Studio Musings

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lessons Learned: Submitting Works to Calls for Entry

Continuing in my Lessons Learned series, this week I look at Calls for Entry from a curator's point of view.  Curator's need submissions:  without submissions, they have nothing to work with.  More they need focused, high-quality submissions.  As an artist, your goal is to get your work into the 'show'. 
The better your work fits with the curator's needs, the more likely it is to be accepted. 

Going into the planning stages for Explorations (2014), I wanted to include a wide range of designs by artists working in the field of freeform peyote beading.  Everyone brings their own style and interpretation to freeform bead weaving, and I wanted to highlight and share that diversity. 

I stated that I was looking for "original designs, high-quality photos and a wide range of styles.  The predominant beading style of all work submitted for consideration must be freeform peyote stitch, though pieces may include other beading styles, stitches and media.  Works may be jewelry, accessories or small sculptural pieces."  Here's the full text for the Call for Entry.  Launching the call, I didn't know what submissions I would receive, or how they would go together as a collection.    

General Suggestions for Submitting Works
Don't be afraid to submit!  The worst that will happen is that you'll receive a "thank you, but no thank you" letter.  I've received a number of these myself.  They aren't fun, but they are a sign that you are actively trying.  As an artist, when I receive such notices I remind myself that the rejection may have as much to do with how my work 'fit' with other submissions and the curator's developing vision as with the quality of my work and of my photography.   But there are things we can do to increase our chances of acceptance:
  • Check the fit!  Make sure your work fits the submission criteria.  Several of the submissions I received were lovely examples of freeform bead weaving, but not the freeform peyote stitch technique.  Since freeform peyote beading was the focus of my book, I couldn't include samples where the predominant stitch was anything else.  Perhaps I'll write another book with a broader focus.  This book wasn't it.
  • Use what ever submission mechanism they request.  Keeping track of all of the submissions can be a full-time job in and of itself.  I had multiple spreadsheets, and still had trouble keeping track of the status for many of the submissions, as I often needed to request different or additional photographs.  Make it easier on the publisher, gallery or curator by using their submission process. 
  • Submit your best work.  Yes, this seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. 
  • Take the best photographs you can.  More on this below.
  • Make sure your photographs meet the Call's criteria.  Image size and resolution can make or break your submission.  I'll talk about this in depth later in this post.
Five Tips for Photographing your Work
Take the best pictures you possibly can!  This is especially important when submitting to major publishers.  Because I really wanted to include as many pieces as possible, I spent quite a bit of time working with several of the artists who submitted works to try to improve their photography enough to be able to use it.  More established curator's won't be able or willing to take this time.  Here were some of the most common problems:

Background: a neutral background is easiest for me to work with in book design.  In general, lighter colored backgrounds tend to be easier to work with than black or other darker colors.  The darker color backgrounds may be dramatic, but they can pose real challenges for page design.  Avoid colored backgrounds (deep blue, red, orange, etc.)!  With colored backgrounds, you increase the risk of conflicting with the curator's vision.  If possible, take a look at the backgrounds used in the photographs of accepted works from previous exhibitions or publications and try to use something similar. 

Background vs. Piece: Take some pictures where your work fills the background.  But also take some photos from a greater distance, leaving more background that can be cropped as necessary to fit the intended page layout.  Take photos from multiple angles.  Don't forget to take detail photos as well;  filling the photo frame with close-up views of your work. 

Look through your favorite magazines to see how they used backgrounds and staged pieces for photography to get ideas for how you might photograph your own work.  This is also useful if you plan to have someone photograph your work for you.

Clarity:  Make sure that the images are crisp and clear.  Blurry photos simply aren't useable, no matter how beautiful the work might be.  Also, make sure to check your photographs for fuzzies, bits of frayed thread, smudges and other little things that your eye overlooks when viewing the actual piece.  All of these little things tend to stand out like blazing beacons of ugliness in photographs.  If your photos have any of these, you really need to correct the problem and take new photos. 

