Enter a watercolor competition with confidence after hearing directly from 21 judges and jurors (not to mention masters of the medium) on what they look for in a winning work of art.
Take note of how nods to technical skill are always balanced with a look for a personal and unique point of view. Most jurors want you to be an individual artist first and foremost, and that your work show that individuality.
Watermedia Showcase is a top watercolor competition that allows you to do just that as it is is open to entries of all water-based media. Enter now for top prizes of cash and art materials and, most importantly, for the opportunity to display your unique skills in the medium so others can discover them too.
21 Watercolor Competition Tips Straight from the Jurors and Judges
1. Value catches my eye first. To my way of thinking, light, made to shine by shadow, is the element that makes the difference in a well-designed painting. Once the values are designed, the artists is free to use color and texture in nearly infinite ways. I find it difficult to separate technical skill and creativity, thinking of them as parts of the same cycle and playing back and forth with each other in a design.
2. When judging a watercolor competition, I look for excellence in composition and technique, confident brushwork, a distinct approach to a subject and a display of the uniqueness of the medium. Evaluating a work of art of these premises inevitably elevates one over the other. Neither subject nor style is of any concern. In juried art shows, most important is the excellence with which the image is rendered.
–Jan Fabian Wallake
3. I can’t stop coming back. When two paintings grab my attention, the choice is made when one painting keeps demanding that I return to it and continue to enjoy its message or subject.
–Mary Ann Beckwith
4. It’s all about vision and engagement. When jurors select work for inclusion in an exhibition, they look for technical proficiency, good design, good composition and a message.
Choosing artwork worthy of an award is a much more difficult task: Jurors look for work that speaks to them and touches them on an emotional level. Award jurors will ultimately agree on a work deserving recognition when a painting demonstrates that magical combination of technique and emotional content, mood or unique perspective.
If an artist manages to successfully share his vision and engage an audience, that’s a winner.
5. It ends with an up-close view. When I jury a show, I look for paintings that first attract my attention with outstanding design, great color chords, meaningful content or an unusual view of an ordinary subject. Then I take a closer look. I call it the ‘5-inch view.’ I want to see what I call ‘eye entertainment.’
6. Surprise them. It’s as simple as that, but not so easy in execution. Find a way to speak to your audience in your own voice. Look for ways to compose a familiar subject in a way that’s all your own. Most importantly, the piece should tell a story.
I tell my workshop groups and anyone who will listen: Do you want to be a cover band or write your own music? My answer is always the latter. That, and never let a pencil line tell you where to put your brush.
7. An invented color chord and more. Often in the selection of awards, jurors must rank the top two or three paintings. I ask myself, which is the most breathtaking? Does one have the ‘wow’ factor? Do I greatly admire the technique? Is the abstract pattern note-worthy? Have I ever seen the concept before? Is it unique, fresh and unusual? Does it have an invented color chord?
Although I think technical skill and creativity are almost equally important, the uniqueness and unusual presentation of the idea may weigh heavier for me.
8. What speaks to me is evidence of the artist’s unique vision, a strong imagination or a compelling story.
9. Surprise me! I’m looking for something new and different. Drama gets you past the jury. High contrast makes the biggest impact in the five seconds a jury often has to view your work. Subtlety and thoughtful painting is what wins the judges’ eye when we have more time to closely examine each work.
10. Make it seem easy. Technique in watercolor is the language through which we speak the ideas we wish to express. If technique is so apparent as to be the primary thing that captures attention, then it isn’t working. Technique should be so excellent that the difficulty of execution should look effortless.
11. I’m attracted to more conceptual forms and shapes than literal representations. I believe less realistic works exhibit and encourage a sense of imagination while presenting other worlds that our minds can reside in, a more expansive way to engage images.
12. Everything. From choice of subject matter to the relationship of image to size becomes a matter of evaluation. It’s not simply a matter of catching my eye; it must catch my brain, heart and viscera.
13. For a juried watercolor competition done by digital entry, have the work professionally photographed. It really makes a difference. Also, be careful how you mat and frame the work. I often reject images because the framing and matting are just so insensitively done.
14. Artists need a nice, well-designed painting with a lot of color and value contrast. Also, the design of edges is important—whether the painting is abstract or representational; nice, strong edges stand out.
–Carrie Burns Brown
15. I first look for some kind of emotional content that grabs me. Once I’m grabbed, I start looking at design—how the artist used the elements and principles of design to reinforce the content. Then I consider technical excellence, but the first two criteria are much more important.
16. First of all, never try to anticipate what the juror might be drawn to. And never paint to meet that assumption. Paint what you love—what you’re impassioned by. Your emotional connection to what you’re painting is the magic. Lastly, do your best work. Craft it lovingly and give every element of the painting your full attention.
17. Enter your most personal, unique, imaginative, creatively designed and well-put-together paintings.
18. I enjoy strong imagery with great content. This painting is skillfully painted with good technique and an understanding of the basic elements and principles of design.
Most artists strive to communicate an idea that engages the viewer in a visual dialogue; therefore, the image should be compelling and elicit a response.
19. When I jury a show, the paintings with a strong impact always stand out. In subsequent scroll throughs, I look for the qualities of a good piece of art—composition, value and contrasts.
All the while, I do look for what the artist is trying to say and how well the message comes through. Then, of course, jurors can’t help but be subjective, to a point. Certain paintings just speak to us.
20. As a judge, I check for design principles and elements, but for award-winning art, I look for even more than that. I ask myself whether the artist tried their best to explore creativity—to put their personal mark in their work. Usually that’s what speaks to me.
21. An artist must have a fresh idea, created using the highest standards of technical excellence. A competition painting should have a strong, instant impact on the viewer. If it takes several seconds for the juror to register its impact, it probably won’t be selected. Also, take photos with clarity and precision.
Bonus tip: Go for it.
Now that you’ve learned juror tips for entering watercolor competitions, are you ready to go for it? Enter your own paintings in the Watermedia Showcase here. Good luck, artists!