$20K Jigsaw Jam

Would it be awesome to have your illustration produced on a jigsaw puzzle? Yes, please!

True South Puzzle Company will offer a $2,000 puzzle artwork commission to TEN illustrators from THEY DRAW!

Due Date: June 12, 2022

Get a headstart with this FREE 90-minute brainstorm / info session with Nate & Salli. Watch the video!

See the mood boards that have sent in so far!


This illustration challenge seeks to expose the creative process and reveal the conceptual development—the research, the sketch, the preparation—that goes into a successful illustration. A great illustration doesn't just happen. A lot of work and thought goes into it before the paint hits the paper—or the pixel hits the program!

In this challenge we are not asking participants to create a fully finished illustration. We only want to see a "mood board"—also known as a "planning sheet" or "concept pitch."



Pitch a MOOD BOARD for a jigsaw puzzle illustration that is SITE-SPECIFIC, has a UNIQUE THEME, and generates MASS APPEAL.

What does SITE-SPECIFIC mean?

✔ Your illustration idea should focus on the world, a country, a region, or a major city.
✔ It could be an actual map like this one or a site-specific infographic like this one or a site-specific rendering like this one.
✔ Do your research. Take a look at the jigsaw puzzles produced by True South.

What does UNIQUE THEME mean?

✔ Your illustration idea should have a particular focus that people can relate to or connect with.
✔ The theme should celebrate the physical place represented in your illustration idea.
✔ The theme could be very general or very specific, but certainly easy to grasp at a glance.

What does MASS APPEAL mean?

✔ Your illustration idea should be something that many people can relate to.
✔ Although a vast majority of True South's customers are US-based—this doesn't mean your illustration idea must be US-focused.
✔ Ask yourself: "Would I buy a puzzle with this illustration? Would many other people also buy it?"

What is a MOOD BOARD?

A mood board is a visual presentation or 'collage' consisting of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition, meant to evoke a larger concept or idea.

What elements must be included on the mood board?
✔ Title and short description
✔ List of possible points of interest (POI)
✔ Location reference (optional)
✔ Color palette
✔ Sketch (use the 18" x 24" puzzle size— portrait or landscape)
✔ Sample section, fully illustrated in your proposed style

How big is the mood board?
✔ The size should be 5000 pixels wide by 2500 pixels high at 72 dpi.
✔ If we share your mood board on Instagram, we will split this size into two squares.
✔ PRO-TIP: Put the good stuff on the left side!


Below are the mood boards that Nate & Salli created for this challenge. They are not allowed to win, but they like to play along anyway! 


✔ 10 Grand Prizes: Ten illustrators offered a $2,000 commission by True South Puzzle Company to create artwork for a jigsaw puzzle
✔ 5 Great Idea Prizes: Five illustrators awarded $100 for their really fun concept 


True South Puzzle Company
 was founded in 2013 by Susan Taylor in Nashville, Tennessee. With True South, Susan combined her love of jigsaw puzzles, her sense of wanderlust, and her passion for illustration. Her small, creative team shares the desire to showcase the work of independent artisans and feature treasured images of beloved places.

Nate & Salli have been fans of True South since day one. We respect their commitment to hiring independent illustrators and admire their dedication to small business owners.

True South is looking for 10 illustrators to create fresh map-themed/site-specific artwork for their 2023 product line! This could be the beginning of a beautiful client relationship. True South often hires the same illustrators repeatedly. Check out the impressive collections by Nate PadavickLucie RiceBetsy Beier, and Scott Schiller.

This is your chance to have your illustration published on a jigsaw puzzle!


Since Nate is a mapmaking pro and has produced many illustrations for True South, he is in a good position to facilitate a brainstorm session. Together, Nate & Salli considers the target market, the psyychology of jigsaw puzzling, and discusses best practices in map making. Watch this free 90-minute brainstorm / info session hosted by The Illustrator's Circle. Click here to watch the video


✔ Due Date: 11:59pm EST, Sunday, June 12, 2022
✔ Delivery: submit your mood board here
✔ File: 5000px wide x 2500px high, 72 dpi, RGB, JPG
✔ Content: all mood boards must follow the Creative Brief
✔ Age: Only persons 18+ years can win
✔ Originality: Your mood board must be your original work
✔ Entries: Yes, you may submit multiple mood boards!
✔ Keep in mind: Winners may be asked to create an entirely new concept or asked to re-work their sketch to fit a different puzzle size. 


