When you are ready to enter your artwork in local art competitions, here are nine art tips that can help make this a great experience.
Art Competition Jurors
One of the favorite pastimes of entrants is trying to predict the kind of artwork a particular juror will accept, based on that juror’s painting style. Sometimes picking your entries in this way works and you get in, but I’ve also seen jurors choose an eclectic mix of styles and subjects, only some of which were like their own.
Art Tip # 1 – My advice is just enter your best work – art that shows skillful use of your painting medium, a well-designed composition and an image that shows creativity. These are three important criteria of most jurors.
When you enter your best artwork, you are showing your strengths. After that, it is up to the juror and his or her viewpoint. And you’ll just have to accept the vagaries of the judging process. As a more extreme example of what can happen, I once had the same juror for two different shows. I entered the same painting in both art competitions and the juror rejected it from the first show and gave it an award in the later one. A nationally known artist told me a similar story about a painting of his. It was rejected from one national show and won Best of Show in another. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have my juror.
Photographing Your Art
Art Tip # 2 – The second most important factor you control, after painting a great piece of art, is taking a good photograph of it. This is what the juror sees to judge your art; it needs to represent you well.
The picture should, of course, be in focus and show colors that closely match your art, so become proficient at shooting your own work or find a professional to do it.
What people who take pictures of their own art may not realize is the lighting conditions affect the color of your picture. Just like the old film cameras, shooting pictures with a digital camera using incandescent light bulbs will turn your picture more orange. Using fluorescent lights can turn the pictures greenish. Shooting outside when the sky is overcast can create a bluish tint, so look at your pictures closely before entering them.
A lot of people make the mistake of leaving their digital camera set on Automatic. To get the color in your picture to match your artwork, you need to understand how to set the White Balance. Every time you shoot under different lighting conditions you should reset the White Balance. Check your manual for how to do this on your camera.
Another award and entry killer is not submitting your entry in the required format with the required information. Always read the art contest prospectus. It’s amazing how many people don’t follow instructions, which instantly converts their entry fee into a donation.
Art Tip # 3 – Film is going away, so my advice is to become familiar with how to prepare and send digital pictures.
Art competitions that require digital entries often want your pictures to be formatted in a specific way. The prospectus will often say your entry should have a black background and be X number of pixels square. If you don’t want to buy software (like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements) that will help you do that, there are free internet sites you can also use to format your pictures.
Framing your art
Okay, you’ve been accepted into an art competition. There is another important decision to make. How well are you going to frame your work?
Art Tip # 4 – Often, the juror doesn’t pick the award-winning art until he or she can see the actual work. Your whole presentation affects that decision.
Matting and framing your art well are very important for two reasons.
Reason 1: If you have a nice piece of art surrounded by a cheap-looking frame or a frame that’s scratched or dented, you’ve just reduced the award-worthiness of your work in the eyes of the juror.
If you also have your art surrounded by gaudy or inappropriately colored mats, you’ve lowered your chances of an award even further. It’s best to be conservative. Use white or off-white mats.
Reason 2: If an art buyer likes your art and would consider purchasing it, he or she often wants to be able to take it home and immediately hang it on their wall. If she feels she needs to spend more money to re-frame your art more appropriately, she is likely to decide it isn’t worth the wait, the cost, or the hassle.
Art Tip # 5 – My advice is to frame your work as well as your budget will allow. If your work doesn’t sell, you can always reuse the frame for other art in other shows…but take into consideration Tip # 6.
Art Tip # 6 – Ask yourself: How experienced are the people hanging the show?
Let me explain. At one time I used to enter some of the smaller local art shows. The problem that changed my mind about this was I had so many frames scratched and ruined because they were badly handled. I use nice frames for my art – not the really high-end ones, but not the cheap ones either. In the smaller shows, what happened at times was the art was stored with the back of one piece of art leaning against the front of another. When that is done the screws on the back of one frame can easily scratch the frame or artwork behind it.
Small art shows and small organizations may have volunteers who have little or no experience handling art. In these small shows especially, you have to make a judgment call as to how expensively to frame your work.
I am much more trusting if the show venue is a professional gallery, since they have experience handling and hanging art.
Glass for Your Frame
If you create art that needs to be framed under glass, you’ve got another decision to make. Do you use regular glass or the more expensive, non-reflective glass?
Art Tip # 7 – Use the best glass you can afford.
As expensive as it is, let me explain why I’m a strong proponent of non-reflective glass. Some years ago I was accepted into an art competition at a gallery. Normally, galleries have track lighting that can be positioned to reduce reflections.
Unfortunately, my art (under regular glass) was hung on a wall facing the front windows. When the sun was shining on the street outside, the scene outside was all you could see reflected in my glass. This is a very effective way to guarantee you get neither a sale nor an award.
But, being a slow learner, I continued using regular glass until a weekend a few years later. I had registered to display my art in an art fair. Now in an art fair, the artist pays for space to set up his canopy or tent to show and hopefully sell his work.
Tents for this use are almost always white, as was mine. The white walls of my rented tent set up a reflective situation that the lights I was using could not overcome.
Standing in front of some of the art was almost like standing in front of a mirror. Again, the only way to actually see the art was to stand off to the side. I had one sale that weekend.
I may be a slow learner, but eventually the lesson does sink in. Since that disastrous weekend I have used nothing but non-reflective glass. It is almost as expensive as gold, but it works very well and eliminates a very important headache.
Shipping your art
You might decide at some point to enter an art contest in another area, where you will need to ship your art.
Art Tip # 8 – Total all your costs before you enter a competition, because the costs add up quickly.
First, you need to buy a sturdy box to ship your painting. Air Float Systems (www.airfloatsys.com) carry boxes made especially for shipping art. The boxes are very sturdy, but they are not cheap. Or, you can build something similar to the Air Float boxes by purchasing a mirror box (available at U Haul and other packing stores) and some foam.
Second, the art group organizing the show will designate a local shipping agent to receive your entry. The agent will unpack your art, deliver it to the show venue, pick it up after the show, repack it in your box and ship it back to you. The fee for this may be several hundred dollars in addition to the expense of your box and your original shipping costs.
Art Tip # 9 – Never enter more pieces of art than you are prepared to deliver.
If you call the art show organizer and try to weasel out of shipping one or more of your pieces that got accepted, you are not going to get a sympathetic ear. Or, if you just don’t deliver all of the art that was accepted, you could, depending on the rules of that art competition, be banned from entering for several years.
So remember: Do your planning well ahead and follow these tips you are much more likely to have a rewarding experience when entering art competitions.
Gary Gumble has been using his creativity in one form of art or another for over 40 years. He graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a BFA. Thereafter, he was a commercial illustrator for 18 years before returning to his early schooling in fine art.
Since then his artwork has won numerous awards of all sizes.