Tips for Entering National Shows

Bill Farnsworth OPA is the winner of the 2013 Juried Salon Show’s Bronze Medal Award. He obliges us by sharing some thoughts about entering national shows.

An Emotional Roller Coaster for Oil Painters.

"Charleston Stories" by Bill Farnsworth OPA

“Charleston Stories” by Bill Farnsworth OPA

All artists want their art to be accepted. Whether it is showing in a gallery, invited to an event, or juried into a National Show. Some of us will show in local art organizations and while they help support local art in the community, it’s the national shows that help the artist’s career. They also put your art in an area with potential new collectors and a possibility for gallery representation.

But the draw backs for some artists is that if they are not accepted they may stop entering all together. I have had the same frustration when entering what I thought was my very best work and then being fed a huge slice of “Humble Pie” in the form of a rejection. As an illustrator I learned quickly that you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve. You feel bummed out for a day, then you get back up and enter another show. Your best revenge is getting better, not getting ticked off at the judge or the show. This business is a roller coaster with big dips and big highs. One big success can erase a 100 failures. Failure is an opportunity to raise the level of your art, but if you get ticked off and blame it on politics, you will set yourself back.

Presenting your best work.

Throughout the course of a year I try to plan ahead and give myself enough time to do a painting for a show. You wait till the last minute it may not be your very best effort.

When we create a great painting there is a difficult decision whether to hold back the piece for an upcoming show or get it out to your gallery, because you know it will sell.

If you are trying to make a living in this business you have to sell paintings and when bills come with relentless regularity, it is very hard to hold back your best work. However some paintings are very salable in a gallery, but may not be show paintings. Figures can be a tough sell in a gallery depending on the artist, but they can make quite a statement in a national show. The level of expertise in all the principals of painting has to be very high. Whatever you enter it has to be your very best.


Ok, so you get in the show. Your happy and now you have to ship your painting to the gallery on the due date. The expense is starting to mount with entry fee and shipping both ways.

Not to mention travel expense to the show if you want to attend the opening. Attending openings is very important and I don’t do it enough.  As an artist, you have the opportunity to meet new collectors and fellow artists. Our occupations are sort of hermit-like, so to get out and talk with people is good for the soul and the career.

"Rhythm" by Bill Farnsworth OPA

“Rhythm” by Bill Farnsworth OPA

Some National shows have some big awards, like OPA, AIS, NOAPS, Scottsdale Salon, ect. If you are fortunate enough to win an award, enjoy it for a few days, maybe a week, but then put you ribbon away and realize that a lot painters deserve the honor as well. If it helps your confidence to become a better artist, great, but if it feeds the unlimited ego, the fall can be hard. Many artists fall into the “post-award ego abyss” and it damages their careers.

Getting exposure online.

There are more and more online shows now, like Raymar and of course the OPA. These are great because you can enter a piece that has sold and you don’t have the shipping expense.

Your work can be seen by thousands who may visit your website. If you don’t have a website today it is like going to a party and hiding under the table. I use Fine Art Studio Online and it has been great. Everybody today has a smart device that they can view art anywhere without physically being in the gallery.

National shows give the artist exposure, and the more you are visible, the more people can appreciate all the work that you have put into your paintings. Good Luck.

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Upcoming OPA Events

OPA 2016 Summer Online Showcase OPA 2017 Summer Online Showcase
The Summer 2017 Online Showcase is accepting entries from Jun. 1 - Aug. 15, and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!
OPA 2017 Eastern Regional Exhibition OPA 2017 Eastern Regional Exhibition
The OPA 2017 Eastern Regional Exhibition will be hosted by Anderson Fine Art Gallery, located in St. Simons Island, Georgia, from Nov. 17 - Dec. 16, 2017.
OPA 2017 Western Regional Exhibition OPA 2017 Western Regional Exhibition
The OPA 2017 Western Regional Exhibition will be held at Illume Gallery of Fine Art, located in Saint George, UT, Nov. 10 - Dec. 9, 2017.
  • Robert J. Simone

    Great advice, Bill. Thank you. Saw your work in Charleston recently. Great stuff!

    • katy

      yeah I do like this advice a lot, cant go
      hunting around for oil paintings unless I get loads of tips and pointers.

