After narrowly meeting the submission deadlines, senior Mohini Rye placed first and second with two pieces in her first art competition – the California State Fair Student Showcase (1600 Exposition Blvd).

Rye’s scratchboard piece, “Anxiety,” earned first place in the drawing category for class four, the oldest division (16- to 18-year-olds), and her chalk drawing, “Float,” placed second.

Even though Rye said she visits the student showcase every year she goes to the fair, she decided to submit artwork only this year after realizing she had never showcased her art outside of school.

However, the confusing submission process, with its numerous framing requirements and strict deadlines, proved much more complicated than she anticipated.

Although there were several possible categories to enter, Rye chose to submit two pieces in the drawing category and one in the painting category, as she had worked in those two categories the most and wanted to widen her chances of placing.

For submitting pieces to the drawing category, Rye easily picked out her favorites: a jellyfish chalk piece – “Float” – and a woman’s anxious face – “Anxiety” – drawn on scratchboard, an uncommon medium due to its inability to hide mistakes, according to AP Art teacher Andy Cunningham.

To draw on the scratchboard, artists use sharp metal tools to scrape away at the black coat in order to uncover the white material, a time-consuming technique.

Rye said “Anxiety” was her favorite piece because of the method.

“It’s a really painstaking process,” Rye said. “You have to understand that your brain needs to go into a different mode, because you’re not having a white piece of paper that you draw on with a black pen. It’s almost like an inverted process.”

Photo used by permission of Mohini Rye
“Anxiety” scratchboard drawing

Cunningham also favored “Anxiety” over the others.

“It is very expressive, and the tension and anxiety that comes through the image is finely portrayed in her exquisite touch and fine line work,” Cunningham said.   

This was only Rye’s second time using scratchboard.

“My first (scratchboard) piece was okay, but the second one that I did was just a huge improvement from the first, and I was pretty proud of that,” Rye said.

For her painting submission, Rye turned to her friends.

“I ended up looking over all my watercolor pieces I had done, and I pretty much forced all my friends to choose their favorite,” Rye said. “Then I went off of that, and they all ended up favoring the same one.”

Rye said she submitted her pieces for consideration the day of the May 1 deadline because she was swamped with work from APs.

Then came the “really big” waiting period of 24 days. Intimidated by her memory of incredible pieces she had seen at past showcases, Rye said she tried to Google past winners and artworks – but to no avail.

Once the agonizing wait was over, Rye found out that her scratchboard and chalk pieces passed the preliminary judging process, but her watercolor painting, “The Vanishing Path,” was rejected.

“(My friends) were really, really surprised when they found that out,” Rye said.

“Apparently, it was a lot of people’s favorite piece of all three that I submitted. So that was kind of weird.”

Judges revealed only whether they accepted or rejected pieces without giving artists any feedback.

“I knew what they were judging by – composition, originality, presentation and technical quality – but I can only guess what they actually thought about my artwork,” Rye said.

Photo used by permission of Mohini Rye
“The Vanishing Path” watercolor painting

Cunningham said that the watercolor was a quality technical piece but “lacked the punch of the scratchboard’s emotion,” which could have factored into its rejection.

“But there are many unknown reasons artists don’t get accepted into shows,” Cunningham said.

“Skills, content, weather, traffic, who knows?  Rejection from shows is part of the game. You have to be in it to play.”

For the final judging, artists turned in their pieces – adhering to the requirements for framing and presentation – on June 9.

“I hadn’t even really looked at the requirements for framing and presentation (yet), and by the time results came around (on May 25), I didn’t have much time to get everything ready,” Rye said.

According to Rye, the main requirement for presentation is that the art needs a backing to put on the wall, such as a frame or mat.

If there isn’t a type of frame or hook on the piece, nails will be put in the corners of the art in order to hang it, she said. Glass normally goes with a frame, but since glass wasn’t allowed – most probably due to its fragility – she had to use plexiglass.

“One of my pieces was already framed by Mr. Cunningham, but it needed plexiglass, and the other piece still had no frame or anything,” Rye said.

Rye said she put plexiglass in the framed piece but didn’t get around to framing the other piece until a few days before the deadline. Because of cost and time constraints, she said that she didn’t expect to buy custom framing.

“But the guy I talked to at Michaels (Stores) said it was completely doable to get a frame right off the floor and have the art ready for pickup on deadline day,” Rye said.

“He was too nice about it – I should have known something would go wrong. I stressed the time it needed to be done by and the importance of meeting that deadline, but whoopdeedoo, on June 9, I went to the store and discovered he hadn’t even started to frame it!

“That was a nightmare, and I actually felt like I was going to pass out. If you miss the deadline, it’s instant disqualification.”

Another employee assisted Rye, but by that time she could only put the art on a mat, forgoing the framing and protective plexiglass.

“Now I’m just praying no one spits on my art or something while it’s up,” Rye said.

Although she said the Michaels employee did save her money, she was especially disappointed because presentation is also judged.

“Hopefully that whole fiasco didn’t end up costing me points, but I’ll never know for sure,” Rye said. “It was mostly my own fault anyway for cutting it so close.”

Despite feeling nervous about competing in the oldest age group, Rye said she felt pretty good.

“I wasn’t expecting anything higher than first place (such as “Best in Show”) because I was up against older people who probably spent more time prepping their art than I did,” Rye said.

Multiple entries may earn the same placement in each category, but there are also the “Best of Class,” “Best of Division” and “Best of Show” awards with only one recipient per applicable group.

In Rye’s division, nine drawings placed first and 11 placed second.

Photo used by permission of Mohini Rye
“Float” chalk drawing

Although she doesn’t know why several pieces place the same, Rye said she assumes it’s because of the volume of participants and because multiple students reach the standard for each placement.  

First-place-and-under winners receive ribbons, and the “Best of” award recipients receive rosettes. Additionally, the “Best of Division” recipients win $50, and the “Best of Show” winner takes home $100 and the Golden Bear Trophy.

“My sister (sophomore Sarina Rye) was not impressed when she found out (that I got only a ribbon); I think her exact wording was ‘lame,’ but I’m still happy,” Rye said.

“It’s like a physical reminder of accomplishment.”

Rye’s drawings will be shown throughout the state fair, July 13-29, and she said she plans on going to the fair and showcase with friends.

“I’ve never seen my art hung up anywhere, so I’m excited,” Rye said. “And (my friends) are excited for me too, so I’m sure they’ll want to go check it out.

“Even if they don’t want to, I’ll still make them go. That’s friendship, right?”

Rye said that she has been contemplating entering another art competition but that it’s difficult to find one for her age group and without a large entry fee – the state fair fee was only $9.

After her experience, Rye said she encourages others to participate in the student showcase.

“I think it’s a great local opportunity to showcase your art, especially if you’ve never done a competition or anything before,” Rye said.

“My number one advice would be to pay attention to deadlines and the rules; I cut it very close for every deadline.”

She added that she wished she had showcased her art sooner, especially because now she is in the oldest category.

“Those kinds of people are the ones who have been seriously working on their art without distraction, and while I’d like to do that, I was too busy this year,” Rye said.

“I’m just glad I finally put (my art) out there after so many years of looking at other people’s art up on the wall and saying, ‘Hey, I could do that!’”

—By Larkin Barnard-Bahn