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May 19, 2010
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Contest hosting hints + tips by Synfull Contest hosting hints + tips by Synfull
As an art community it’s great to be able to grow and display your artistic talent, however every once in a while it can be nice to challenge your skill against other artists and enter a contest. Hosting a contest can be great fun, but is not always as smooth sailing as you may first think, so for this reason I have decided to make a list of hints and tips about hosting contests on dA

Hosting a contest

There is no right or wrong way to run a contest. However there are ways to improve the organisation of one to give it a better chance of being successful. I am not an expert at running contests, but after observing many and hosting a few myself, I do have a range of hints and tips to pass on.

There are hundreds of ways to run a contest, but not every style works with every community within dA. What might be successful for photographers might not necessarily work as well for traditional artists, so one of the most important things is to observe your community and know how it works before diving in.

As an emoticonist my knowledge is primarily restricted to the emoticon community, however some of my advice may apply to other areas of dA.


When it comes to a theme I like to run by the ‘KISS’ rule – Keep It Simple Stupid. The theme is one of the most important parts of a contest and if you choose it badly no matter how well the rest of your contest is organised, it’s unlikely to attract many people.

Choosing a theme is a difficult balance. Broad themes can often leave people stranded for ideas and also make entries difficult to judge or compare. But equally narrow ideas often restrict artists and cause difficultly in coming up with a creative idea.

There are many different ways to come up with a theme but always make sure it reflects back on the medium the contest is open for. It’s difficult to run an ‘autumn’ photography contest in the middle of winter or a ‘blue’ contest for culinary arts.

For emoticons this often requires you to pick a theme which can easily be pixelled as some emotions or ideas are extremely hard to compress down into 177 pixels. Yet at the same time you need to ensure there will be some creativity and uniqueness in the entries. As emotes are designed to show emotions is very easy to pick an emotion based theme, but remember that certain emotions such as ‘love’ or ‘fear’ are created in average deviations every day of the week.

I find for short emote contests (1-2 weeks) it is best to stick to a theme summed up in a single word. e.g 'ninjas', 'sweets', 'winter', 'space', 'confusion'.
For slightly longer contests (2-4 weeks) you can branch out and give a slightly more complex theme e.g 'true friendship', 'past memories', 'cutest emote ever seen'
For longer emote contests (4-6 weeks) it allows contests with slightly more rules to be held
e.g pack contest including certain expressions, emotes displaying slightly more complex emotions, emotes requiring pixel backgrounds or larger pixel bases, emotes combining with other art mediums - vector emotes, emote comics

There is nothing to say a simple theme can't be used on a longer contest. This can encourage more people to enter as it can be easy to come up with a more complex ideas around the basic theme. However I advise against using a more complex theme on a shorter deadline. This often results in a poor number of entries or entries lacking in quality


To ensure the entries you receive are what you are expecting it is best to set a number of rules. It is important to make the rules clear and easy to understand or people may end up making entries that can’t be accepted.
From an emoticon contest point of view it is best to consider covering the following points:

• Theme
• Deadline
• Size restrictions – file size restrictions, canvas size restrictions, body size restrictions
• File type restrictions – encourage people to submit as a .gif or .png instead of .jpgs
• Number of entries allowed
• Type of emoticons – animated, static, both
• Whether new or existing submission accepted
• How to submit entries
• Backgrounds - transparent background, pixelled background, either


When picking a deadline it is important you remember a few things.

• Dates are read different around the world so 3/4/10 may have been the 3rd of April or the 4th or March depending where you live.
• It is also good to leave a specific time to finish the contest but again make sure they are written clearly. This includes using a 24 hour clock or including am/pm to ensure people understand the time meant.
• A time zone would also be needed but remember that daylight savings can affect the name of a time zone. In summer England uses BST and in winter GMT. Phrases such as ‘UK time’ or ‘Eastern USA time’ may be clearer or even include a link to a world clock
• The time ‘midnight’ can actually cause confusion as people are unsure if it’s at the start or end of the specified date. 11.59PM is therefore a better time to choose.

Different styles of contests will require different deadlines. If you want to run a quick contest 1-2 weeks should be fine but don’t expect massive time consuming entries to pour in. From my experience I feel a month is about the right length of time for most emoticon contest. It allows people plenty of time to come up with an idea and put a reasonable amount of effort into it as well as allowing it to fit around other art or offline commitments. My advice is always to keep it between 2-6 weeks. Anything longer runs the chance of people forgetting about it or not wanting to wait around 3 months for the results.

Be sure to make the deadline fit in with your personal life as well. If you have major exams in 4 weeks time then maybe it’s not the best week to end the contest and the deadline should be changed or the whole contest postponed. A contest requires enthusiasm and time for the full length so be sure you’re willing to pimp the idea right up until the deadline.

