Monday, August 2, 2010

Entering Shows, Part 2 - Getting the Facts

How to Get the facts
Read the prospectus!

Whether it is an art group or some other organization holding the show, you need to be aware of just what is going on. To do this you need to read the prospectus.

Carefully. Fully. Again.

When you understand what is being done for this show, then you can decide if it is for you. Don’t dismiss the show it if has a special venue or theme. Many local shows will, especially if the sponsoring group is not an art group.

Many artists do not want to create work for a specific show, but I wonder “why not”? Why not meet this challenge? Just my thought on it.

The prospectus, or outline of the show, should tell you what you need to know to enter this event.

The Prospectus

Art shows generally will have some kind of prospectus, a document that tells you how to enter and what to expect. This can be anything some a simple one page letter, to a small book. And for many these are inherently confusing. Don’t let them scare you.

Most are fairly small and straightforward. After all, a really complicated prospectus will discourage artists from entering that show. The bigger the show, the bigger the prospectus! And I have seen some that were really complicated! And long!

Understanding them is very important to successfully entering any show. Once you have the prospectus in hand, read it carefully. Take your time. Note when the show is and when you have to have your submissions ready. These dates are seldom the same! It takes time to get a show together. Trust me on this!

If the show is a juried entry, meaning, you must submit work to be juried to even enter, the show will clearly state this. Some shows require an entry fee even if the jury later rejects your work. So be prepared for this. Most entry fees are non-refundable. And some arts organizations are very hard-nosed about this.

If you must jury in, seldom is the actual artwork required. Usually slides are required. Or rather, this was the way it was done in the past. And many shows still accept them, but more and more shows are accepting a digital file in replacement of film slides. Read the information carefully and stick to it exactly. This is especially true on format. If you submit files in a format not suitable for the selection committee, they will not ask you to resubmit, they will simply put you in the reject pile. Make sure the file is the right size. Not too big and not too small. A small file will not allow enough detail to truly evaluate your work. A too large file might freeze up their computers, not a good impression to make! This mean conforming to the dimensions stated in the prospectus also.

In either case, the quality of these photos makes a big difference, and the care in which they are made does matter. Do not simply snap off a few shots with a point and shot and e-mail them in.

Photos that are off center, on an angle, poorly light will cause your work, however good, to be rejected out of hand. You might think that your painting is so good that it will overcome any deficiency in photography, but it will not. If you don’t know how to take good photos, ask a pro. Do not include the frame in the photo if at all possible. Many will allow or even require a black border. You do not need to photograph your artwork with this border, it can be added to the photo after cropping.

Make sure the painting is clean and dust free. Dirt and dust will show in the photo. A stained and ill-fitting mat will also detract from your artwork. If the work is on paper, photograph it before it is under glass! Reflections and glare will also disqualify your work. If they cannot see the work clearly, and see the colors truly, they will not be able to appreciate it. Do not give into temptations to “tweak” or enhance your work in the computer. Make sure the photos are as true to the work as possible.

Read all the requirements carefully. If you are unsure of anything, call or write the group. Contact information will be given.

Larger shows may have multiple shipping addresses, so read this carefully also. It is not uncommon for the shipping address to be different from the address the show will be displayed in. They may have detailed shipping instructions that must be followed. This is to insure that the artwork not only arrives, but also arrives in good condition.

Always insure your work

Enclose a self-address return mail label. Do not depend on the staff to fill this out. They are busy, and have lots of packages to pack and ship, and mistakes happen. If you include a return shipping label already filled out, your work will find it way back to you. Most shows require this along with return postage. Include this. Your shipping company can usually calculate this for you, and most will print you a special label for return shipping. Don’t skip this thinking to save money by making the showing organization fork over the shipping fee. More and more shows state that work without return shipping included will not be returned but considered a donation to that group.

Make sure you understand size and framing requirements. Oversized works will often be rejected, even if the work makes it through the jury process. Once the work arrives if it is oversized or not framed properly many shows will not hang it and all your work and expense will be for nothing.

Contrary to popular belief, putting on an art show is not the road to financial success for any arts organization. Most of us do it for the love of art, and hope to at least break even. These shows are expensive to put on. And they are detailed. To me anyway, very much worth the effort, but there is little money in it! I just hope to get seed money for the next event!

While some shows detail the prizes and awards given, many do not. Do not assume because it is not detailed in the prospectus that there are no awards. If you have questions ask.

I do not put the awards list in prospectus because for us this list can be fluid until shortly before the show. We work hard to not only make sure we have good cash or merchandise awards for the winning art; we also canvas the area for purchase awards and award sponsors. So our basic awards list can grow, almost doubling by show time!

But more and more shows do not give cash or merchandise awards. A growing trend is giving awards “for the honor” of art, and they simply give ribbons and/or certificates. Be clear on what to expect.

Also, it is wise to understand just who is judging this show. It is a committee made up of the organization giving the show, or has some effort gone into the selection of a judge or judges.

Even if this is not in the prospectus, it is ok to ask what kind of judging happens. For The Renaissance Art Gallery’s Major fall show, the Miniature Exhibition, we often have members of local university art departments. But we do from time to time draw on the greater art community and import a judge from an organization specializing in miniatures. The strength of the judge can reflect on the merits of the award. We also have a category of awards that we call “people’s choice” awards, where the public, passing through the gallery during the show will vote on their choices. There are three of these awards given each year in addition to the regular and purchase awards.

Purchase awards are just that. A person or group will commit to buying a piece of art in that show. They will donate a dollar amount to buy a work of their choice before the opening of the show. After the juror(s) make their selections, those with purchase awards will go through and select the works they are “awarding” and those are usually marked as sold prior to the opening of the show. It is possible to win a major award, like best in show, and a purchase awards. Kind of a double whammy! Of course, if your work is not for sale, it is not eligible for this kind of award.

A word about commissions

The vast majority of shows will take a commission of the purchase price of the artwork if sold. This is standard practice and can range from 10% to 50% of the purchase price. Be aware of this.

Larger shows with more opportunities for sales will often take have a greater percentage of the sale price. The increased likelihood of sales offsets this larger percentage. 20-30% is reasonable for expenses. This is still lower than most galleries must take. The gallery is also going to collect any state sales taxes required, but this should not affect you. But don’t count out smaller show in smaller venues. They can have surprising sales records!

Shows that depend on sales to break even may require that work be for sale. If not, they may require that you submit additional works that they can sell.

Most shows will state that images of artwork may be used for publicity. This is important to the show to get public interest. This is also standard practice and in no way affects your rights to your artwork. Also be aware that fair use allows reporters to photograph your work on display and use it in their stories. This is a good thing. They take care to identify the work and artist. Publicity will not hurt you!

Last year I send press releases to the papers in the hometowns of our Miniature winners, and that resulted in interviews and newspaper stories of several of our artist/entrants.

For an example of a prospectus, you can visit The Renaissance Art Gallery website at: and download the 2010 Miniature prospectus.

I think I pretty much covered this subject. Any Questions? Have you run into anything you did not understand or did not make sense? Any funny stories?


  1. An excellent piece of information. If only artists would take the time to review a prospectus fully and compare several shows to see the range of differences they would have a far greater experience with entering exhibitions.

  2. You have to select shows you are ready for. But there are a wide range of shows out there, some better than others.

    but I also think I need to do something to warn new artists about some of the s0-called "good causes" shows too. I am sure you have run into those!

  3. Hey, Great Blog! Check out this new iPhone/iPad app called PhotoFrames! Created by master framer Eli Wilner, you can now frame your digital photos right from your phone! Check it out!

  4. Thanks for the comment. I only have a basic phone, no apps!

  5. Glad you like it. I hope my poor experience helps someone!


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