  • David

    Excellent article Bill…Thank you for putting into words the daily struggle many of us deal with, especially the holding back or selling part when you think you may have a painting with national show/award potential. I just closed an annual two month local show, and I’m toying with the idea of not putting anything new on my local market until after I try out some new strong paintings entered into some national shows. If they get in, great, if not they’ll go in my local show next year. Who knows the outcome, obviously there are no easy answers.

    • georgesse

      What is your sales cycle for your strong pieces? Do you discount them after a year? I’m surprised when I sell a piece that’s been hanging around and I’ve forgotten about it.

  • Carolyn Hancock

    Thanks for the insight, Bill. My work is in pastel only, so every year I aspire to the PSA exhibition. This year’s rejection was a BIG disappointment, and left me with the feeling you stated that perhaps I won’t submit any more entries. But here’s the catch. Three judges/artists have given me their viewpoint of one of my paintings, and what a wide variety of comments. What bothered one, the others loved or didn’t notice. The three viewpoints were so different that it just comes down to a judge’s background and likes/dislikes, doesn’t it.

  • Laurie Hendricks

    Thanks so much for the sound advice, Bill. It’s always reassuring to hear
    everyone goes through the same ups and downs. I appreciated the encouragement and reminder to plan ahead to hold back one’s best work for the national shows.

  • Bill Farnsworth

    Thanks for all the comments folks. No artist is immune to the ups and downs of entering show. Hope to see you all at the next one!

    • Squinty

      I’ve been accepted in 2 OPA regional shows, but also been discouraged by many rejections. Thank you for your article. I found it practical and reasonable.

  • katy

    hi, nice post

  • bob arnett

    thanks bill, we are all in this together, my uncle sal gave me some advice years ago when i was boy ,he said, bob, whatever you do “just dont give up!” , thanks ,

  • ProfessorPBZ

    Encouraging artists, as you have done here, is a very good thing. We all get a little down if our work in rejected, or if we do not sell all of our work in a show, or if one of our favorite pieces. which we think is our best is ignored or not sold. But I think of it as I did baseball. I was offered many MLB contracts, which my mom, refused to sign. She wanted me to finish my education including grad school first and she was right. I was a very confident hitter and never allowed making an out instead of a hit, to bother me in the least.

    It takes longer and more investment of time to make a good painting than it does to hit a 100 MPH fast ball, so it is a stronger investment of ego, confidence and time invested, but, as you say, we just learn to shake off disappointment and go forward. Thanks for the excellent article.

  • Georgesse Gomez

    Great Suggestions! Thanks!

  • Marsha Savage

    Bill, fantastic thoughts and so important to remember. Figuring out which ones to hold back when money is not coming in, that is a problem for many of us. Entering only a few shows per year, picking what would mean the most, is also where I am at this time. I get rejected some, and I get accepted sometimes also.

  • Show are much more competitive than than were a decade ago. Back then, 35mm slides were the only accepted entry format. This forced the artist to very carefully consider which piece(s) to enter, because it usually involved taking several photos and bracketing them for good exposure, developing the film, then cropping the slides with mylar tape and then remounting them. Today, however, it’s so easy to shoot a good picture, crop it in Photoshop Elements or the like, and then e-mail it and pay via PayPal. No longer is the process filtering out the lazy among us. (Having served as both juror and award judge for regional shows, I’ve seen a lot of lazy art lately!) But what’s more, there are many, many more good painters now. Is the fight worth it?

  • Diane Fechenbach

    good points, Bill, and very true. Developing thick skin and tenacity is really important. Whether you received an award or a rejection you have to pick yourself up and look forward, to the next painting … or award or rejection … and try not to take it too personally.

  • Gerald Ruggiero

    I just wanted to say thank you for the email that came with the piece written by Bill Farnsworth on entering National Shows. The timing was perfect. I was feeling pretty down about my work and was ready to give up. Getting that email was a bit spooky really. It said all the right things to me and helped to get me back to work. Anyway, thanks for providing Mr. Farnsworth with the forum to say what he did. I tried to send this message once and I don’t think it worked so I’m trying again. Hope this gets to you all.