Winning ArtStation Challenges give artists a platform to share and improve their work. Dom Carter asks if it signals the renaissance of the digital art competition...
Online communities have changed over the years – can ArtStation revive the age of the online competition?
When it comes to giving artists an opportunity to find work and connections, ArtStation is taking the lead. “Founder Leonard Teo’s vision for ArtStation is that we solve real problems for the artists and the industry,” says Daniel Wade, the site’s product manager, referencing the importance of ArtStation competitions.
Launched earlier this year, The Journey is a batch of contests that hark back to a time of giant forum competitions. Split into 2D and 3D categories, these six ArtStation Challenges invited artists to submit
character, environment and transport art. “We didn’t want it to be Groundhog Day with a forum-based system, with all of those limitations,” Daniel says. “So we started with a custom-built competition platform, and added features that elevate the challenge experience like Twitch streaming, 3D viewer support, feedback, public voting (likes), social media integration, and a simple judging experience.”
Word of the challenges spread quickly and attracted an overwhelming amount of talent. Professional illustrator Jean-Baptiste Monge, who scooped first place in the 2D character art challenge, considers the award a great achievement: “Even at my level, nothing is to be taken for granted,” he says. The benefits of entering extend beyond winning, though. “For younger artists, it can be a good experience to see how you react in the face of stress and deadlines,” explains Jean-Baptiste. “The most important thing is that you finish the illustration on time.”
Considering that he’s been put off by huge forum competitions before – “The subjects were common and boring” –
We didn’t want it to be Groundhog Day with a forum-based system, with all of those limitations
Jean-Baptiste’s entry helps certify the quality of the ArtStation Challenges. Layna Lazar, winner of the 3D character challenge, agrees that the interesting brief attracted her to The Journey, and hopes the contest leads to, “More competitions that have a briefing to create worlds and stories rather than ‘make a thing’.”
Layna is also mindful of deadlines and 3D work’s long pipelines. “Participate in a challenge that suits you best or is something you want to be doing for the next few months,” she says. “At the end of it, you’ll have a great finished portfolio piece, and that’s always worth it!” Having something different to work on was the driving force behind Kait Kybar’s entry, which triumphed in the 2D transport category. “Competitions are like a personal project that keeps you motivated,” the artist says.
Like Jean-Baptiste, Kait is unsentimental when it comes to the old days of massive forums and competitions. “I only remember slow internet, bad servers and confusing websites. ArtStation is quite a good portal at the moment, though.”
Expos ure and careers
The spirit behind the ArtStation Challenges fosters community-based learning. And by growing artistically within a supportive community, artists put themselves in a position to get noticed.
“Receiving an award gives you a lot of exposure and helps to make your name a lot more recognisable,” says Wojciech Piwowarczyk, winner of the 3D environment challenge. “It’s a huge advantage when looking for work if someone finds in your portfolio an image they recognise. Even if someone wasn’t lucky this time, showing a competition entry in a portfolio means that you’re being proactive and seeking ways to get exposure.” For Serbian-based artist Darko Markovic, his location means that exposure is hard to come by. “This competition was the best thing that could happen to me,” he says, after coming first place in the 3D transport competition. “Exposure is the main weapon when you have great work. No one will hire you if you’re hidden in your cave, no matter how good your work is.”
Having worked with film and games studios for more than 30 years, Daniel has seen winners from these challenges use their exposure to land their dream jobs. And after months of planning, he could finally reveal in May that ArtStation has been working with ILM to launch a Star Wars challenge hosted by the studio’s art directors.
If ILM discovers new talent, then there may be opportunities for the artist in the future
“This is really a first for an art challenge on this scale with a major studio and its biggest IP, and we’re in discussions with other studios to run this type of challenge in future,” Daniel reveals. In confirmation of what the winners of The Journey challenges have been saying, he observes that, “It’s not far-fetched to imagine if ILM discovers new talent, that there may be opportunities for them in the future.”
ArtStation’s new challenges and features have certainly generated optimism and excitement in the community. But where does ArtStation go from here?
“I think online competitions have a lot of prospects and I’m prepared to be surprised,” says Yan Yang, winner of the 2D environment challenge. “I think we should lay emphasis on communication and connection between artists. In this manner, no matter what outcomes we get, we can always benefit from the experiences.”
For Daniel, it all comes back to solving problems. With the competition between studios to find top artists only set to increase, this could lead to the evolution of studio-judged art challenges.
“Studios are always looking for talented artists, and the competition to find them is increasing. The ability to see how these artists perform on a deadline – even simulated – will also be valuable.” he says. “They would never replace our community challenges, because the requirements are quite different. Studio challenges will either be recruitment-style challenges where studios are searching for talent, or public challenges where the studios want to give back to the community.”
To keep up to date with the latest ArtStation competitions and developments, visit