View Full Version : What One Judge Looks At In A Show

05-22-2005, 12:33 PM
The judge for our May show did a presentation at our Members Meeting of the Art Association. He talked about what he looks for as he judges, also about the business of art, that is selling.

He uses a kind of report card with a dozen or more elements he grades from 1 to 5, adds up the score and as he says often is surprised when a painting he admires actually doesn't add up well. Here's his elements:
creative originality, perspective, elements of design (balance, scale, flow), color unity, containment within the painting (does the eye stay in the painting or travel over to its neighbor)--this is a biggie with him--, Use of color (color dominance, color movement, color unity, harmony, color temperature balance, use of complements), use of mid tones to tie everything together, control of the media used, impact, use of positive and negative shapes in creating design flow, also how are the edges of these shapes handled, creating a center of interest, value relationships, are shadows and cast shadows handled correctly, reflected highlights.

This, I think, makes a good checklist when we are evaluating our own work. It could be educational to make out such a list and grade our own work on that 1 to 5 scale for each of these elements to find the strong and weak areas more objectively.

What sells? professionalism, that is taking your work and its presentation seriously--paying attention to the details. having a gimmick that makes your work distinquishable, impact, uniqueness, evokes a memory (Kincaid is an excellent exemplification of this).

His definition of a professional: they know they are good, knows what makes this true, and keep getting better--and they sell at a profit.

Just thought this was worth passing along.

05-22-2005, 12:43 PM

This sure is a very helpfull thread. Especially that list, since those details will attract a person towards a painting, even if unconsciouslly.

Best regards,


05-22-2005, 12:59 PM
This is really interesting. In two weeks i am taking a workshop on the serious pursuit of an art career, covering these topics:

Juried Shows

• why enter juried shows
• what jurors look for
• the jurying process
• handling rejection
• preparing to enter the “big” shows (national and


• selling your art
• approaching galleries

Your Career

• being objective about your art
• increasing productivity
• improving quality


I'll be sure to post what I learn!

05-22-2005, 12:59 PM
Wow, a pretty long list there! Obviously, it wouldn't be easy to "5" every item! Good things to think on! Thanks for sharing!

05-22-2005, 01:48 PM
TJ- thanks so much for the list- I have printed it out for self- improvement. You were saying when you won your ribbon in the show that he did not like the motorcycle picture because it was obvious to the judge that it had been painted 'from a photograph'. It was my understanding that a lot of works these days are painted from a photograph (I know most of my decent things are). Do you know what is wrong with painting from a photograph? I did not notice it on the list.

Cori, would love to hear what you learn as well- and will pass it onto my aunt who is making a career as an oil painter.

thanks for all the great info!

Kathryn Wilson
05-22-2005, 02:22 PM
What an amazing list - thanks for posting it. It certainly is well worth printing out so that we can each critique our own paintings.

I am going to Rate this thread "Excellent" so that it goes into the Pastel Library.

05-22-2005, 03:11 PM
Great thread - thanks for posting.


05-22-2005, 07:01 PM
Hi Purples. The problem with the motorcycle and doing it from a photo was the artist didn't take into consideration the artifacts of photogaphy that shouldn't appear in a painting. I personally couldn't detect these in the painting except to note that to record everything the artist had would have required extraordinary powers of observation--it was too perfect. The judge had no problem with having used a photo reference. The problem was slavishly copying the reference. then it is no longer a reference but a pattern a corrupted pattern at that. A better example is when someone copies from a photo of an animal without making corrections for what the camera distorts, for instance with film cameras with a shutter the legs will lengthen incorrectly, the rear will not be in proper proportion to the front, so if someone just copies such a photo their painting will be off.The painting also did not have any cohesive design structure. Afriend was really disappointed to not get any ribbon and really expected BOS. But she had copied her photo which had distorted the perspective. She teaches perspective but didn't notice the distortion, nor some compositional faults in the photo.
Cori, take good notes and share with us. This sounds like a terrific course to take.
I'm glad this is proving valuable; I certainly have found it to be.

