Thursday, February 23, 2017

Being Your Own Juror

Afternoon Refuge, oil, 14x18
My first accepted entry into an Oil Painters of America show, 2013.

If you’ve ever served as a juror for a competitive show, you know it’s a real eye opener. I can honestly say that my own experience jurying shows has enabled me to understand why good paintings often get declined from shows. It has also helped me to not lose sleep over having my own work declined from a show. Here’s why…

For most of the shows I’ve juried, I can often narrow down to a slightly smaller number of entries fairly easily by assessing basic skill level. And I’ll usually notice a handful of standout pieces that I know I’ll include. But after that, the painful, tedious part begins when I’m assessing a still large number of outstanding paintings, and very competent work must still get weeded out in order to narrow the count down to the required number of paintings for the show. If I were to go back at a later time through those last, say, 20 paintings, that I had reluctantly placed in the “no” category, I would probably still find them to all be great paintings. And I’m sure those artists all wondered why they were declined. If I were one of those artists, I’d sure wonder why I didn’t get in.

One of the most painful things that goes through my mind as I move an entry into the “no” category is that it might very well be that artist’s best work to date. And that part is truly agonizing for any juror.

I look back at work I did 15 years ago and there are some pieces I painted then that were indeed my best work yet. But I still had a very long way to go before I could ever dream of being accepted into some of the shows I’ve juried recently. One of the difficult aspects about developing as an artist--or really developing a skill in any field-- is that in the early stages, you don’t always realize what you still have yet to learn.

Students have asked me, “What do I have to fix in my paintings to make them good enough to get juried into national shows?” In many cases, it’s not just something that needs “fixing.” It’s usually a combination of skills that still need developing within the artist. To those artists, I say be patient. Allow yourself the proper amount of time to develop the necessary skills, as well as your own unique artistic voice in your work.

If you want to get more into the mindset of what a juror sees, look up the previously accepted entries in the shows to which you aspire. Compare them one by one to your own. Consider the technical skills (composition, values, color temperature, edges, mark-making, etc.), and really scrutinize those skills in the accepted work and in your own work. Also notice any unique qualities of some of the previously accepted work, which pushes it out of the “typical painting” realm. (A juror sees LOTS of “typical” paintings in the jurying process.) Imagine the juror is seeing all of these accepted entries, one after another, and try to gauge where the level of your own work lies. Be honest with yourself … that’s how you’ll stretch yourself as an artist.

Aspen Road at Sunset, pastel, 9x12
My first accepted entry into a Pastel Society of America show, 2010.

I remember being anxious to get my work juried into the big national shows, getting rejected, and not quite understanding why. I look back at that work now and clearly see that my skill level just wasn’t there yet. In some of my workshops, I show a slide presentation of what my work looked like when I first started painting, to how it has evolved over the past 17 years. I show this in order to stress that developing as an artist takes time, patience and deliberate, persistent growth … not necessarily natural-born talent.

Many artists have a goal to get their work accepted into their dream shows. And that’s great if it’s pushing you to improve your work. I think juried shows are kind of fun to enter, and who doesn’t get excited about winning an award. (I have a bit of a competitive streak in me.) However, I honestly believe you’ll flourish even more if you focus primarily on just achieving the best work possible in your painting journey. 

Beware of putting too much emphasis on getting into shows and winning awards. Yes, they’re one way to gauge your progress (over time, NOT based on any one show). But shows and awards aren’t the only way. Be the juror for your own personal painting growth. Learn to self-critique. Take stock of how your work has progressed over time, and don’t forget to applaud yourself for the strides of improvement you’ve made over the years. After all, this painting thing isn’t easy. I know.


Kiawah Island, SC - 4 day OIL workshop, studio & 1-day plein air - ONE SPOT JUST OPENED UP
March 14, 15, 16 & 17, 2017
(This workshop wasn't previously promoted since it was filled from within the group hosting it.)
Contact: Colleen Parker, 

Redondo Beach, CA - 3-day PASTEL workshop - MORE DATES JUST ADDED!
3- day workshop: April 17, 18 & 19, 2017 (Mon/Tues/Wed)
2- day workshop: April 20 & 21, 2017 (Thurs/Fri)
1-day workshop: April 22 (Sat)
Pastel Society of Southern California
Contact: Arturo Fribourg,
$325 (3-day), $220 (2-day), $110 (1-day)

Oregon City, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
May 19, 20& 21, 2017 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
"Meet & Greet" Thursday evening (5/18)
Carrie Moore Studios, Oregon City, OR
Contact: Carrie Moore,, 503-866-5507

Cumberland, MD - 1-day Plein Air workshop (all media/demo will be in oil)
June 25, 2017 (Sun)
Part of the Mountain Maryland Plein Air event happening June 19-24.
Contact: Chris Sloan,, 301-777-2787

Bainbridge Island, WA - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop (studio & plein air)
July 19, 20 & 21, 2017 (Wed/Thurs/Fri)
Winslow Art Center
278 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Contact: Martha Jordan,, 206-715-6663


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