Thursday, August 21, 2014

The juror's advice

I have the great honor and privilege this year of being one of the jurors for Quilts=Art=Quilts, the annual show at Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn NY.  Earlier this week we got our first look at the entries, and I spent all afternoon going through the images online (next month we'll get together in person to make our final decisions).  I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it, there are things you can do to improve your chances of being chosen for shows that are juried from images -- which means practically every important show in the world.

I am not one of those jurors who will immediately rule out a work because it is poorly photographed.  If your husband's feet protrude from the bottom edge of your quilt because he's holding it up for the camera, that's not very professional, but I can still distinguish between the quilt and the feet and understand that the latter isn't actually part of the former.  I've always believed that the job of the juror is to choose the best quilts for the show, not to choose the best-photographed quilts.

But no matter how hard you try to keep an open mind, strange photography is like a blob of spinach on somebody's chin -- you can't help but notice it, and I suppose subliminally you take off brownie points from whatever it was in the photo.  So here are my cautionary words for anybody who plans to send in images for jurying in a show.

First off, check over your images before you burn them to your CD or upload them to the entry website. That way you won't submit the overall shot twice instead of the overall plus a detail.  And if you look at the images on a large screen you'll notice that stray thread sitting there on your detail shot, yes, that same stray thread that you would pick off if you saw it on your quilt in the show.

don't submit this shot unless that stray thread is part of your artistic vision

If you must photograph your quilt against your picket fence or shrubbery or other non-uniform background, at least do me the courtesy of cropping out all that distraction.  I saw a photo today in which the actual quilt made up less than 15% of the total area of the image.  When I first looked at the thumbnail shot I thought the picket fence was part of the quilt, but no, it was just the background.  The entry allows you a certain number of pixels to impress the jurors, so why not use them on your artwork instead of on your background?

your tripods and your hands are fascinating, but I'd rather just look at the quilt

I saw another quilt that was photographed hanging on the maker's design wall.  That's fine -- design walls make excellent photo sites because they're big and flat and you can pin the quilt up without using distracting clotheslines or hanging rods.  But please crop out the quilt in progress on the other panel of the design wall!

Similarly, if you must shoot your quilt in some makeshift spot such as the wall behind your stairway, please try hard to position your camera so that the stair rail doesn't show up in front of your quilt.

And yes, size matters.  When I can see the quilt more clearly (so make sure your photo is in focus) I am more likely to love it.  And when I can see the quilt larger on my computer screen, I am more likely to see things in it to make me love it.  If the show specifies a maximum size for your image, use every bit of it, by cropping away as much of the background as you can.  And if if doesn't specify a maximum, then send the highest-resolution image you can, every pixel that emanated from your camera.

I was intrigued (but not in a good way) with the number of images that I saw where the detail shot was taken at an angle to the surface rather than head-on.  Is this some kind of new trend?  Is somebody writing books or blogs telling people that slanted views show the texture of your quilting better than straight-on shots?  If so, somebody should go to his or her room.

Yes, you can sometimes get better photos of surface texture when the light slants across the surface, but you achieve that by putting the lamp over to the side, not the camera.  Taking the photo at an angle simply renders a good part of the image out of focus, the giving me less to look at (and potentially fall in love with).

Nor is it a good idea to tilt the camera so the detail shot is oriented differently from the overall view. Some of the images I looked at apparently should have been rotated 90 degrees.  (This was true not just of detail shots but of overall views, and let me testify that jurors don't like to crane their necks to see what the quilt is supposed to look like; the online jury platforms don't allow us to simply rotate the image as we could do if we were using our regular slide-view programs.)

When I look at a detail shot I like to be able to quickly identify which part of the overall image I'm looking at.  If the detail is sideways or on a diagonal, this makes my task harder, and while I'm trying to orient myself I'm subconsciously getting annoyed at you, which you probably would rather not happen.

Finally, a word about artist statements.  Some shows ask for them solely so they're on hand if your piece is accepted, whereupon the statement will go into a notebook or onto the wall signs.  But others, like Q=A=Q, provide them to the jurors.  I don't rely on the statement much in decision-making, but I am annoyed when it provides irrelevant information such as your name, your day job or your home town.

Jurying is supposed to be done without knowledge of who has submitted what.  Of course I can identify some of the artists whose work I am looking at, having attended dozens and dozens of quilt and fiber art shows and bought the catalogs for many more, read thousands of blog posts and websites, and met hundreds of my fellow quilt artists in person here and there.  But I try to make my decisions based on the work, not on the name  (and sometimes the quilt I think was made by Suzy Q turns out to have been made by Scooby Doo).

Blind jurying is supposed to be good for the artists who enter, as well as for the show.  It's supposed to help you get a fair shot, even if you're not a Famous Artist, and get new work into the mix instead of just the usual suspects.  So please don't shoot the system in the foot by telling me who you are.


Update: I'm linking this to Nina-Marie Sayre's weekly fiber art roundup.  Check out what other fiber artists are up to.


  1. I have recently hooked up with a photographer and we are going to barter our talents - he will take photos of my quilts and I will construct a banner for him. He took a photo of a recent quilt of mine and the result was stunning!

  2. As a curator, juror and quilt show administrator, I have seen hundreds, into thousands, of quilt images. I agree that many entrants could instantly improve the quality of their submissions by: (1) photographing square and front on (use a tripod); (2) using a white or light background; (3) removing excess background, taking care not to crop the edges of the quilt; (4) ensuring good lighting so none of the work is hidden in shadows; and following instructions regarding image file names and permissible dimensions. I made similar comments in my curator post on the The Living Colour Selection Process.

    Re detail shots, my impression has been that there is more scope for low-key presentation-style shots (draping, texture etc) that give an alternative perspective so your comments have got me thinking. I do know that submission images are often used for publicity purposes, not just jurying.

  3. I hope this isn't some kind of trend, though in all my years I've never seen anybody send details of any draped or askew quilts. I think somebody is doing their own interpretations of old quilt magazine photos- leave it to the magazines!
    Good post Kathy- I've been singing this song for a long time. Remove anything that detracts from a straight-on image of the quilt. Follow directions. Get in shows. Simple.

    1. I should clarify -- I'm not referring to quilts that are draped. They are flat, but the camera is moved to the side so you get a slant view with some perspective, like looking down on a flat landscape from a tall building.

    2. For entries, absolutely straight on. I have seen the side-angle used effectively though in a magazine article to illustrate heavy beading and embellishment. The photo showed the detail in a much more effective way than any straight on shot, but that would--for me--be a third photo, not the main two used for jurying.

  4. Another tip which works well for smaller qults. I pin them to my design wall with tiny white headed pins. The white dot shows in the photo so that is where you need the Clone Tool in Photoshop Elements. Just go in close on the View menu, then clone a piece of the quilt right by the pin and paste over it.

  5. Kathy, as always, you are just one pithy and great writer. Love this post.

  6. Kathy

    This is a most informative post. I find that the lighting too is very important for the colours of the quilt to be accurate.

  7. Excellent post, many thanks for outlining exactly what bothers jurors and what should be done about it.