Becoming a Prizewinning Artist

Once you’ve mastered the techniques of artmaking, probably the toughest thing about art is getting others to see it. But your paintings aren’t doing you any good sitting in your studio. So how about entering them in juried exhibitions? It’s worth it even if you don’t win. For one, it gives you an idea of how your art stacks up to others’. For another, it can help you find a new audience for your art. Here are some tips to get started.

  • Have a professional photographer shoot slides of your art. If you must do it yourself, be sure to remove the film from the slide frame (once processed) and mask out any background items or visible portions of the mat and frame with silver Mylar tape. Place the tape on the “screen side” of the slide film. This focuses the jury’s attention on the artwork. Remount the slide in a new plastic slide mount, available at any photo shop. Don’t use paper slide mounts because they frequently jam in slide trays, which are typically used by show committees.
  • Always submit work that best reflects your own style and direction. If you can submit more than one slide, send works that best reflect your own style and direction. Don’t submit a variety of subjects and styles to show off your diversity. This usually shows your weak points and brings a quick rejection.
  • Don’t “paint for the juror”—that is, mimic his or her style. When entries even slightly resemble my works, I carefully scrutinize them. After all, that’s the way I paint and I think I do it reasonably well. But that doesn’t stop me from getting excited about photorealism, extremely loose, impressionistic works, unusual color combinations, or an unusual design of a familiar subject—all of which are vastly different in direction than my own artistic statements.
  • Never submit work you copied from someone else’s art or a published photograph. It’s neither professional nor legal.
  • Sell your strong works but retain the right to enter those works in competitions. Everyone wins with this situation: You get recognition and the buyer has a painting that could increase in value as a result of being exhibited in a national event—especially if the work receives an award.
  • Read the prospectus carefully. Some shows, such as Watercolor West and the Midwest Watercolor Society annuals, only permit transparent watercolor submissions, while most of the other leading national shows allow any water-based media to be used, including gouache, egg tempera and acrylic pigments. Pick the show where your work is applicable.
  • Don’t enter the same award-winning painting in every show in the country. Jurors review the various show catalogs and quickly take note of those “circulating winners.” They’ll simply think you haven’t done anything else of stature in the past two or three years and, thus, will probably pass on your well-traveled winner. Either be very prolific or enter fewer competitions.
  • Never enter the same painting in two shows occurring at the same time. If accepted in both, you’ve created a serious problem for yourself and the exhibit that doesn’t get the painting. As a result, the affected show will not invite you to submit in the future.
  • Maintain a thick skin. Don’t allow rejection notices to dull your sense of style or cause you to change your direction. The important national exhibitions certainly look the best on your resume because of the quality level and degree of competition.
  • Believe in your efforts! If you feel you have a great painting, but it gets rejected in one show, enter it in another event or wait a year and enter it again. Remember that if it’s a new juror, there’s a new opportunity.
  • Finally, remember that any exhibition can only be as good as the works entered. No juror or jury has the ability to select works that haven’t been submitted. Give each show your best effort and you’ll be rewarded.

Judi Betts is a painter, writer, instructor and juror. Her memberships include the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society and Federation of Canadian Artists. Her most recent book is Painting … a Quest Toward Xtraord!nary. Her most recent article in The Artist’s Magazine is “Sketches of Color,” March 2001.

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