Painting How To: Group Art Exhibits

There are all kinds of group art exhibits. Each is different, if for no other reason than the fact they all end up with different artists and artwork!  You have to read the prospectus for each exhibit carefully to find out what makes each one different from another. Do your homework so you don’t make the mistake of submitting something that doesn’t meet the specified requirements and consequently won’t be accepted.

There are four different basic types of group art exhibits: “unjuried” or “juried” and “open” or “closed”. Unjuried exhibits are the most common.  They are generally sponsored by local art associations for their members so that everyone who wishes to submit something can exhibit it.  However, various public entities, a city library, for example, may also sponsor unjuried exhibits for the general public to participate in.

With respect to unjuried art exhibits that are sponsored by art associations, a clipboard is generally passed around during a meeting so members can sign up for it.  You simply have to be a current dues-paying member.  Such exhibits generally don’t have awards.  But the sponsoring art organization might arrange for a critique of everyone’s work by a local, reputable artist.  The main purpose of such exhibits is to give everyone in the group a chance to exhibit their work.

painting of Chesapeake Bay, Painting from Oxford Yacht Club

Click Picture to Purchase: "View of Chesapeake Bay from Oxford Yacht Club"

Local artist organizations may also ask their members to bring a painting with them to regularly scheduled meetings… to “share” it with others.  All the members in attendance are asked to select one of the paintings for a “Popular Choice” award.  Though such exhibits are not considered “juried” exhibits, the guest speaker often picks out 1st/2nd/3rd/Honorable Mention awards, and ribbons are often presented to the winners.  Photos of the winners holding up their paintings may appear in the next newsletter.

However, true juried exhibitions are quite a different matter. They’re very selective, designed specifically to preserve some standard of quality for the organization and the exhibit itself. The greater the number of entries, the lesser will be the chance of getting your painting accepted.

For juried exhibits, a juror (or jurors) examines all the paintings entered (or images thereof) and decides which ones to accept. The process usually begins by selecting the best one, then working through the others ’til a predetermined number is reached, most likely that number which the exhibit space can accommodate. Those artists whose paintings are not accepted get notified to pick up their entry by a certain date and time.

There are always specific requirements for juried exhibits. Artwork has to be a certain type of media presented with a certain type or color of mat and perhaps frame.  The artwork may have to be a specific type of subject matter, a “recent work” (done within the last two or three years), artwork that’s a certain size (not too small or big) so there’ll be enough room to exhibit everyone’s artwork. Certain types of frames, hooks, wiring may be unacceptable. Make sure you read the prospectus carefully, so your work won’t be rejected!

Eldwayen Park Watercolor, Pismo Beach Painting, Pismo Beach Watercolor Painting

Click Picture to Purchase: "View of Ocean from Eldwayen Park, Pismo Beach"

For juried exhibits of other than local art associations, where artwork is often submitted by out-of-town artists, you generally have to send in a slide… though now, most often, a digital image… of your painting rather than the painting itself. These slides or digital entries must to be labeled/formatted in a specific manner. The juror/jurors review them to select the artworks. If they don’t like your image, they won’t select your painting, so make certain you submit high quality virtuals that accurately and realistically reflect the actual paintings themselves.

You’d think artists who want to get into such exhibits would send in the best possible slide or digital image of their work. Yet some do not, and they lose the opportunity to get their work accepted.  It’s critical that your slide or digital image be identical to your artwork. If it’s a distortion (much better than the original painting) and someone notices this after the painting arrives at the exhibit venue, it could be rejected and returned. On the other hand, if your entry turns out to be much worse than the slide or digital image you submitted, that horrible image of your painting ends up in the exhibit catalog!

For juried exhibits, artists are notified by mail/email whether their entry has been accepted/rejected. Slides of the rejected entries are returned, but slides (or digital images) of accepted ones are usually kept and included in publications about the exhibit.

Depending on the type of organization or artists they represent, the artwork itself for exhibits may even be restricted by type of pigment, paper, or other materials used in the artwork. For example, transparent watercolor societies don’t allow opaque pigments. If you were to submit a work that had Chinese White in it, your work would be rejected, but your entry fee kept.

Juried exhibits are designed to give recognition to individual artists through a system of awards. Selection of paintings for the exhibit may often be done by one group, awards by another. The “selection” jurors are often appointed by the officers of the sponsoring organization or its board of directors. Or they may be elected by the membership. However, the awards juror is usually a prominent artist that’s hired by the organization. The involvement of this juror in the exhibition is indicated in the prospectus and advertisements about the exhibit, since potential artists and the general public want to know. The success of such exhibits often depends on who the juror is.