Different times of year can also yield different results. February is generally a slow time of the year whereas May is often packed with exams for many deviants. Just be aware of different holidays and commitments potential entrants may have when considering the best time to host your contest.

Contest Name

A good contest name is not essential but can help catch people’s attention. Common sense would suggest it relates back to either the style or theme of the contest but this isn’t essential. If you choose to use a long name it is often good to think up a shorter nickname or abbreviation that people can call it by without typing it all out

e.g Emote Monthly Themed Challenge - EMTC


The most important thing about a prize list is to never leave it empty. Prizes can range from anything as simple as a journal feature or a few points and if you’re not prepared to offer even that, then you should question whether hosting a contest is the best idea.

Epic prize lists will often attract people to take part, but a long list of features can be equally attractive. It is always worth asking a few people if they would be willing to donate them, but don’t force them into it. You can also pimp for donations in your journal, or start up a points donation module on your page.

Free requests are also great but be aware of the quality of art you can offer. If you are an inexperienced emoticonist, then offering an emote request as a prize for an emoticon contest may not be the best idea. Any entrant must be able to make emoticons themselves and it seems silly if the quality of the finished request is far worse than something the winner could have created on their own.

Another prize I discourage from is a 'DD suggestion' for the winners entry. Daily Deviations are great for gaining exposure for a piece of work and the artist, but anything you feel deserves a DD should be suggested regardless of whether it won the contest or not.

One important thing to realise is GMs and MN@s do not have a free stock of dA prizes to hand out. On the odd occasion deviantArt is able to offer prizes for deviant run contests, but as dA is not made of money it is not certain any prizes will be supplied. If you wish to enquire about this then contact $Moonbeam13 or $chix0r.


There are a number of ways to advertise a contest, all of which can help more people find out about it. Some of these include:

• News article
• Your Journal
• Page module
• Friend’s journals
• GM’s journals
• Related group’s journals
• Regular ‘pimpage’ news articles
• Other sites where other deviants watch you - eg twitter, facebook etc

The important thing to remember is to clearly get across the idea of the contest. Plz accounts and fancy CSS can make it look attractive but if the theme is lost in a massive paragraph of text people may choose not to take the time to read it.

I always advise you to keep a designated journal which you can update with contest news. Unless you have special privs you aren’t able to edit news articles, so keeping an up to date list of prizes in a journal is a far better idea.

When asking people if they would like to advertise your contest, remember to be polite and understand if they say no. There is no harm in asking but a few manners can go a long way. I would also advise against you posting messages such as ‘go check out my epic contest [link]. I hope you enter’ on peoples pages or through notes. Some deviants find this rather rude and as a result refuse to enter or advertise the contest.

Within the emoticon community there are several ways I can suggest additional advertisement for your contest. Both #Emotication and the #WeEmote chatroom keep an up to date list of open contests which help directly advertise them to people that may be interested. I also run a weekly news article known as So i herd u liek emotes?? and offer to promote emote related contests through the news article's noticeboard. If you wish to have your contest advertised in any of these you simply have to note the correct group or my personal `Synfull account and ask if we would kindly help promote the contest. It is advisable to include a link to the journal/news article for the contest so we don't have to hunt it out ourselves.

During the contest

Once a contest has been launched it is important to keep people aware of it and continue to advertise it throughout the time it is open. This allows new people to find out about the contest and hopefully prevent people from forgetting to enter.

One easy way to do this is to have a contest journal you regularly update with prizes or entries which will pass through your watchers inboxes. However be aware how frequently you update it. If someone posts an updated journal 3 times a day in my message centre it is likely to cause some annoyance.

Another thing to consider is making a collection of entries. This not only helps you keep track of them but allows people to easily see deviations that have already entered, especially if you are unsubscribed and can’t post thumbs on your page or in journals.

In the last few days it is always best to give the contest another pimp and let people know it is closing soon. With any luck you may get a few last minute entries.

Extending contests

Sometimes things don’t always run to plan and either due to personal reasons or a lack of entries you decide you wish to extend the deadline. If this is the case it is important you clearly announce this to let people know it is being extended and when it has been extended to. My advice is only ever to extend it once and only by a week or so. It can get very frustrating if you have entered a contest and the host decides to constantly extend it and cause it to run on 6 weeks longer than expected.

It is also important to let people that may be advertising your contest know the new deadline so they can update and correct any advertisements they may have.


After getting over the hard part it is always a shame to see contest fail at the last hurdle. Judging contests should always be fun but can also be difficult and time consuming depending on the entries. If entries are taking longer than expected to judge then make sure you communicate with people and make them aware this is the case. You will be surprised how forgiving people are with a small apology in a journal.