05-22-2005, 08:04 PM
Great info in this thread.

I paint from ref images mostly, except for still life set ups or my own interiors. When I hear that some artists don't consider this to be true creativness, I have to ask myself, "Would the masters of old take advantage of the technological advances and incorporate them in the visual arts?".......and I do believe the answer to be a resounding "yes". For those purists who choose to paint only from life, I hold great respect....and perhaps someday I, too, will only paint from life. For now, I am trying to work from my own photos. (except for the WDE which is too much fun :p )

I understand exactly what the judge means about the painting vs. the photo....In particular, the verticals in photos are rarely vertical, the lens scews perspective.....depth of field also comes into play. In my opinion it is almost more difficult to paint from photos for these reasons ...and sometimes the final painting has little resemblence to the ref image.

Thanks for bringing this info to the table!

Mikki Petersen
05-23-2005, 07:25 AM
TJ, thank you so much for taking the time to write this down for us. I can't imagine what information could be more valuable to me at the moment as I struggle to judge the worth of my work. I, too, have printed this out and will post it next to my easel for ready reference.


05-23-2005, 08:03 AM
TJ- thanks so much for the clarification on the photo issue. I had no idea that it distorts the figure, etc. and had not thought about NOT using the blurred background in close-ups. It is too tempting I guess to spend a lot of time, as I did this weekend, on the close up of a flower, then quickly put in a green, dark green, and yellowish background- no detail, and not exactly like the photo but very similar. Would be much better to go back in and add some more plants, etc. all around the flower. Thanks again for the very useful info!

08-20-2005, 04:01 PM
KYle, I'm bringing this one back up. It was rated to go into the library but didn't make it. Thought I would give it another chance :)

Kathryn Wilson
08-20-2005, 04:25 PM
Hi TJ - it certainly is worth placing in the Pastel Library. I've taken on the huge job of reviewing all the threads in the soft pastel and pastel talk forums going back as far as the system will allow me. I've almost got the soft pastel forum done and then I will move on to the Pastel Talk forum. Thanks for bringing it back up.

More than one person has to Rate a thread - not sure what the criteria is - so will check with Ilis and Kerri - but that is why so many goods threads are missing from the Library - they are not being rated.

By bringing this thread back up, maybe we can add to the conversation. When reviewing, I look at the value to learning (such as demos and WIP's), discussions with differing opinions on a subject (not arguments), of course subject matter, number of responses indicating good interest and so on.

08-21-2005, 08:45 AM
I'm sorry but the above rules sound like a rehashing of Academic Painting from the early 1800's. Hasn't art since that time at least proved that there are no hard and fast rules. Didn't Photo Realism at least show that there can be a certain strange beauty in the look of a photographic space?
Of course my ranting isn't going to change how work is juried into shows but maybe, hopefully things can start to evolve to a world where there are less rules and more understanding. I'm not surprised when the judge says that a painting he admires dosen't add up well, maybe that should tell him something.
Sorry for unloading,

08-21-2005, 09:25 AM
Hi TJ, This is useful information. Who was the judge? During our NM pastel societies last national show, our judge was Richard McKinley. I was fortunate enough to take the workshop with him and during the workshop we got to go thru the exhibit and here his views on why he chose which paintings to get prizes. I wish I could remember more of what he said, but one of the impressions I walked away with was that, art is subjective. Technique was a biggie for him, he talked about pluses and minus of each painting even the framing and matting used. Thanks for posting this.