Painting of Morrow Bay Harbor, watercolor art of harbor at Morrow Bay

Click Picture to Purchase: "View of Harbor, Morro Bay, SLO, CA"

Juried or not, as previously indicated, exhibits may also be “open” or “closed”. Most every artist association sponsors an annual member-only “closed” exhibit. You fill out an entry form, write a check to cover the nominal fee charged to cover costs for such exhibits, then deliver your painting, check and entry form to the exhibit venue by a given date and time.

“Open” exhibits are what you think this word means… open to anyone, not just members of the artist association sponsoring the event.  Anyone can fill out an entry form and send it with their check (members pay a reduced entry fee). Such exhibits could also be sponsored by just about any organization (though usually an art group), but most likely one that’s regional or national. They are prestigious events, “juried” not only for entry, but for awards. The awards are often hundreds of dollars each, and many thousands of dollars collectively.  Being accepted to such events is quite an achievement.  Receiving an award from one is an even greater honor!

Organizations that sponsor such events publish images of successful entries in a catalog that describes all the awards. These publications are distributed widely, not only to members of the sponsoring organization and nonmember artists accepted into the exhibit, but to galleries, newspapers, and artist magazines.

Artist publications and websites publish calendars telling you all about these more prestigious exhibits. However, notices and entry forms for less prestigious local events generally appear only in the sponsoring artist association’s newsletter and/or website.

With respect to any type of exhibit, you have to read each prospectus carefully, and make note of all the particulars. Fully understand the requirements, and be able to identify the precise date your painting was completed. There’s nearly always some prerequisite listed for the completion date of entries (generally two but sometimes three years prior to the calendar year… or actual opening date of the exhibit).  This means you must have accurate records of completion dates for all your paintings, at least the good ones, those you might submit to juried exhibits. Some artists do not maintain such records, but they need to do so if you plan to enter juried exhibits.

Certain exhibits may not allow you to submit a painting that has already received an award from another artist association… generally some regional or national group. In other words, they want to be the first ones to recognize it!

Click Picture to Purchase: "Farthing's Ordinary, Hist. St. Mary's City, MD"

Also, make certain that the dates for different exhibits to wish you submit the same painting do not conflict (run concurrent) with one another.  I made both of these mistakes… at the same time… with the same painting! I submitted a painting that had already received a prestigious award. And, unknowingly, I submitted it to two different exhibits that ran concurrently with each other. Both exhibits accepted my painting!  This put me in a real jam! I faced the challenge of having to decide which exhibit to withdraw from… but also the knowledge that if one gets a painting accepted in an exhibit and subsequently withdraws it, you’re on that art association’s black list! You won’t be able to enter their future exhibits for some specified time.

As it turned out, one of the two organizations informed me soon after they had accepted my painting that I couldn’t exhibit it because they’d discovered it had already received an award the previous year from another prominent art association. When I told them I had not done this intentionally… that I had simply overlooked this requirement because I had never heard of such a stipulation, they were very kind and did not ban me from future exhibits.

Soon afterwards, I was informed by the other group that my painting had not only been accepted into their exhibit but had received an award. Moreover, having been accepted into this particular annual exhibit three years in a row, qualified me for signature membership with their organization, my first such recognition. I was lucky things turned out as they did. Good thing I didn’t withdraw my painting from their exhibit!

Other items you need to know about when submitting entries to exhibits are the size, manner of framing, matting, and glazing of your artwork.  Specifications for these are generally spelled out in entry forms. Frame size generally refers to the outside dimensions of a framed painting, not it’s nominal size or the overall dimensions of the mat (see further discussion under “Frames”.)

At most exhibits, the sponsoring organization stipulates the percentage of the sales price which they will retain should your painting be sold.  Also – as I already indicated… many exhibits won’t accept your painting if it’s not for sale (NFS).

Exhibits of all types schedule opening receptions to honor participating artists. These can be quite simple but also rather elaborate affairs. For the more prestigious annual/national/open/juried exhibits, there may be a cocktail party, dinner with speakers, and other related events. It will most likely be a two or three day affair at a hotel where participants are encouraged to stay the entire weekend, since many people will have traveled some distance to attend.

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.


Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors