One of the biggest steps any emerging artist can take to getting their name and work more widely seen is through submissions to online open calls. And with the rise of social media, the sheer scale of opportunities out there for you are better than ever.
Work by Elaoise Benson
Not only can you find opportunities for all types of creatives whether that be art, writing, film, photography, performance and more, but the types of opportunities are variable and very accessible. Platforms like Instagram have allowed for smaller brands, magazines, collectives and businesses to flourish, and we can all help uplift each other and celebrate each other’s work. Getting your work seen by like-minded people who believe in you can not only be a boost in publicity, but can give you huge creative satisfaction and appreciation. Open calls could come in forms such as for digital exhibitions, magazines/zines, social media features, competitions and much more. But if it’s your first time submitting work, it can be really overwhelming - and kind of confusing. What work do I submit? Can I submit old work? How do I format it? What do I say about myself as an artist?
Am I even good enough?
My answer to that last question is yes! Even if you feel like you’re still discovering who you are as an artist, that doesn’t mean the work you’ve already done isn’t worth shouting about. Sometimes, you might just be struggling with how to present yourself and your work digitally, especially if you work in analogue practices e.g. painting, textiles or sculpture. But don’t worry - in this guide, I’m going to be giving some tips that will hopefully be useful to both digital and analogue artists trying to submit work online.
But before I do, you might be wondering how I came to writing this guide, and why I feel it’ll be useful for you. I am a Fine Art student, currently going into the second year of my degree. Over the years, I’ve had many tutors preach on promoting yourself and getting your work seen, without much actual guidance or substance. Apart from quick notes such as ‘make a website’, ‘have an Instagram presence’ or ‘write an artist statement’, so far there’s not been much to go off. I can only say my expertise, and I use that word lightly, comes from my own trial and error. As a small, emerging artist, I’ve tried applying for those big name opportunities like the RA Summer Exhibition or the Sky Arts Landscape artist - to no avail. This does not come as a surprise to me, and I feel it’s both fun and worthwhile to work towards these higher goals - as my mum always told me, practise makes perfect. But in more recent years, I’ve made more concerted efforts to find smaller, more accessible opportunities through google searches, mailing lists and Instagram. And as well as enjoying the platform that I have found through !GWAK, my work has recently been included in @poetic.conscience ‘s Speak Self Love Challenge and @the.student.gallery ‘s September Gallery Exhibition. I also had the opportunity to take part in my university exhibition with the Tate Exchange, simply with the help of some fellow creative thinkers and the gumption that our idea might be worth a shot.
So - if I were to pitch my reason as to why you should read this article, it’d probably be just to say that I’m in the same boat as you. We’re all trying to find a space for ourselves within an art world that can appear impenetrable and daunting, so I’d like to share what I’ve learnt so far with you all.
Follow small galleries’/magazines’ social media accounts
Before even thinking about open calls, think about the types of people you’d like to work for/with. Go out and explore what awesome sites, accounts and organisations are out there. Many of them are made by students/young people and there’s bound to be opportunities they’ll be advertising for in the future. This way, you’ll hear about their open calls a lot quicker, and with less leg work. You can also subscribe to their email lists if you’re not a big social media fan. Most of the accounts I find through friends who’ve already featured on these accounts, recommendations on stories, ads on instagram or a quick hashtag search (e.g. ‘artzines’ ‘artcollectives’ ‘artmag’ ‘studentgallery’ ‘artopencalls’). It’s also a good thing to follow artists you admire and see what opportunities they’d recommend or have been working towards. If you want some ideas of where to start, check out: @gwak.co @amoureux.zine @scuffzine @thesicklovezine @doghousepress @poetic.conscience and @the.student.gallery .