Kathryn Wilson
08-21-2005, 09:34 AM
I'm sorry but the above rules sound like a rehashing of Academic Painting from the early 1800's. Hasn't art since that time at least proved that there are no hard and fast rules. Didn't Photo Realism at least show that there can be a certain strange beauty in the look of a photographic space?
Of course my ranting isn't going to change how work is juried into shows but maybe, hopefully things can start to evolve to a world where there are less rules and more understanding. I'm not surprised when the judge says that a painting he admires dosen't add up well, maybe that should tell him something.
Sorry for unloading,

Hi Karl! Good to see you back in the Pastel Forum and giving us your thoughts on judging shows. What in your mind are some of the finer points of judging a painting? I think if we asked every judge, we would certainly get differing opinions, but taking that into account there would be a common thread.

Maybe if the judge re-examined what made him like a painting to begin with, he would see further than his rules.

I also take exception to the weight a mat and frame is given in judging - what are we carpenters or artists? I realize that presentation is important for the painting to look its best, but can't these judges see beyond that to the art? I wonder how many newbie artists are turned off from entering competitions because of this "rule" and how much wonderful raw talent is now hiding in the closet.

08-21-2005, 11:41 AM
I agree with you about framing, it should be as unobtrusive as possible- it is the art that we are looking ar not the frame and matting. Peoples ideas are hard to change but if you can frame something simply, that doesn't call attention to itsself then how can anyone argue. I suppose a judge could say that they loved a painting but ,"it would have looked so much better in a green mat and gold frame", then it might be time to find a new judge. I'm sure those judges are few and far between but it is a sliding scale so in that regard simple is probably better. Put your strong esthetic decisions into the artwork- that way the work is judged and not your mat choices. As an aside I prefer just floating a picture in a frame.
Now to the bigger question- how do I judge work.....The simplest rule is to remember to look at the picture for what it is, a picture. If anything the last two hundred years has tought us that there are many ways of making a "successful" picture. For some it meant a twelve foot canvas painted red with a stripe or two in it, for others it meant using elephant dung (which, by the way, I would never have thought that elephant dung and glitter could make such an interesting painting, http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/ofili_chris.html (see the one "monkey magic" from the museum of contempory art in la - but I digress).
I look for something in a painting that I haven't seen before and/or something that tells me something about who made it. Everybody is different, no two people will see the world in the same way that is what art is about. Everybody has their own rules and those rules change over a persons development, it is that striving to understand the world that makes art, and life for that matter.
I was recently in NYC and saw two fabulous shows, the Cezanne/Pissaro show at MOMA and the Matisse and Textiles show at the MET. I would argue that Cezanne did more to change the way that pictorial space is represented then anyone. It is a great show to see his development in trying to figure out how to present three dimenional space on a two dimentional surface. His answers are just amazing (to my eyes anyway). For those of you who haven't seen these you can go to www.moma.org and click through to a virtual exhibition. The same is true for Matisse, http://www.metmuseum.org/home.asp and click through for some examples.
So Kat, I know I didn't come close to answering your question but since I haven't judged a juried pastel show whatever I say is no help for getting into them.
Any other thoughts from anyone?

Pat Isaac
08-21-2005, 12:17 PM
My last 15 years of teaching were in the high school and I had the portfolio class. Those were senior art students who had taken all 4 years of our art program and were preparing to go to art school or an art related program. They attended portfolio days and entered scholastic competitions. Presentation of their work was a huge factor in how their work was received and accepted. The work in our students portfolios was always matted (only white) and covered with a clear plastic for protection. This was simple and showed the work off well. I feel that it is very important to present your work professionally. Not necessarily huge gilded frames but but simple quality framing that shows you care about your work and how you present it. Juried shows and galleries look for this.


