What to Look for in Winning Art Pieces

Art judges are professionals who have been in the industry for years. They are the leaders with a keen eye that examines art objectively.

We assume. 

Oftentimes, you may not know the judges.  Some judges are like the art “editors” of the world. Plus, some judges may never give you a breakdown of why a piece won. 

It’s okay. You don’t have to dwell in the dark. Here’s a comprehensive list to help you to know what to look for in winning art pieces. If you’re an artist, you should recognize them— so I won’t go into depth.

Major Elements of Design

Line: Communicate with lines; curvy, horizontal, vertical. Lines communicate flow, strength, stability, etc. How are lines used in the illustration?

Shape: Without Depth. Shapes communicate the character; sharp shapes usually communicate strength, bad things, or rough textures.  Rounded things communicate friendliness or cuteness. What do the shapes convey in the piece?

Form: Forms have depth. This does not mean that every artist uses depth. Line art might be simplistic. Line artists may also use line width to convey depth without shading. 

Tonal Values: A nice contrast between dark and light should exist. Reduce the saturation on digital pieces to see the black and white values. The overall shades should not blend into only mid-tones.

Space: Negative Space or White Space. What does the space or lack of space convey? 

Texture: What textures are used to convey rough or smooth items? When shading, shades may be smooth or cross-hatched. Texture may be a polka-dot pattern rather than three-dimensional beads.

Color: Color plays a major role in several of the principles below like mood, perspective, and unity. Color can be simple reduced to 2 or three colors. More complex combinations are also found in illustrations. Typically, colors have harmony that derives from the intensity level used (e.g.: Using all muted colors, using all analogous colors, or using monochromatic colors.). Illustrations can also reject color for black, white. and grey.

The above principles are selective. Not every illustration uses every element above. However, the every design needs these characteristics below:

More Principles of Design

Balance: Stability. (e.g.: The facial features are complimentary. Or when flipping the canvas of a digital illustration, or viewing it in a mirror, the piece remains stable.)

Emphasis: Contrast from foreground from background is visibly correct. The foreground colors should be more intense when portraying distance. Illustrations without backgrounds emphasize the character moment. Using a color behind it brings further emphasis. 

Focal Point: Most illustrations have a focal point where the eye begins. However, certain illustrations without a focal point may emphasize a collection that makes a point. The focal point of a collection is the concept (e.g.:  Think of the iSpy books or a concept illustration poster that has equally-spaced items like purses, records, cassette tapes, or toppings that go into a taco.)

Movement: Where does your eye go first? Where does the illustrator lead your eye? 

Rhythm: Is it active? Do you feel the action? Do you feel a lack of action in a quiet piece? What type of energy emits from the piece?

Proportion: Relationships of size to the elements. How tall is the child next to a tree or a house?

Rule of Thirds: Placing focal points on the intersections rather than in the spaces of a cross-section.

Rule of Odds: Removes predictability and creates interest. (e.g.: Instead of a regular chair, the artist drew an elongated chair or emphasized or exaggerated a certain facial feature.)

Tangents: The connecting lines of each item in the illustration should not meet when placed next to eachother. The only time tangents work are when an artist creates an abstract.

Viewpoint: Bird’s-eye view? Worm’s-eye view? Adult-view? Child-view?

Perspective: Perspective does not need to be perfect, but it does need to be convincing. If the floor of a room looks like it is tilted, though everything stands straight and it’s not intended to look that way, it’s bad perspective.  However, if the illustration is an abstract or a hyper-realism piece, the strangeness of the perspective might become unified.

Mood: What is the time of day; dawn, dusk, cloudy, sunny? Did the illustrator convey the feeling of the character’s mood effectively? How does the lighting affect the mood?

Communication: Does it tell a story without words? Is the concept accurate from a teachable point of view? 

Interpretation: How creative is the interpretation? How creative is the reinterpretation? (e.g: “Little red riding hood” becomes little red lamby hood, Caucasian characters become ethnic, etc.) Does the artist have a unique style?

The 30 Foot Rule: If you minimize the art piece as if you were 30 feet away, does its focal point jump out? Is it defined? Values have a lot to do with this.

Consistency: If the same character is repeated, is the character consistent? If realism is conveyed, are we convinced?

Unity/Harmony: Everything works together to convey a point or meaning. Nothing is bothersome.  Sometimes, small inconsistencies can kill the unity.  (e.g.:  If the character is in water, do they appear to be in water or in plastic or in nothing?  Are certain characters in a position with each other that could be misinterpreted as inappropriate?)

A composition is made up of these elements.

Beyond this, you have to know the contest rules.

Perhaps you have submitted art pieces that were not chosen. Never fret. 

The rules of art don’t lie. 

Measure your piece up to the art rules and you will know if your illustration is a winner.


For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, ~ 1 Corinthians 5:3 KJV

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