Reach, recognition and reward: these “3 Rs” sum up the benefits that taking part in a competition can offer an artist. In other words, whether you’re looking to widen your audience, get your work in front of art insiders, build commercial interest (or all three), a competition could be just the opportunity you’re looking for.


But of course, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right: a rule that most definitely applies to competition participation. From picking the event that’s right for you - through to making your entry stand out, here are our tips for boosting your chances of a happy outcome...


1. Check the rep

Rather than taking the organiser’s word on the awesomeness of their competition, always do a little digging to see what other people think.

Is it given coverage in the likes of Art Week and The British Journal of Photography? How about the BBC? As a rule of thumb, if a competitive event is deemed newsworthy by the wider art world (for all the right reasons!), then it’s more likely to be worthy of your attention.


2. Just who’s judging you? Look for kudos

Check the identity and profiles of the judges. Ideally, prominent individuals from across the art world will be more than happy to get involved with the event. So if the panel includes an interesting mix of curators, critics and creatives from multiple fields, it’s a reassuring sign. A healthy mix of corporate sponsors is a good thing, too.


3. Anonymous judging means fairer judging

We all want a level playing field. That’s why it’s worth trying to find out how the judges go about their decision making.

Anonymous judging is something to be especially welcomed. And if the organisers take this seriously, they’ll have measures in place to ensure that this anonymity is scrupulously observed. This will involve controlling what information is presented to the judges when they see the artwork (i.e. no signature or bio). There should also be a requirement for judges to step back from the decision making if they come across work they recognise.


4. Want a wider audience? Pay attention to the exhibition…

A winner’s badge isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. If your goal is to extend your reach, focus on competitions that offer plenty of opportunities for shortlisted work to be seen by large audiences.

Speaking for National Open Art, we’re big fans of exposure. As well as a winner’s exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in our home of Chichester, we also host a wider exhibition where winners and shortlisted entrants feature alongside internationally acclaimed artists. Last year, our 21st National Open Art Exhibition took place at the Bargehouse in London’s OXO Tower. You can read all about it here.

And beyond that? At NOA, both exposure and potential revenue are available for shortlisted artists via our catalogue and online sales platform.


5. What do past participants say?

In an ideal world, everyone should come away with a positive experience from involvement in an art competition.

So how was it for you? Do the organisers know their stuff? Did the exhibition go well? What happened next for the winners and shortlisted artists? Look out for testimonials and interviews from past participants to get the lowdown.


6. Check your eligibility

There’s the basic stuff to check (residential requirements, age, your career-point, artwork size restrictions etc.). Apart from this, look beyond the main prize at the competition sub-categories - as there could be a category that’s a perfect fit for you or one of your pieces.

Examples might be emerging artist awards, thematic awards - or separate categories for portraiture and landscapes.


7. Choice of submission: aim for impact

Hint: if you’re wondering which piece to send in, don’t automatically choose the artwork that features on the front of your commercial portfolio. Remember that commercial clients often have very different priorities to competition judges!

“Always follow your instincts and your heart”. For participants choosing what to submit, that’s the advice of Zelda Cheatle, photography curator, editor, lecturer and consultant, who was part of the panel for last year’s NOA Photography Awards.

According to Zelda Cheatle, as well as being technically sound, an entry “must also make the viewer feel something”. Proficiency matters - but don’t neglect the importance of sheer impact.


8. Technical instructions shouldn’t be ignored

Competition organisers will typically request digital submissions for the first round of judging. This makes sense as a way of widening participation and keeping submission costs down.

So does it matter if you send off a digital image that’s smaller than the rules stipulate? Or if it’s the wrong file type? In a word; yes.

No matter how good the actual work, grainy images, too much glare, images that are too small or that won’t open properly can all scupper your chances of making it past the first step.


9. Consider insurance for physical submissions

The latter judging stages will generally involve in-the-flesh assessment of your artwork. A helpful organiser should be able to recommend reliable couriers for transporting it.

It’s also highly advisable to insure your artwork. If you have some insurance already, check that the coverage includes off-premise damage - including competitions, exhibitions and damage in transit.


10. Don’t miss the deadline

Just as important, try to allow plenty of time to get the submission right! Completing the application form, photographing your artwork, formatting the image, honing your title and explanatory statement: to do your work justice, all of this deserves a little TLC.

Ready to take the next step? Over 21 years, National Open Art has gained a reputation as one of the UK’s leading art competitions. Find out more about our Spring 2018 competition here.


Image: Lil Wilkinson-O'Dwyer - Untilitled - Winner 21st National Open Art 1st Prize - The Graingers Award sponsored by Chichester Contemporary Art

2018 Prizes

The prizes for 2018 will be announced soon



The Foyle Foundation
The Arts Club
World First
Belmond Hotels
Welsh Award - Twr y Felin
Cass Art
Artists' Collecting Society


Galleries Magazine
Anthony Ward Thomas
Chessington World of Adventures Resort


Chichester College
Be Smart About Art
House of Fairy Tales
Pallant House Gallery