With so many people picking up their paintbrushes in recent months, how do you succeed in getting your painting (or print, photograph, sculpture etc.,) on a gallery wall? One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to start entering Open Exhibitions. All of them. As many as you can. Treat them as an aspiring actor does their many auditions. Keep entering. Don't get disheartened if at first you don't succeed and definitely don't take it personally. Oh, and have I said to keep entering. But, there are some things you can do to give yourself a fighting chance. Here are my 5 top tips for a fighting chance at success. Good luck!
Budget. Some Open Exhibitions are free to enter, but the vast majority charge a non-refundable submission fee. This covers the administrative cost of the exhibition, and often contributes to the running costs of the actual exhibition. In the case of the Royal Academy Summer Show, the money raised through submissions, pays for the fees for the postgraduate students at the Royal Academy School. How great is that? I decide on how much I can afford for the year, and set this money aside. I then spend, spend, spend until it has gone. Without guilt. Without allowing the voice on my shoulder (you know the one!) to convince me I can't afford it. Without allowing the same voice to tell me that I don't stand a chance. I have decided to spend the money on submissions, and I intend to enjoy every penny I spend.
Past Exhibitions. When you have found an opportunity, the first thing I would suggest is that you channel your inner Miss Marple, and have a good scout around the organiser's website to see what you can find out. There may well be a link to last year's exhibition (and maybe the years before if you are lucky). Make yourself a cup of tea, sit yourself down, and have a good look through the past exhibitions. Is your work a good fit? There is little point submitting your wildly expressionistic abstract masterpiece to an Open Exhibition where the works are all photorealistic.
Judges. So, you think your work is a fit for the exhibition, what next? Keep your sleuthing hat on, as Miss Marple hasn't finished yet. Most Open Exhibitions are judged by a panel, and with a bit of rummaging, you should be able to find out who they are. The panel may be comprised of practicing artists, curators, art historians, gallery owners, celebrity collectors. Research them as much as you can. What sort of work do the artists make? What is special about the experts. What are their artistic interests. The RA Summer Show committee is headed by a different artist every year, and their influence is clearly evident in the final selection. The same will apply to all Open Exhibitions. If you like the style and work of the artist or the judge, there's a greater chance that they may like your aesthetic in return.
Photography. This year, more than ever before, you need to take some cracking good photos of the painting (or print, sculpture etc.,) you want to submit, as increasingly, submissions are online. And this year, many exhibitions may be virtual too. It doesn't matter how wonderful your work is, for if the photograph is not brilliant, you won't get through the first round. This means it needs to be in focus (obviously!), well lit, taken face on and cropped to the edge of the image (no mount or frame visible). I will be talking more about photography in a later blog post, but in the meantime, if you are not confident in your photography skills, do not have a tripod, and only have a camera phone, I would seriously think about getting your work professionally photographed.
Time. Ideally you have a portfolio full of wonderful paintings ready to be sent out into the world. But if not, then give yourself time. As tempting as it may be to 'throw something together' when you come across an opportunity with a deadline 24 hours away, the reality is it possibly won't be your best work. Never mind having the time to do the research listed earlier. Most Open Exhibitions have a long submission period, so aim for the start not the end. When you have a painting you think stands a chance, live with it for a while, and see if it looks as good after a week or two. If you still love it, and Miss Marple, she says yes, then go for it. I wish you lots of luck and please, please let me know of any successes you may have.