Perfecting Your Jury Submissions

by Steve Meltzer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Putting together a jury submission package can be pretty nerve wracking. You have to edit down a year of work to just a few images, and you can begin to worry that, whatever you choose, some juror will not like them. It is the old story of obsessing about unseen jurors, and searching for what you believe the jurors are looking for. It becomes a game with you against an unseen opponent. The problem is, of course, that the stakes can be high, especially in a poor economy, where good shows are struggling to survive.

Although it is important to try to match your submission to the style or variety of show you are applying to (you would not want to send contemporary pottery to a Renaissance Faire), focusing on the show can often produce a weaker submission. In my experience, there are things that jurors look for and that your images need to convey to them. The first is that you are a serious artist, a professional, and the second is that you have a style and a body of work.

How do you show these ideas in your submission?

It all starts with control, that is the work and expense that no one likes, and it involves many of the issues I've covered in the past.

It means the extra time for "finishing" your images in a photo-editing program, such as Picasa or Photoshop; the programs are for cropping, resizing, color correcting, and adjusting your images to make them sparkle. It means learning how to use editing software, whether you are buying it or downloading some free software. When I broach the topic of learning to edit digital images, the response I get often is moaning and groaning. Often, the excuse is, "The camera was set to automatic; why do I have to do something else?"

Sorry to say, but if you are a professional craftsperson, or at least someone who is serious about making and selling crafts, this is just part of the drill. Learning to process and edit digital images is part of being an artist in the 21st century.

Control is, in fact, where the professional and the amateur diverge. Control of your images is part of being a professional and putting together a jury submission; you demonstrate your professionalism through the care you show in the images.

For any show, big or small, jurors have to go through hundreds of submissions. It is a long and arduous task, and, after a while, jurors begin to see more defects in the submissions. Bad photographs can make a juror worry that, although the work itself is good, you don't really care enough to present it well; that may make them think that you are not someone to be in their show.

Here are some tips and ideas that I think can help you make better jury submissions.

10 Tips for Creating a Strong Jury Submission Package

1. Look at your work objectively, as though you were a juror, and select pieces that are strong examples of your work. Don't simply shoot your favorite pieces or your best sellers, but select a group of pieces that work together.

2. Overshoot. Rather than select just four or five pieces to photograph, choose eight to ten. If you have two or three pieces, you just have to photograph the next six to eight pieces that will work to show off these pieces.

3. Don't think in terms of a single one-size-fits-all submission, but, rather, think about creating two or three packages out of the eight to ten images. Try to think of the kinds of shows you are entering and adjust the submission to best fit each of them.

4. Photograph your work with similar, if not the same, background. Variations in backgrounds can be very disturbing to the eye.

5. Light the pictures the same. It is very disconcerting to have a set of pictures where the light seems to be jumping around in each frame.

6. Select images that are similar in overall contrast and tone. Do not mix high-contrast images with low-contrast ones; it diminishes the impact of both. And, do not mix very dark craftwork on dark backgrounds with light craftwork on light backgrounds.

7. Adjust and correct image colors in photo-editing software so that the colors are accurate.

8. Try to eliminate differences in color between images. This is particularly important if you are a silversmith or jeweler and you make silver and gold pieces. These materials are tones, not colors, and they can vary from image to image if not carefully controlled.

9. It is very difficult to show size in photos. Most of the time, it is easy for jurors to get a sense of the size of a piece, but, sometimes, it can be a problem. For example, I once shot jury submission images for a potter who made plates and platters. The platters were 2 feet across, but, because they were glazed and shaped like the plates, which were only 10 inches across, I had to figure out how to show the differences in scale between the two. To do this, I shot the photos with different focal length lenses. This changed the relationship of the piece to the background; that is, the perspective of the two and the little perspective clues were enough to make the platter look bigger against the background. I also framed the images so that the platter nearly filled the frame, while the plate had a little space around it.

10. After I take the photographs, I always take a minute to view them side by side on my monitor. If it is a set of four or five images, I bring them up together on my PC screen, which most editing software lets you do. Then, I can see the pictures the way a juror would, and differences in tonality and color between images will pop right up. I can then tweak the images for the best overall presentation.

All these tips will help you create a more professional look to your jury submissions.

The photos with this column are illustrations of two gallery show submissions I put together for my own work. One was for a portrait show, and the other was to try to get a show of my photographs of the running of the bulls (albeit rather small ones) in a rural French village.