Welsh artist Ros Hornbuckle has been weaving for over 20 years. She has much experience with sales and commission work having supplied shops and galleries in London, Stratford upon Avon, and Llangollen among other places. Presently, Ros is regularly exhibiting in galleries around Shropshire, where she lives, on the border with Wales, and in Wales itself. She also takes part in an annual Open Studios event in Oswestry. In this article, Ros shares with us how she has found success exhibiting, independently and with other medias as well as the hanging system she has come up with.
In the first part of my tapestry weaving life, in the 1970s and 80s, selling was easy. There were quite a few places to hang work: shops, galleries and craft centres. I had a studio in a craft centre for some years, where I was very visible. My work then was much simpler, more decorative, cost less, and I wove rugs as well. No internet either!
After a long period of weaving abstinence due to children and a full time job, the lure of the loom brought me back. My weaving now became more complex and I committed myself to creating the yarn entirely from local fleece. Not only is this more sustainable, but it enables me to experiment with colour and texture mixing during carding and spinning. The result is very different in appearance to weaving with mass produced yarn, and is far more expressive for me.
My experience of selling is very different now. There seem to be far more people creating art and the demand for wall space is great, while there are fewer places willing to take a risk with a medium that is unfamiliar such as tapestry, in the UK that is. I sense that some galleries don’t like mixing textiles with paintings and prints, and I agree that it can be difficult to display them together. I tried to solve this problem by forming a group with two painters, whose work is sympathetic to mine, called Earthscape. This succeeded in creating attractive exhibitions, but it required a lot of organisation and a large gallery. I think though, that this is a fruitful experiment to try if you can find the right artists, since your work looks better next to art that has some connection to yours.
Although I do take part in mixed art exhibitions, where I only display one or two pieces, I don’t think it’s very favourable to tapestry. Most people here have no knowledge of tapestry weaving or of what the process is. Because of this unfamiliarity I think it takes a substantial amount of work on display to begin that understanding, and interest in the viewer, and to induce them to consider buying one. The impact of colour and texture of a wall of tapestries is considerable- seeing a large exhibition is what drew me to it in the first place. That great blast of brilliant colour! So I have in the past few years tried to get a more substantial amount of my work on display in one place. But it is not easy. Many small galleries don’t have the space and the larger ones have their own agenda, which
doesn’t seem to include my kind of art. Private galleries with good mailing lists often only want paintings and prints, and nothing too big. Even big craft galleries want to stick to very well known artists or makers from their immediate vicinity. When I have had a reasonable amount of work exhibited I have sold, either during or afterwards. I do think that some people need time to let their desire to possess the tapestry grow. It can take years sometimes! Or to feel that they can afford it.
I am now producing work for a very big exhibition next year, in a gallery that is situated in an area that has provided me with much of my inspiration, in Wales. I need around 40 tapestries of varying size, and have almost finished weaving them! It is a debatable privilege though as it has meant I’ve had to weave more small work than I want to. Usually I sell more large tapestries, so it will be interesting to see the outcome. It feels like a big responsibility to make enough items of the right size for the space, which is a very very long corridor next to a big exhibition area.
When you are trying to hang work in a variety of very different spaces, the hanging system can be a challenge. I know that Velcro and a batten is preferable, but many places here can’t have their walls drilled. My compromise is to sew a fabric sleeve top and bottom. On the bottom I sew the title and my signature and I put a batten inside the top, to which I can fix d-rings and mirror plates if needed.
I have a website and Facebook Page, but I haven’t found them very useful for sales, except for a few occasions. I know that I buy art only when I experience it in reality, but I think the websites are useful for potential buyers to get an idea of all your work and to remind them of the images they saw in an exhibition.
It will be a relief to finish weaving for my future show, so I can return to my favourite subject, which is Rock Faces. And in any size I fancy! I already have created quite a number and have in mind some future gallery applications when I have a few more to present.
