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You didn't win this award! - No Place Like Home

A black and white line drawing showing a hand reaching out towards a trophy that says You didn’t win this award. Text below this says a new blog series by Loadofolbobbins. There is text in the top right in pink which says We’ve all been there so let’s talk about it! The middle of the image has pink text that says no place like home — know your worth! beneath which are two blue red and white illustrations inspired by the theme of home. At the very bottom of the text is #ididntwinwiththis

For every 'win' out there in the great bubbling competition cauldron there are millions of losses, or as I like to call them non-winning successes. So hello my fellow 'losers', it's time to share another of my #ididntwinwiththis stories.

Call me fool hardy, but this time I'm going to jump head first into the minefield that is spec work/competitions, you know the ones, where maybe a big brand will put a call out for work for a campaign with differing 'prizes', (which we will definitely be going into). Now fair warning, this will in no way be a definitive guide and I'm sure there will be people who might think differently about lots of things I say or things that I might miss entirely. That's O.K. we're not all supposed to think the same and I love hearing lots of different, and most importantly respectful, perspectives on things. Like with most of my career, it's a learn-as-you-go thing, but hopefully this post might clarify some things for newbies and others less familiar with this format.

The first rule of spec comp club is 'exposure' is not a prize, exposure is something you die of when you don't have enough supplies or any kind of protective shelter. I know it can be easy to get carried away with applying for everything, especially when you're starting out, but you really don't want to go down the creating work for 'exposure' route. This is often a way for big brands to avoid paying artists and illustrators, when it's something they can definitely afford and should do. If there's money for shareholders, there's money for artists folks! If a creative brief for one of these sorts of comps sparks an idea for you, create it but use it to build your portfolio instead and draw more people to your website, where fingers crossed they'll fall in love with your work and hire you!

a black and white image of a two figures on a metal framed bed. The frame of the bed has big swooping s curves and is completely in black. One of the figures is a silhoutte which has been stitched with black thread and looks like the threads are growing out and hanging down the side of the mattress. The second figure is white and only seen through abscence and the shape of the areas of black that surround it, it is sitting on the edge of the bed with one arm leaning back connected with the stitched black figure.
'With Me' by Loadofolbobbins - inspired by 'The Beast' by Laura Marling for the 2013 Secret 7" comp

My own approach and experience with this type of comp is very much based on a gut instinct, which is inevitably subjective and personal, but hopefully can help. When I was straight out of art school with little to no idea of where to start, careers advice had not been forthcoming on my course, I felt utterly lost. One thing that did help me start to try and figure out a path was in fact competitions and some were indeed spec ones. I found working on submissions for things like Secret 7", a yearly music design comp for charity and those from Talenthouse helped me see a way through. Now this was 10 years ago and I know things have definitely changed in that time, see this recent article about some of the issues artists have faced with Talenthouse. But at the time I made sure to read through rules to check copyright, ownership etc. and make sure there was a fair payment as prize, or if it was for charity, that I was happy with how my work would be used. This is an absolute must when venturing into this field, get out that cartoonishly large magnifying glass and go through that small print with a fine tooth comb. If there's something you're unsure of, ask any friends or colleagues who might know, research terms online and if you still have that wobbly gut feeling about it, just don't do it. As I said earlier, if you still want to do the idea go ahead, just add it to your own portfolio instead.

To the left of the image is a gold gilt framed photograph of Nelson's column with a pigeon flying past it. To the right of the gold frame are four stitched silhouettes of a pigeon in different stages of flight as it moves towards two stitched figures who are looking at the original photograph.
'Beyond the Frame' by Loadofolbobbins - A response to a Talenthouse comp for a new mobile phone particularly the phrase "your photo gallery brought to life".

Fittingly for the theme of this blog series I did indeed not win many of these, but they helped me experiment and push my art to new places which I wouldn't have otherwise, so they definitely qualify as non-winning successes. Inevitably, as I found my creative feet I moved further and further away from entering these sorts of things, but during lockdown I found myself drawn to some again as a way of trying to engage that creative spark which was faltering under the weight of what we'd all been living through. One of the comps I explored was with my old pal Talenthouse which in retrospect, after reading the recent article, I'm pretty glad I didn't win. It was to create pieces inspired by the theme 'Home' for Nationwide Building Society. I felt comfortable with the prize money and terms so got creating and found the challenge of working only in the brand's colours particularly enjoyable.

A group silhouette of three people, which contains a red heart shape, sheltering in a home afloat on a raft that is bobbing on a sea containing sea beasts and merfolk. The main colour of the image is a rich dark blue with the house, raft and waves drawn in a pastel texture white. In the top left corner is a light blue shark fin, in the top right there is a bright red mermaid tail about to dive beneath the water. In the bottom left is a bright red kraken, with it's tentacles reaching for the raft.

I created two pieces in response to the brief. The first was inspired by home being the people who support and care for me, who no matter what provide me with a much needed life raft when the seas outside might be getting a bit choppy, cue on brand red kraken. The other piece was about that moment of calm which home can provide when life surrounds you with chaos.

Woman wearing blue top and jeans sitting crossed legged in the white silhouette of a home while a busy swirl of blue marks rush around outside. The woman is drawn in a red pencil outline and has red hair. There is also a red line that echoes the shape of the house, almost like a forcefield.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the creative challenge of this brief but as you can see from the article, spec comps really are a mine field, so above all know your worth, research every bit of fine print and don't die for the sake of exposure!!

If you've got any other tips or your own non-winning comp stories to share or any questions about comps I'd love to hear them and feature them here. I'm open to all sorts of pieces they don't just have to be visual art, they can be literature, name it. It'd be great to hear from you. What didn't you win? You can drop me an e-mail or pop over to social media @loadofolbobbins and say hi.

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