by Carolyn Edlund
I recently had a conversation about the jury submission process with Bruce Baker, a jewelry designer/maker, gallery owner, long-time juror and creator of the CD, Your Slides & The Jury. He shared his insights for artists who want to improve their presentation.
AS: In your opinion, what do artists most need to know to improve their jury submissions?
BB: If you ask most artists “When you send in your images, what are you trying to tell the jury?” they will say something like, “Pick me” or “Look how talented I am.” But when it comes to the jury (and the jury only looks at images for a period of seconds) what they really need to see is theme and focus, presented impressively. When your images are shown, they have to wake the jury up and pull them out of the coma they’ve been lulled into.
Your images have got to be eye candy, a heavy-duty adrenaline shot of eye candy and they’ve got to be relatively simple to understand. Your images need to read like a sentence, and tell a story. The story should be, “Look how focused I am.” Because when you show five images of work that are consistent in quality, with a harmonious palette (the color palette is the great equalizer) and when the jury can look at it and say, “I get it . . . I want to see more” – they cast a good score.
If the artist gives too much information, for example “I do scrimshaw, I work with glass beads, I make handmade paper” and they throw it all together in a submission, the jury will look at it and think “What is going on?”
Sometimes the work that the artist sends is just too busy, with too much visual information to read in the amount of time that they have to read it. Jurors get confused and are already exhausted and overwhelmed, and it doesn’t make the impact. So, keep it simple, remember theme and focus, and make a bold presentation of pieces of art that work together to tell a story and complete a sentence that makes the jurors say “Wow!”
An artist may tell me, “Well, I have this line of pottery. I do porcelain and slip trailing and sgraffito” and they try to show all of those techniques in one set of images. It comes across as looking deranged or somewhat like student work at times.
I recommend that unless it is forbidden in the application, build two or three different sets of images and apply more than once. Some shows only allow one application per artist per medium, and if that is the case, then you can send in only one application. But others don’t have that restriction. Artists could get a big benefit out of sending a grouping of celadon and sending a grouping of sgraffito and sending a grouping of Navajo pottery, or whatever, keeping theme and focus consistent.
AS: What about artists with two dimensional work?
BB: 2D artists have the easiest task of photographing their work. Make sure your photos are “keystoned” meaning that the angle of the camera and the angle of the work are the same, so the image appears square. It needs to be free of any kind of reflection or hot spots that may be coming off a shiny surface.
One of the most successful 2D applications I’ve ever seen was a “picture within a picture” grouping. Here’s how it works: imagine a landscape of a farm with a barn and a windmill and a house as the first image in the group. The next painting is a detail of the barn, and the next canvas is perhaps the hay loft with a bird’s nest in it, or might be a detail of the windmill. The visual interest gets closer and closer in.
Another 2D artist, a landscape photographer, submitted images in a seasonal theme: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. The fifth image was his booth shot. He set up his booth in front of a formal turn-of-the-century mansion marble staircase. On the back wall of the booth was Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, in exactly the same layout as the first four images of the set. They just plugged in. Wow! When the jury is jarred with your theme and focus and controlled palette, they have a positive response and they score high.
What many artists do is cherry pick. They think, “Oh, people like this one, and they comment on that one” so they pick this, that and the other. When the images are put together, it’s a cherry-picked collection of their work but it isn’t a series or a collection.
AS: What is the biggest mistake that artists make when choosing art for their submissions?
BB: The biggest mistake that artists make is confusing what the customer likes with what they send to the jury. As a general rule, I say that if the customers like it, chances are the jury will not. Artists believe they need to send an image of their bestselling design, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with what customers like.
Your submission only has to do with what will visually appeal to the jury. Realize that juries are primarily made up of artists, or people who sell art. They have seen everything and they are looking for cutting edge, new, different, innovative well-crafted work. They are light years ahead in sophistication and their own taste.
Show a juror anything that is commercial, and you are going to be kicked out. If you show things that aren’t commercial to your customers, you’re not going to have enough of them to make a living.
For example, if you have a hummingbird, a sunflower or some other iconic image, customers love them. Show them to the jury and you’re gone. So – no hearts, moons, stars. If it comes in a Lucky Charms box, don’t use it and if it comes in a 12-crayon Crayola box palette-wise, don’t use it.
AS: Could you describe what successful artists do to keep getting accepted time after time?
BB: What gets artists accepted, first and foremost, is world-class photography. We live in a digital age, and anyone can take a “pretty good” photograph. When you see work of the real pros, there is no way a person who isn’t a trained photographer can ever come close. What the professional will do is make it magic.
In summary, really sit down and create a body of work with theme and focus. Keep it simple, but make it impressive. I know that those two things often confuse artists. If the work isn’t impressive, it doesn’t capture the jury’s attention. But if there is too much information, if it’s too busy, if the background is too busy, if it’s overly done, they won’t be able to make up their minds and will leave you in the dust.