Most of the works of Ros Hornbuckle involve “Landscape,” exploring its textures and colours in an emotional context. She has two series “Rocks” and “Water.” The coastal landscape of Wales, with mountains, rocks, sea, birds, and the ever changing weather and light form the focus of much of her work. Occasionally Ros is inspired by stories or photographs of “People”
Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Research Associate, Contemporary Textiles at The Textile Museum, was kind enough to be interviewed about her experience as a juror. Rebecca shares her thoughts on being a juror. She explains some of the pitfalls entrants may slip into, and talks about the jurying decision process, giving clarification to why artwork may not be accepted into a show.
As a juror what is the decision process like? Is it different when you are the only juror, as opposed to working with others on a group jury?
Like all jurors I draw heavily on my background in the field, and carefully look at each piece. Thereafter the decision process of jurying is straightforward. It involves a careful assessment of whether each piece meets the criteria of the call for entry and then a determination of which pieces are the best.
When I am the only juror I feel more responsible for making the best choices because I am the sole decider. When I am just one of the jury I engage in conversations with other jurors during the decision making process and the outcome is a collective decision. This enables me to draw on greater looking experience and the opportunity to be reminded of aspects of the works that I might have over looked.
Do you believe there are basic mistakes that artists make when submitting their entries? Could you describe a few that you’ve encountered?
In my recent experience basic mistakes are fewer than in the past. Artists now realize the importance of good photography. Poor photography was the main problem when I first began to jury. Unfortunately, another critical mistake continues to occur. An artist sometimes submits more than one artwork and the works are greatly dissimilar in concept and aesthetic thereby indicating that the artist has not developed his or her own voice.
What kind of guidelines would help you make selections in an international (or regional?) juried show? Does an international show present a different set of challenges for a juror?
Guidelines in the call for entry should be clearly stated. All images should be properly labeled with size, and top and bottom indicated in order for the juror to fairly evaluate the artwork. Remember that all images appear the same size whether they are projected on a screen or viewed on a computer monitor. The challenge for a juror is to take all aspects of a work into consideration in selecting the best artworks for an exhibition. This is the same whether for a local, national, or international show.
Have you juried a show that you felt was exceptional? Can you describe what factors enabled you to accomplish that?
Two exhibitions that stand out in my mind are Karpit I and Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora. These were exceptional exhibitions for quite different reasons, but the common thread was the care and attention the organizers gave to each exhibition.
Karpit I was an international tapestry exhibition hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary. It was an exciting opportunity for the artists and the Museum. I was honored to be on the international jury panel. There were a large number of excellent entries because there had not been an international tapestry show at this museum before and because artists were especially keen to exhibit in this prestigious Museum where tapestry was being treated as an art form on the same level as fine paintings and sculptures. Both the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists and the Museum staff worked diligently to conceive of this exhibition and to bring it to fruition. The artists were not identified during the selection process to insure that there would be no bias in favor of artists known to the jury. This blind selection process was a relatively new concept in Hungary.
Stories of Migration was exceptional because it was an extremely timely subject presented from a variety of points of view. This exhibition was a successful collaboration between the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and the Studio Art Quilt Associates, an international organization. The selection was limited to members of the Association and six invited artists. However, it was possible to join the Association in order to qualify for entry if the artist was not already a member. The call for entry was issued one year before the jurying began, thereby allowing artists to create new pieces addressing the migration theme, if they so wished. Entries could be two or three dimensional pieces or even be multi component installation works. This broad scope resulted in a rich and diverse variety of art work.
Have you juried a show where you regret having agreed to the job of making selections? Could you give an example?
I have never regretted jurying an exhibition, although some exhibitions have been more interesting because the quality of the work submitted was especially high. Each exhibition has always been an opportunity to see new work and existing work in a new context.
In some cases there must be pieces that you see as excellent in many ways and you cannot accept into the show being organized. Can you shed any light on what happens behind the scenes? Do you argue for inclusion based on its qualities or do you question the parameters set for the show?
The first task of a juror is to include in the exhibition only the pieces that come within the parameters of the call for entry. It is neither fair nor appropriate to change the terms of the call for entry after the fact to fit in a really good piece that is not responsive to the call. If a juror questions the parameters of the exhibition then that juror should not have agreed to be a juror for that exhibition. This is a threshold decision each prospective juror must make.