Lighting: minimize color casts as much as possible!  Yellow or grey casts distort the other colors in your piece and make your work far less appealing.  It also means more potential work for the publisher: removing the color casts without messing up the rest of the colors can be quite tricky. 

Image size: Always, always take your photos at the highest possible resolution.  This will give you maximum flexibility as to how you can use them.

Here are two earlier blog posts I've written about photographing your work, including reviews for books on the subject:  Updating my Photography Setup and Photographing Beadwork Outside the Studio.  Both posts are older: this is a continual learning process for me, as I work to improve my own photography skills.  I still highly recommend The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos by Heidi Adnum as an easy-to-read guide on the subject.

Preparing your Images for Submission
I can't tell you how disappointing it was to receive lovely images of incredibly beautiful pieces, only to realize that the images were too small, or of too low a resolution for me to actually use.  I know it was equally disappointing for the artists as well.  Worse, several of the artists had failed to save their original, larger images and had given away or sold the actual piece, so it was impossible to take additional photos.  Heart breaking!  Here are some ways to avoid this problem:
  Understanding Image sizes:
Photos are sized in two ways:  the total number of pixels (by height and width), and the DPI (Dots per Inch).  Make sure your images are large enough for the curator's use!
  • Height and Width:   What's truly important is your image's height and width measured in pixels.  As a general rule of thumb, your submitted image should be at least 1700-2000 pixels tall and wide.  Check the call for entry closely for specifics.
  • Height and width measurements in inches or centimeters are misleading.  These measurements are relative as they are based upon your image's current resolution (determined by dpi).
  • DPI, which stands for Dots Per Inch, is literally the number of pixels or dots that make up a single inch of the image.  At 72dpi, a single inch of the image is divided into 72 equal-sized squares.
Different publishing mediums require different images sizes.  Images are saved at different DPI depending upon whether they are designed for the screen or print:
  • Digital Publications:  Images viewed optimized to view on a screen or monitor are typically saved at 72 or 144dpi.
  • Print Publications: Images optimized for print publishing require a much higher resolution - a minimum of 300dpi.  
Here's an example of how this affects things:
  • I received a file that was 5"x7".  That sounds like it's plenty large enough for printing, right?  Unfortunately, it was saved at only 72dpi.
  • The image's total resolution in pixels was 360 x 504 pixels.  (5" x 72dpi = 360 and 7" x 72dpi = 504)
  • I then had to convert that to 300dpi (the minimum dpi for print publishing).
  • Converted, the image was only 1.2" x 1.68".  Too Small! (360/300=1.2" and 504/300=1.68")
Become comfortable with whatever image editing software you use so that you can change the image size as necessary to fit the submission requirements.   

Always, Always Preserve your Original Photos!!! You want to keep your original photos pristine, so that they are ready to edit for different purposes.  Do not save edits to your original file; use 'Save As' instead.
  • Open your original file
  • Make all necessary changes
  • Always use SAVE AS to preserve your changes.
  • Close the original file without savingDO NOT save the changes to your original file.  You want to keep original image without changes. 
This is especially important because some image file types use compression algorithms to reduce each image's file size.  Every time you save a .JPG, it tries to compress the file a little smaller, discarding what it thinks is extraneous data.  With several saves, these losses can become visible as jagged, pixelated edges.  And suddenly the file is no longer useable.

In closing, every Call for Entry is about building a collection.  Curators are looking to build a cohesive collection of the highest quality works and images.  As artists, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for the curator to fit our work into that collection.  Since our work will be evaluated based upon the photographs we submit, we want to do everything we can to make they act as the best possible ambassadors for our work. 


  1. great post Karen! and very objective from an author's point of view. thank you for being so thorough, and I agree that understanding the author/ or publisher's lens makes all the difference. Sometimes it is difficult to see from the artist's perspective, but your suggestions do help to put things into perspective

  2. Being on the 'other side' was really instructive for me, so I wanted to try and share what I'd learned.