ones that instantly connect, have an emotional hook and a story behind them.
“Time for their Forever Homes” was the first piece I entered into a competition and my very first award.
"Time for their Forever Homes" Coloured Pencil on PastelMat
It’s a portrait of the gorgeous Hungarian Vizsla, Mo. I snapped her photo when we were visiting our baby Rocco before he joined our family.
She curled up to go to sleep. Her weary eyes just seemed to say “you can take them now” as her 11 beautiful puppies were making ginger mischief all around.
I gifted this one to Mo’s owners who did such a fabulous job with those 11 mini ginger nuts. It’s still one of my all time favourites.
Another multi-award winning piece of art I’ve created is “The Thief”.
"The Thief" Pastel on PastelMat
It was inspired by a magical experience on safari in Botswana.
Wild dogs had proved elusive on our trip so far. We’d been watching a cheetah soaking up the evening sun when our guide told us to put away cameras, fasten our (imaginary) seatbelts and hold on tight!
A pack of wild dogs were out on their evening hunt as the light began to fadeWind in our faces, batted by tall grass, buffeted by rutty terrain. The dogs were chasing an impala. We lost them. We found them again. They kept a steady pace before four of them shot off into the distance. We followed and then stopped. Turned the engine off and listened. Calls of some sort. We then sped off across the dusk-lit scrub at breakneck speed.
And then confusion…the dogs were now coming towards us. We stopped again and listened.
“Lions” our Spotter cried! We pulled forward to see three female lions eating the freshly killed impala, snatched from the wild dogs.
We barely had chance to reach for our cameras when there was the most enormous, spine-tingling roar. A huge male lion with the most magnificent mane entered the scene, stole the kill and settled down to eat his dinner as the final light of the day faded.
It was riveting, it was electrifying, it was nature at its most captivating.
I was immediately transported back to that evening in Botswana when I saw the reference photo. A magnificent lion and his magnificent mane. I simply had to draw it.
I called it “The Thief”
And so, yes, I agree. Creativity is subjective. And I agree that the overriding purpose is to connect and to find your own unique brand of magic.
I also think, for many of the same reasons that I entered running races, there are some key reasons why entering art competitions is a good thing.
7 Great Reasons to Enter Art Competitions
1. Personal Growth: I rarely prepare a piece specifically for a competition, but knowing that I might enter challenges me to produce the best work I can. It also encourages me to think constantly about how I am learning and growing as an artist.
2. Connecting with Other Artists: In my corporate days, this would be called networking. But these days it’s about finding new artists and connecting with them about their work. The SAA Artists of the Year competition has exposed me to all sorts of different art. It’s easy (and lovely) to be hooked into the Animal Art community, but seeing a broader variety of art and media is enhancing the way I think about art.
3. Documentation of Your Growth: When I look back at my entry from last year, I can see how my skill and style have evolved over 12 months. “Purr-fect Focus” was my winning entry from last year; “Bad Hair Day” is the entry that has got me to the Finalists Exhibition this year. Can you see the evolution here? Not just in technical skill but also in the level of difficulty in the subject matter?
SAA Beginner Artist of the Year 2022
"Bad Hair Day"
SAA Amateur Artist of the Year 2023
Not convinced? I can think of lots of other reasons why entering art competitions is good for your artistic growth.
4. Critique Your Work: If you don’t ‘win,’ look at the ‘winning’ entries. Do they have something that your work doesn’t? Can you use this insight for your own artistic growth?
5. Deliver to a Deadline: I had a lifetime of this in my corporate days so it isn’t a big driver for me. But if you struggle with procrastination, it can be helpful to have a deadline to help you create consistently and efficiently.
6. Encourage You to Experiment: Themed competitions encourage you to try something new. But sometimes it’s about even more than that. It’s about pushing your boundaries more fundamentally. I’m not going to say much about this here, but inspired by a very special competition, I have set time aside early next year to experiment with something a little bit different for me and for sure much more challenging. It may not work, and I’m totally fine with that. Sign up for the newsletter if you want to be the first to hear about it.
7. Inspire Other Artists: I am amazed when I share my competition results on art communities, the number of messages I get about how it has inspired someone. You can contribute to the rich tapestry of the art world. Your work can become part of a larger artistic legacy that can inspire future generations of artists. Your dedication and commitment to your craft can motivate others to pursue their creative passions, regardless of whether they win prizes.
Art competitions offer artists a unique set of challenges and rewards that extend beyond conventional notions of success. They can be a catalyst for personal and artistic growth, helping you become a more resilient, motivated, and innovative artist while contributing to the larger artistic community.
But remember, the value of participating in art competitions goes beyond winning or losing. It's about personal growth and the connections you make along the way. Don't let the fear of judgment hold you back; instead, view these competitions as opportunities for artistic exploration and self-discovery.
Perhaps the essence of what I’m saying is captured best by this quote from the stoic philosopher, Seneca:
"No competition is more productive than the one with oneself.”
If you do decide to take the plunge and enter that art competition, here are a few final tips:
Read the Rules Carefully: Pay attention to submission requirements, deadlines, entry fees, and any specific themes or criteria.
Select Your Best Work: Quality matters more than quantity. Focus on submitting your strongest, most well-executed pieces that align with the competition's theme or criteria. It's better to submit one outstanding piece than several mediocre ones.
Prepare a Strong Artist Statement: Many competitions require an artist statement or description of your work. Use this as an opportunity to explain your artistic process, inspiration, and the meaning behind your piece. A well-crafted artist statement can enhance the judges' understanding and appreciation of your work.
Provide High-Quality Photographs of Your Artwork: If you're submitting digital images of your artwork, take the time to scan your work or photograph it carefully.
And so go ahead, enter that competition that’s inspiring you, but always remember to focus on your unique brand of magic!
I'd love to hear what you think about art competitions.
And if you’re intrigued to learn more about how I’ve been inspired by a wonderful competition to push my boundaries, then do sign up for my newsletter to get the inside track.