Art Prizes for Emerging Artists That You Can Actually Win!

In this post I will take you through not only all the art prizes that you can win as an emerging and unknown artist, but I will explain my own personal journey detailing what I did wrong so that you do not make the same mistakes I did.

I will also providing suggestions on what you can do right so that you can enter art prizes for emerging artists and actually have a better than zero percent chance of winning! Keep reading to learn more and start winning some art prizes.

Now if you do not want to read all the other cool things I have written for you regarding art prizes and art contests, then scroll down the heading Specialist Art Prizes to see which art prizes you can enter.

For everyone else who likes to read a back story, then this is for you.

Back when I was a much younger artist trying to make money and get famous, I would look to enter as many art prizes for emerging artists as I could.

Little did I know I had almost zero percent chance of winning any as I thought all it took was amazing talent.

Boy was I wrong.

I actually did win a few art prizes. This happened once I started targeting the art prizes that corresponded to my skills and abilities as an artist.

Now read up and learn so that we can increase your chances of winning one of the prizes…

What is an art competition?

For all intents and purposes, Art competitions or art prizes are basically the same thing.

Types of art competitions/prizes:

Acquisitive art prize

An acquisitive art prize means that the winning art piece will be acquired by the contest organizer in exchange for prize money.

You will usually need to sign a contract as part of your entry. You will be agreeing to part with your artwork in exchange for prize money.

Non-Acquisitive art prize

A non-acquisitive art prize means that the art piece will be handed back to you after a pre-determined period of time after the winner is announced and prize money is handed over to the winner.

Usually, you will agree as part of your prize entry form to allow for the art work you submitted to be put on display or on tour for a set period of time. Afterwards it is handed back to you.

Sometimes non-acquisitive art prizes can result in a sale in addition to winning prize money, so you may end up making extra money as a winner.

Is it a themed or subject based art contest?

When entering an art prize you need to stick to the theme or subject if one is specified.

Failure to do so will most likely mean your artwork will not be judged even if it is accepted.

Theme or subject usually relate to landscape only prizes, portrait only prizes, or prizes based on materials. For example it can be any subject matter but it has to be pencil or oil based paints only.

Art Contests for Money

You would be surprised that not all art contests are for money! Some offer no prize at all, just a certificate and a pat on the head!

Many art contests are sponsored by art supply companies who provide products as prizes.

While other art contests are sponsored by local government, councils, art societies and offer great exposure as the main prizes.

Money based prizes are not as common as you would expect. Those that are tend to be more fiercely contested and popular.

Money based prizes usually mean the art prize will have an entry fee associated with it. This could be anything from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

To win one of these you will need to bring your A-Game.

All of these have benefits and even if you are not winning cash, I would recommend you still enter as it gives you experience in preparing for a contest.

Entering these will allow you start to learning what judges look for in art competitions.

What do judges look for in art competitions?

If you are entering a large art prize or international art prize then the prize will most likely have a judging or jury panel to judge each of the art prize finalists.

The jury usually go through all the works submitted and shortlist the finalists to be judged by the judging panel.

Smaller art contests will usually be selected by a committee or a single judge.

Unless you have judged an art prize, chances are we don’t actually know what judges look for in art competitions.

Saying that, we can do some research on the judges nominated for an art prize and give ourselves some extra help by researching who is judging.

When researching the art prize, you may find that the names of the judges on the judging panel have been listed.

These usually also contain links to the judge’s profile, detailing their qualifications, areas of expertise, and the exhibitions they have curated (which you should use to Google to see what they may be looking for).

So what are they looking for specifically?

It depends on the judge. What you do need to keep in mind is that they are looking for one or all of the below:

  1. Original work that stands out – push the envelope with your ability and imagination but stick to the rules of the prize. Do not try to shock for the sake of shocking. Give the wow factor if you can without being a cliche.
  2. Be the best in the technical artist – that is, know your craft and your mediums and materials. Do not submit work that will not be durable as you did not know how to apply the art materials or use inappropriate materials.
  3. Do not try to be everything to every judge in the hope they will all see something they like. Be true to your style and do not create artworks to please a judge.

Art Hacks! Increase your chances of winning

Compare past winners to your abilities and skill

As I mentioned earlier, I had entered the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize based solely on its $100,000 first prize. (If you click on the link above you will see it is now $150,000 and only available to Australian residents or citizens.)

I had no idea the level of competition I was up against and if I had done so, I would have realised quite quickly that I had zero chance of winning anything.

It was only after the competition ended and I was asked if I wanted to buy a catalogue of the finalists and winning portrait did I see how out of that league I was as a young artist.

