Click the white bird on the blue palette to subscribe to hear about all my workshops, events, and videos before the general public. Some announcements will contain incentives offered only to members on this list. Subscribe yourself and receive a free (pdf) gift from me!

Nov 5, 2014

"Excuse me sir, but I think your painting has a certain, um...'Jen ne sais quoi?'"

It seems these days there is an online painting competition around every corner. Enter your art here. Enter it there. And if it wins something then enter it somewhere else. Perhaps it has always been like this but I don't think so. At least in terms of how many there are. The number of competitions these days is staggering.
Ha! Even as I started drafting this post I received a notification about yet another competition – one from the 'Museum of Biblical Art'. (whaaah?) Apparently they would appreciate it if I would consider submitting any tile mosaics I've created in the past year that expresses a religious narrative. Not sure how I ended up on that mailing list...
With every painting you enter there is an entry fee attached – usually running between $25 to $60 or so, depending upon the association or event. Philosophically I'm not against racking the credit card for such things but sometimes I wonder where all the money goes. Or if participating helps my career in any way.

But in truth, there are competitions that can elevate your profile, put cash in your pocket, garner esteem and accolades from your fellow artists – and attract collectors down the road. And, in my opinion, Raymar Art offers a terrific opportunity for this every month.

I will be the judge for this month's Raymar Art Contest
and I'd like to share a few thoughts with you...

I don't know about you, but whenever I decide to enter a competition the first thing I do is check out the judge's website in the hopes of gaming the system. (Ha! joking!...) Then I cherry pick paintings from my stacks guaranteed to sway the judge. (Ha again!...) And let me tell you, it works every time! (Ha! ha!...) 

Nope, not in my experience. I have come to the conclusion that trying to second-guess the judge in the hopes of affecting a difference is a fool's errand because he or she will always surprise you with the quirky nature of their final picks. In reality, if you are chosen as a winner you will instantly feel as if you are riding at the top of the world – that everything is beautiful, and all is good. If not, well, your world collapses into a burnt out cinder of ennui. 

But then, another competition comes along and your prospects seem rosy again! It's an up and down cycle and sometimes manic. So don't take competitions too seriously.

However, having said all that, there are few things you can do 
to increase your chances of being noticed by the judge. 

1. Photograph your work well. It all starts with that. Without a good jpeg to upload, you have no hope. If you don't have access to the services of a professional photographer then you can shoot it yourself. Bring your painting outside between 10 and 2:00 and place it in the shade if it is a sunny day (north-facing is preferred.) If it is overcast then set up in the best light available. Mount your camera on a tripod and set the meter reading to 'average' (see your camera's manual). Then, use the 3-second shutter timer to eliminate any camera shake. If you can, place a white card next to the painting at the same angle. The camera meter will then automatically white balance (color-correct) the digital image for you. This really works and is easy to do. And no, you don't need the latest and greatest 24 meg digital SLR to shoot your work. Most point-and-shoots you buy today are sufficient.
2. Square up the painting in the camera before taking the shot. It's easier to do it in-camera than on a computer. When you put it on your computer be sure to crop out whatever isn't part of the painting. This means editing out the white card I just told you about. Delete any errant tufts of grass along the bottom. And for goodness sake, do not include that French swirly faux-gold picture frame your mother loves so much. Crop out anything that isn't the painting itself.
3. Read the contest submission requirements closely. Then reread them again before you click 'upload'. If you intentionally or accidentally violate one of the requirements it's game over. No judge will look past that. 
4. Submit your paintings and pray – assuming you believe in prayer. Because that is all you can do from this point on. Well there is something else you can do. You could start another painting because it is likely to be a better entry for the next competition that comes along. No matter what is decided by the last judge you must keep going.

But how do those sum's-a-b*&%#$tch judges pick their winners!!!?

There are no formulas, and honestly, I can't shed any light on how other judges think – but here are some things I look for when asked to evaluate a competition. Admittedly, my criteria can appear a bit subjective but it is supported by a formal art education, a deep knowledge of art history, years of teaching in a BFA program and offering workshops, and thirty years of pushing paint around. But let's cut to the chase: I want you to submit what you believe is your best work, not what you think I think is your best work. Did that confuse you? Just show me what you believe is your best work. I can't emphasize this enough.

What I look for (which is as good as admitting a few biases right up front):
1. First, I ask how much did the artist reach for in this painting? Was it a softball toss or did he or she take some risks? 
2. Okay, so maybe there is a risk here. Did it pay off? 
3. Does this painting create an emotional impact? A technical tour deforce is all well and good and it can generate some appeal but if that is all that is present then the entire effort skids toward taxidermy. I kid you not, if I feel gut-punched by looking at a painting then I know something powerful is present. The how and why I feel tat way comes second. 
4. Technical expertise. I am going to go with what I've always been taught – that craftsmanship should simply be expected. Because, unless you are talking to another artist of your own ilk, the non-artist (civilian?) wants to feel your painting, not be amazed by the manner it was made. I am not being pedantic by drawing this distinction. It is no less meaningful to be awed by the view driving across the Golden Gate Bridge without any idea of how it was built than to also be able to explain the engineering involved. In art, method and technique are the plumbing, not the raison d'ĂȘtre. So I encourage you to submit the content that excites you emotionally. Make it personal.
5. Paintings which have an immediate read will usually make the first cut, but paintings lacking in further complexity are unlikely to make the second. I appreciate how confusing that may sound but really, most great works of art encompass both things. Submit work that can draw viewers in from across the room and then reward them for coming close. Yes, this can be a difficult thing to embody in a single work but there you have it: making art ain't easy.

I promise I will do my best to pick good paintings out of the work submitted this November. I have done this sort of thing in the past for other venues so I know what difficulties lie ahead. I am honored to be asked by the folks at RayMar to do this and feel accountable to every artist who chooses to submit their work and all the judges who have preceded me. This is a high-caliber competition, with high standards, and while it may be an honor to critically evaluate the efforts of one's fellow artists, it is always a difficult task. 

Because, as any artist who has ever been asked to 
appraise the work of his or her fellow colleagues knows... 

"When you are the judge you don't have a friend in the room..." 

Good luck!


2 reader comments:

jimserrettstudio said...

Sage level advice, so what would be the type and best method of bribe in this case. :)

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Sure Jim, just jot down your favorite painting on the back of a $20 bill and send it in. Multiple votes will help...

(Kidding, just kidding! Don't do it.)