The challenge rules as they currently are have been decided upon after extensive discussions on the forum. Their main purpose is both to prevent cheating and to encourage the participants and other forumites to provide feedback on each other's images.
Monthly challenges generally have a theme that can be interpreted in many different ways. A moderator will choose someone from the participants of one month, to set the challenge for next month. Moderators set up and tally up the votes.
Weekly challenges have stricter themes more resembling commission briefs. Moderators will set the challenge as well as the vote. Forumites can suggest weekly briefs in the Weekly concept Challenge - Theme suggestions thread.
Apart from the monthly and weekly challenges there may, or may not, be other challenges. These other challenges may use a different set of rules.
WIP & Finals thread
Please note that there are two challenge threads for each challenge. In the WIP thread you post your Works In Progress along with feedback & criticism of other's work as well as general chit chat and questions. See the next post if you are unsure how to post images correctly.
In the finals thread you have to post your final image (well, duh) and also at least two links to your WIP's in the WIP thread. These should link to the posts with your images in them, not to the images themselves and definitely not to a website outside of the forum. You find the post url by right-clicking the left-hand number in the upper right corner of a post ("### in reply to…") and choosing "copy shortcut". Please check your links to make sure they work and are directed at the correct posts. (See below for a post on how to post links, if you have problems with that.)
Try to refrain from posting comments and questions in the finals thread until the vote is over. Feedback on the entries is appreciated, though, but keep it to one post and preferably with your votes.
You can post any number of WIP's in the WIP thread as long as you can link to two different ones in your finals thread. The WIP's linked to in the finals thread should represent different stages in your work process, for instance a sketch and a finished line drawing or a colour wash. If you change direction mid-challenge you are allowed to link to the early WIPs, but they won't count among the two necessary links.
Recommended image sizes are <1000 pixels and < than 500kb. Please keep in mind that other forumites may have slower internet connections than you do (or smaller screens). Attached images may be resized by the browser - you can then click on the image to open it in a new window, to view it full size. One way to reduce the size is to make sure your WIP image is only 72 ppi. In Photoshop you can use the "Save for web" function (which also prevents you from accidentally saving over your original).
All work must of course be your own. Derivate works are not allowed (unless expressly stated in the challenge brief). The work should also be produced within the time frame of the challenge. You may not enter artwork you did last month or last year, no matter how well it suits the current theme, but you can always paint a new version of an old work. (It's a good idea to be open about it if you do, e.g. by posting the original image in the WIP thread, as well.)
This is usually given in GMT which is UK time. Since it is usually midnight, a moderator might not have the opportunity to check all entries and prepare for the voting until the day after, but the time itself still applies! You can check your timezone here, if you are uncertain: http://www.timezonecheck.com/
Remember that both your wip images and your final image should be posted in time! Up until the deadline, a posted final image can be replaced. After deadline this is not allowed - and remember the moderators can check what edits you've done.
Every member of the forum is allowed to vote in the challenges, regardless of whether they have participated themselves. Each member is allowed to vote ONCE, but we do vote for three images. Your no. 1 vote gets 3 points, your 2nd gets 2 points, your 3rd gets 1 point. A moderator will tally up all the points and announce a winner. If two entries tie for first place, the one who reached the top score first will be announced the winner.
Moderators reserve the right to not count any "suspicious votes", e.g. if it is suspected that someone signs up with several accounts to vote for themselves, or a friend.
Well, you shouldn't cheat. But some people still try to. Perhaps because they don't have a thorough understanding of copyright rules or because they just like to win. Some people might cheat to get in the magazine. It should be mentioned that the IFX team never promised to publish all challenge entries and they may opt to not publish an entry if they have reason to suspect foul play.
Links to older info & discussions on challenges
Challenge Rule Update - Older post (followed by lengthy discussion) on challenge rules, from when most of the current rules were set in place
Proposed change to the forum challenge system - older discussion thread were the current theme setup was decided on
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