Had I simply even visited the website (which I did afterwards) and had a look at the past winners acquired by the trust, I would have come to that realization that I was just wasting my time and money.

Doug Moran National Portrait Prize
Doug Moran National Portrait Prize

So what does this mean for you?

Firstly, if you see an advert for an art competition or art prize, the first thing you need to do is some competitor analysis.

Sure you will not be able to see the current entries but you will be able to quite easily find past entries, most likely the past winners and finalists.

Next is to compare your own art against these past entries and ask yourself, can you actually compete with similar or better entries?

If you are unsure, ask someone you trust who knows your skills and abilities to help you decide.

If you wish to still enter and gain some experience then go ahead, keep in mind that you will NOT receive any critical feedback from the judging panel on your art.

So the Doug Moran National Portrait prize with its $100,000 was probably a little to high to aim for, what I should have done is look at Regional art competitions and Local art competitions where I would have had a slightly better chance of winning.

Enter Local Art Competitions

Local art competitions are probably the easiest to find and enter and you have a higher chance of winning.

Competition Analysis: Your competition will most likely be art students, retirees who are now living their dreams as artists, amateur artists and other hopefuls.

Who runs these: Local councils, art schools, charities and cities run art competitions all the time. Usually to foster local art talent or for the city to purchase locally made art using a fair and open system.

How to find these: You can usually find local art prizes by googling local art prizes + your local area eg. local art prizes + carolina or local art prizes + maine

and you will see a list of results that apply to your local area (see below)

art prizes for emerging artists
Google for local art contests

Enter Regional Art Competitions

Regional art competitions are a bit harder to win but just as easy to find and enter.

Competition Analysis: Your competition will most likely be better trained art students, college art school students, retirees working as artists, amateur artists and some professional artists.

Who runs these: Larger cities (not major cities), state art schools, larger charities. Just like local prizes, they are usually there to foster regional art talent or for the city to purchase art made by local/state based artists.

How to find these: You can usually find regional art prizes by googling regional art prizes + your regional area eg. regional art prizes + boulder CO

Regional Art Prizes Google Search Boulder CO
Regional Art Prizes Google Search Boulder CO

Preparing your art prize submission

  1. Label your entries precisely and consistently. Write your full name and title of your artwork on the back of your art work and on the entry form.
  2. Art contest entry forms may be required in advance so ensure you have these in on time.
  3. Note any entry fees that may apply and ensure these are paid before the due date.
  4. Note any restrictions placed by the art prize, this could be max or min sizes, materials, framing materials, specific rules such as sitters, period the artwork was created etc. These rules are not usually flexible.
  5. Follow the instructions as documented in the entry forms and do no deviate from them.
  6. Before you frame your art, have it photographed or scanned. If you do take a photo of it framed, be sure to crop the frame out.
  7. If you are using a stretched canvas, ensure the rear is covered and protected during transit.
  8. Color correct and crop your images (There is no excuse for not doing this. There are countless free programs and apps on the web that you can use).
  9. Ensure any photos have flash flares or shadows corrected or removed.
  10. Do not show backgrounds, floors or easel stands – crop these out.
  11. Most art contest entry forms will request an artist’s biography. Follow the tips I have outlined in my post How To Write An Artists Biography here. (It will open in a new browser tab so you won’t lose where you are here.)
  12. Have an artist’s statement if one is requested, which it will in 90% of entry forms. See the same post above.
  13. Read the Terms and Conditions! Nothing is worse than having an award winning submission disqualified on a technicality.

Even though you are competing with lesser known artists, you are competing with serious artists who want to win the same art prize.

Bring your A-Game each and every single time.

You may also increase your chances of winning by entering specialist art prizes. These usually have lower levels of competition and the pool of artists in this speciality can be quite small.

Sample Art Contest Forms

The form below is actually from my local city Burwood NSW where I currently live. It is probably one of the more detailed forms i’ve seen and a great example of what is expected. It is 4 pages long.

Art Prize Entry form 1
Art Prize Entry form 1
Art Prize Entry form 2
Art Prize Entry form 2

What can affect your art prize submission

Not sticking to the theme – Be sure to stick to the theme of the prize and ensure that if you re-interpret the theme, that it is clear that you have interpreted the theme your own way.

Push the boundaries too far – you tried to be the best and most original artist and what you produced may not be suitable for the audience or judging panel. eg. you created a LGBTQ themed artwork for a religious painting at a local church art prize because you wanted to shock!

Your art is not composed properly – if your artwork is not classically composed it may be hard on the eyes and may put judges “off”.

Poor quality materials or workmanship – you have produced a poorly made artwork or used materials that are not durable.

Sure a banana gaffa taped to the wall may have sold for over $100,000 and made the headlines but that is more the exception than the rule.

Submission was poorly completed – you rushed your submission and either did not think through what you wrote, did not re-read what you submitted or did not have someone else review your submission.

That also includes your artist bio or artist statement.

Types of Specialist Art Prizes

In the following paragraphs I have listed the types of art prizes you can enter and defined which ones are best suited to your skill level, whether you are an emerging artist, school student artist or an experienced artist.

One of the major mistakes I made as a young art student in high school was entering a national portrait prize aimed at professional artists.

The experience was great and I learned a lot about preparing for an art prize, going through the steps to have it submitted, photographed and shipped but that came at a huge financial cost for a zero chance at winning.

I think it cost me about $500 to have the portrait of my father professionally framed, photographed (because the polaroid photos I took didn’t cut it – kids, ask your parents or grandparents if you don’t know what a polaroid is!), professionally packed and shipped to the judging location.

The art prize was a cool $100,000 but from my lack of experience, naivety and skill, I probably had a better chance of winning $100,000 in the lottery if I put that $500 towards buying lottery tickets!

Nobody told me that what I should have done was enter art prizes that matched my skill level and age grouping. Then I would have aced it, and when I actually did do that on a few occasions, I won first prize in two local free art contests but won no money, just bragging rights.

Later I would go on to sell those works for a few hundred dollars each, so not all was lost.

Digital Art Contests

I used to frown upon digital art and digital artists but as I have matured and so has the artform, I have come to not only respect digital art and artists but now love it.

Every time you play a great video game (which I do regularly) you will see all those beautiful graphics, backdrops, scenery etc are created by an amazing group of digital artists.

Digital art contests are starting to get harder to win as there are many more talented artists now using computers, apps and tablets to create original works.

Here is a good write up of Digital Art by – they do a much better job describing what it is, its history and examples.

Interested in seeing what a Digital Art Contest looks like? Here are some digital art competitions

Art Competitions for Students

This article contains a comprehensive list (about 50 art competitions) of local, national and international high school Art competitions for students aged 13–18 years. 

Art competitions for students are usually aimed at high school students but there are many for younger age groups as well as college/technical college students of all ages.

Lists of Art Prizes by Country

Now that you know what type of art prize you should be entering, have an artist statement ready to go, then you should look at what art prizes you should be entering and either developing your artwork with the prize in mind or picking an art work from your portfolio that best suits the art prize.

I have broken these down by country/region as I have readers from all over the world.

If you know of an art prize that should be in the list and I have not included it, feel free to send me a note and I will update the list.

While I have listed a few notable prizes below, I have also linked to Call For Entries website which has an updated list of Art prizes to enter (worldwide + USA)

USA Only Art Prizes

AcrylicWorks 8 – on the Artists Network

Pro-Tip: While you may have already missed the deadline for this prize as it is in February, use the long lead time to study the competition and create a few works to submit to the prize.

Note that this is any acrylic painting only prize!

Showcases the best of the best of acrylic painting in a variety of styles and subjects. Win prizes and publication!

Splash – On the Artists Network

Pro-Tip: While you may have already missed the deadline for this prize as it is in February (sometimes extended till March) use the long lead time to study the competition and create a few works to submit to the prize.

Win prizes and publication by entering this exciting competition, brought to you by Artists Network.

Other American Art awards are listed here.

UK Only Art Prizes

The BP Portrait Award

Pro-Tip: Order the catalogue for this prize to check out your competition, past and present.

First Prize: A cash award of £35,000, plus, at the judges’ discretion, a commission worth £7,000, to be agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist.
Second Prize: £12,000
Third Prize: £10,000
BP Young Artist Award: £9,000
All entrants aged between 18 and 30 will automatically be considered for both the BP Young Artist Award and the BP Portrait Award, but an individual cannot win both.
BP Travel Award 2020: £8,000

Judging and the Exhibition

To enter the BP Portrait Award 2020 artists should upload a digital image of their work for a first round of judging. All images will be viewed by a panel of judges and the entrants who are successful in this round will be invited to deliver their work to a venue in London for the final round of judging and the exhibition selection, including Award-winners.

Find out more about the entry procedure and judging process here

Other British Art awards are listed here.

Australia Only Art Prizes

Doug Moran Portrait Prize (Painting only)

Pro-Tip: Order the catalogue for this prize to check out your competition, past and present.

For over 30 years the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (DMNPP) has encouraged both excellence and creativity in contemporary Australian portraiture by asking artists to interpret the look and personality of a chosen sitter, either unknown or well known. 

Founded by Doug & Greta Moran and family in 1988, the DMNPP is an annual Australian portrait prize supporting Australian artists and the wider arts community by holding the free annual Moran Prizes exhibition at Juniper Hall Paddington, displaying the top 30 works selected by nominated judges each year. 

Currently with an annual first prize of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), the Prize is an important part of Australia’s Arts calendar. The Prize is acquisitive and the winning portrait immediately becomes the property of the Moran Arts Foundation, to be exhibited permanently as part of the Moran Arts Foundation Collection. 

Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize

Pro Tip: While this prize is open to professional artists, it has categories open for Secondary School students.

Established in 2007, the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize (MCPP) is a national competition that awards and promotes Australian contemporary photography and excellence in all forms of still, photo based artwork – including analogue and digital photography or staged and directorial photo-media work.

The Moran Arts Foundation is committed to supporting the Arts in Australia and the art of photography. A first prize worth fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) is awarded to the winner with $1,000 awarded to each finalist. Transport of the printed finalist works from your home state to and from the Sydney venue is also paid for by the Moran Arts Foundation. All semi-finalist works are published on and will be promoted through social media.

The Moran Prize is acquisitive and the winning photograph(s) immediately becomes the property of the Moran Arts Foundation, to be held and exhibited permanently as part of the Moran Arts Foundation Collection.

Open Section – $80,000 prize pool with the winner awarded  $50,000. All 30 finalists will each receive $1,000. 

For Secondary and Primary School Students

Secondary School Students, Year 11 to 12 – The winner is awarded $5,000 and their school is offered a free photographic workshop;

Secondary School Students, Years 9 to 10 – The winner is awarded $3,000 and their school is offered a free photographic workshop;

Secondary School Students, Years 7 to 8 – The winner is awarded $2,000 and their school is offered a free photographic workshop;

Primary School Student Category, Kindergarten to Year 6 – A digital camera will be awarded to 25 selected winners plus a certificate of merit.

Other Australian Art Prizes such as Archibald, Whiteley scholarship, Wynne Prize are listed here.

Canada Only Art Prizes

Sobey Art Award

Canada’s most prestigious contemporary art prize.

Established in 2002, the Sobey Art Award aims to promote new developments in contemporary Canadian art and provide opportunities for artists, bringing them national and international attention. 

The program represents a total commitment of more than $650,000 CA annually. This year it will present $240,000 in prize money — including a top prize of $100,000 for the winner. Each of the four finalists will receive $25,000, and the other longlisted artists will receive $2,000 each. In addition to monetary awards, three artists from the longlist will take part in the Sobey Art Award Residencies Program. Finally, one shortlisted artist will be selected by Fogo Island Arts to attend an annual residency.

Other Canadian Art awards are listed here.

International Art Prizes


Note: This is a digital art prize open to digital artists worldwide. Lumen Art Projects Ltd is a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to providing new opportunities for digital artists around the world.

Pro Tip: Check out your previous and possibly current competition online. The prize publishes a Winners Archive for you to do some competition analysis.

The Prize

The coveted Lumen Prize will open it’s 9th Call for Entries on 13th February with a prize fund of US$11,500. There are 9 awards to be won.

Animago – Digital Art Award

Note: This is a digital art prize open to digital artists worldwide. Lumen Art Projects Ltd is a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to providing new opportunities for digital artists around the world.


Projects on 3d animations, stills, visual effects, visualization and design are presented at the animago AWARD competition every year. The digital artists participate from all over the world…

Details from the award website below:


The animago AWARD is a worldwide renowned competition in the field of 3d animation & still, visual effects, visualization & design since 1997. So far more than 23,000 projects have taken the challenge of comparing themselves.


Altogether 856 entries from 61 different nations have been submitted in 2018. The 36 nominations were from 17 countries. The 12 prize winners are projects from 7 different nations.


In 2019 we have several different categories in the entry types film & still. The category Best Young Production carries prize money contributed by DIGITAL PRODUCTION totalling €3,000.

Register your submission for Animago award here

Other International Art awards are listed here.

Wrap up!

If your submission fails to place or you don’t win, do not be discouraged.

Keep entering and review the competition after each competition and see what you can do to produce better artworks.

I call this continuous improvement – you do not need to make wholesale changes to your art style or production of your artwork but small incremental changes here and there will work best over the long term.

Be true to yourself as an artist and to your style – create artworks that match your preferred style and subject matter as this will show in your final artworks.

If you are not good at landscapes, do not enter a landscape prize just because it has a high value prize. Unless of course you want to prove you can win something you are not known for.

Keep having fun and keep producing art. As Neil Gaiman says “Make good art”

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