Thursday, September 08, 2016

All the mistakes you can make when submitting work to an art exhibition

Who hasn't had an awful experience when preparing for an exhibition?

16 things that can go wrong when submitting art to an exhibition

Here's a list of things that can go wrong. If you leave a comment and come up with a good one I'll add it to the list. A lot of what's on there comes from stories people have told me. I swear I haven't made all the mistakes myself - just some of them!

1.  Don't read the call for entries and rules properly 

One loses count of the stories heard of people not realising that the media used or the subject of their artwork or their country or their status doesn't allow them to enter!

2.  Get the submission date / deadline wrong 

I think probably most of us have done that one. Ranks alongside forgetting the date of your examinations. The effect on your insides is about the same. If you're really, really lucky you don't paint in oils and realise you've got the date wrong with at least a couple of days to spare.....

3. Realise far too late that the custom built frame makes your artwork too big to enter 

I think there are three strategies on this one but I'd be interested to hear more
  • EITHER Say absolutely nothing and cross your fingers that the organisers won't reach for their tape measures. This is the only one that works - sometimes. Some have done this and got their work accepted; 
  • OR ring up and ask the organiser whether it would still be OK to enter it. You know what they're going to say so basically you've just spent money on a wasted phone call; 
  • OR put the very considerable expense down to a learning curve. One you won't be repeating....

4. Realise far too late that your cheap bargain frame makes your artwork look cheap too

There's absolutely nothing wrong with a cheap robust frame; the trick comes in making them look simple but expensive! I believe in bone coloured paint!

5. Fail to complete your artwork on time 

This goes without saying. Who hasn't been there? There's the artwork you submit and then there's the artwork you meant to submit.  Then there's the first two versions in which you tried to get it right and the one you submitted because you have now given up the will to live!

6. Fail to get the artwork to dry on time

The same as above but only for those working in media which takes forever to dry!  This one tends to go with resolutions to "never ever use xyz again!" because you've been caught out by changing your normal media.

7. Find out that the varnish destroys the finish

You're using new media - and forgot to test it with the varnish before you started to use it!  Often comes about (but not always) as a result of not reading the tiny tiny print on the side of the container.

8. Find out that the fixative makes your media run

Not every fixative likes every dry media. On one memorable occasion I recall a friend telling me a very sad story about working on a commission and then watching her coloured pencil media drip off the support after she applied fixative. It literally became liquid and slid off the support!

9. Forget to take a proper professional image/scan/photo of the artwork before it is framed

We all live in hope that this is the last time we'll see the artwork if it is for sale so we need a good image of it . However does this mean we remember something we need to do every single time when we submit work to an art exhibition. Of course we don't!!!

There's a variation on this one which is that you don't look at the pics you took until after you have submitted the work.

Which explains this really dreadful group shot of my artwork for Florum! I eliminated the reflections on the glass - and the definition in the photo....

(Top row) Massonia bifolia
(Middle row): Crassula Buddha's Temple; Cardiocrinum giganteum Seeds pods study
(bottom row) Astrophytum and Haworthia - Spots and Stripes

10. Neglect to book the framer in time 

This one comes with a variety of options:
  • you didn't know your old framer has died/disappeared to beat the creditors/packed up and not told you
  • how were you supposed to know that your framer likes three week holidays just before the busy season for submissions?
  • your framer is so good he's now booked solid for the next six months
  • your framer is good but can't help you and he's not telling you about anybody else who is as good as him!
This is when you learn to frame for yourself!

Or alternatively inspect my List of Recommended Framers 
(New names always welcome - just post something public that I can reference about your framer and why you like him or her - and then complete the form at the bottom of the page)

11. Break the glass in your frame

You can do this any number of ways but my favourite - and the one that gives me collywobbles every single time is taking it out of the frame so as to clean both sides. Especially when you nearly drop it as the sharp edge cuts your finger and very nearly drops on to the artwork which is nearby.... (Been there, done that!)

12. Scratch the frame badly during transport 

You've probably just ruled your work out of being hung and all for the sake of proper packing materials.

However if you notice in good time you can sometimes work magic with sandpaper and paint. (Guess who's done this one?)

13. Send the artwork via a man with a van - who can't find the destination on time

It happens and has happened. It pays to use those who have developed a good reputation.

(see Fine Art Transport - For those who 'need to know'​ how to pack, mail and ship art)

14.  Fail to build in contingency time for getting to the hand-in on time

So yesterday my partner stopped me from banging on my horn and screeching at the delivery driver who was blocking the exit from my cul de sac to "*&^%$£ get out of the way" on the basis that this would only make him slow down. I can also do getting out of the car, saying nothing and reaching for my iPhone and taking a photo of the illegally parked vehicle. But I save that one for when I'm getting desperate!

15. Arrive at the hand-in only to find that the artwork has dropped down behind the mat 

This only happens to people who mat their artwork and do NOT use the proper method for hinging artwork to a mat (or use a framer who hasn't got a clue!)

16. Procrastination 

It goes without saying that this underpins that old adage "By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail". Of course for the next exhibition or next year you'll do better....

You may have realised by now that I've been preparing for an exhibition. The problem with knowing what can go wrong is I still get the heebie jeebies even if almost everything goes OK.

So what's been the big mistake you made - or only just avoided?

Please leave a comment or send me an email with your BIG MISTAKE or NEAR ESCAPE!


The annual Florum exhibition was started with the aim of creating a colourful and inspiring mix of works celebrating plant life. 

I've got artwork in the Florum exhibition which opens to the public at Kent Wildlife Trust's Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve on Saturday.
I'm stewarding all day next Friday if you'd like to come and meet me as well as see the exhibition.
I'll be doing a review of the exhibition on this blog at the weekend.


  1. Filing the form in wrong. I have a bit of phobia of forms, all those boxes . . . once I mixed up the prices of two paintings - for the same exhibition - ending up selling the big work for half price.

  2. That hurts! I always like to have two forms - one for the trial run (and to make the mistake on) and the other for the proper final version.

  3. Using my (very reliable) shipping company to submit a very large, glazed, work to a Mall Galleries competition, but the courier just selected a society at random from their checklist for Carlton House - so it arrived in time but wasn't opened in time for judging..... cue a lot of begging calls /emails but no luck. A complete waste of time and money.

    In regards to scratches - buy yourself some Retouch Cream from Liberon, its a miracle product, will cover anything!

  4. Got two selected for one of the open shows at the mall galleries, had arranged for a friend to take the selected artworks to the pick up point but the courier decided not to bother with my collection point, the really annoying thing was that at the moment of realisation that this had occurred I was miles away from my artwork (the ones due for collection) in the mall galleries!

    1. How absolutely awful! I hope you reported the courier to the Mall Galleries - assuming this was one they highlight on their site.

      I have one rule with couriers who are highlighted on my website.
      Mess about with artists' artwork and you will be removed!


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