A friend recently asked me how I choose which art competitions to enter. I have a complicated set of criteria that I look at. In general I consider the Risks vs. Rewards. I believe that most of us are our own worst critics. Entering shows sometimes feels risky, yet competitive exhibitions are just another venue for sharing your art. James Clear writes about that risk:
“You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you.” – James Clear
First, my 5 Important Criteria for avoiding risk:
1. Do I respect the juror?
This is my most important question. I ask myself if I’ve:
heard them speak
taken a workshop from them
seen a show that they have juried
been rejected by them in the past
watched them conduct a critique
read one of their articles or blog posts
Furthermore, I consider whether or not I find the juror’s work exciting. I usually enter competitions if I respect the juror. Conversely, I might also enter if I don’t know much about the judge. If I don’t respect the juror, I probably shouldn’t enter. Acceptance or rejection would mean less coming from someone I respect less.
2. Is the show very competitive?
While I want to enter a show that stretches my ability, I’m not interested in wasting my entry fee. However, this can change over time. As you enter more competitions, your name recognition increases and skills improve. Also, because artists who enter generally attend or receive a catalog, a widely entered show can give you broader exposure.
3. Does the organization offer Signature Membership?
Non-artists often ask what a Signature Membership means. Simply put, Signature members of an art group can sign initials after their name. It is an acronym that stands for professional status, similar to that used by doctors or lawyers. Art groups have varying standards for achieving Signature Membership. Most groups include acceptance into more than one show or sending multiple paintings to demonstrate consistency. I just found out that I can add a new Signature Membership to my list: San Diego Watercolor Society!
4. How much will I invest?
Entry fees, shipping and handling can really add up. Do I think the fees are average? Do they seem reasonable? It depends on your goals for entering a show. One reason I enter quite a few shows is that I would like to do more jurying and workshops out of state. So, I often choose to enter shows in areas that I think might be fun to visit. I’m always hoping that artists in that area might be intrigued by my work and invite me to jury. Additionally, I must consider my investment of time in managing my inventory, delivering work, preparing the work for exhibit, etc.
5. What other benefits might I see?
Will I see my work published in a book or magazine or receive prize money? Although this is kind of crazy, I sort of weigh what my chances might be to win an award or gain publication. If I hit my head against a wall too many times, then I generally take a break from entering. I consider whether I’m not ready or if maybe my style is not a good fit. Am I likely to see sales from the show? Will more students be motivated to study with me? Will I win a purchase award?
I’ve listed below some of the shows I’ve entered in the past. Click to View my Resume and see which ones I’ve actually been in! This year I tried to stretch a bit and entered a show for works on paper at the Brand Museum in California. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in. In addition you can read my philosophy on rejection here: Rejected Again – Hooray!
American Watercolor Society
National Watercolor Society
Western Federation of Watercolor Societies
Northwest Watercolor Society
Louisiana Watercolor Society
Texas Watercolor Society
Rocky Mountain National Watermedia
Signature American Watermedia, Fallbrook, CA
Adirondacks National Exhibition
Pike’s Peak National Watermedia
California Watercolor Association
San Diego International Watermedia
Georgia Watercolor Society
Watercolor Society of Oregon
Red River National Watermedia
Watercolor Society of Alabama
Hilton Head International Exhibition
National Watercolor Oklahoma
Taos Exhibition of American Watercolors
Kentucky Watercolor Society
Expressions West, Coos Art Museum
Finally, Thanks for sending me questions that might serve as possible blog post topics! I love to hear your comments on how YOU choose what shows to enter; join the conversation below!
In my fantasy world owning contemporary fine art would be commonplace. The public would obsess about artists the way they follow the careers of musicians, movie stars and athletes. The press would report on local artists, young and old, celebrating milestones like changes in style, important awards and acquisitions. Parents would teach their children that collecting art is a luxury to crave. They’d prioritize collecting contemporary art over clothing and accessories, cars, travel, concerts and gadgets. People would compete to own the newest work in a series by their favorite artist, like they stand in line these days for the newest tech innovation.
It’s not difficult to imagine a world like this. Today digital communication and mass production have made individuality rare. How often do you receive anything hand-written these days? Hand-made and unique items are prime for a renaissance of popularity. What else can you buy today that no one else has? I’m sure that one reason that our former home sold so quickly is that artwork was displayed throughout. It created a comfortable atmosphere in every room, not just above the fireplace.
I celebrate artists and their collectors: those who make the world more beautiful. It is great to be able to self-publish here on my blog, not because I want to glorify my own talent, but because it gives me an opportunity to share ideas. I hope that by sharing my dreams about the future of contemporary art, you’ll start to see it as something attainable, cool and sophisticated!
“As entrepreneurs, we must constantly dream and have the conviction and obsession to transform our dreams into reality – to create a future that never existed before.”
– Clara Shih
Below, please enjoy contributions from a few folks who took me up on sharing their art for this 9th anniversary post. It’s fun to look back and see the growth and changes. You can see other anniversary posts by clicking the links below.
First, Margaret Stermer-Cox is an artist from Southern Oregon. We connected on the internet through our blogs. I’ve also had a chance to get to know her a bit in person through the Watercolor Society of Oregon. Here is her work “Hang up and Read Me a Story.” Visit her website here: https://stermer-cox.com/
Finally, I want to share an interview I did with one of my friends: art collector Kim Madey. Kim definitely makes the world more beautiful! She shares her lovingly curated home and collections with friends and family. Her parties are legendary, and I’m looking forward to an Elvis-themed bash this summer. (Costume suggestions appreciated!)
I so appreciate Kim’s support of my work. We share a common bond through the art that makes me feel understood. There is no compliment higher than a return customer! I hope you’ll enjoy this peek at some of my work hanging in her place, and getting to hear why and how she came to collect contemporary fine art. You can explore more videos here!
Most serious Artists and Collectors agree that focus is important for an artist’s body of work. Focus provides continuity from one painting to the next, and allows the work to hang together when presented en masse. But how does one go about creating a focus in their work? And for collectors, how does one amass a collection that works together? Here are a few ways to cultivate or create focus.
1. Focus on Subject Matter
Probably the most common way that collectors create focus is to concentrate on collecting a particular type of work. Some are drawn to landscape, while others prefer abstract or figurative paintings. Similarly, artists often gravitate toward particular subject matter.
My own work has always focused on narrative, despite the genre. The earliest still life paintings incorporated objects precious to me that told a story. The “Haunting Aunties” figurative paintings also tried to convey a sense of storytelling about family history and bonds. My current abstract work is also based upon narratives surrounding my rural upbringing and connection to the farm where I was raised. Because I know what my main interest is, I can delve into sub-plots and explore different stories in an in-depth way.
2. Focus on Design Elements
One thing I try to convey in my workshops is that each artist may be drawn to different means of expression. Some artists prefer to emphasize color, while others may be more interested in using line. Collectors may also have some of the same predilections. One patron may prefer to collect work that is bright and colorful, while another may prefer black & white photographs or drawings, yet another person may be drawn over and over to primitive pattern work or sculpture.
I have a strong bias toward using color. Warm and cool contrasts have always captivated me, and my eye is always drawn to new color combinations. I’m currently focusing on using subtle color contrasts wherever I can.
3. Focus on Style
Even if an artist decides that they will focus on the landscape, for instance, various works may not be cohesive in a body of work because of different styles. For instance, a single realistic black and white landscape would stand out from a group of colorful abstracted landscapes. If an artist is true to their own vision and pursues a style that fits their temperament, the work is more likely to be cohesive. By committing to working in a specific style, the artist’s work will gain focus. Collectors often prefer to purchase work in a certain style as well.
Currently, my focus in on an abstracted, almost non-objective style. Within the spectrum of abstraction, I tend to fall toward the very abstract, even though much of my work originates in a very real subject.
4. Focus on Medium
Many collectors prefer to collect the majority of their work in one medium, such as watercolor or oil or sculpture. Artists, too, can often be known for their work in one medium.
Personally, I have enjoyed exploring watercolor, gouache, collage, drawing, acrylic, encaustic, cold wax and oil. Although my work spans many mediums, my application of the various types of paint or pigments often makes it difficult for viewers to tell what the medium is. This is because my brush-work, palette and shapes are fairly consistent between mediums.
5. Focus on a Series
Many artists make work in a series, each individual piece relating to the broad idea and yet differing from its companion pieces in varying degrees. The individual pieces may focus on different facets of the idea or different conditions. The artist Claude Monet is an artist who worked on different series during his career. His most famous may be the Water Lilies – a series of work inspired by the lily pond in his garden. He also painted a series of work exploring different light conditions on haystacks and on Rouen Cathedral.
For me, painting work in a series give me an opportunity to experiment with color and to explore different facets of the broader idea of my farm upbringing. My earlier series the “Haunting Aunties” explored the influence women, especially women in the family, have on each others’ lives.
An example of focus in a series
Here is a peek at how working in a series helps me to refine my ideas. Below are three paintings, all of the same subject. These paintings all began in my workshop in Springfield – The ABC’s of Abstraction. They became increasingly abstract as I worked on them. I began with the idea of painting my dad’s shoe and pant leg from memory. He used to keep cigarette butts in the cuff of his jeans to avoid fire danger in the summer. This idea is a potent memory of my dad.
I began with the image on the left. It focused on the leg of Dad’s Levis, and you can see the white cigarette butts in the cuff shape near the bottom. The second image shown is actually the third painting of this subject. In this painting I decided to focus more on the shoe, even though the cuff and cigarettes are still there. I also emphasized line more in this image. The third painting is titled Effigy. An effigy is a symbol of a person, often used as a monument and sometimes the ‘butt’ of angry demonstration. I thought the title fit the almost iconic representation of this symbol for my dad. I feel this image still has echoes of the previous images, but I like the abstraction – how the paint is beautiful on its own without the subject matter.
How have you found focus in your work or your art collecting? Click below to leave me a comment or share with a friend.
Art Inquiries that Pass Muster have many of these qualities:
Proficient grammar and natural writing style in the initial email
The email mentions a specific work
The writer follows up upon learning my studio sales policies and shipping policies
Signature and email relate to each other – for example Jane Doe’s email might be firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer includes a phone number
When I look up the writer in a google search, the information I find matches what they mentioned in the email
How do you tell whether that email you’ve received from your website is for real? I’ve been fortunate enough to sell a few pieces of artwork via my website. Of course more than my fair share of fraudulent or scam emails come my way too.
Recently I sold a painting to a law firm in California via an Art Consultant who contacted me through my website. Here are some photos that Art Consultant Phillip Mehas shared of the piece installed at Haynes and Boone, LLC.
Doesn’t this contemporary art complement the lobby?
Another view of the lobby and its new artwork
It pays to be cautious when dealing with unknown parties on the internet. Even though I felt pretty sure this inquiry was not a fraud, I didn’t ship the work until after the payment had cleared my bank. I handled the shipping myself and worked with the buyer to make sure it would be reasonably priced.
In this case, the consultant found my work by searching the website of the California Watercolor Association. I am a Signature Member of that group, and they link to my website. The client was searching for a watercolor, but fell in love with this work instead. It is gratifying to know that my work is making this office shine!
Check out this article by Agora Gallery on recognizing fraud or scams. While we don’t want to alienate a potential buyer, artists must always protect themselves from online scammers. Usually when I make my policies known, scammers realize that they can’t work with me and I never hear from them again.
My Basic Internet Sales Policy:
Unless I know the buyer, I require payment by Paypal or a similar service. I do accept business of personal checks, but only for the actual amount of the sale, and I don’t ship until the check has cleared.
I give a separate quote for shipping based on actual delivery address, or deliver if it is a local sale.
If possible I try to speak to the buyer on the phone.
My tone is prompt and firm, but polite.
The buyer is encouraged to ask questions and I try my best to make sure everything is clear, from shipping to returns.
Oregon has had its share of ice this winter, and I took advantage of this unusual weather to do a bit of ice crystal painting.
I wet a sheet of 300 lb. Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, took it outside into the freezing cold, and dropped fluid acrylics and acrylic inks onto the surface, allowing the ice crystals to form patterns on the paper as they solidified. Then I brought it inside and kind of forgot about it, until it was time to do a demonstration for a local watercolor group.
Here is what my ‘start’ looked like after it dried. It’s hard to see in this image, but the paint dried in a crystalized pattern in some of the thinner areas. I love the lacy texture it left in different areas of the work.
1 – transparent colors work better
2 – the paint and ink need to be slightly watery.
This detail image shows part of the painting that has ice crystal formations
I thought I’d share a few in process shots that my friend Liz Walker took during the demonstration. As I worked, I was thinking about my childhood experiences at the local swimming hole on our property. I added calligraphy using a water soluble crayon, and started putting in shapes and color variation. One of my goals was to keep the color changes fairly subtle.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight — but never stop fighting.” — e.e. cummings
Finally I started adding small detail using an acrylic marker.You can see some of the areas in the detail shots below.
And I started varying the color more! Jeez – This doesn’t look at all subtle!
Here is how the painting looked at the end of the demonstration.
When I took a look at it this week, I decided that the top 1/3 of the painting needed to be simplified and lightened. Here’s how it looks now! I hope you’ll try ice crystal painting next time you encounter some freezing weather! I’d love to hear your thoughts on seeing the process. Questions and comments are welcome.
One of the things I loved about growing up on the farm was that nature was always there to explore. Although I know it is hard to believe now, I was a quiet child. When I was struggling with something, my favorite way to cope was to walk in the forest or sit by a small stream or ditch and observe nature.
Some of my favorite poetry evokes this calming spirit:
“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS” BY WENDELL BERRY
My most recent painting was an attempt to recreate the feeling of soft fog, mist and moss, without actually rendering a pond, a stream or a fallen log. I wanted the feeling of many interconnected organisms breathing life into a forest. The water, the trees, the animals, the fungi as one breathing unit. Because I wanted the feeling of flowing water, I chose to use a high horizon line as my design.
I hope you will enjoy this peek into my process. I’m using watercolor to begin, and then adding gouache (opaque watercolor) and a bit of Golden High Flow Acrylic. I also mixed in a bit of iridescent pigment by Jacquard. I love the subtle sparkle!
I’d be interested in your feedback on this video. Do you find it valuable? I wish that my setup would allow me to film in the orientation that I imagined the painting, but it was much easier to work horizontally on my table. I decided not to attach music to the video, as I couldn’t find a piece that expressed what I wanted to say with the painting.
If you find it interesting, leave me a comment or a question! Or share this with a friend or on your favorite social media outlet.
Couldn’t everyone use a little balm of Mist and Moss during this chaotic season?
“Mist and Moss” Abstract Watercolor Process with Ruth Armitage from Ruth Armitage on Vimeo.