A couple of months ago, I came across a contest to design canvas tote bags for the Strand bookstore in New York City. They had hired several different comic books artists (including Seth and Adrian Tomine) to do a new bag each year in the past. However, this year they had a contest to determine who would provide the art for their new bag. I thought the prizes were pretty cool, (hundreds of dollars worth of books from Fantagraphics, and Drawn and Quarterly, plus the exposure of your artwork on the bag) so I decided to enter. I noticed that Francoise Mouly, who is the art editor for the New Yorker, was one of the judges. I was hoping, to maybe get some opportunity, through some fluke, to possibly do work for her. Anyway, with all these possibilities, I decided to enter the contest.
These things are always a little tricky, because you don't know the personal taste or what might appeal to the judges in a contest like this. It could have something to do with what they ate that day or what kind of mood they were in. I tried to spread out my design style as much as possible, to give me the best chances.
The first design was an attempt to be clever around the idea of a bookworm. I pushed the whole retro feel with colors and iconic images. I thought it would look good as a strong graphic image and advertisement on the side of the bag.
The second one was more of a bouncy, cartoony, contemporary approach. Again I wanted this to be a strong, graphic, highly visible image when printed on the bag. I thought the idea of "What's your story?" was kind of funny with its double meaning.
The third design was meant to be more childlike in its execution. It's big, bold, and simple in it's shapes and form. I wanted it to be cute and heartwarming. I thought it was the most sentimental of all of the designs. I felt it kind of had a European feel to it.
So here's the good/bad news, there were over 800 entries into the contest. Out of that many participants, 2 of my designs were placed in the top 20. The first and second design made the cut. When I was informed that I had "won" they requested I provide them with hi-res versions of the art so they could use it in a slide show sponsored by the School of Visual Arts. They were also going to post the winners on line and some other stuff, which I don't remember. I told them I was going to pass, when I was asked why, I told them I entered the contest to win first place, which I hadn't, so why continue to be part of this. I don't want to sound like a sore loser, but really, what would the point have been? Who remembers runner-ups?
After looking over the designs, I don't think I would have done anything differently. You can never predict what is going to appeal to anyone. I think ultimately, you have to stay true to your own vision, and feel content that you did the best job you could. I'm actually okay with that.
Maybe next year...