Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To SI or not to SI?

That is the question that Kim Kincaid posed as a followup to my last post: 
Do you recommend sending your work to these shows? Is it worth the expense
The short answer is yes and yes. Juried shows such as those sponsored by the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, Spectrum and 3x3 are long running showcases of the best art the illustration industry has to offer. They are tough to get into because they are very competitive and only what was deemed the best gets in, so acceptance really means something. From the beginning of my career, I have entered these types of shows and I can credit early acceptance in CA and the Society shows for jump starting my career. It seems that every time I get in one of these shows, I get at least one project that I would not have otherwise landed. People look to these annuals every year to see what is good of at least what the hot trends are. Lets take a look at the pros and cons of entering these types of juried shows.


  1. Exposure. Your work gets seen by thousands of people who may otherwise not have noticed your work. Art buyers, creative directors and designers across the country wait every year for these annuals. If you get in, your work will be seen, and in a way that is impossible to get by any other method.
  2. Credibility. Your work is grouped with the best art produced in that particular year. Your piece will be seen adjacent to some of the most respected artists in the industry, therefore, by association, YOU are one of the most respected artists in the industry. It doesn't matter if you have been a professional for 2 years or 20, your work was good enough to get in and that carries with it weight and respect.
  3. Validation. Let's be honest, No matter that most of us would do art even if we never won anything, it feels good when others recognize your work for the quality it displays. When we win awards such as these, we can't help but feel vindicated and that in turn motivates us to push even further to improve even more.
  4. Cheap Advertising. This is a Catch 22 since if you don't get your work in, you can feel like you wasted your money. But, if you DO get in, these annuals offer the cheapest exposure you can get. Full page spreads in a publication such as Communication Arts can cost thousands of dollars if you bought it yourself, but acceptance in an annual show can give you the same coverage for pennies on the dollar.
  1. Expensive To Enter. Justifying the expense seems to be the biggest deterrent to entering juried competitions and I admit that I feel it every time I enter. It can feel like you are metaphorically flushing your money down the drain when you shell out $35- or so per entry. Compound that price by several or even a dozen entries and the price starts to feel painful. I look at the entry fees as the price of doing business in the industry. I treat it as an advertising expense. I am paying for the chance to be seen in one of the annuals. There is no guarantee of getting in though, so I could be kissing that cash goodbye (which has happened plenty of times in the past).
  2. Too Much Trouble to Enter: There are always deadlines and sometimes the entry process seems complicated. I have felt this and even avoided entering certain competitions from time to time because of this. The good news is, many of the most popular competitions have switched to online entry processes which makes entering far more simple than in the past. Gone are the days when you had to have a tear sheet of your work (or have your work photographed and printed) and then fill out all the forms by hand, package the pieces and FedEx them across the country because you procrastinated the deadline and couldn't send them by snail mail. Now you upload your JPEG into the proper category and even pay online. Spectrum is the lone holdout to online entry (come on guys!) but I suspect it will only be a matter of time there.
  3. Hard to Get Accepted. Very true. Most of these shows attract four to six thousand of entries and only accept a two or three hundred pieces. That is roughly a two percent chance of getting your work into any given show. These odds seem steep because they are. That said, I don't think that should be a deterrent to entry. If you think you are good enough, you should enter. You will never know for sure unless you do.
I may be a little biased because I have had pretty good success of the years getting into these shows. I have been accepted into Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts and Spectrum multiple times and had my work in several other juried shows as well, so it is easy for me to tell you it's worth it. That said, here is my advice to anyone considering whether or not to enter a juried show.

The only guarantee I have is that if you don't enter, you won't get in.

Be smart about what you enter and which shows you target. Your style may be much better suited to one show rather than another. For instance, I can't remember the last time I entered American Illustration. My style just is not edgy and dark enough for me to feel like I have a reasonable shot at getting in that publication. If you do anything remotely fantasy oriented, then Spectrum is for you and so on. Budget money every year just for entries so that you don't feel like you are spending money you don't have. I figure if I have a few hundred bucks I can dedicate to getting show exposure, then it is much easier to justify the fees when they roll around. Only enter your very best work. The scatter gun approach doesn't really work here. It's too expensive to just throw out everything and see what sticks. Just go with what your gut tells you is your best. If that is three pieces, then enter three. I entered one piece in Spectrum the first year I got in. Don't get discouraged when you don't get in. It's hard to not take it personally when you thought you entered some good stuff, but that is how it goes. Juries are subjective and what didn't get in one show might get in another or get in the same show another year. Just keep doing your best work and entering your best pieces. The cream always rises to the top. I am still looking for that elusive medal, but I have to be pleased that getting in the shows is a significant accomplishment. Someday maybe. That is why I keep entering.

Hope that answers your question Kim! If anyone else has a different opinion or something else to add, please comment!


WilsonW said...

Great post Greg! Would you mind if we shared it on our blog over at I'm sure our readers would love to get this info!

wilson at

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

WOW, Greg! I didn't not expect this extensive response but you've answered my questions and then some. Now I better dash to get them framed!
Thanks again.

Greg Newbold said...

WIlson, Share away. I would prefer if you just gave a teaser and a link back to the original post though.

Kim, Hope it helped answer any questions you may have. I am still selective in what I enter because it can get very expensive. I try to be careful to enter the shows and pieces I think have the best chance of reaping rewards. Good luck!