08-22-2005, 01:14 AM
It's good to see some discussion going on here. I'm bad with recalling names so have misplaced the name of this judge. The show was local to our region and the judge is a local artist who paints in different mediums, teaches, gives talks and judges locally. His checklist wasn't presented as "rules" for art, but rather as his effort to introduce some objective criterion into what is a very subjective experience and to help him assess more than 100 pieces of work in different mediums. Art is subjective for the artist, the viewer and the judge. We've all seen appealing art that when examined really wasn't very "good" art when examined in its parts. His list is somewhat similar in kind, at least, to the criterion list Judges have used for speakers. I have found it a useful guide as I try to objectively critique my own work and think my work has benefitted as a result. Other judges will use different guidelines and some will go entirely by their visceral response. I personally like the effort to introduce some kind of objectivity. This judge didn't concern himself with presentation though, as he commented, it can't help but have some effect. The better dressed a painting is, the better it will be perceived. Since I like using colored mats, And believe some paintings are completed with certain mattings, I tend to inwardly cringe at the mandate for lcream or white mats in many shows. However that ruling does level the playing field as all the work is presented against the same ground.
Always like to see different folks' opinions.
If you think this discussion is worth putting up in the library rate it. If you don't think that's where it should go, leave it be.

Kathryn Wilson
08-22-2005, 07:44 AM
Karl, thanks for all the links to shows that most of us don't have a means to get to. I think you did a great job in answering my question and it certainly added to the conversation we are trying to revive in this thread.

BTW - I am currently working on a large landscape and using my Mount Vision pastels I bought at IAPS and enjoy working with them. I appreciate the larger size and the pure color that comes of the stick onto the canvas. Good work on making a superior product!

I guess I must always be the underdog in the framing and matting for shows question - I almost wish they could be exhibited without either as I see those materials as having nothing to do with artistic talent, yet a painting is judged "wrong" simply because it has a colored mat and tossed out with no further consideration. It makes those online shows and internet submissions very attractive, as they ask for no superfluous materials - just the painting. BTW - International Artist is now accepting submissions by internet - interesting, huh.

08-22-2005, 11:32 AM
Amen to exhibiting art unmatted and unframed. I'm just getting back into entering shows and am working on building up a body of work. I'm not selling yet, so the expense of matting and framing all these works as I go is mounting up despite the corners I am able to cut. One of our artists does sell---quite well, and has independent funds as well so can afford some really exquisite professional framing jobs that just exhalt her work. It gives an extra edge over those of us who can't afford that yet. Also, as I expand into shows in other regions, I realize I will have to remat some of my pieces currently matted in colors and change to cream mats. That said, I love to see my work in its setting. The framing just finishes it. In fact I complete my work after it is in a mat and frame. But for judging? I would love to see all the pieces just mounted on a warm grey wall with a simple black frame mounted over the piece to separate it from others.
I am very interested in hearing what other judges base their decisions on.

09-06-2005, 03:33 PM
Nice to see this thread pop up, since I was not a member of WC when it was started, and missed it somehow. I'm nowhere near the stage of entering a show, but good to keep in mind.

A few things bother me a *bit* though. Well, one thing that I've never noticed is that photos distort perspective and other things. I have to admit that I have never noticed this in a lifetime of viewing photos! Never noticed any distortion with animal proportions either. And if I were to try to "correct" for distortion I would be totally clueless about what I should be trying to change or correct anyway. :)

But my basic feeling is "so what"? Surely the distortion must be very minor since I've never seen it (or I just have a rotten eye, LOL), but no one I've ever met has ever remarked about it either. And if it is so minor then what difference does it make in a painting? Perhaps the minor distortion is an affect the artist likes. Is it a requirement of a painting that things like perspective must be absolutely perfect? When I draw things of course I try to get them as close as I can - but I have not yet worried about absolute perfection. I draw everything freehand, by eye, so I'm sure things are perhaps a little bit off. But if I had to start measuring everything, and using a protractor to check my angles, etc, I would lose all feel of spontaneity and fun that I get from my art.

Surely a judge must have values for judgement, but I also have trouble with the statement that he is surprised when a painting he admires does not score well - as surely one's visceral gut reaction to a work of art has to be a huge component of how it is judged as a work?

