Artist Image Workshop; St. Louis Art Fair

This was discussed on one of Larry Berman's posts. I'm going to try and summarize what I gleaned out of the workshop, and what is applicable to most artists.


It was a long workshop. It started off initially with the organizers expecting 25 artists, and it grew, and quickly swelled to over 190 artists submitting work. Very much to the credit of the organizers, they agreed to address each and every artist. It started at 9:00 AM and was slow to get started, as was expected, while the judges got used to the public forum and personal critique and start picking up steam. Instead of the one hour lunch break, the judges got twenty minutes, and soldiered on with a few potty breaks tossed in until after 8:00 PM. I stayed there until about the last three or four artists were reviewed, and then the judges talked one-on-one to the few remaining artists that needed some additional help. For the artists, who weren't present, a webcast was available and IMing allowed questions and clarifications to be put to the judges.


Much of what has been preached in these forums about cleaning up the booths and consistency of work was hammered home by the judges.


Consistency of work doesn't mean all identical pieces or same subject material, but it does mean that all the pieces need to be in the same style. Two bodies of work or occasionally three bodies of work would be evident in many of the  submissions. All B&W photos of a waterfall, a couple of flowers, and a meadow are not the same body of work, even though someone might think, "They're all outdoors shots of nature, and they're all in the same style; i.e., Black and white". Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Many repeated examples of it does drive it home that the pieces need to be strongly connected and not tenuously connected by a wish. A comment was made by one of the jurors that they don't want to see examples of luck in getting some pretty pictures. Wood workers, as an example, were in for the same reasoning. One artist had a couple of outstanding tables and wood sculpture. The two different bodies of work could be enough to block them from going past the first round. They want to see a unified body of work whatever the media. One of the  painters had some plein air work that had the consistency of subject material, where water was a unifying theme, but the style of brush work was sufficiently different from piece to piece that it would be difficult to make it into the second round. There had to be consistency that linked everything together.


One of the comments I picked up was that a strongly consistent body of work  would stand a better chance of going forward than some outstanding work of higher caliber that was not consistent as a unified body of work. It may not have been spoken in that fashion, but that was the distinct impression I picked up. It has to do with the vision and direction of the artist. It's hard to understand the direction and vision of disjointed work, but the unified body of work is what will grab the understanding and appreciation of the judges in the brief moment of time they have. If they have to stop, think, and ponder what you're doing as an artist, you're done for the day as it were.


You can't slack off on the artist statement, contrary to what some of us have thought. For the photographers, you can skip the part about what printer you're using as part of the statement. I heard that quite a bit and it's irrelevant. If there is a part about materials, place it there. If anyone uses something recycled or repurposed, that seemed to register highly with the jurors. If you draw on influences from whatever movement or an artist, place that in the artist statement. Whatever you can say in the materials statement or artist statement that will make it easier for the judges to understand what you're doing and understand your vision, the better off you'll be.


The much maligned booth shot turns out to be a much more critical piece of the puzzle. It can make or break your entry at the get-go. Don't slack off on it, ot you'll be wondering why you're having to apply to so many shows just to get into a few. The issues that have been preached ad infinitum really are true. Here's the mantra I heard the entire day; Simplify and  unify.  I don't care if it seems false advertising, it's the same thing you do when you want to sell a house; stage the damn thing. If you don't get past the gatekeeper, it's all academic. Here's the big secret about staging the boothshot; it gives you an opportunity to submit more of your work and show the breadth of it. You want the jury shots in there, or you're screwed. No visible jury shots and they wonder what you're selling. No one says the jury shots have to be front and center, place them on the side (still visible) and get some more work in there on that back wall. Now you can have 4 to 6 more pieces with which to impress the jurors, and yes the work in the booth slide is visible.


An awfully high percentage of the booth shots were just not good, and more than once (actually many times), what was good competent work would have been knocked out because of an atrocious booth shot. Different work from the jury shots would seem like a no-brainer, but it happened many times and that would have been enough to be knocked out in the first round. The judge's comments were frequently, "You don't need to show or hang everything you've ever done in the booth shot".


Keep the booth simple, keep it clean, and get the frou-frou plants and tables out of there. You're not selling plants or casual tables with a guest book on it. That stuff can go back in during the show as far as I can tell, but they don't want to see it in the booth shot, and particularly as frequently the artwork was blocked by the extraneous stuff like that.


Gridded walls came in for their share of grief in the comments. Not because of what they were, but because of how they were used. Fabric artists seemed to get the worst of that, as only two or three shots of their booths made effective use of the display. Most wearable fabric booths had clothing on hangers packed in tightly, and the grid walls would obscure the work. The most impressive wearable fabric artists had their work hanging flat and straight on to the viewer, and would hang a piece of the gridwall more like a retail display. Show the work, not the grids.


