An Interview with the Dream Foundry’s Art Contest Coordinator Dante Luiz

With the Dream Foundry Art Contest wrapping up soon, we asked contest coordinator Dante Luiz a few questions about the art contest, illustration, and the experience it fosters.


Dante Luiz is an illustrator and occasional writer from southern Brazil. He is one of the two Art Directors for Strange Horizons, and his first graphic novel was published in 2020 by comiXology Originals ("CREMA", written by Johnnie Christmas).


Illustration work tends to be different than other kinds of art. While the fundamentals are the same, what do you find translates from less illustrative art education to illustration? What doesn’t translate over? Do you find there are specific challenges to illustrating SF/F? 

It's hard to capture the entire mood and feeling of a story, I think it's what makes illustration so difficult. You really have to vibe with the story, you really have to get to pass the right tone. When I'm choosing artists for Strange Horizons, for example, I see it like matchmaking. The art has be in the same tune with the story, and the same goes for artist and writer. Additionally, in SFF, sometimes it can be difficult to portray the speculative element. Right now, especially, there are a lot of stories out there that are character-centric and inwards, and the artist might find that the right "feeling" does not show the magic or science, and finding a balance takes work. You have to push yourself out of the obvious to showcase both.


Portfolio evaluations are a big part of finding a career in illustration and animation. Can you tell us a little about the selection process for the contest? What are you looking for in submissions? What constitutes a strong body of work versus one or two stand-out pieces in a portfolio? 

Consistency is key. I think every artist has that one work that we did on a whim that just feels better than the rest of our work, but a general sense that the person knows what they're doing and then can do it more than once is what I generally look for. Also a sense of style, cleanliness, knowing how to do more than one thing (nothing kills a portfolio for me more than no backgrounds, or just busts with characters facing left, etc).


Do you have any advice on how to pull together a portfolio, whether for this contest or for job applications? 

Put up only recent, complete works. When I'm hunting for news artists, I often find myself bored if the portfolio archive is too long, or lists too many older works. 6-12 pieces seems to be the sweet spot for art, along with consistency. Less = better, only complete works = better. Sketches, works in progress and such are great for social media, but it's not what people are looking for in a portfolio.


What sorts of opportunities did you see or wish you had when starting your illustration career? How do you see the Dream Foundry Art Contest benefitting beginning- or early-career artists? 

When I was starting out, I felt like resources were being "hoarded" by those who already had access to them, and those resources were not made public, but it turns out I also didn't know how to search for those resources. It's very important to put yourself out there, send your work to magazines, find calls for submission, and not rely only on social media. The Dream Foundry Art Contest can give a beginning artist this initial push, and gives credibility and visibility for future works as well.


Artists are finding community through social media, especially through prompt challenges and theme showcases. How do you feel the art contest fitting into this ecosystem? 

Social media is great for showcase, but artists are also battling against the algorithm to be seen. People with less following tend to be less noticed, and a contest gives everyone a fairer chance to be seen!

Dream Foundry's Free-Fall Challenge

Fall has arrived for those of us in the northern hemisphere and the second month of the global phenomena of using October and November as creative "make a thing" months. Here at the Dream Foundry, we brainstormed ideas on how to pull together an event to encompass creatives of all kinds, forming a community space to encourage attaining goals, fostering skills, and honing craft.

Starting November 1, the Dream Foundry presents The Free-Fall November Challenge: prepare to stretch your creative muscles, set goals, leap into new feats, and cheer each other on!

The goal of the challenge is to foster skills that will help you translate your current workflow into something sustainable as you learn your limits, expand your boundaries, build endurance, and how to work without burning yourself out. Build a plan! Set goals! Make a schedule! And cheer each other on! And if you don't succeed, that's okay too! In fact, failing is also a valuable learning experience and we're here to help guide you through it.

You're writing a novel this November? Or maybe a series of short stories? Awesome. This is for you. You're thinking of making a new interactive fiction game? Good! This is for you, too. Want to stretch your drawing practice or try a new medium for a month? This challenge is all yours. Want to translate a poem a day, or write the scripts for your next SFF podcast? Jump right in! Whatever your project is, if you’re dedicating the month to doing something bigger than you ever have before, the Free-Fall November challenge is for you.

We're running the challenge through our Discord server, complete with a whole new channel for co-working, tips, and encouragement.

How it works!

  • The Dream Foundry is providing space for co-working, accountability, and scheduling help. 
  • Come over to our Discord server and find the #free-fall-challenge channel. 
  • Let us know what your plans and goals are - and if you’re not sure how to set goals that are the right level of challenging, we’ll help you out! 
  • When you have your plan ready, you can sign-up here. If you want to join the official co-working sessions, you’ll need to sign up.  
  • You can also share your progress and join in on twitter with the hashtag #freefallchallenge.  
  • And if you stumble along the way? We’ll help you recover, with some cheerleading from the other folks working on their own challenges. 