As a comparison, I also sing, and sing in a church choir, and a local Oratorio Society. As it happens they both have the same director, a wonderfully gifted musician. He is fond of telling us not to be afraid of making mistakes, but to put our hearts into it. Of course he wants us to be as good as we can be. It would make people run screaming if we all sang out-of-tune and with the wrong meter - but there is a vast gulf between "bad" and "perfect" - and he says that people who sing well, and with heartfelt emotion - even though they might make a few mistakes, are generally more well-received by audiences than those who sing absolutely perfectly, but with machine-like precision and no heart.

But maybe that's why I'm not nor any likely ever to be a judge. :D

09-07-2005, 09:10 AM
That's the one thing you have to remember. The difference between art and competence.

09-07-2005, 12:01 PM

I have to say I am with you on the camera distortion issue. Although I have seen certain camera lenses (such as a wide angle lense) pull elements out of distortion to some degree (particularly elements to the extreme left or right in a photo), I don't believe the distortion produced by a camera is always a "given" problem.

I've heard the issue brought up from time to time about cameras distorting images, cameras lying, etc. However, I have learned from my father, who has been a professional portrait, commercial and aerial photographer for some 30+ years that there are ways to take a picture and avoid distortion of your subject matter (i.e., taking a picture of the subject matter from a certain number of feet away). It really boils down to how good a person is with a camera and how much they know about photography. Distortion, problems with depth of field, and other photography issues can certainly be overcome if one knows to a certain degree, the technicalities of using a professional camera.

- Ann

09-07-2005, 03:30 PM
Ah Ha, Ann, you have hit on the distinction. Photography is a whole other art form from painting and drawing. An expert in photography as an art form can choose to eliminate or minimize--or exagerate--any element of the capture. But most of us and most of the photographers of our references are not such experts, so shadows go black and opaque, and we pigment artists need to make them colorful and transparent in our works, distances between benchmark features do get slightly distorted by the simple mechanics of the camera itself. If we are doing a portrait or an animal, where hairbreadth changes make a difference, our work benefits from an awareness of these distortions. Are we artists to be mere mechanics, measuring and plumb bobing our way to accuracy? Hardly. We are to process the perceptual data we have, interpret it and communicate our personal response to others. Most of us do not notice the distortions in a photograph, or we accept them, because we are so accustomed to seeing photos. I don't think we need to transpose them to our artwork, however. If I have a photo of a building where the walls lean inward more than they ought, I'll change it in my painting. Or--I might exaggerate the lean for a particular effect or interpretation. It's a matter of awareness and choice, I think. I must say, that I can usually tell when a person has used a photo as a pattern and not as a reference, when they've copied it. Apparently that particular judge saw a copy in the painting of the Harley engine. I played with that painting, and a photo I took to use as a ref for a painting because I wasn't sure where the design flaws were. When I put the painting into black and white, with no mid tones, it became evident. The artist had painted his own reflection with the camera, and the pattern of dark and light did not hold together cohesively. It really was a poor design despite being very striking. Many people who don't give a hoot whether it's good art or not will like it and buy prints or the original. But if a piece can be both good art and appealing art why not go for it?

Bill Foehringer
09-12-2005, 11:00 AM
Thanks TJ this will come in handy as I try decide which paintings to frame for my display at the library. BillF

09-12-2005, 02:36 PM
I have to say that I also dislike the objective approach. As a tool for handling a large number of paintings it would be handy to have some objective guide to assist you, but I would not give as much weight to the numbers as to the overall feeling that I get from a work. Perspective might be terrible or even nonexistant in some works, but that should not hold them back unless it is unpleasant to the eye. Sometimes perspective is intentionally skewed. Sometimes it is intentionally ignored altogether, and sometimes it is just plain inapplicable. The same could be said for any of the other qualitative guides.

Bottom line, a good artist follows the "rules" and is thus able to make a good painting. A great artist is aware of the rules but doesn't worry about them and thus is free to make a great painting.

09-14-2005, 03:27 AM
Re the issue of camera distortion...the fact that some of you have "never noticed" even after a lifetime of looking at photos, does not mean that there is no distortion....it is simply that you have not noticed any! It can be subtle, but can be very important to notice and understand and correct.