Potters seem to have a problem with the work all merging into one undistinguishable mass. Arranging pedestals in descending order from the back corners forward seemed to be a good visual method of seperating them out away from each other. Jewelers seldom had display photos across the back, and those are relatively inexpensive to have printed.


A key issue in booth design was to make sure the booth had a visual rhythm to it. As the jurors pointed out, you're spemnding large anounts of time and money on your work, don't blow it with an amateurish display, Some of the booth shots had 2D work sitting on the ground, and that received a fair amount of scorn as it looked like a trunk sale or yard sale. Place the same amount of thought and art design into the booth as you do your work.


The salient points of the booth shots are to get in close, crop out the ceiling as much as possible, show all the walls as best as possible (no corner shots), light it well, no open back walls showing the landscape behind, keep it clean and neat, and minimal.


Much of what has been said about the jury shots themselves is what we've been hearing around here. Gradient backgrounds, don't use a white background, and keep all the jury shots in the same lighting style and make sure they match. Don't get too fancy wit the Photo Shop lighting effects to the point where the lighting becomes the focus of the shot.


I'll add more later on, but this gets the gist of what went on. Again my hat is off to the organizers and jurors for a job well done.

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  • It was in January. It's always about a month before the show application closes. They give artists a chance to improve their images for the actual application.

    Larry Berman

  • Wow, what a great thread.  Marianne, I can definitely sympathize with you.  They say they want to see the range of your work, but most of the time I don't think they really do.  I am in a quandary right now over the very same thing.

  • Hi-I am the artist who submitted the small nightlight along with my other jury shots. And yes, I did that in this mock jury just to test the theory, having been told I needed to include in jury slides ALL work I would like to have for sale. I knew the feedback would be negative, I just wanted to see how bad. It was very informative, and will definitely help me in future show application planning.  The booth slide feedback was also very helpful for me, and I am rethinking a number of things in my booth. I have the same dilemma as many, the majority of what I sell is under $50, though there is much in my booth between $100-$250. I see that I have erred on the side of having just too much small stuff, and the way I display it could be improved. Overall, the mock jury was really interesting and helpful.

  • Thank you, good suggestion, I have been doing just the opposite.

  • Bridget, difference in glaze choices didn't seem to matter that much, as long as people weren't trying to show every glaze in their catalog.  It seemed like picking two of your strongest glazes was the way to go.  Whatever your glazes, slide order was pretty important for the jurors.  One espoused the "bookend" method of organizing your images.  They were looking at the images in a horizontal line, so he suggested bookending the middle pieces with similar pieces on either side (i.e. red, black, black, red).  If your forms are all similar it seems like this method would work pretty well.

  • I'll be uploading work into my portfolio later on this evening once I get them resized and some of the unnecessary borders removed. Part of the problem is that the work is so divergent. I have one set of B&W work that is edgy, funny and offensive to a few, that uses text as part of what makes it work. Then there's another set of work using a 19th Century photo process called the Van Dyke Brown process that is handcoated onto watercolor paper and canvas that has an 1890s look, there's an architectural detail series from NewOrleans and Charleston, and there are traditional landscapes. At a couple of shows I set up a double booth and arrange the booth in a gallery style with each body of work in it's own area. The work is so different that it looks like different photographers.

  • Robert, why are you showing in your images what is more sellable? Why aren't you showing what you think is your best work? Make pieces that you think will knock the judges socks off. Make pieces for the jurors. Don't limit yourself. Show your edgiest ideas. I doubt that any jury is charged with choosing work that will sell. They are charged with finding the best.

  • Right on Robert my feelings exactly! Just when sales are down, fees and completition are up. I have had to reinvent myself. My work my booth and what shows are good and what are a sham. How far away do you plan to go if gas will be $5/gal, I giving it two maybe three years. It is nice to have found this site, you start to question your whole creative process when you are all alone in your studio. Thanks all for the input.

  • Warren, your last line nailed it on the head. The times are changing. I'm struggling to get into shows that I used to get into easily, and I'm facing stiff competition in a very competetive category. My sales have not increased as much as I would have liked to see them, and when I started using jury images that were more sellable, I've started getting rejected by more shows. I'm very close to the point where I either reinvent myself, relegate myself to low rung shows, or just get out of the business. I'm eyeballing the first rather than the others, but if that doesn't work, I'll probably get out.  It'll take a couple of more years before I decide on that. Times are changing, no doubt about it.

  • Thank you Janet, Diana and Robert all good advice! "Piece of Art" good way to look at it

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