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How I got into the Summer Exhibition

Published 15 July 2016

Every year there are around 13,000 public entries to the Summer Exhibition, with about 700 making it through to hang in the galleries. We asked 2016’s selected artists to share their creative secrets.

  • This article was originally published in 2016. Submit your work for the 2018 Summer Exhibition here.

    Let your art be interpreted by others.

    It’s interesting to find out what others see in your work – it could change how you look at what you create and develop your work in a direction you hadn’t considered.
    Jayne Greer

    It’s worth being persistent.

    The open call for the Summer Exhibition is marked in our calendar and we apply every year. There is a no guarantee of a place, sometimes we have been shortlisted and been declined at the final hang. You never know which piece will catch the panel’s eye. There is such a broad spectrum of work, it’s important to be true to yourself.
    Katharine Morling

  • Spend time with like-minded artists. Share creative thinking, learn new techniques. Get inky together.

    Barry Gowers

  • Live in harmony with your environment

    One’s environment plays a huge role in dictating one’s emotional state. Be aware and open to this fact. Live in harmony with it and it will allow one to produce art that conveys pleasing and deep insights into the life of things. Never follow trends. My own painting communicates a balance between a strong visual image and an engaging emotional content. Analyse the “ingredients” that attract you to works of art; and inspire you. Understanding this is crucial and will guide you to discover your own “honest” vehicle to express ideas.
    Johnnie Cooper

    Don’t try and produce work you think will fit

    Richard Wilson sought a wow factor. All artists want that. My focus was clarity of image, form and colour. Making is the priority but you need a line of enquiry; trust your judgement and strive to develop critically. Choose your best work, make sure it is professionally presented and go for it.
    Robert Fitzmaurice

    Ambiguity is OK

    I paint a lot, regularly. Making a saleable work is never the primary objective. I want each of my works to be individual, not formulaic. Painting regularly can build confidence in organising the composition and handling the paint. Paint each work with intention – no “padding”. Let the developing work talk to you so that you know when it is finished. Look closely at the work in this year’s Summer Exhibition. Why did it get in? Be serious about your own work. Think about what you want your work to be. The work must engage the viewer, perhaps raising questions. Ambiguity is OK.
    Dick Hewitson

    Never doubt yourself

    I believe self belief and courage are very important aspects of realising your own work and taking it somewhere such as the Royal Academy. Never doubt yourself and take the risk to apply.
    Emma Bass

  • Study, research and resolve, I believe are key factors in the quest for success.

    Diana Poliak

  • Be in the studio as much as you can

    I never think my work is successful but this piece has a visual punch, like a sculptural icon. My practice involves a lot of just being in the studio, so be in the studio as much as you can. My advice for other artists applying would be work hard, send distinctive work, try and then maybe try it again. It’s my first entrance so I got lucky!
    Stephen Nelson

    Printmakers should “see one, do one, teach one”

    I try to approach my art with curiosity, and soak up everything around me. I spend time with as many like-minded fellow artists as I can, sharing creative thinking, learning new techniques, and getting inky together. I am also tenacious, entering every year – third time lucky. I looked on rejection as a spur to get better and try more ideas. I submitted different looking works, as you can’t predict the vision of the curators. And it worked. It has made my art better I think. Thank you RA.
    Barry Gowers

    Don’t think about it too much

    I think my work was quite eye-catching and a bit different, being an unframed painting on driftwood. Don’t think about it too much and do as much work as possible. Choose a piece of work that you think stands out and just enter, what can you lose (apart from £25)? If you are unsuccessful you can enter the Not the Royal Academy exhibition…
    Simon Mathewson

    Smaller pieces stand a greater chance

    I think my work was successful as it is bold, and confident in both its use of colour and form. I feel that you should always be pushing your practice further, be confident in what you do and don’t be afraid to take risks. Mistakes will happen but they are all part of the development process. Your work needs to stand out from the 1000s of other entries. Smaller pieces stand a greater chance of inclusion over larger works. Look at the works that have been included in recent years and use them as a yardstick to compare your own to. Be different or be really good at what you do. Even better, be both.
    Ian Ryan

  • One's environment plays a huge role in dictating one's emotional state. Be aware and open to this fact.