For instance, if you are taking photos of a figure, and you are rather close to that figure, and your camera is positioned at head height ...the figure's legs will inevitably be distorted. The feet will be too small for the body. It won't be THAT noticeable to you unless you are used to drawing the figure from life, and have done lots of it...then, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and any judge worth his salt will spot it immediately. To minimise distortions of this kind, it is best to move further away, and ideally use a telephoto lens, as a pro photographer might do, or hold the camera at waist-level when taking full-figure photos.

Also, even the best camera cannot properly sort out the exposure for both the light and dark parts of a scene at the same time, it will read the light parts only, so it "distorts" the shadows by making them much darker than they are. shadows are full of very subtle colour changes, and the human eye can see detail inside a shadow. A photo will often show a shadow as a simple area of black.

To prove the point to the disbelievers, here is an example of a photo, a direct print from the camera:


A sunny scene, so the camera read the light area, which is sharp and in focus. The tree on the left is blackish, and the shadow over the building is black.

Now this is how it would have looked to the human eye (tho the colours are distorted by the correction I made):


I actually remember seeing the concrete mixer under the tree, and being able to see into the barn!!
Now, I was only able to show you this, because I know how to bring back the detail in the shadows using my computer. But not everyone knows this. And I have done crits at art societies where people have painted blackish trees, and they have been very indignant when I have pointed out that trees are seldom black and therefore slavish copying of a photo is NOT good practice. Some have even denied working from photos ... which is just plain daft, because I am experienced enough to know when that is a fib. They are embarrassed to admit to it, clearly. However, there is no need for anyone to feel they have to hide the fact that they use photos, many of the great Masters did ...but they used their photos CREATIVELY, they did not copy slavishly at all. Even artists who are known for photo-realism make MORE of the photo, they bring a richness and depth to the image.

I often use photos, but not by copying slavishly. In fact, I won an important National competition with an image produced from a photo. I believe the judges must have known that I worked from photo reference, because it was a snowy scene, and a large one at that, it would have been most unusual and very impractical to have worked on the spot because it was a close-up of a hedgerow ...but I had changed a lot of the scene - adjusting shapes to create interesting echoes, adjusting colour quite dramatically (lots of blues and turquoises in the snow) and adding to the atmosphere. The judges clearly had no problem with the possible use of a photo or two, because I had moved on from the photo and produced my own re-interpretation of the scene.

So - if you do not see distortions now, perhaps you need to train yourself to see them - and one way to do this, is to spend some time working from life, particularly working from the figure, and from landscape scenes, so that you start to recognise when a photographic print is providing you with less than useful information. A camera doesnt have a brain..... you do. If you want your work to appeal to a judge and jury in an art show, you need to demonstrate your ability to use your creativity by doing rather more than just producing a clever copy of a photograph.


09-15-2005, 09:32 AM
I thought I would just mention - for what it is worth - that there are some ways to minimize the pitfalls explained in the previous post regarding light areas being too light and shadow areas being too dark in a photo.

While I will agree that the human eye is much better at discerning detail and color in a given dark or shadow area than the same scene taken with a camera, there are techniques (I emphasize techniques over the quality of the camera itself) to help avoid a photo with too much contrast.

It is widely known that taking a photo into direct sunlight will fool the meter of the camera and cause the dark areas to go nearly black. It does help to have a manual camera so that you can bracket a given shot with different aperatures and f-stops. Also, and more importantly, one can take a meter reading from a device specifically designed for that purpose, or one can take a meter reading from a photo gray card in order to get a more accurate reading rather than relying solely on the meter in the camera to guide what the aperature and f-stops should be.

I agree that there is no substitute for drawing and painting from life; however, it should be noted that various photographic techniques can improve the photos that one works from, especially when working from life is not possible in certain instances.

- Ann