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How Illustration Competitions Are Judged

January 13, 2011

(Written and Illustrated by Thomas James)

The outcome of an Illustration competition is largely dependent on the judges who view the work and decide which artists deserve to be recognized. Ever wonder how this jury is chosen and how they make these tough decisions?  

(This article is an excerpt of EFII’s eBook, Inside Illustration Competitions, which is also part of the Illustrator’s Survival Kit.)

Since so much depends on the subjective personal tastes of an Illustration competition jury, it’s important to pay attention to the list of jurors any time you’re considering submitting your work, and familiarizing yourself with who’s involved.

With the help of many organizers and judges of all the major Illustration competitions, I was able to get an inside look at what drives the method of assembling the jury.

Jury Selection

It is in the best interest of all parties involved to have a professional, experienced, and esteemed panel of judges to view the artwork and select the best of the best to be featured in the organization’s annuals, shows, and online galleries. In this way, the various competitions maintain their relevance in the industry, encourage a comprehensive collection of high-quality Illustration, and offer Illustrators the opportunity to have their work viewed by the top tier of their target audience.

In most instances, the jury is comprised of some combination of Illustrators, Graphic Designers, Art Directors, Artist Representatives, Educators, and other creative professionals who have made an impact on the Illustration industry. Potential jury candidates are often recommended by Illustrators or past Chairs based on quality of work, talent, years of experience, and standing in the field. In addition, judges are often assigned to vote in categories that are a good match for their particular area of expertise, whether it be publishing, editorial, advertising, children’s books, etc.

One interesting variation on this theme is the competitions run by American Illustration, which limits the selection to only Art Directors and others who are able to actually hire Illustrators.

Another alternative is practiced by 3×3. Because of it’s uniquely international focus, 3×3 makes sure that all judges represent different countries and tries to have one or more Art Directors and Illustrators from each of the primary illustration markets around the world.

Judging Criteria

One of the most intriguing aspects of the judging process is the criterion by which jurors are instructed to select work, or rather, the lack thereof.

Sometimes, the organization running the competition has an introductory meeting to outline the overall purpose and criteria of the selection. However, rather than instruct the jury with specific guidelines, most competitions rely on the experience and aesthetic sensibilities of the jurors involved.

Therefore, each judge votes along the lines of their individual tastes, with a focus on the effectiveness of the image, its ability to solve a visual problem or communicate an idea, its professional execution, and any other strengths they typically look for in a successful Illustration. Jurors are encouraged to take their time and go with their instincts while seeking out Illustration that reaches a higher level of excellence.

“We do not believe in quotas, we ask judges to select the very best pieces in each category.”

–  Charles Hively, 3×3

“Jurors are encouraged to make brave choices and [select] images that represent the finest work from the year. Our goal is to recognize work not typically honored by other organizations and publications.”

–  Mark Heflin, American Illustration

Judges are asked to use their own judgment as to what constitutes creative excellence.”

–  Patrick Coyne, Communication Arts

As stated above, due to this personal approach it can be very beneficial for an artist to familiarize themselves with the list of jurors involved, because it can potentially offer some level of insight when choosing which of their pieces to submit.

Voting Method

As expected, the actual steps involved in the scoring process is another area in which each competition is different. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of saying whether each Illustration should be “in” or “out”. Other times the judges are asked to rank each image on a scale of one to ten or some variation thereof.

Here are a few examples of the various voting methods employed:

“Jurors meet as a group and view all images. They first nominate images they like. From there, the nominated images are viewed and voted on individually by secret vote. It only takes one juror to nominate an image in the first round. It takes a majority or better in the second round to get into the book (usually 4-7 votes). All images that were nominated and then received at least 2 votes are presented on the website only.”

– Mark Heflin, American Illustration

“The first round, each Judge adds a dot to the entry.  Second round, the judge’s team up to view entries that received the highest votes.  Finally, the judges come together as a total group to discuss the final selection.”

– Scott Hull, Artist Representative & Juror

“The Art Directors Club does 3 rounds of judging.  Each round is assigned through a point value system with the last round being a medal round.”

– Luke Stoffel, Art Directors Club

“In the professional and children’s show, each judge votes each entry in or out. In the student show, each entry is given a grade 0-4, 4 being the top grade. It takes a majority of votes by the judges to have a piece accepted into the show.

– Charles Hively, 3×3

Hopefully the information shared in this article helps you to determine which competitions to enter in the future, and which of your pieces to submit. For more inside information on Illustration Competitions, check out EFII’s eBook Inside Illustration Competitions and the Illustrator’s Survival Kit.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ignatius permalink
    January 14, 2011 4:03 AM

    Well, that sounds pretty nice, but look about what is happening in the Young Illustrator Award 2010, that took place in Berlin and that is gonna be presented as an exhibition during the Illustrative Berlin festival 2011:

    This contest is supposed to be one of the most prestigious awards in Europe…

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