    Johnnie Cooper

  • Only submit work you’re committed to

    I think I got into the exhibition by creating the best work I can, by presenting it as well as I can, and by pricing it fairly. Framing is very important to me. I try to present the subject in a way that is not overtly confrontational. In the end I want someone to be happy to buy and live with my work. I would advise aspiring artists to only submit work they have committed 100% to, and of which they are very proud. If you don’t think the work is great how can you expect anyone else to think it is?
    Tony Noble

    Study, research and resolve

    I believe these are key factors in the quest for success in getting accepted for the Summer Exhibition. Although there are of course no guarantees, plus enormous competition, I feel it is helpful to study the art works in the current show, and records of previous shows. Also reading the RA magazines, and noting what the Royal Academicians say, both in print and online in their short videos is beneficial. Most importantly, observe carefully and make notes. Absorb the very essence of the RA Summer Exhibition. Breathe it in. Be inspired.
    Diana Poliak

    Create art that makes you happy

    One thing I have learnt from having my work up at the Summer Exhibition, and that I would like to pass on to other artists, is to be yourself. Seeing all the different works of art makes you realise that the summer exhibition is a celebration of colour, shapes, diversity and freedom. Create art that makes you happy, that you are proud of and that represents who you are.
    Karolina Gacke

  • Think about what you want your work to be.

    Dick Hewitson

  • Keep an open mind

    Keep experimenting. For me, there’s no right or wrong way. My work pattern is to take an idea and play with it, adding, whittling and layering until I feel it’s where I want it to be. Being included in the Summer Exhibition has been an incredible privilege for me. I’d encourage any artist to put aside caution and/or shyness and apply!
    Anne Gilpin

    Be bold. Do not fear rejection

    As an architect, I communicate the creative process of my work in architecture through drawings and models. My work has been exhibited at the RA on many occasions and it is always a great honour to be included. Every year the show is curated by different Royal Academicians so do understand the theme behind, in this case, the Architecture Room. Space is at a premium and large works can be difficult to accommodate. Work must be exceptional so be bold, do not fear rejection and be prepared to try and try again.
    Keith R Williams

    Keep yourself engaged

    I have learnt that I need to keep myself interested by exploring subjects that I find engaging and challenging myself to welcome paintings that are awkward or uncomfortable. My work is from a series of works based on lucky charms, the sort you might collect and display on a bracelet. I was interested in the way objects hold meaning and memories for us and I wanted the paintings to be fast, and realise the energy or attitude of their making.
    Alli Sharma

    Go to galleries

    In trying to be artistic without me trying to be a smart-alec, the selection panel saw what I was trying to achieve. I feel fortunate that my work met with the approval of Richard Wilson and the team – especially when I look around the exhibition and the amazing standard of work on display which has been brilliantly curated. If I had to give advice to others, I would always suggest looking at what YOU do, go to visit galleries and see what goes up and also take advice.
    Michael J Duke

    • Submit your work for the Summer Exhibition 2018

      “Fellow artists! 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy, so the Summer Exhibition will celebrate a quarter of a millennia of artistic innovation. As coordinator, I have decided that the theme of the show will be Art Made Now. I want to champion the democracy of the exhibition and show off the diversity of art being made in this moment, so I encourage you to submit works that you have made in 2017/18. I am also planning a special ‘Room of Fun’ in a newly built part of the Academy, so the committee may well look favourably on artworks that we find amusing.” – Grayson Perry RA.

      The submission deadline is 11.59pm on Wednesday 14 February.

      Grayson Perry RA for Summer Exhibition 2018