Virtual Art Academy

A Guide to Painting Competitions

Author of online painting classes, Barry John Raybould

This is a guide to the best competitions to give you a kick start in your painting career.

Why Enter A Painting Competition?

One of the best ways of getting you, and your work, noticed is to enter a painting competition. I entered competitions early on in my career. Probably because of this I never had to approach a gallery – galleries always approached me. So if your goal is to sell and promote your work, entering an art competition or painting competition is a great way to go about it. In this guide you will find the best painting competitions for artists at different stages of their career.

Tips For Winning A Painting Competition

So what is my advice for winning a painting competition? This may sound obvious, but my advice is to work on improving your work first. Only reasonably good work will win a top prize. There is no getting around that. The good news though, is that it does not have to be technically perfect to win. You don’t have to produce a highly refined painting with a tremendous amount of detail to win. And it does not have to be technically perfect. . Here are a two key pointers that will get your painting noticed:

  • Visual Music – Make sure the work has strong Visual Music. This is the key to great paintings that I spend a lot of time working with my students on. It is the single most important thing that will get your work noticed. You have to have a great underlying abstract plan to any representational painting if you want it to really make an impression on your viewers. You can do this with a strong Notan or a great color harmony. But without this abstract design, or Visual Music as I like to call it, your painting just won’t stand out from the rest of the paintings in order to win.
  • Visual Poetry – Some emotional content is essential. You need to affect your viewer at an emotional level. I call this the Visual Poetry of a painting. In order to achieve this you need to capture some kind of feeling in your work – usually how you feel towards your subject. It can be as simple as just capturing the mood of a particular place and time. For example by using soft edges to capture the mood of a foggy landscape.

You can learn more about my Visual Music & Poetry® model in my Guide to Critiquing Art

Types Of Painting Competitions

There are many different types of painting competitions. Here are your choices:

  • Juried Plein Air Painting Events: One type of painting competition are the plein air events. There are many of these all over the world. In these events the artists are pre-selected to go to a particular place and paint for a week. At the end of the week, you exhibit your work and judges award prizes. Some of the paintings are then selected for an award. A good place to find out about these events is: List of Plein Air events in the US. In this guide you can see who runs plein air competitions and apply in advance. If you get accepted, your work will be up for an award at the end of the event. They offer relatively good prize money, but not as much as the International Open Art Competition category.
  • International Open Art Competitions: Another type of competition that you might be interested in is one in which you can enter your artwork online for a fee, and then be eligible for an award. Some of these are run by art magazines and have substantial prize money.
  • Local Events: Many towns and villages have their own local art festivals and often have a competition. Prize money is very low at these events. Although these may not be the best painting competitions, they may be the best painting competitions for you at this stage of your career. They are a good start for a serious beginner or intermediate artist. It will help you get known in your local area and may even lead to a few sales. A lot of our Virtual Art Academy members, after studying the Visual Music & Poetry® model, have started to win prizes in these events and have sold paintings in their local area. This way you can cover the costs of all your art supplies and ongoing tuition.

The Best Painting Competitions: International Open Art Competitions

Here are some of the best painting competitions in the international open art category.

PleinAir Salon

To give you an idea of what type of paintings have won top prizes, here are some of the past winners of the PleinAir Salon.

plein air salon painting competition winners

The painting competition is organized by the same people who run Plein Air Magazine, and is open to any type of representational artist.


Top prize: $15,000

Sunny Art Prize

To give you an idea of what type of paintings have won top prizes, here are some of the past winners of the Sunny Art Center. These tend to be more ‘contemporary’ in style.

The Sunny Art Prize is an international art prize hosted by Sunny Art Centre in London. This painting competition lets emerging and established artists show their artworks internationally. The exhibiting galleries are located in cities across the world. These include London, Beijing and Shanghai. The art contest will also give the art prize winners the opportunity to be part of a one-month artist residency. The Artist Residency Programme is organized in collaboration with established Chinese art institutions, It provides a chance to engage with historically and culturally rich places in China.

The art competition welcomes submissions from all over the world. You can enter with a variety of media. These include two-dimensional work such as paintings, drawings and photography to three-dimensional sculptures and ceramics, as well as contemporary installations, mixed media artworks, video and digital work.


Top prize: £6,000

eBooks On Visual Music & Poetry

By the way, I wrote up all of my ideas on Visual Music & Poetry® and how to create concepts in your work in a series of eBooks. Members of the Virtual Art Academy get access to this material as part of their subscription. If you don’t want to join as a member, you can still get instant access to this information in pdf form. See: Concept: Why You Need Both Visual Music and Visual Poetry To Make Your Work Stand Out.

Know About Any More Art Competitions?

Let us know about any other major open art competitions by adding your comment below, and we’ll add it to this guide to the best painting competitions.

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