Our Tried and True Tips for Winning a Scholastic Art Award

Each year many of our students win Scholastic Art Awards and we also ran regional Scholastic Art Award judging from Ashcan Studio for many years, where we got to see first hand student submissions and how the judges chose winners for each category. 

The scholastic art awards offers recognition for students in 7th to12th grade, age 13 or older, in a number of visual arts categories including portfolio which is the only one for seniors only.  The Awards open for submission in September of each year. 

Not only will winning an award for your art make you feel that your artistic vision has been validated, but applying for, and winning a scholastic award means that college admissions representatives look very positively on applicants who have won the award.

Scholastic Awards has partnered with leading art institutes, colleges and universities to provide scholarships for Scholastic Award Winners as well.  Gold or Silver Key Winners may also be eligible for Scholastic Awards Summer (SAS) scholarships, which are need- and merit-based tuition scholarships for 7–11 grade students.

The opportunity to exhibit and for your work to be published is also an exciting part of winning an award. Art from the Gold Medalists is displayed at the National Exhibition and works are compiled into the National Catalog and all national winners are honored at an Awards Ceremony.

The Art Submission categories are: 

Architecture & Industrial Design
Ceramics & Glass
Comic Art
Digital Art
Drawing & Illustration
Editorial Cartoon
Expanded Projects
Film & Animation
Mixed Media
Art Portfolio (graduating seniors only)

There is no limit to the number of works you may enter, with the exception of Photography and Portfolio. You are allowed to enter 16 works in the Photography category, and two art portfolios, 6 artworks each. 

You may enter different works to multiple categories, but you are not allowed to enter the same work to more than one category.

The Scholastic Art Awards Portfolio Guidelines, a category only open to students in 12th grade, are to submit a portfolio of 6 different art works. The work can come from one of the single categories or any combination of multiple categories. You may submit up to two Art Portfolios, but may not submit the same work in both portfolios. And you must also submit a 500 Artist Statement and a 500 word Personal Statement for this category. 

 Deadlines for submissions vary by region, so check the scholastic art awards website here to find out the deadline date in your hometown.

Scholastic Art Awards Core Values

The people who judge theScholastic Art & Writing Awards are looking for 3 things when they view your work, The Scholastic Awards’ core values, which are: Originality, technical skill and the emergence of personal voice or vision 

ORIGINALITY they describe as work that breaks from convention, blurs the boundaries between genres, and challenges notions of how a particular concept or emotion can be expressed. 
TECHNICAL SKILL as work that uses technique to advance an original perspective or a personal vision or voice, and shows skills being utilized to create something unique, powerful, and innovative. 
and EMERGENCE OF A PERSONAL VOICE OR VISION as work with an authentic and unique point of view and style. 

We’ve helped students win hundreds of Scholastic Art Awards since 2006 with these core values in mind, and when our Instructors became judges, and then when we hosted a regional panel of judges for many years, we understood first hand what the Scholastic Art Awards means by these core values. 

So what do these values mean and how can you apply them to your artwork? 

When they say that they look for personal voice or vision, and originality, they mean that they’re looking to award work that is personal, that the subjects you depict are something that you are invested and truly interested in. 

How to Come Up with Ideas

If you’re having trouble thinking about what that subject could be for you, start to think about what makes you curious.

Is it relationships, fashion, poetry, a current event, fairytales, an object? This subject can also be more visual than literal. A visual subject could be colors, materials, repetition, self, the use of personal symbolism.  

If it seems daunting, to think about what you’d like to base your work on, when we start with new students we have a few ways that we approach this.

First, it’s important to be genuine and to feel comfortable expressing your true interests and self. Work that is honest has the most impact. 

Also as artists it’s difficult to not be hard on yourself, ease up on your  expectations of yourself, because all it will do is weigh you down with worry. Instead focus on taking small steps to eventually get to find your own unique creative voice. 