Should “outlier” or little known artists be included in a juried exhibition?
Each artwork should be judged on its own merits regardless of who created it. There is no “outlier” if the works are submitted to the jury anonymously.
Are juried shows a good option for emerging artists?
Juried shows are generally a good option for artists who want to establish a career. Acceptance into an exhibition allows the public to see the artist’s work judged on its merits against other art works. Artists should carefully choose the exhibitions to which they submit work. They should look for shows organized by established groups and/or institutions. Prestigious juried shows are always advantageous, e.g., juried shows at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum or the ATA Biennials.
Is the jury process the best way to organize a show?
There are two major types of art exhibitions, juried exhibitions and curated exhibitions. In a juried show the jurors need to follow the parameters of the call for entry and be fully independent of the sponsoring organizations. Even if one of the organizers’ favorite artists is not selected the, jury’s choices should nevertheless be cheerfully accepted. Juried shows allow the jurors to see the work of a broad range of artists, some of whom will probably be unknown to the jury prior to that exhibition. In a curated exhibition the curator has control over the theme and the artworks. The theme can then be focused on one artist , a group of artists, a technique or an historical or timely topic. There is a place for both types of exhibitions. Each has something different to add to the art world conversation.
Rebecca Stevens has an undergraduate degree in art history/studio art (B.A.) and a graduate degree in studio art (M.F.A.). Stevens’ art focus changed from painting and print making in 1969 when she saw a traveling version of the Lausanne Biennial. Rebecca was fascinated by this “new” art form – fiber art – and has devoted her professional life to that subject. She became a juror because she was invited to serve.
Priscilla Alden is a tapestry weaver in Boothbay, Maine, USA. I had the pleasure to interview Cilla in her beautiful studio last spring. She spoke about her experience as a long time member of a cooperative gallery in Boothbay, Maine, USA. You can listen to Priscilla and see her colorful tapestries in this video.
There is so much involved in entering exhibits. You have to sift through all the possibilities to find the exhibits your work would benefit from. Then you have the time consuming task of filling out the submission form and collecting all the required data. Once you’ve applied there is the wait for acceptance or rejection. If your work is rejected, you deal with that. If it’s accepted you have to keep track of when and where to ship your work, packaging, promoting your acceptance and ultimately see your work return home. There are a lot of steps and keeping track of all this is important. I’ve been submitting work to exhibits for a while now, and I came up with a system I’ll share with you that works for me.
It all begins with a spreadsheet of all my tapestries. It includes:
- title of work
- date completed
- size in inches H x W
- size in centimeters
- size if mounted
- price wholesale (my price)
- price retail (includes 50% for commission)
- location (home or show)
- shows each work has been in
- awards won by a specific piece
I titled this “Tapestry List” and keep updating as pieces move around, sell, prices change, etc.
To keep track of exhibits I developed another spreadsheet. It has evolved over the years to include:
- The name of the exhibit
- Entry deadline date
- Notification date
- Show date
- Ship by
- Returned by
- Restrictions (size, number of submissions allowed, completed after, etc.)
- Benefits (catalogue, foreign country, awards, highly respected venue or show, etc.)
- Work to submit
- Cost (At the end of the year I can see what I have spent on exhibit entry fees and shipping.)
I have five folders:
- EXHIBIT POSSIBILITIES
- OVER AND HOME
I begin with the folder marked EXHIBIT POSSIBILITIES. I keep an updated copy of my Tapestry List clipped to the inside. When I find an exhibit I want to consider I enter all the relevant information on the Exhibit spreadsheet. I also print a copy of the exhibit prospectus, highlight important information and make notes. If I decide not to enter a particular exhibit I cross out the information. Once I have submitted work to an exhibit I write APPLIED in red across the line on the Exhibit spreadsheet and move the prospectus into the APPLIED folder with a new copy of the spreadsheet where I copy over the relevant information. If the entry is rejected, I mark REJECTED in red, cross out the line and place the prospectus in the REJECTED file. If the work is accepted I mark the line ACCEPTED, I circle the tapestry that has been chosen and then copy the information onto another copy of the Exhibit spreadsheet which is in a folder marked ACCEPTED. I do this so that I can’t get confused about what is going where and double book a tapestry. When I receive shipping and other information from the show, I write that on the form. Once a piece is shipped I write SHIPPED across the line. When the work is returned home I cross out the line for that exhibit write DONE and move the prospectus in to the OVER AND HOME file. I used to throw out the rejected and completed information. Now I save them so I have a history of what I’ve done. I also use this to remind me of shows that repeat. In case I don’t receive notice I can use the old information go looking for a show online.