Sign up here!

Preparations for your jump can start now! Drop in, get hyped, and prepare to make November a challenge that gives you life!

The official launch of our Free-Fall Challenge will take place here in our virtual co-working space November 1st. Details and invites will be sent to those who have signed up using our form. We look forward to seeing everyone there!

An Interview with the Dream Foundry's Writing Contest Coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera

In light of the Dream Foundry’s Writing Contest opening submissions, we asked writing contest coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera a few questions about the contest and what these sorts of opportunities mean for emerging writers.


Can you tell us a bit about the process of reading and evaluating submissions? How does it differ – if at all – from reading slush for a magazine?

It’s really quite similar! All submissions are read and responded to; a shortlisted selection will be discussed further, and final selections will be made out of that.

How do contests and open submissions drive the creation of encouraging environments for emerging writers?

Effectively, or so I hope. Writers need opportunities to be paid and recognized for their work; writers at the beginning of their career, especially, need more opportunities that aren’t predatory or exploitative like the Church of Scientology's Writers of the Future contest; or foreclosed by restrictive eligibility criteria or entry fees like many prestigious literary fiction magazines and contests; or walled off into invitation-only prestigious genre publications.

Professional development spaces for emerging writers are not necessarily easily accessible to those who need it most. How do you see opportunities like the Dream Foundry’s writing contest fitting into the professional development of new and upcoming writers?

I think nine-tenths of “professional development” for a short story writer at the beginning of their career is learning how to make their own practice effective. This means figuring out what they want to write about and what they’re good at writing, and writing more stories where they do those things, ideally at the same time. Sometimes it's just that a contest gives you a clearly defined set of constraints to work within, which can be very productive. Sometimes it's good to hang out in a discord with a bunch of other people who are trying to solve the same problems you are—so you can commiserate and share experiences and animal pictures, if you're into that sort of thing, and even if not, these are good spaces to eventually share knowledge about the industry, too.

Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can get the most out of participating in the writing contest?

One of the most difficult hurdles in a writer's entire career, in a rather cruel irony, is the very first one: submitting your work for consideration in a contest or for publication. I think most of us struggle with it in the early going. It takes practice for it to stop feeling like a huge leap of faith every time—it never stops being a leap of faith, but you do get used to the jump. So if you're a writer eligible for the contest who wants to participate but is already stressing about whether you can even write something for it, you're exactly the person this thing is for.

What kind of experience do you believe transfers from the writing contest to publishing at large? What can emerging writers learn from this process?

If you want to write and publish, then you have to write and submit work as much as you can. This may sound like a mere tautology, or maybe too simple to require saying out loud, but it's neither of those things in real life. Properly connecting the back half of that sentence to the front half can be the work of years, but what matters is that you get started—and when it falls apart, that you get started again.


Interested in joining a community of other writers participating in the contest? Come join our Discord server ( where you can discuss writing and ask for help in #writer-chat, ask for and receive feedback in #find-crit-beta, discuss industry goings-on in #industry-chat, or just come update us on your story progress in #am-working!

Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Interview with Flights of Foundry Guest of Honor Ken Liu

In case you don't know, we're hosting a virtual convention this weekend, May 16th and 17th, called Flights of Foundry. We've got a ton of great content lined up that will be going almost 24 hours a day, including panels, interviews, seminars, workshops, and more. If you want to check out our schedule, go here. And when you decide you absolutely have to attend, you can register for the con using this link.

We have a plethora of Guests of Honor that we've invited to attend the convention to give you insight into the world of professional writers, artists, translators, and editors in the speculative genres. And today we have a special treat, because one of our Guests of Honor, Ken Liu, is here to do an interview in advance of his appearance!

Read more

Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to:
For more information about the convention:
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website:

OMEC Returns!

Are you ready for six months of incisive, multi-media discussion? The OMEC is back and coming to an internet near you. The theme for this cycle is “vulnerability” and we’ve got six discussion leaders lined up and ready to guide us through all of the theme, craft, and mechanics talk you can stand. Check out the schedule below for the dates, leaders, and the works we will be examining.


Illustration, Rhea Ewing: April 13 - May 10

Podcasts, Christian Kelley-Madera: May 11 - June 14

Film/TV, TJ Berry: June 15 - July 12

Comics, Christopher Eric: July 13 - August 9

Prose, Edward A. Hall : August 10 - September 13

  • TBD

Games, N. Theodoridou: September 14 - October 11

  • TAKE by Katherine Morayati


Don’t feel like you have to wait to start on the OMEC fun. The discussion thread is up and ready for your thoughts, progress reports, and chat.