There are again numerous ways to judge a contest. From personal experience I always suggest having 2 or 3 judges for any contest to ensure the winner is chosen fairly. It also allows you to bounce ideas off other people and prevent claims of bias results. However the more judges you include the more difficult it can be to co-ordinate judging and the more time it often takes to calculate the final winner.

From past contests there are several ways I can suggest in judging a contest:

• Every judge scores every entry out of 10. When all votes are in, the entry with the highest (or best average) score comes first, 2nd highest comes 2nd and so on. This method helps encourage fair judging as every judge has to take a close look at every entry. However it can result in a tie for first place and is best only done with a few entries as rating 40+ entries can take a while.
• Every judge ranks all of the entries in order from their favourite to their least favourite. Compare these against any other judge’s orders and come to a conclusion on the winner. This again encourages judges to take a close look at all entries which generally makes the results fairer but longer to announce. It also makes positions harder to calculate as you can't simply sum up or take an average of the values given by other judges.
• Every judge picks their top 5 entries and awards 5 points to 1st, 4 to 2nd and so on. All the scores are added and the highest score wins. This is a far better method for contests with a large number of entries.
• In contests with a large number of entries, you can reduce the number being judged by allowing every judge to pick their top 3-5 entries and excluding all others from the judging process. Then use one of the ranking or points systems above to narrow down the winners.
• dA Polls - post links or thumbs of the top 10 deviations in a poll and allow the public to vote on their own favourite. Set a deadline for the results and see which has the most votes by the end of the set period.

Personally I dislike using dA polls as a judging system. Not only are they open to fixing through use of multiple dA accounts but they also spoil the surprise of who has won before the winners are announced. It is also a bad idea to use them if you receive over 10 entries or are unwilling to pick the 10 best for a single poll. If you choose to use multiple polls, any deviation up against the best entry will have a disadvantage when it comes to winning second or third place, and comparing stats between polls will most likely yield unfair or inaccurate results.


It is always best to round things off well by making sure all lose ends are tied up when the contest is finished. The winners are best announced through the same methods you used to advertise the contest. e.g if the contest was launched in a journal, announce the winners also in a journal. This hopefully ensures that people who came across the contest when it was launched have a chance of finding the contest winners when they are announced. The results should always be posted in clear manner with a suitable title so people don’t miss them passing through their inboxes.

It can also be nice to feature a few other pieces by the deviants that win or offer a few words as to why they were chosen to win the contest. You can also link to the remaining entries or even feature art from people that were kind enough to offer prizes.

Once the results have been announced it is always good to give the contest winners a note to say congratulations and let them know what position they came in the contest. Not all contest entrants will watch your account or be able to spot the news article/journal in their message center, so it is often a good idea to contact them directly. You can also use this note to let them know how the prizes will be awarded and if they need to do anything to ease this process e.g contact a specific artist, add an item to their wishlist etc

It is also best to send a short and polite note to all prize donators to make them aware the contest has closed, the winners have been announced and the prizes now need donating. In the case of art requests it is best to encourage the winners and artist to get in contact directly and prevent yourself from being caught in the middle as the messenger.

Once all of this is done its time to kick back, relax and enjoy how the contest has gone. If things went badly then review the mistakes you made and learn where you need to improve next time round. If things went great then keep a note of why things went well so you can mimic the process in the future.

I hope some of this has been of use. Running a contest generally only takes time and common sense but a few changes can drastically affect how well it turns out. So before running a contest yourself, take the time to carefully plan it before jumping in.

If anyone has any advice they feel should be added this tutorial then feel free to pass it to me. But since this is a personal list of hints and tips, the final cut is down to me.

You can find all of my other tutorials on this page: [link]
Add a Comment:
PuppyinmypocketSmash Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I made a contest, everyone ignores it :'(

I have only one contestant...
Synfull Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2014
That's a shame :C
PuppyinmypocketSmash Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Anyway, I cancelled it :shrug:
kiiasuki Featured By Owner Sep 20, 2013
I'm hosting a contest and this helped! I hope its gonna succeed! 
Synfull Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2013
Fingers crossed :)
kiiasuki Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2013
BlackHawkNova Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Some very useful tips here. I have a contest planned for next summer...hopefully it should go well. Thanks! :)
Synfull Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012
Glad you find it helpful :)
DigitalPear Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Hobbyist Filmographer
Thanks Synfull! :happybounce: I'm actually in the process of starting up my emote group (:iconemoteheaven:) and I'm planning on it to be focused on the contests it holds. :nod: This helps a lot! Also, how do you suggest a daily deviantion? :?
Synfull Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012
Note the current emote CV (^ChaosEmeraldHunter) with a link to the deviation
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