Since I’ve been using this system I have never double booked a tapestry, I always know where my work is and what shows I’m interested in. I also have an archive of what shows my work has been in. This is useful so I don’t apply for a show with the same work if it’s inappropriate. As long as I pay attention, I don’t miss deadlines either. I’m sure there’s an easier way to do this on the computer sans paper but this system works for me. Maybe it will work for you, or inspire you to come up with something better. If you do, please let me know.
You can download the forms to use here.
When I began weaving tapestry, I entered exhibits for the fun of it. It was so exciting to have my work accepted into a juried exhibit. I won my first award in 2003, how validating!
After a few years of weaving and exhibiting, I realized I wanted to develop my reputation and eventually sell my work. Since I don’t have an art degree, I thought if I built a strong CV, my work, and I would have more credibility.
I began entering more exhibits in the US with an occasional international submission. Shipping abroad was a bit daunting, not to mention costly. I was already a member of the American Tapestry Alliance. I also joined The British Tapestry Group and The Canadian Tapestry Network. This gave me a foothold outside the US, along with more access to information about international exhibits to enter. I am also a member of my local group: Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWiNE).
As I built up steam and had work in 8 or 9 shows in a year (2008 and 2009 respectively), I decided to be more specific about the shows I applied to, so I developed a list of criteria. The exhibit had to have at least one of the following:
- An award
- A catalogue
- A juror I really want my work to be seen by.
This meant I may be applying to fewer shows, but my work would still, hopefully, be out in the world. It was.
But why put yourself and your art on the line? Rejection can be hard to take. What are the benefits of exhibiting? I was just guessing when I made these decisions. Was I right? I think so, but what do others have to say on the subject?
“The important thing about entering art competitions is not to focus on what you didn’t get, but to appreciate the value of what you did achieve. Think of entering competitions as a stepping stone to building a successful art career.”
Emptyeasel.com has an article titled: Why Every Aspiring Artist Should Enter Juried Shows. The author wrote about four good outcomes of entering exhibits: building credibility and visibility; learning to judge your own work: and keeping your portfolio current.
1 You’ll build credibility.
When you have work in a prestigious show where few are chosen and many apply, and especially when you win an award, you build credibility. A respected juror thinks enough of your work to choose it for an exhibition. When you receive an award, they are saying your work stands above the crowd. Seeing tapestry in prestigious shows helps the public become informed and see that tapestry has credibility.
2 You’ll build your visibility.
Exhibiting in any show puts your work in front of the public. A juried show is even better of course. Tapestry is not as easy a sale as a painting or other fine art works. The public needs to be educated but also become familiar.
3 You’ll learn to honestly judge your own art.
When you are choosing work to enter into a show, that is an opportunity to look at your work objectively. Seeing your work as it stacks up to your peers is a useful tool. Attend openings and evaluate how your work compares to the rest of the exhibit. Be honest with yourself and be objective. This is an excellent learning experience and an opportunity to compare pricing as well.
4. You’ll keep your work and portfolio current.
Having a deadline helps you keep your information current. Be sure to update your portfolio, CV, Artist Statement and Artists Bio whenever something new happens. This way you’ll be ready when you want to submit to an exhibit, or if someone contacts you for information. If you have a web presence it is important to keep your information up to date there too.
I would add to this list:
5. Openings: a place to network
If the juror is present when you go to the opening of a show, especially when you have work exhibited, introduce yourself and have a business card on hand. Networking is an important part of getting your work out into the world. Be sure to be polite and brief.
