How to Get Your Art Noticed

by guest blogger Tim Saternow

How do artists gain recognition for their work? Painter Tim Saternow writes about the importance of authenticity and vision.


Watercolor painter Tim Saternow with his artwork

Artist Tim Saternow and Rigby with an original watercolor of New York City.

How do I get my art noticed?

I’m asked this question all the time. As a participant in lots of art shows, as an invited judge to many exhibits, and as a member of the American Watercolor Society (AWS) Board, I have a particularly good vantage point from which to see a huge variety of submitted paintings. I see a lot of winners, and many not-so winners.

There are no rules to follow; it’s more of a ‘big picture’ approach. One direction is to submit to a lot of different contests and see what happens. But too often there is just the rejection email with no explanation.

In order to gain clarity, get out to see these shows (it’s a little easier now since they’re mostly online) and see what was accepted. Every show and contest has its own agenda, as do a lot of judges. Understand clearly what they’re asking for in the prospectus. Many society exhibits are open only to their members. So start joining good art societies, especially your local ones. These societies want to display the wide range of their members’ skills. And you’ll see a great variety of technique and subject matter, from the abstract to the photorealistic.

It takes a lot of work to get your art out there, but it’s worthwhile. Apply to shows, join with fellow artists and mount your own show (libraries love this.) Approach neighborhood restaurants to hang your work, and apply to all those contests you see in art magazines. Exposure is always good.

What kinds of work gets noticed? Start with your choice of subject matter.

Subject matter is foremost. As a judge I see many ‘standard subjects’ that include: wicker baskets; Venice, Italy; boats, docks and seascapes; old people/young people; rust; old barns; flowers, bouquets and gardens; trains; dogs; birds… You get the idea. Painting any of these subjects is fine but if you know there will be many examples of this subject, try to make yours stand out from the crowd. Or find a much more unique subject to explore.

I know a lot of people paint the subject of New York City and I work very consciously to make my cityscapes stand out. One bold thing I do is I remove all the people from the streets of New York. (Everything becomes early Sunday morning.) I do this very deliberately to make New York City the subject and focal point of my paintings, instead of the people who happen to be walking on the street. A person in a painting always becomes a focal point.

Use bold presentation: size and technique.

Now think about the size of your paintings. Size is power on the walls of any gallery, and curators are looking for that ‘punch.’ My standard size is 40×26” (or ‘single elephant’ watercolor paper) and for a watercolor painting, that’s large. But it gets noticed.

Then consider technique. After a very careful drawing and painting of my subject, I deconstruct it with thrown paint, drips, puddles, and back-runs. This doesn’t totally obscure my subject, but it does add a layer of mystery and interest. It’s a fresh approach and very different. And it makes people look twice. (Know that this approach came from years of trial and error and just crazy experimentation.)

Anything can become your technique, or your signature look, and you can get a great education by taking many different workshops from different teaches. What I’ve found is no matter how many workshops you take you’ll naturally keep the techniques that speaks to you, and you’ll discard the rest.

Paint what you know.

Your vision is automatically unique because it comes from you and from all your distinct experiences. The strongest artwork comes from the heart. Andrew Wyeth painted only the locations that he lived and grew up in and people he knew — all with very powerful emotional connections. One can feel that by looking at his paintings.

Trust what you know and trust what excites you as an artist. Be aware that sometimes the most powerful images might have something to do with a painful personal memory. For any artist it could all be rich inspiration.

Be unique.

This bit of advice is wide open. Most critics will tell you there is nothing new in the world of art or painting.  But what is unique is how you, as the artist/interrupter, look at and interpret any subject.

In those trips to see all those shows or galleries, be sensitive to what excites you. Which artworks are you drawn to and make you look twice? Ask yourself why. (You may not get an answer, but it will make you aware of your own preferences.)

Never paint for a particular contest or judge. Here’s a better strategy: create art that excites you.

I recently heard this comment from a judge, “What has this painting done to advance the range and world of painting?” A tall order, but good to keep in mind.

As a judge, I’m always impressed with great skill. Careful drawing, correct perspective, details, and masterful handing of the medium are all examples of great technique. But just great technique can leave me cold. Sometimes those hyperrealistic paintings that duplicate a photograph can be very limiting. It’s a delicate but important balance: technical proficiency and a unique vision.

Trust your very personal and distinctive vision, what you know and what excites you as an artist. Break the rules and begin your journey creating a unique art that is all yours. You will get noticed.


Artist Tim Saternow invites you to follow him on Instagram.


Tim Saternow is an American painter, a Signature member of the American Watercolor Society, and has exhibited widely in New York, across the country, and in China and Italy. An Emmy nominated TV designer, his paintings are published in numerous books and magazines. Saternow received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama, Yale University, and is a 2020 Clark Hulings Fund Fellow. “I make the city quiet.”



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