Does it relate to many people?
Concept: Does it have an interesting story/theme?
Inspiration: Does it celebrate a specific location?
Accuracy: Is the content accurate?
Technique: Is it well-executed and engaging?
Typography: Is the type or hand-lettering legible?


✔ The busier, the better: lots of interesting imagery engages the puzzlers
 Fun content: each spot illustration is an opportunity for puzzlers to connect
✔ Play with scale: make little things big and big things little
✔ Niches: a specific theme is good, but don't make the niche too tight
✔ Permanent features: don't illustrate places that might go out of business
✔ Target Market: define your audience and pitch an idea that relates to them
✔ Avoid trademarks: companies like Coca-Cola are protective of their brand



Of course, many great examples can be seen on True South's website. There are also a lot of maps on THEY DRAW that are good examples of map (and map-like) illustrations that have a very strong theme. Here are just a few...

by David Douglass

Nate & Salli say...
We love the theme of this illustration. By focusing on "kid-friendly" sites within this classic national park, this illustration connects older and younger generations. The minimal color palette adds to the jigsaw challenge. To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend adding more iconography.

by Sarah Ferone 

Nate & Salli say...
The theme of this illustration is wonderfully specific—it celebrates a group of women who made music history. This illustration appeals to not only people who love Detroit, but music lovers everywhere. To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend expanding the theme to something nationwide.

by Alex Savakis

Nate & Salli say...
We appreciate the knowledge and research that went in to making this illustration. It reveals a super interesting visual history that few people have seen in its entirety. To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend adding more signs examples and placing them on a map of the US, with roads and major cities.

by Nate Padavick

Nate & Salli say...
We love all the active energy in this illustration. We know that lots of people buy jigsaw puzzles as family activities while on ski vacations! Even if you don't partake in winter sports, you gotta love all these fun characters and cute animals! To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend changing the color palette to blue to match the winter sports theme and to add more Colorado-specific iconography.

by Tommy the Explorer 

Nate & Salli say...
We love the postcard/stamp design technique. It meshes perfectly with the parks-and-museums theme. These institutions aren't going anywhere, so this illustration will never become outdated. To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend adding a lot more detail such as town names, highways, lakes, rivers and environmental details. In the jigsaw world, the busier, the better! Also, we recommend a colorful background—consumers place a higher perceived value on surfaces that have a colorful background, as opposed to a white background.

by Stefanie Hoffmann

Nate & Salli say...
This illustration is funny, very funny! It refers to actual sites and legendary cats. It appeals to cat-lovers everywhere, a large target market! To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, at least for THIS contest, we would recommend doing a version with a USA focus.

by Allison Strine

Nate & Salli say...
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a specific theme, but actually the theme is Texas! Most of the iconography refer to official state icons—the state bird, the state flower, etc. It truly celebrates the state! To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend adding a colorful background and adding more state-specific details, like famous historical sites and buildings.

by David Douglass

Nate & Salli say...
This is a brilliant and very fun theme! We imagine that if this was a jigsaw puzzle, the puzzlers would also use this illustration as a movie list! To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend expanding the region to appeal to more people and including movies that range from recent hits to old-timey classics.

by Lucía Gonzalez Venzano 

Nate & Salli say...
New York City is one of those cities that is a theme in and of itself! Lucía's illustration features major tourist attractions that many people have visited or maybe know about. Like the Texas map above, this illustration celebrates the city. To be a successful starting point for a jigsaw puzzle, we would recommend adding labels so puzzlers can identify and learn about each landmark. For example, not everyone knows that the Campbell's Soup can refers to the street on which Andy Warhol lived!

Good luck!