Once you are in the right mindset, it’s time to brainstorm ideas in your sketchbook. One of the first things we ask our students to do is create an opposites list, where you list your likes and dislikes.

In two separate columns write down your favorite and least favorite things, people, locations, foods, books, films etc, then write down a memory, pick a scene from a film and describe it, list your fears or a phobia and describe something or someone that’s beautiful. 

Don’t over think these questions, and don’t be afraid to be funny or dramatic, write down the first things that come to your mind, but use detail. 

Starting with one idea and making a mind map is another way. We think in multi-dimensional ways, with a lot of ideas occurring simultaneously that trigger further ideas. Recording your ideas graphically, using visual diagrams such as a mind map can be helpful. A mind map is a diagram that has a branch-like structure radiating from a central image or word on the page, and which uses lines and color to show relationships, groupings and connections between words, ideas and images. A mind map may help you think clearly and ensures that a range of possibilities are considered.

Now that you have this information, look everything over and something will jump out to you as more interesting than others. In any case choose one to start with. 

The next step is research, look up on google, Pinterest or Instagram and find books about the subject or word you’ve chosen. You have to find out more about your subject. Finding out more about things that interest you gives them purpose, and everything you do should be done with purpose. 

Take notes on what you’ve found and make sketches of ideas, write down possible materials, and make screenshots of inspiring images and text you’ve found and put it together in a word document or print for your sketchbook. 

The more time you spend preparing, the more effort you put into making an art piece or pieces to apply with, the better project outcome/final piece will be. 

But also be flexible- ideas may arise, new inspirations may occur.

When you are ready to move on to developing a single idea for your Scholastic piece, make at least 3 sketches on the same idea, and decide what is best conceptually and compositionally, ideally with feedback from a teacher or mentor, and decide on the medium or materials you will use. 

Think of less obvious mediums, and make it personal by working with mediums that you like using or have liked seeing other artists use in their work. 

Tips for Documenting Your Work

We also noticed another thing that made judges pass by some artwork and art portfolios and choose others, finally choosing the artworks that would receive an award. 

Looking through all of the scholastic award applicants artworks and art portfolios, one after the other, the judges didn’t necessarily think that any of the artists were better than the others, but that one of the most important and appealing things was seeing work well documented, meaning the photos of the work were perfect, or close to perfect.

We can’t stress enough to pay attention to the quality of your photographs. Have them taken professionally if you can. 

Make sure your work is hung flat and straight on the wall and that there is even lighting. 

Take photographs of your work straight on, centered both vertically and horizontally), be careful not to angle the camera above, below or from the side. You want to avoid propping your work against a wall in a way that creates a diagonal slant of your work – this will create a distorted photograph. 

Never use a flash – Use two point -even- studio lighting 

Take photographs of your work in front of a white background- a white wall or unwrinkled white backdrop paper, or in some rare cases- on site.

Crop and alter the image. There should be no visible outlines, no shadows and the images should be sharp and clear. 

If your artwork is small enough, we suggest using a scanner instead of a camera. 

If you are documenting a framed piece of art, the glass will create distracting reflections—remove it before you shoot. 

Get close; the artwork should occupy as much of the image frame as possible. 

Always take more than one image of each piece; you never know which one is going to turn out best. 

When you photograph three-dimensional work, the same background and lighting considerations apply. Take a few different views if needed to show a piece well; multiple views of three-dimensional pieces are considered to be a single portfolio entry.

If you follow these guidelines you’ll naturally find yourself making work that is in line with Scholastic Art Awards Core values, and hopefully lead you to make work that will win you a Scholastic Art Award!


Please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation or to ask us any questions.

You can sign up for Ashcan Art Portfolio Prep Classes!- Manhattan, Queens, Long Island or Online- ⁠
Intensive, Fine Art, Art Competition & Portfolio, Design, Digital Art & Private Lessons⁠!

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email us! infomanhattan@ashcanart.com
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