Have you ever passed up an opportunity to show your work in a juried art show? I’m sure most of us have had those days where we feel our work isn’t good enough to stand next to the artist we follow on Instagram or Facebook. But, I’m here to tell you that if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
Last year, 2018, I finally decided it was now or never and entered my first juried art show outside of my academic institution. It was terrifying and very intimidating. I had so many questions and uncertainties that I felt so overwhelmed, I almost didn’t enter my work. But, fortunately, I pushed through the fear and anxiety and entered the pool.
Sure, a million questions ran through my head like, Which piece should I enter? Should I make something new? Will it matter that I’m a student and not a “professional?” What makes me think my work is good enough? What if I don’t get accepted? What if I DO get accepted? These kinds of questions ran through my head trying to convince me NOT to enter my work. Even though I’ve been doing metal work for over 13 years now, I still have those moments of uncertainty and self-doubt.
HOWEVER, (yes, I capitalized it!) if you don’t try, you’ll never know your potential and you’ll always regret not doing it. So, I found a few websites with “Calls for Entry” for artists from all over the world. I spent a few days browsing the calls and marking some of my favorites to go back to for more scrutiny. After several days of research and hours of arguing with myself, I finally entered one! It has been one of the best leaps of faith I have taken so far in my artistic career and I will never regret it. I was accepted to the exhibition and it was an amazing experience.
So, here are my best tips. First and foremost, take amazing pictures of your work. If you’re not a seasoned photographer, find one. Yes, it may be expensive, but it could mean the difference between entry and not. Over the years I’ve taken my own product, work-in-progress and portfolio images so I do my own work, but not everyone has the drive to do that, so find a friend or someone to do the photography if you don’t want to.
Second, the work, look it over carefully with as much of an unbiased eye as you can for finishing, construction, and cleanliness. Trust in your work, but be thoughtful about what you think makes it great art. I can tell you from my own experience in online graduate studies, a picture tells more than a thousand words. Having my instructors zoom in on my photos and point out things I had not noticed was an eye-opening experience, but it has given me a better quality review lens. If you’re not sure, take a photo of the piece, download it to your computer and zoom the heck out of it. You might be surprised at what the camera lens picks up that your eyes did not, especially since you’ve likely been staring at that same piece of work for days on end.
One note of caution on this tip, DON’T over analyze or over critique your work. The beauty of your work is in the things that show your meticulous attention to detail, the lovingly left tool marks and of course, your personal style left on each piece. What you’re looking for are things like poor solder joints, deep unintentional scratches or simply a bunch of fingerprints on the surface. These are the things if left unchecked will be a turnoff for a juror. It implies you don’t care about the detail.
Correct the things you can and move on to taking your “portfolio” quality images.
Make sure your subject is in clear focus and lit properly without harsh shadows.
Photograph on white or black backgrounds with no props.
Use the best resolution you can for the size of the call requirements.
For jewelry, take at least 3-5 images: on the body, front, back, side, 3/4 view and detail.
Third, select five (5) high-quality images of the piece and began the process of writing the description, if you haven’t already done that when sketching and conceptualizing. The photographs on the left are examples of the high resolution images I used for an entry. Notice how I’ve got an on the body, front, back, and two detail images? This gives the jury an idea of not only your craftsmanship, but it also provides them with scale for the piece. A person can read dimensions all day long, but until you can actually see the work in relation to a body, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like as adornment.
Most of these calls are online, so you’ll have to complete an online application with several questions. Sometimes they ask for a short bio or a statement about your work, so do some planning — I plan to write future blog articles on how to write these in the future.
One suggestion, get the questions from the application ahead of time and write a few drafts in a word-processing program before you start the actual application. I must have changed my description wording a thousand times on my first submission!
Besides your description of the work, there are several things most calls will ask for you to provide. Below is a list of those most commonly asked items, so you should have them ready when you’re submitting your entry:
Title of the Piece
Year of Creation
Three to five (3 - 5) images of your work
Here is an example:
Neckpiece, 11.5 x 8.5 x 0.50 IN
Sterling silver, copper, leather, acrylic, acetate
A lot of the time, if you’re entering a proposal for a piece for a future exhibition, the entry will ask you to submit sketches or drawings of your proposed idea. This is especially scary if you’re like me, a great metal artist who draws like a pigeon with no toes! Honestly, this is something I have to work on from now until the end of time, so instead, I submitted photos of my models or maquettes of the idea I was proposing. This is also acceptable for most entries. Just make sure you give yourself time to produce these models to some level of competency before you photograph them and submit them for the jury to review.
Your sketching is key to the success of the entry if you do not have time to create a model. I cannot stress how important it is to be able to render your idea successfully enough to be considered for a proposed idea. I have submitted several times with my pigeon without toes capability to no avail, thus, I am determined to learn to draw and render my ideas carefully in the future. It takes daily practice and I’m getting better, as frustrating as it can be. I try not to be too hard on myself because I know once I get the practice under my belt, a whole new world of opportunity will open up for my submissions and proposals. Ask me to write out my plan all day, but right now, drawing it is a completely alien concept. I understand it theoretically, but my brain has trouble telling my hands what to do!
So, take my heartfelt advice, draw, draw and draw some more! A sketchbook will not only capture your sometimes fleeting ideas, but it will also help you become a better artist in both the second and third dimensions - oh, that kind of sounded like a Twilight Zone plug!
And fourth, but not really last, check and re-check your spelling, grammar and punctuation in your submission. Nothing defeats professionalism like bad grammar, poor punctuation and misspellings. Really, it IS that important. If you’re trying to be a professional artist, you need to demonstrate your dedication to that career not only in artistic pursuit, but also business pursuit. If you’re not great with any of these, find someone who is and ask for some help. It won’t hurt you, it can only help you.
So… enter as many calls as you can afford to. The worst thing that can happen is that you are not selected. The best thing that can happen is that you are! It’s an amazing feeling the first time you receive that acceptance email and realize, “Wow! They liked my work!” Learn how to take great photographs and write thoughtful descriptions of your work. Continuously try to improve your process of submitting entries by actually doing it! I know it’s scary, but you won’t know what you’re possibilities are until you explore them.