Judging - Steve Rogers AWS, NWS, TWSA

Steve Rogers AWS, NWS,TWSA has served as a Judge / Juror for many watercolor exhibitions including the American Watercolor Society, where he was the National Invited Juror in 2007 and served that year on the jury of selection.  Steve was the Chairman of the three person Jury of Awards for AWS in 2010.


Steve is available to serve as Juror / Judge. He has been the Juror or Judge for the following watercolor society's annual exhibitions (* indicates sole judge and juror):

American Watercolor Society Annual International Exhibition, (National Invited Juror), New York City, NY 2006

American Watercolor Society Annual International Exhibition, (Chairman of Awards Jury), New York City, NY 2010

Wyoming Watercolor Society National Annual Exhibition, Sheridan, WY. 2007

 * Watercolor Society of North Carolina , NC. 2009

 *Suncoast Watercolor Society, Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Longboat Key, FL. 2004

 *Tri-State Watercolor Society, LeMoyne Art Foundation, Tallahassee, FL 2004

*Miami Watercolor Society, One Brickell Square, Miami, FL 2001

*Palm Beach Watercolor Society, Crest Theater Galleries, Delray Beach, FL 2000

*Jacksonville Watercolor Society, St. Augustine Art Center, St. Augustine, FL 2000


The following are the notes for my lecture at the Florida Watercolor Society about:


  How it works in the AWS / NWS jury room and what you can do to improve your chances of being accepted - by Steve Rogers AWS, NWS, TWSA

        Several years ago at an AWS awards banquet my friend John Salminen said that someone had asked him to explain the jury process to him and that I should hear what he had to say as I would be doing it soon. Yeah sure John! John was the National Invited Juror that year. After I listened to him I thought that I really had a handle on how it worked and I began giving a little talk on the AWS jury process to those of my workshop students who were interested. Even with John’s information I found after serving on the jury this year that I had had some big misconceptions. I am also painfully aware of what some artists who have received their rejection notice think of the process. I was so very impressed with the fairness of what goes on in the AWS jury room, that I have decided to share my experience with you, set the record straight, and also offer some advice to the artists who want to submit but are unsure about what to do.    

 Misconceptions that I had  

 That there were a certain number of paintings that were to be selected as determined by the hanging space at Salmagundi—not true.  

That only really good painters would continue to send and so therefore most of the 2000 slides were from really good painters –not so.  

That slide trays were divided up into members and non- members/associate members so that imitators could be seen as such or that jurors could be sure to pick enough new artists to bring in new blood—not true. Whether or not the slides being viewed are from members or non-members is never stated and they seem to be somewhat mixed into carousels with other entrants. The application/slide submissions are divided up so as not to overburden one volunteer who has to process all 2000 apps and slides. Ask Jean Banas or someone who has done this for FWS how difficult a job this is.  

That the viewing room would have too much ambient light and this would disadvantage more subtle works –not true.  

That you would only have a second to make a decision –not true.  

That obviously bad paintings would receive less attention—not true.  

That if you look at the “in memoriam” page from the previous year this is how many new Signature members may be accepted that year--- not true. This number is strictly determined by how many candidates the jury of selection includes, i.e. how many receive the necessary 4 votes. I also thought that the vote needed to be unanimous.    

 Some other misconceptions which I  are prevalent among my fellow watercolor painters  

There are a large and disproportionate number of AWS Signature members in the exhibition each year. Several factors may contribute to the apparent quantity of artists in the catalog with AWS after their names. One is that all new Signature members receive this recognition immediately, and so this year 16 new members out of the ninety-six accepted artists in the show were not AWS before but they appear that way in the catalog. A second reason is that the AWS juries, both the six members of the jury of selection and the three members of the jury of Awards and the two demonstrators are “give-ins”, that is they are included automatically. It should not be to the detriment of those who serve on the jury to be excluded and they certainly cannot judge themselves. So in this year’s show out of 96 paintings there are only openings for 69 other accepted paintings. And then everyone competes on a level playing field with George James, John Salminen, Dean Mitchell, et al. NO wonder it is so very hard to get into the AWS Annual International Exhibition let alone 2 exhibitions!  

The same people get in every year. I think we just dealt with a little of that. They get in because they paint exceptional paintings each year. The thing which is not so apparent is how many of the people one puts in that class that do not get in in a given year. If you think it is because they were out of town and forgot to send that year, think again! It was very interesting to see painters we all know and respect and admire who received not one vote from the jury. Their painting this year was just not good enough to make the cut just like anyone else. In fact, I think that with a great reputation comes a great expectation and if the artist fails to live up to that he is almost judged against his own body of work as well as the other entrants. Remember the jurists are anonymous and can therefore act with impunity. Sole juror/judge is a more sensitive role and I think it is hard for people in that position to act without some awareness if they recognize someone’s work is in front of them whom they know. I have not accepted a watercolor society president’s painting for an exhibition one week and the next show I judged the president received the top award.        

How it works  

 Both the Jury of Selection and the Jury of Awards are voted on by all Signature Members in an open ballot with no proposed slate. The only requirements are that they are Signature Members of AWS and that they have not served on the jury in the past two years.  

The only exceptions are the President and the National Invited Juror. The President only votes when he/she feels it is in the interest of the society.  

The purpose of having a National Invited Juror is to balance one of the Juries. I served on the Jury of Selection in this capacity and I believe Jean Grassdorf did the same on the Jury of Awards.  

The jury process takes a very long day and a half. There are usually nearly 2000 slides with each artist submitting one slide.  

All slides are looked at carefully at least twice with every effort made to be sure they are correctly oriented and seen for a long enough time to make a decision. EVEN WITH AN OBVIOUSLY BAD PAINTING.  

The jury room in Salmagundi is very dark with only a small light in the back corner where the person tallying the results sits.  

The five members of the jury sit in front with a large daylight screen in front of them.  

Members who have done work for AWS, the director, people who support the jury process, i.e. those who serve the lunch, committee chairs, like Dianna Khan, who arrange for the dinner, award donors and others are invited to observe the process and come and go during the process.  

All slides are viewed one time without voting. This is not a quick viewing. Then all slides are viewed a second time with members of the jury voting this time. Again this is not a quick view.  

Each juror is given a button to push if he/she wants to include the painting in the show and the President is able to view each light that is activated when a juror votes.  

If a painting receives four or more votes it is in the exhibition. If it receives 3 votes it is marked to be viewed a third time. If a painting receives less than 3 votes it is out.  

The only question or talking that is permitted is for a juror to ask the size of the painting. The title which many of us strain to come up is given only after a painting is included or excluded from the exhibition. Someone may ask for it then if the painting looks interesting or the person tabulating the votes who sees the title may at this time say an especially funny or interesting title.  

NO other discussion or even noises are permitted.  

The jury has complete control as to the number of paintings to be included, which is however many they include. Janet says in the beginning “it always works out”. They are not even told how many have already been selected, even in the third round or if they inquire.    

The second day we were only told that we had been very selective and maybe needed to be a little more lenient. Also the button system, which was new this year (it was tried the year before but mechanical problems caused it to be abandoned was adjusted to include a count of the votes without indicating who was voting. This seemed to encourage more votes. Remember the all prior jurying was done    

This is also true for artists who are up for Signature membership. They have to have been in 2 shows in order to qualify for consideration and need to apply prior to the general application date. There is no longer a 10 year time limit on this. They are sent a specially marked application and they are to send 2 slides instead of the one slide everyone else sends. They are also run through once to view without a vote, a second time to vote on with the same more than 4 is in, 3 is maybe, and less than 3 is out. At this time discussion is permitted although in our jury no one said anything about any of the applicants.

 All of the jurors have one common interest and that is to pick the very best show possible and everyone is very serious and committed to this. These are all watercolor painters who love AWS and want the exhibition to reflect the best in watercolor.  

One issue of the AWS newsletter broke down by carousel the number from each that were included in the show and it is certainly not the groups which are seen first as is commonly assumed.  

Some differences between NWS and AWS  

 I had a long phone conversation with my buddy Pat Dews, who recently served on the NWS jury of selection and I also spoke with Chris Van Winkle, the NWS President about how they run their slide jury. Here are some of the things which are different about the two processes. Everything else I said about a commitment to fairness and to achieving the best possible exhibition applies.  

The NWS jury is chosen from several proposed jurors. In the past and maybe somewhat now these usually consist of more people from California. It was mandated up to a few years ago. Remember these juror need to go back and pick the signature members in addition to the slide jury.  

The NWS jury is for one day.  

There is more light to contend with at least there was this year than in the very dark AWS room. They are moving into a new facility incrementally, so this may not persist.  

There are 3 jurors instead of 6.  

All 3 jurors must vote in the positive.  

They are given a number of paintings to accept and must achieve this in the end which can be difficult with a number like three.  

 Signature members are chosen at the time of the awards jurying by the returning jury of selection.  

If you are accepted to an NWS exhibition (not the member’s exhibit) and you are not already a signature member you are asked to send your framed entry plus three matted paintings. The jury of selection looks at a slide of the accepted painting along with the 3 matted paintings and selects the new members on that basis.  

An alternative route to membership now exists.  It you have been in 3 of the national shows you automatically become a member.

Both societies have consistently excellent exhibitions. This year’s  NWS exhibit at the Muckenthaller was especially good. As was the AWS exhibition that I had a hand in selecting. If you wonder as I always have about the one or two awful paintings that somehow slipped in. I DID NOT PICK THEM!

 The AWS show has for many years been held at the Salmagundi Club in NYC. I have already explained that the number of paintings hung is not dependant on some predetermined amount. The NWS show alternates between the Brea Auditorium Gallery and the Muck. as they call it. The Brea venue is larger and so it is a little easier to get into the show in non-Muck years. Next year is a Muck year. Last year was a Brea year and the jury could accept, but did not have to accept 100 paintings. Don’t confuse the members show with the open show. You will not be asked to submit paintings for membership if you get into the members show. Associates are eligible for this show.  

The Awards process is also very different between AWS and NWS. With AWS opting for a jury of three again chosen from the entire Signature membership at large – no slate or proposed list. The jurors are given the awards structure but again are not told any rules as to how they determine the winners and pick the travel show. I phoned Jean Grassdorf ( I HAVE SINCE SERVED AS THE CHAIRMAN OF THE JURY OF AWARDS ) and asked her about the AWS awards process and she described it as a process of discussion and agreement among the three jurors again leaving the manner of judging up to the competent jury to work out. She was also very informative about confirming my discussion with Pat. NWS has a single Awards Judge coming from outside of NWS. One year this was Janet Walsh from AWS. Last years Awards Juror was Steve Doherty, editor in chief of American Artist, and a great supporter of FWS and a fellow painter. This year they balance the books with the editor from Artist Magazine. I wrote a letter to NWS years ago when they were contemplating some changes and I felt that watercolor societies should be judged by people familiar with painting and watercolor in particular. I think Steve fit my description but I hope they do not select art critique types to judge watercolor as they have done in the past. That is one of the big reasons that we have watercolor societies in the first place.  

All awards at AWS are monetary and some also include a medal and there are no targeted awards or awards with stipulations. NWS has as does FWS, awards which are a combination of cash and “art stuff” in some cases as well as cash only awards. Several awards come with conditions, i.e. the Milford Zorenes Award is for a watercolor done without the use of photography in any way and he got up at 98 years young or whatever and told everyone WHY. Loa Sprung has donated an award which is one of the top awards and it is for an abstract painting. AWS has no purchase awards. NWS has several, the one just mentioned and the top award, the NWS Purchase Award with Silver Star.    

 Things to think about when sending to a national show  

If you get into FWS fairly often and especially if you have won awards here it is time for you to send to regional and national shows. FWS is full of great watercolor painters and getting more every year. This is tough competion.  

Be sure and view your slides in jury room conditions and not just hold them up to the light.  

Just because you paid a “professional” to have your slides taken is no guarantee of the quality.  

Crop and mask off everything accept the actual painting. Those with even some mat showing are truly disadvantaged in some cases even causing the jury to have to figure out if it is an intended part of an abstract composition.  

Dot the I’s and cross the T’s and send you application in before the deadline. This is hard for most artists to do.  

Submitting some subjects I am sorry to say is just an exercise in Masochism. Clowns and your cute dog/cat doing something real cute will only get you a rejection notice. I don’t make this stuff up. Jamie Wyeth and his stuffed pets – I don’t think so!  

Red barns, the local lighthouse have to go way beyond the cliché that they have become and this is an added burden most of us would not welcome.  

For me, and for most jurors I know, your painting needs to convey to the viewer something about your own passion. Whether this is an abstract or representational image, paint from your heart in a style that develops from within and you will have and advantage over someone who paints like another artist or who paints the IN subject.  

Never submit a painting to a juror because you think they will respond to something that they paint. They will be more critical and see all the flaws. Don’t send paintings of African Americans to Dean Mitchell because you know he will like them.  

When it comes to national competitions, remember that there are a lot of really good technicians out there who are never able to get into a national exhibition. Something about your work needs to separate you from the pack.  

Be ready for Digital submissions. Slides are going the way of the 8 track tapes. And there are many problems here as Societies struggle with the transition.


The following is a juror's statement about the Tri-State exhibition put on for Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It reflects my attitude as a juror.

Juror’s Statement

I’d like to thank Ann Kromhout and the Tallahassee Watercolor Society for having me serve as the juror for the 16th Tri-State Juried Water Media Exhibition. It has been an honor and privilege to view the excellent work submitted and to select the show. All the artists represented in the exhibition should feel proud of their accomplishment. The overall high quality of the art and the fact that two pieces from each artist could be selected meant that many fine paintings were declined. I truly agonized over my choices and I would like to explain the process for the benefit of those fine artists whose work was not among the 70 accepted paintings, but space does not permit. Suffice to say that I reviewed ALL slides many times before making any decisions and even revisited the declined paintings after the final selection to be sure I was confident in my decision.

With three slides available from so many prominent artists, I chose to include two paintings from only those artists being considered for awards. There are a few acceptations to this, but my objective in doing this and in hanging the maximum number of paintings possible was to be able to include a few nice little honest paintings by some of the “non pros”. I selected these because the merit of their simple integrity outweighed including the extra piece by one of the already represented artists. Limiting the show to a smaller number of works or including more “2nd paintings”, I feel, would have not have significantly increased  the overall quality of the exhibit without sacrificing the diversity and range of participation. This exhibit reflects the variety of subject matter and painting styles I found so attractive in the body of paintings which were entered.

I judge paintings with my heart and gut as much as with my head. This is true in the case of both abstract and representational work and it really involves a lot of subjective feeling on the part of the juror. Visual communication is a two way street and I do apologize where the failure to understand a given work lies with my insensitivity or natural bias. I sincerely tried to divorce myself from any prejudices of which I am aware, but if we choose to participate in figure skating or painting for a competition we have to accept the subjective nature of the beast. The nice thing about most watercolor competitions is that I, like most judges, will have to put on my other hat as a submitting painter, go to the mailbox and feel my “self-addressed stamped envelope” to see if my slides were returned or whether I made the next show I apply to.

As I write this I am looking forward to coming to Tallahassee to complete the very difficult job selecting the awards. I remember doing my first public demo at the Florida Watercolor Society when the exhibit was at the Capitol Gallery in 1982. I had rarely painted in front of anyone let alone such a notable group of artists. I was nervous as hell and my painting hand shook so much I had to steady it with my left. This demo led to teaching a workshop at FSU for Mary Jo Weale, which led to other workshops, which led to occasionally serving as a juror. Her name was written in magic marker on the Kodak carousel box Ann sent me to return the selected paintings. Small world!

Again Congratulations to all you exhibiters and all the award winners!

Steve Rogers