There is nothing more exciting that opening an email or receiving a letter that says, “Congratulations! The following pieces of art you submitted have been accepted into our upcoming show…” I do a little happy dance and enjoy the moment before I switch into execution mode to get the submission ready to hang.
Last week I got one of these emails that told me I had two works accepted into the Oregon Waterways show at the Giustina Gallery here in Corvallis. Yay! The works were Mirrored and Morning Wings, below.
I had a third work I submitted, Explore with Me, that wasn’t accepted. I’m not entirely surprised, as it didn’t fit as well with their theme. It was my favorite of the three, though, so I submitted it anyway to see what would happen.
As I prepared for this exhibition, I thought I would share with you what I’ve learned about exhibiting. I’ve only been on this journey of exhibiting for barely a year. The first exhibition I participated in was the Nature of Oregon exhibit with the PhotoArts Guild last November. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Participating in an exhibition is one of the best ways to really learn to present your work. You have to figure out how to print, prepare and hang the art. It’s a bit of a trial and error process, and I’ve evolved along the way, but there is no better way to learn than by doing.
- Visit exhibitions before you start down the process to see how other artists present their work. What do you like? Not like? Jot down notes. This helps you know the direction you would like to go.
- As a first step, consider participating in a “community open” exhibit or an organized group exhibit with a local guild or club. These exhibits usually don’t have a selection process, so they give you the opportunity to learn how to exhibit without the pressure of selection.
- Selection for an juried exhibition is very subjective. If you submit a piece to an exhibit that is juried, you never know what might happen. It’s all up to the jury’s tastes and plans for the individual exhibit. Don’t get disappointed if you submit and hear nothing or a “no thank you” back. It doesn’t mean your work is awful, it just means that it wasn’t what they were looking for.
- You are more likely to have work accepted if you submit to an exhibit with a specific theme than a general open call. Read the “call to artists” carefully and submit work you think best matches the theme. You can also be creative, submitting work related to the theme but with a twist, and see what happens. (My experience: That hasn’t worked out too well for me so far.) Don’t expect your favorite pieces to be selected because they are your favorites. The work you submit needs to be of high quality, but selection depends mostly on how well the piece fits what the exhibition is looking for.
- Don’t expect to sell anything. If you do, consider it a fantastic bonus! Keep in mind that you will likely be bringing this piece home as you prepare your work for display. If it’s something you want to display in your home or give as a gift, go all out in the framing/preparation of it. If it’s something specific to the exhibition, however, and you don’t see it in your home, then you might want to think about how you can reuse the presentation materials. For my first exhibition, I had large canvases printed. They looked cool, but now what do I do with them? They don’t really fit my home decor and I don’t expect to sell them. Now I have amassed a stash of exhibition 16×20″ frames and mats, and can easily change out the prints as needed.
- Give yourself plenty of time to prepare your work. Know your leadtime. If the timing is short between submission and exhibition, you should begin prep before you know you are accepted. Usually there is ample time between acceptance and delivery, but I got caught with this exhibition. I can print on demand and have the frames but needed more mats, so I was scrambling last week to order mats that could get here before the submission delivery deadline. The frame shops were backed up too, because other local artists were scrambling for the same exhibition. I ended up ordering mats that weren’t ideal and had to pay express shipping. If I had ordered the mats when I submitted for the exhibition, knowing I could always use them later, I would have had the mats I wanted without the extra cost. Grrr. But it’s all a learning process, and now I’ve learned one more thing with this exhibition.
Participating in exhibitions has been a great growth opportunity for me. It’s helped me learn to be more objective and less personally attached to my work as I submit. It’s helped me learn to present my work in a way that highlights the images but is also economical. It’s also driven me to learn to print, since I wasn’t happy with the prints I was getting, which has completed the cycle of creation for me.
Have you ever tried exhibiting your work? If not, I encourage you to consider it. There is nothing more exciting than seeing your work hanging on a gallery wall, visible to the public. Well, maybe selling a piece from an exhibition would be even more exciting, but I haven’t experienced that quite yet.
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