Welcoming New Additions to Dream Foundry

The Dream Foundry would like to welcome Alexei Collier and Jordan Scism to Dream Foundry.

Jordan Scism will be joining Dream Foundry as the Community Manager in the Arts. Jordan will create events on the forums that focus on developing the forums as a useful space for beginning artists.

About her new position, Jordan says, “Each day awakens in me a desire to share the dark joy I found when, at six years old, I stumbled upon an illustrated copy of the complete literary works of Poe. What I found inside, the spooky tales of terror married with the queer illustrations of Harry Clarke, filled me with a lifelong delight in the horrific and the mysterious, the wondrous and the speculative. I've always striven to bring that same love and joy to my own illustrations and creative content and it excites me to be able to do so as part of the great team we have here at the Dream Foundry.”

Alexei Collier will be joining the content management team. As our new dedicated arts editor, Alex will be responsible for developing and editing art content on a monthly basis. Expanding the content management team to include an arts editor will allow us to continue to feature content from a variety of disciplines within the speculative arts community.

If you are an artist or illustrator interested in having your work featured or paying it back to a small but growing community of nascent creators who work in visual mediums, please reach out to us with your bio and samples of your work—that, or a link to website where your work is featured. The Dream Foundry specifically requests and seeks out work from marginalized groups—whether they’re creators of color, creators with a historically marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity, or from a nontraditional socioeconomic background or age bracket. If in doubt, contact us—we want to hear from you!

On a personal note—I’m particularly excited to welcome Alex as our arts editor because he’s a friend and we shared a writing group for a few years. Alex would regularly assemble visual writing prompts for the group, and his interest in art and art culture expresses itself in his written work. It’s going to be fun to work alongside him, and I’m grateful for his generosity in giving his time!

For his part, Alex says: "I'm delighted to be joining such an amazing team doing great work! Art and spec fic have both been lifelong companions for me. Growing up, my parents' bookshelves were filled with sci-fi and fantasy classics. I also went to a very unusual school (in a creepy old mansion) where they actually encouraged art and artistic expression. While I abandoned any aspirations of a career (or even a hobby) as a visual artist, I kept my love of art -- and of SFF. As a writer, I've long been tempted by the dark side, er, the editorial side of things, and I'm excited for this opportunity to contribute to the Dream Foundry!"

2019 Retrospective

As we head into 2020, we thought it might be fun to look back at 2019 and some of the things the Dream Foundry accomplished, with a little bit of looking forward to what we hope to do in the new year, too!


Our first official Kickstarter was ambitious, aiming to fund our programming for the year with lots of stretch goals, including an early run of the contest. We reached our goal and then some, and made sure to put that money to good use! Details on many of those things are in the following sections. We're very grateful to everyone who donated, pledged, boosted, and supported the Kickstarter.

We will be running another Kickstarter in the spring of 2020, so be on the lookout for that and expect lots of nifty loot to be available.

Official Media Exploration Club (OMEC)

One of our first major programming initiatives involved professionals from many areas coming together to discuss the theme of Found Family across different works and mediums on our forums. During the course of the OMEC, we analyzed the first two episodes of Firefly, Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, the entirety of Dragon Age: Inquisition, episode 11 of the podcast The Voice of Free Planet X, and volume 1 of the manga The Girl from the Other Side. Looking at a theme across works in different mediums allowed us to dive in depth into the craft elements of each story, and our industry professionals aided and guided the discussion. We had some great conversations—which you're welcome to contribute to, even now, on our forums. Our president, Jessica Eanes, had some thoughts on this first program and the lessons we learned, and shared them on our blog here.

We'll be running another iteration of this program in 2020, and we hope you'll drop by the forums to meet the professionals, engage in good conversations, and analyze craft elements across different works.

Blog Content and Website Revamp

Our website got a new look in 2019, putting our awesome content front and center. We've had interviews, roundtables, industry news, articles focusing on the business of art, game design, podcasting, writing, and more.

In 2020 we'll be looking for even more articles, interviews, and industry news. We're going to continue providing content across the speculative arts. If you have an article you'd like to pitch to us, please get in touch with We’re particularly interested in topics relevant to art, gaming, and the pragmatics of the business.

Contest and Winners!

We ran our very first iteration of our contest for writers and artists in the fall of 2019. We had nearly 400 entries wrangled by contest coordinators William Ledbetter and Sara Felix. We're very grateful to all of our volunteer readers and our judges: Charles Coleman Finlay, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Lisa Rodgers, agent at JABberwocky, served as judges on the writing side. On the illustration side of things, artist Rachel Quinlan was our judge.

And we're happy to honor our contest winners!

