Art Contest 2020

illustration, National Fossil Day stamp with postmark

About the Contest

The National Park Service and National Fossil Day partners are sponsoring an art contest to celebrate the 11th annual National Fossil Day. The 2020 National Fossil Day celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, October 14, 2020, during Earth Science Week. The theme for this year's art contest is: “Life of the Paleozoic Oceans!" For this theme we would like contest participants depict aquatic organisms from the Paleozoic oceans, particularly those found in the United States of America. The Paleozoic era (541 to 250 million years ago) was the earliest of the three geologic eras with diverse life, and is subdivided into six geologic periods: the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian. The 2020 National Fossil Day logo features a wide variety of sea creatures that formed and lived within a 270 million year old Permian Reef from Glass Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains of Texas and New Mexico.

Please see below for contest guidelines.

Click here to download the art contest entry form.

Contest Guidelines

Who can enter?
The contest is open to any interested person, of all ages. Entries will be judged based on originality, creativity, and how well the submission addresses this year’s contest theme. You must be a resident of the United States to enter.

What should my artwork include?
Your artwork should focus on the art contest theme “Life of the Paleozoic Oceans,” and include some aquatic organism from the Paleozoic period. Art focusing on Land animals from the Paleozoic period or any animal from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic will not be considered for judging for the art contest.

The Paleozoic Era is a large expanse of time! Many amazing aquatic creatures evolved and lived during this chunk of time, giving artist a variety of subjects to choose from. For example, during the Cambrian period, the diversity of life exploded, especially with invertebrate animals, many of which were weird and wonderful. Creatures such as trilobites were some of the first arthropods to evolve and they lived well to the end of the Paleozoic. Arthropod-like animals such as Anomalocaris and Opabinia looked like invading aliens from another world, but are from this planet 540 million years ago and were some of the earliest predators. The Ordovician and Silurian saw massive arthropods called Eurypterids (“sea scorpions”) that lived in the shallow seas and the early rivers of our planet and hunted trilobites and early fish.

Other invertebrates that flourished in the Paleozoic were the cephalopods (squids and relatives) which many evolved elaborate shells. Some, like Cooperoceras (featured in this year’s logo) had elaborate spines on its coiled shell, while others like the giant Cameroceras, had a straight shell but reached the length of a school bus!

The Paleozoic is also sometimes called the age of fishes, the first group of back-boned animals, which first appeared during the Cambrian period. These include a group called the agnathans or “jawless fishes” which include todays living lampreys and hagfish but were very diverse during the early Paleozoic with some, like the heterostracans, looked like darts with fish tails. There were also Placoderms, the first jawed fishes, which include the giant Dunkleosteous that had a powerful crushing bite! Sharks also first appeared during the Paleozoic with some very weird species evolving during the Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian. Some sharks like the ctenacanths, were the first sharks to reach large size. Other sharks, like the xenacanths, were the first sharks to live in fresh water. Sharks like Helicoprion even had a single buzz-saw like tooth in its lower jaw to cut up prey! The first boney fish evolved during the Silurian and diversified during the Devonian which include some types still alive today like lungfish and coelacanths.

Lastly, the first tetrapods (vertebrate animals with four limbs) first evolved in aquatic habitats and had to spend most of their lives in water. These include creatures such as rhizodonts that were giant freshwater predators and the first amphibian-like fishes that evolved traits to move close to shore such as Tiktaalik, Ichthyostega, and Acanthostega.

The artwork can be in the form of a photograph (black & white or color), a painting, a drawing, or a sketch. All artwork must be 2D and flat.

Questions to help you get started...
What are some of the most unusual aquatic creatures of the Paleozoic? Where do these Paleozoic aquatic creatures live? Did they live in deep ocean waters, along shallow coast-lines, up river channels, or in ancient lakes? What environments did they live in? What is your favorite fossil sites and do they include aquatic Paleozoic fossils? How are fossils preserved? What do Paleozoic fossils look like?

How large should the artwork be?
All artwork should be able to fit inside a 13"x 17" envelope or smaller.

What do I need to submit?
A valid submission will contain the following information:


1. An original copy of the artwork. Each piece must be original, authentic, unpublished, the sole property of the entrant, and not previously submitted in any other contest. Make sure to include a sentence or two on your submission form describing your artwork.

2. Your personal information, printed on either the back of your artwork or on a separate sheet attached to your artwork:

First and last name:

Mailing address:

Phone number:

E-mail address:


3. A completed and signed entry form. Print out the entry form here and send it to us when you send your artwork. Entries cannot be accepted without a signed entry form.


How should I submit my artwork and entry form?
Artwork must be sent by mail, along with your contact information.

Important: You must have a signed and completed entry form (if under 18, a parent or guardian must sign) to enter.

Entry forms may be submitted by mail along with your artwork. All mailed entry forms must be sent to:

National Fossil Day 2020 Art Contest
Vincent L. Santucci
Paleontology Program Coordinator
National Park Service
Geologic Resources Division
1849 C Street, NW (Room 2644)
Mail Stop - 2647
Washington, DC 20240


When is the deadline?
All submissions must be received by mail by 5 p.m. EST, Friday, October 2nd, 2020.

How will the artwork be judged?
The artwork will be judged by a panel on originality, creativity, quality and, most importantly, relevance to the topic. Four top entries in each age group will be selected including 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place and Honorable Mention. The age groups are:

8 years old and under

9 to 13 years of age

14 to 18 years of age

18 and older

The winner's artwork will appear on the National Fossil Day Art Contest Winners Gallery starting on October 14th, 2020. Check the National Fossil Day website to see if your artwork has been selected!

Disclaimer: By submitting an entry, an entrant agrees to allow the National Park Service to use his or her name to post on the NPS's National Fossil Day Web site, without compensation unless prohibited. All entries and all rights of ownership in and to the entries, including all rights to use, reproduce, publish, modify, edit, and distribute the same will become the exclusive property of NPS and will not be returned. NPS reserves the right to edit, modify, copyright, publish, use, and reproduce any and all entries without further compensation. The National Park Service, its agents and contractor, are not responsible for lost, late, misdirected, incomplete, or postage-due entries. Contest void where prohibited or restricted by law.

Last updated: February 26, 2020