In the Agora Gallery article, mentioned earlier, the author wrote:
“The act of entering a competition requires a certain amount of time and thought: a reflection that helps artists identify, establish, and unify their voice and artistic concept. It takes you a step back, allowing you to see beyond individual images and forces you to consider your work as a whole. Whether it’s the first time you’re doing this or the hundredth, evaluating and re-evaluating your body of work is a fundamental part of being an artist. It shows you how you’ve developed as time passes, how you are improving, and what the combined impact of your collected works might be. Each work has an individual essence, presence, and impact, but it is also a part of the greater whole, and you need to be able to appreciate that. Putting together an entry for a competition encourages you to develop this viewpoint, allowing you to make more informed decisions about what you should be working on next.”
Aletta de Wal, artist advisor and certified visual coach, wrote:
“In the end, gaining entry and winning awards aren’t the only benefits of entering shows and competitions. Be sure to keep your eye on the “bigger prizes” of sticking your neck out and bettering yourself as a professional artist.
No matter what the outcome may be, with every submission you’ll be building your reputation, getting your work out there, and improving yourself and your art.”
According to Agora Gallery director, Angela DiBello, “Participating in art competitions takes courage and is an act of faith and belief in one’s own talent and strengths. Anyone who simply enters a competition is a winner.”
In the Agora-Gallery article “3 Benefits Of Entering Art Competitions” the author writes about becoming more self confident. This happens on two levels: having the confidence to enter, and the increased confidence that comes from being accepted and receiving awards. When I began entering my work for exhibits I had lots of rejections. At first I was so disappointed. I was taking it personally. I learned a bit about how the jurying process works when I received a letter from a juror. She wrote that although she liked my work, it didn’t fit with the other pieces that had been chosen for the show. This was my “Aha” moment. I shouldn’t take the rejection personally. I began to see that there are more factors involved with the decision process than the quality of the work and none are personal. I had also seen that more than 50% of my submissions had been rejected. After talking with other artists I found that to be the norm. I also realized I needed to shift my response to the rejection for self preservation. This all helped improve my confidence, but the acceptances, of course, did more.
There are drawbacks to entering exhibits. Some people think exhibiting is a waste of time, effort and money. Some of the reasoning behind that perspective comes from taking the rejection of your work in a show as a personal affront. In addition, the waiting period to find out if you have been accepted can be agonizing, and the entry fees can be high and feel unfair. The artist is subsidizing the exhibit whether their work is selected or not. (There are a few exhibits that don’t charge unless you are accepted.) The artist also has to pay for shipping. These costs add up, especially when you are submitting to numerous shows each year. There was an interesting analogy in The Practical Handbook For The Emerging Artist by Margaret R. Lazzari:
“It would be somewhat like charging musicians to perform a symphony which the audience enjoys for free.” Lazzari suggests choosing “reputable, high profile, well maintained gallery spaces.” Lazzari also writes that sales from juried exhibits are rare and success in juried exhibits doesn’t necessarily lead to other venues. I would have to agree. I have had work in 64 exhibits over 14 years. From those shows I have sold 3 tapestries – not very good odds. I’d love to know what others people’s experience has been with sales in juried exhibits. On the other hand I was in a group exhibit with TWiNE in Kennebunk, Maine in 2008. This led to a solo show at Maine Fiberarts in Topsham, Maine in 2009. My connection with MFa has led to being invited to be in numerous of their exhibits over the years. It is a relationship I value highly.
There comes a time when your career begins to make a shift. You’re receiving invitations to participate in gallery exhibits or exhibits organized by peers. There may be opportunities you organize yourself. At some point, you may be represented by a gallery. Cooperative galleries are another option. In any event, when a dealer is looking at your resume or CV they want to see progression from exhibits to something more. Awards, invitations, published articles you’ve written, work included in books and magazines, exhibits you have curated, lectures, teaching, etc. These all point to the fact that you are serious about your work and that your career is moving forward.
When do you stop entering juried shows? There are many opinions on this. It is a subject for another article. Until then, I suggest you take a look at Joannemattera.blogspot. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to read the comments and let us know what you think. Where are you in your career? Have you just begun, are you still entering shows or are you no longer submitting to exhibits? If that’s the case, let us know why.
Until next time,