1st: Jamie Adams
2nd: Claire Whitmore
3rd: Rose Wachowski
Honorable Mention: Lynne Sargent

And art:
1st: Alison Johnstun
2nd: Christine Rhee
3rd: Lauren Blake
Honorable Mentions: Zara Alfonso, Emily Leung, James Russell

First place winners from both contests received $500 each, and all winners received critiques from professionals in their fields. Running a version of the contest this year was a stretch for us in many ways—we ran ahead of our timelines, but we did it for many reasons. We talked about those decisions in this blog post.

In 2020 we’re going to do it again!! We have plans to make it bigger and more awesome, but a lot of that will depend on how fundraising works out. We’re already lining things up, so stay tuned to hear about our plans and how you can help us make them happen.


In 2019 the Dream Foundry officially put in an appearance at ConFusion, WisCon, ReaderCon, GenCon, ArchCon, DragonCon, and WorldCon.

Would you like to see us in 2020? Is there a con you definitely think we should check out? Please let us know!

Board Expansion

We are slowly but surely growing our board, and added two more members in 2019. Both new board members are also volunteers with the organization who have been with us from the beginning. Coral Moore, who doubles as our social media manager, and Evergreen Lee, our treasurer, are welcome new additions to the board.

In the coming year, we hope to expand the board even further and move the organization out of the start-up phase. If you'd like to know more about the behind-the-scenes management of the Dream Foundry and are considering volunteering, please get in touch with

Fall Auction and Merch Sale

We ran our second annual fall auction in October of 2019. With goodies all over the spectrum, from hand-carved wooden trains to signed ARCs and art prints, there was a wide variety for bidders to choose from. We also added a merchandise sale on our website, selling T-shirts, bookmarks, and enamel space dragon pins for a limited time. The fall auction was a success, and helped offset our operating costs.

Patreon Overhaul

Last year we made it easier than ever to support the Dream Foundry and simplified our Patreon, with new support levels and pretty new graphics. There are two ways to help the Dream Foundry now: becoming a $2/month Space Dragon Support or a $5/month Space Dragon Pillar. Each one of these allows us to do incredible things and ongoing funds from Patreon help us to publish more articles, run more programming on the forums, and do more for our contest winners. Pledging at the $5 level gets you a yearly gift of physical loot, too, in addition to extra bonus content. We're very proud of the new Patreon and hope you'll check it out.

And Now, The Future!

We're working toward offering many exciting things in the coming year! We'll be doing short in-person workshops on craft and business and retreats to get more in depth. On the forums, we'll have ongoing challenges and accountability groups, so you might want to sign up now if you haven't already. We've also got plans to offer a set of standardized contracts and documents to help support translators.

If you'd like to keep up with the Dream Foundry on a regular basis, consider signing up for our newsletter. It comes out monthly, with the occasional special news issue, and there are always cute cat pictures included.

Contest Finals and Winners

The finalists for the Art Contest are:

  • Zara Alfonso
  • Deanna Bach
  • Lauren Blake
  • Kae Hunter
  • Alison Johnstun
  • Emily Leung
  • Greer Nielsen
  • Christine Rhee
  • James Russell
  • Abbi Schellhase

The finalists for the Writing Contest are:

  • S Rain Lawrence
  • Douglas Wu
  • Steven Berger
  • Jamie Adams
  • Sam Tovey
  • Tiffany Smith
  • Andrew J. Savage
  • Rose Wachowski
  • Samantha Lynne Sargent
  • Claire Whitmore

And the winners are:


  1. Alison Johnstun
  2. Christine Rhee
  3. Lauren Blake

Honorable Mentions: Zara Alfonso, Emily Leung, James Russell


  1. Jamie Adams
  2. Claire Whitmore
  3. Rose Wachowski

Honorable Mention: Lynne Sargent

First place winners from both contests win $500, and all winners are getting critiques from professionals in their fields.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners!

Writing Contest Finalists!

We wrangled and we read and we processed over 300 entries. It was hard, but we got the list down to ten finalists, and here they are!

  • S Rain Lawrence - Minnesota
  • Douglas Wu - Connecticut
  • Steven Berger - Texas
  • Jamie Adams - Minnesota
  • Sam Tovey, United Kingdom
  • Tiffany Smith - Texas
  • Andrew J. Savage - Japan
  • Rose Wachowski - Virginia
  • Samantha Lynne Sargent - Canada
  • Claire Whitmore, Madison - Wisconsin

Stay tuned for the finalists from the art contests. Winners of both will be announced on November 15.

While you wait, make sure to check out our fall fundraising activity. Your donations and support during this time are how we'll keep our programming going, fund future contests, and bring you exciting new things! Browse our auction, swing by our merch sale, back us on Patreon, or give a direct donation via Paypal.