Picking the right open call
There are a lot of open calls out there that you might find. As well as following specific organisations like I’ve talked about above, there are also some accounts dedicated to advertising open calls, such as @artopencalls and @unrtun. There are also well established websites such as ArtRabbit and the ICA that offer mailing lists and open calls. I would advise starting small and working upward. Most of these are free to enter, and they probably only want one or two images/written pieces. It is important to also think about how well you can work to a theme - some open calls are looking for specific mediums, or subject matter. Either you can search for open calls that are based around core themes already in your work, or you might find having a prompt is a good way to start making something new. Personally, I’m not skilled at working to a theme so I look for free-theme submissions or I hunt down projects my work is already suited for. It’s good to have aspirations of where you see your work going, but be realistic as to where you're likely to have success, and what kind of open call will show your work at its best.
Picking Your Work
So you’ve picked your open call, now you have to pick what work you’re going to submit. A great thing to do when you’re starting out is go back through your old work and see if it fits the brief, that way you don’t have to worry about making new work on a deadline. Just be mindful that some submissions do not want already published works - so make a note when something’s been used for a previous website, gallery or article. When picking work, it’s good to look at previous successful applicants and what seems to be the overall style that the company likes. Proper research will provide the best results. Look through their back catalogue: what mediums do they like, what stage of an artist’s career do they focus on, what subject matter interests them, what colours or aesthetics are they drawn toward? If you have something that fits, then great! But at the end of the day, I believe what’s most important is that you are confident and proud of what you’re submitting. If you’re showing loads of passion and enthusiasm for your work, that can be infectious, and might just catch someone’s eye.
Photographing Your Work
If you’re a digital artist or writer then you probably won’t have to worry so much about this step, but for my fellow analogue artists, let’s talk about presentation. Now you don’t need any flashy equipment, most phones have a good quality camera. But you might want to try using a phone tripod, or prop up your phone and use a timer so you don’t shake or blur the image with your hand. Do the same if you’re using a camera, you also might find having it set slightly zoomed in will give you better quality detail in the overall image. Set up your work on a plain background (it can be “aesthetic” but don’t make it a distraction). Good options are a white wall, a curved piece of paper (this creates an “infinity wall” which is great for sculptures) or an outdoor environment. But most importantly it has to have plenty of natural light. Set your timer and take multiple shots, so that you can pick the best later.
Editing and Formatting
Once you have your chosen image, it can be handy to use an editing software to make sure the lighting is correct, and to tweak the saturation or contrast. Make sure not to over-edit though; you want it to be indicative of what you work would look like in person. If you’re editing on a laptop, try Gimp; on a phone try Snapseed - both are free and easy to use. Some submissions will ask you to format your work (jpeg is a safe bet), and normally to a certain image size (often no more than 3mb); or to the correct dpi/ppi which means dots/pixels per inch. You can format these things more easily on a computer software like Gimp. You often have the choice to change the “image quality” and that will lower the image size. But try to keep the quality no less than 70%, so we can still see your beautiful work.
Some submissions will also want what is formally called an artist statement, but if you’re going for these smaller, student-run companies it likely won’t be more than a couple of sentences. Either way it's good practice to have a word document on your computer, which you can regularly update as your art progresses. Don’t make your statement much more than 500 words, and don’t worry about using big words or flowery language if that’s not your style. All they want is to get to know your personality, and what your artwork is currently exploring. It’s good to include subject matter, medium/materials, influences and future plans/where you see your work going. Don’t forget to shamelessly plug your website or social media when you’re submitting!
Submissions are normally done via email or through an online form, so it’s often fairly self-explanatory. If it gets lengthy and confusing, or they seem to be wanting to use your work without giving credit and/or payment - don’t do it, it’s not worth it. But besides from that, just make sure to sound enthusiastic about their company, and grateful for the opportunity. Everyone likes a little bit of flattery, and it makes them see you’re invested in their business as a whole.
And there you have it. Everything you need to know for your first online submission. And if you’re reading this, you should already know one place you can submit to - !GWAK. We would love to share your work on this blog, on our social media or magazine. We also make it really easy as you can chat to any of our staff correspondents if you’re struggling or finding the process confusing. Either way, wherever you decide to take your art next: stay creative, stay enthusiastic and believe in yourself!
@artopencalls (+ join their mailing list)
ICA Institute of Contemporary Art https://www.ica.art/ica-daily
Zines, Collectives & Galleries: