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The Best Illustration Contests and Prizes in 2016

The world’s top illustration awards offer applicants the shot at tens of thousands of dollars and international recognition.

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While some illustration awards are highly specific—science, book covers, cartoons—the wide scope of categories in this field means that you’re more likely to find the right place for submission.

Plus, one of the best parts about this year’s best illustration awards is that many of them are free to enter, so whether you’re an emerging or established illustrator, you have nothing to lose by submitting your work.

If you’re new to the illustration game and worried about your chances of winning while going up against more experienced artists, don’t worry: many awards offer separate categories for new and experienced illustrators.

The best illustration contests and prizes of 2016 are open to every level of experience: from designing a poster for a local art festival, to displaying at the Mall Galleries in London and going on tours across the United Kingdom.

Here are the illustration contests and prizes you need to know about in 2016:

Jessica Bartram, 2015 Overall Winner

World Illustration Awards

Deadline: February 2016
Fee: $33 for a single entry, $60 for multiple image entry
Prize: Exhibiting your work on a 12 month national tour, being featured on the Association of Illustrator’s (AOI) website, highlighted in AOI’s archive, the opportunity to be selected for a touring exhibition and featured in accompanying AOI publications.

This will be the 40th year of the World Illustration Awards, one of the most comprehensive and significant awards for illustration in the world.

These awards are open to illustrators in any country working in any medium or context, allowing entrants to apply in either enter New Talent or Professional categories.

New talent entrants are classified as undergraduate students, post-graduate students or graduates who graduated less than two years ago. Professional entrants are all other professional illustrators.

The awards welcome all skill levels and can be entered by the work’s creator or by any third party Agent, Designer, College, Publisher or work Commissioner.

Should you enter?

Absolutely! Although the World Illustration Awards do not offer cash prizes, the exposure for both established and emerging illustrators is hard to come by. Plus, many art commissioners and industry peers browse shortlisted applicants and contact them directly, and award winners have their work circulated to all major commissioners of illustration.

Bianca Bagnarelli, 2015 Winner

Society of Illustrators Comic and Cartoon Art Annual

Deadline: February 2016 Fee: $30 (non-members), $20 (members) Prize: Medals and certificates, full color catalogue, touring exhibition

Open to artists worldwide, entries are considered by a jury of professionals, including renowned cartoonists, illustrators, publishers, and editors. The competition will result in an exhibition that will showcase the most outstanding works created in this genre throughout each year.

Work can be entered in several categories such as published comic strip, single image, long form book and special edition publications.

Should you enter?

Yes. Find the category that fits your work and send in your submission.

Marta Pérez López, 2015 Winner

International Award On Scientific Illustration

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: None
Prizes: $650 - $215

The International Award on Scientific Illustration is organized by Il·lustraciència, the Catalan Association of Science Communication. Its goal is to highlight the importance of scientific illustration and push it in all its forms.

There are two categories: traditional and digital, and it is open to all people aged 18 and over worldwide. Work submitted has to have been created between January 2015 and March 2016.

The only requirements are that the subject must be science or nature related, and the technique free.

Should you enter?

The world of scientific illustration is vast and rich with history, dating back to Paleolithic cave paintings. If you’re eager to be part of this world, and passionate about how scientific illustration has helped shape our understanding of the objects around us, then the International Award on Scientific Illustration organized by Il·lustraciència is for you. If you’re not interested in illustrations relating to science, however, the hyper-focused International Award on Scientific Illustration might not be the best fit for your work. Either way, entrants have nothing to lose if their work fits the awards requirements, as entry is completely free.

Fernando Pessoa, 2015 Winner

International Compostela Prize For Picture Books

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: None
Prize: $9,870, plus prize-winning work will be published in all of the official languages of the peninsula by the publisher Kalandraka in October 2016.

The International Compostela Prize for Picture Books is open to all publications in the picture book category. Books can be published in any of the official languages of the Iberian Peninsula, but they must be original and unpublished works. The award is open to everyone worldwide.

Should you enter?

If the cash prize alone isn’t incentive enough to draw a picture book, the exposure that the International Compostela Prize for Picture Books offers should be. Winners have their work published in multiple languages and see their books made available for purchase around the world. Normally, publishing a picture book could take years to go from manuscript to official printed copy. Yet with the International Compostela Prize for Picture Books, winners see the process accelerated to being less than a year long, an incredible feat for the world of publishing.

Janne Tiperi, 2015 Winner

Bucktown Arts Fest 2016 Poster Contest

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: None
Prize: $200 OR complimentary admission to the 2016 festival. Winners also have their poster displayed on all fest materials (posters, t-shirts, postcards, program, collateral, press releases and signage).

The Bucktown Arts Fest is a great festival to be associated with: it’s a fun, non-profit, volunteer-run, neighborhood party meant to celebrate the arts. All proceeds raised from the event help fund, develop and support arts education programming in Chicago’s Holstein Park and in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhoods, and the contest is open to everyone worldwide.

Should you enter?

We’ll admit it: the Bucktown Arts Fest may not seem like the most prestigious illustration award to behold, especially compared to awards offering winners thousands of dollars and the opportunity to display your work in internationally respected publications and galleries. But, the down-to-earth competition affords anyone the opportunity to design a poster for a large arts festival. If you are an established illustrator with a roster of clients under your belt, submitting to The Bucktown Arts Fest might seem unnecessary, but if you’re a young professional just starting out, this competition is for you. Not only is designing a poster for the fest a fantastic piece of experience to put on your resume, young illustrators can also take advantage of the fact that bigger names likely aren’t going to be entering, freeing up loads of space for new talent to be seen. You might also end up walking away with a bit of extra change in your pocket.

Mehmet Kahraman, 2015 Winner

World Gallery Of Cartoons Skopje

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: None
Prizes: $5000 - $1000

With so many different prizes to offer, the World Gallery of Cartoons, established back in 1969, celebrates the power and diversity of the cartoon medium. It is the only event of its kind from Macedonia, and one of the most long-standing cartoon and satirical drawing celebrations in the world. The contest offers three categories: cartoons, satirical drawings, and comics/strips.

The contest is open to all levels of cartoonists, so whether you’re professional, semi-professional, and amateur, the World Gallery of Cartoons levels the playing field to let your work shine beside illustrators whose work you may look up to. In this way, the awards help novice illustrators break into the industry and consider themselves among peers.

Should you enter?

Most definitely. While the cash prizes may not change your life, there are enough of them to give entrants a good shot at walking away with something. The great thing about World Gallery of Cartoons is that the awards don’t discriminate, and choose to instead acknowledge all cartoon mediums in their varying forms.

Paul Garland, 2015 Winner

The 3x3 International Illustration Show

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: $15-$35
Prizes: Best of Show and Gold Medal winners: a distinctive 3x3x3 inch cube

The annual publication created from the 3x3 International Illustration Awards’ winning work is one of the few illustration annuals distributed worldwide. All winners are invited to take part in the Illustration directory, which is sent to 6,000 art directors and art buyers in the US. Winners are also promoted online and in the media.

Should you enter?

Yes. The 3x3 Illustration Awards are one of the most respected awards in the industry, affording artists the ability to have their work circulated around the world.

Shu-Ti Liao, 2015 Winner

The Macmillan Prize

Deadline: April 2016
Fee: None
Prize: £1,000-£250

In its 31st year, The Macmillan Prize was established by Macmillan Children’s Books to stimulate new work from young illustrators in art schools, and to help them take the first steps in their professional lives.

The judges are ultimately looking for high-quality illustrations, suitable for children’s books, which are considered to be an original contribution to the field.

The competition is open to all students in higher education establishments in the United Kingdom during the academic year 2015/2016.

Should you enter?

If you fit the eligibility, then yes. This could really kick-start your career.

Brian Fay, 2014 Winner

Derwent Art Prize

Deadline: June 2016
Fee: £10 for the first work and £2 for additional works.

Prizes: £6,000 - £500

After launching only two years ago, the Derwent Art Prize competition has flourished, turning into a biannual even that has attracted over 4,000 entries from 58 countries worldwide.

The prize is open to all international artists. Its goal is to reward excellence through showcasing the very best works created in pencil. Previous prize winners have had their entries shown in exhibitions at the Mall Galleries in London and on tour across the United Kingdom.

All works entered must be created in pencil. This includes water-soluble, pastel, graphite, charcoal, or colouring pencils.

Should you enter?

Definitely. Not only do entrants have a shot at £6,000—a hefty sum that amounts to well over $8,000 USD—they also get the chance to have their work showcased in some of the world’s top galleries. There’s a reason the Derwent Art Prize has gained so much traction so soon: It’s an unparalleled winning situation.

Margarida Esteves, 2014 Winner

Cheltenham Illustration Award

Deadline: June 2016
Fee: None
Prize: Exhibition in Cheltenham and having your work published in the 2016 Cheltenham Illustrations Awards Annual

The Cheltenham Illustration Awards are carried out by the University of Gloucestershire and consist of two titled loose sections: ‘Student’ and ‘Emerging and Established’.

The Student category is open to all full time students worldwide who are 18 years of age. The Emerging and Established category is open to both new and experienced illustrators who are looking to gain exposure of their work.

The show is considered to be one of the top three international shows for illustration and welcomes contestants from around the world. The most exciting part is that the international panel of judges featured at the awards are some of the top design directors, art directors, graphic designers, editors and illustrators working today, meaning your work is going to be exposed to a powerful roster of industry insiders.

Should you enter?

If you’re a student and emerging illustrator, then you absolutely should. If not, the appeal of exposure alone may not be enough to encourage you to put yourself out there. The Cheltenham Illustration Awards are perfect for those just starting out, but more established illustrators might find themselves wanting to hold out until something with a little more reward comes along. Either way, anyone working as an illustrator knows the chance at published work is never above you, and since there is no fee to apply, the Cheltenham Illustration Awards offer illustrators nothing but great exposure and recognition.

Malika Favre, 2015 Winner

YCN Student Awards

Deadline: March 2016
Fee: None
Prize: Being honored at YCN’s Annual Awards Ceremony, and in the pages of the YCN Student Awards Annual. Winners, also get a shot at internships, mentoring, and other professional development opportunities.

The YCN Student Awards are one of the most respected student awards out there. The awards focus on a collection of live creative briefs that are given to applicants.

This year’s theme centers around the idea that creativity is an invaluable tool in solving commercial, social and organizational challenges. For the awards applicants are asked to work to solve these challenges through the medium of illustration, as well as film, animation, digital innovation, and graphic design.

All students and recent graduates are welcome to apply.

Should you enter?

If you are a student or new grad, you need to apply to the YCN Student Awards. The awards demand more than your typical award submission, as they require illustrators to work within the creative brief guidelines. Because of this, young illustrators often find themselves pushed creatively, and challenged to broaden the scope of their work in order to come up with new ideas. Plus, there’s a ton of exposure that comes with participating in the YCN Student awards, and the judging panel is made up of some of the world’s top illustrators. What more could a young illustrator ask for?

Want more?
Discover 2016’s best photography contests & prizes here.
Discover 2016’s best design contests & prizes here.
[Discover 2016’s best fine art contests & prizes here.]

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