Lazarus with artist Mike Michera

How to create an award-winning illustration

How to create an award-winning illustration to Illustrators of the Future: The Do’s and Don’ts of ILOF
By Echo and Lazarus Chernik

In addition to being an internationally bestselling author, L. Ron Hubbard was also a patron of the arts and a devout believer in promoting the next generation of creators. The Illustrators of the Future awards promote talent and provide artists with a better path to successful careers through cash prizes, mentorship, and publication.

How does one actually create an award-winning illustration? Illustrators of the Future judges include some of the most famous illustrators of the 20 and 21st centuries—and are not easy to impress.

Obviously, talent is one criterion—but there is so much more to creating something engaging and award worthy.

1. Technical Skill: Art is in the eyes, not the hands. The judges of the Illustrators of the Future competition are famed professionals who know EXACTLY what they are looking at. We can see in submissions the eye for composition, color-theory, gesture, perspective, and drama. We can see through weaknesses in experience and judge potential. We can also see through illusions, distractions, and cover-ups of underlying flaws. You don’t need to be perfect to win—but winners will show that they can “see” more than the rest.

2. Storytelling: Illustrators are not merely artists, drawing and painting what they feel they need to express. They are artists who are passionate about story telling through their art, whether it is their own story or another’s. Illustrators create book covers, movie posters, product and package designs—all with the intent to tell the audience the story and value of what they are about to experience. Telling stories with art is a skill. The story may be as simple as “This is a harsh dry landscape.” Or “This jovial woman is leading a charmed life.” But the art must actually convey this. The more emotionally charged adjectives an illustration provides—the better at telling the story it is. Does your artwork tell the audience something deep about your character or scene?

3. Dedication: The one thing that teachers and mentors cannot impress, is dedication to the art. That means practice. To practice something so difficult means to love doing it. The Judges can see the practice you put into your art and your love for the process will shine through. While it seems like a fickle or imprecise thing, the reality is that your passion comes across in the details. Is the gesture perfect? Are the complimentary colors used correctly? Are the textures finished appropriately for the style? Is there life in the character’s eyes? Are the techniques, whether traditional or digital, used impactfully? Is the composition deliberate and evocative? All of these details are considered.

4. Style: There is no single correct “style” for this competition. Winners have been selected for their landscapes and scene-paintings, for their character portraits, for their monsters, for their cartoons, for their computer modeling, and even for their quirks. The style itself is not a criterion—but expertise in a style is. A great cartoon is better than a bad “realistic” painting. Present us what you are great at and we will judge you for your greatness in your style.

And that’s it.

There are, however, some things that you should avoid at all costs:

1. Plagiarism: Stealing someone else’s art and pretending that it is your own is actually a crime. The internet has made it very easy to pretend to be someone else—and downloading artwork of other people and submitting it seems like a safe scam to pull off. But we know when you do it. We know because we look up every single submission online and seek out the copyright holder. We will find it through Google Images. We will find it through DeviantArt. We will find it through our vast experience and network of illustrator friends around the world. We will find it because, if you are NOT an artist, you will have no idea what you are submitting to us and how obvious it is to us that you are a scammer. Just don’t do it. You aren’t an artist and we will contact the legal copyright owner and may set them on a track of legal action against you.

2. Vulgar or outrageous submissions: As artists, we Judges completely understand art that represents interesting or outrageous subjects. However, content is not something we Judge on. If your work relies too heavily on the subject matter itself to be interesting—you will bore us. If you haveincredibly well-executed example of subjects “Not Safe for Work,” then we guarantee that your ability to execute those will also show in more mundane subjects and will showcase your talents well. Winning submissions will be shared with the general public on websites and national media. If your submission can’t be shared with the public, then we can’t accept it.

3. Content motivated submissions: Do not submit an entire selection of artwork with the same personal message throughout—no matter how personal, important, or noble. This is not a venue for your cause. This is a competition for illustrators. We are judging your ability to tell a story that you will be hired for—usually not one of your own. Winning means being assigned a story to illustrate for publication. If all of your submissions are focused on a single “message,” then we will question your ability to successfully illustrate a message assigned to you. Submit a variety of subjects that show how your style can be applied to a variety of messages.

4. “Master Studies”: Art students are encouraged to reproduce artworks from other artists they admire in order to study and learn their process through experience. But by doing this, you have sacrificed all of the “seeing” and “thought-process” of illustration to the originator. It will not be your composition, your colors, your gesture—any of the things we will judge you by. If your Master Studies are good enough, you will show us through your own work. If your Master Studies are not good enough, even if we do not know the artwork you were studying (but we probably will), we will know precisely each of your errors in the process because they will be more glaring to our experienced eyes. You also don’t want to accidentally make the mistake of submitting a study of one of our Judges!

5. Unfinished Works: There are finished drawings and unfinished paintings. Please only submit your finished vision of your artwork. If you want a piece to “look unfinished,” there are actually ways to make finished versions of those we won’t mistake for being unfinished (e.g., Concept art). Unfinished works do not show the dedication criteria we look for. If it’s a great start for this quarter’s submissions, then make it a great finish for next quarter’s submissions.

6. Submissions with Text: A picture is worth a thousand words. We are not judging your content or spelling—but mistakes therein will definitely penalize you. Just remove the words. If you submissions include only text, then be extremely creative with it to make sure you are an illustrator and not a writer or a graphic designer.

Hopefully, this advice is more encouraging than daunting.

Submit your best work and see what happens!


Echo Chernik

Echo Chernik

Echo Chernik has been featured in many commercial design magazine articles for her talents as an artist, business-person, and instructor. With over twenty-two years of experience as a commercial artist she has become an industry leader in quality art and is constantly in great demand among the highest caliber clients around the globe. Clients include Disney, Miller, Camel, Coors, Trek, Dos Equis, Hasbro, Mattel, The Sheikh of Dubai, Arlo Guthrie, Sears, Publix, Random House, Penguin and much more. She is well known for her design of the Celestial Seasonings Green Tea line. In addition to illustration, she has also received awards for her efforts in community service.


Lazarus Chernik

Lazarus Chernik

Lazarus Chernik is an experienced Creative Director, Brand Manager, and award-winning Designer with over 20 years of experience. His clients have included everyone from Fortune 100 giants to small businesses in need of reaching that next level. Using expert skills in all manner of print and online media, he has headed the creative departments for numerous agencies and corporations including a Top 15 national advertising agency, a national retail chain, a national web development firm, a catalog retailer, and a retail goods manufacturer. He is an instructor of design software and skills in corporate training environments and continuing education facilities.

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