As surface designers, when we share our art with companies, we’re sharing a part of ourselves. Art-making is such an intimate experience and we can (and should) get really invested in our designs.
But what happens when we get rejected by art directors we’ve sent art to or even worse, not heard back from them at all?
A lot of times, it can feel really personal. Like our art isn’t good enough and we’re not cut out for art licensing. But that’s NEVER the case.
The truth is there is so much going on behind the scenes at companies and its usually one of a million different reasons why we don’t hear back from them – and no, it has nothing to do with the quality of your art!
So today I’m highlighting just ten different reasons why you might not hear back from an art director that you’ve sent your work to in hopes that it will help you realize that it’s all about business and not who you are as an artist.
1. They’re too busy.
I know this is something you probably hear all the time, but it really is true. Art directors are often pulled in many different directions in their job and responding to artists ends up being a low priority.
Even during COVID when things have noticeably slowed for lots of companies, art directors are actually busier than ever! Many of their staff may have been furloughed or laid off and as the one in charge, they’re often the one that has to pick up the slack.
2. They’re out of town or on vacation.
It’s impossible to know the schedule of every art director you contact and sometimes that means you’ll be emailing them when they’re not actually at work. And by the time they get back to their inbox, they’ll likely have hundreds of emails to sift through – many taking a much higher priority than your art submission.
3. They don’t need any new art right now.
Companies license art in cycles and every one is a bit different – some buy monthly or quarterly and others buy just once a year. So if you email an art director after they’ve just finished purchasing the art they need, they may not respond to you since they’re not actively looking for new art.
4. They’re looking for very specific art.
It’s also possible that the art you’ve send them is not what they need at the moment. Most companies look for different themes at specific times of year (and unfortunately there’s no set standard for us to know when to send what type of art as each company is different).
So if you send a Christmas design, but they’re working on Easter – they may not want to write back as they’re not looking to fill their holidays needs just yet.
5. Your design style is mismatched.
One of the biggest missteps I see artists make is sending their work to companies they love, even if they have very different styles. That’s why it’s very important for you to do research on every company you contact to make sure your art style is similar to what they use on their products.
It’s not enough to want to work with a company – your art has to be a good fit for them too. I call this the Golden Rule of research.
6. Your art isn’t a good fit for their products.
Just like your design style, you also need to be aware of what themes they have in their product lineup. So if a company sells high-end stationery with mostly floral and geometric designs, but you send them animal art that would be much more appropriate for kids products – you’re probably not going to hear back from them.
Again, it’s very important for you to do your homework before reaching out to a company and make sure your portfolio is a good fit for their products.
7. You didn’t contact the RIGHT art director.
There’ll often be more than one art-related department and multiple art directors – especially at larger companies. And it can be really hard to know when doing your contact research whether the art director you found is the correct person to contact about art submissions. So if you never hear back, it might be because you’ve contacted someone who doesn’t do the art buying.
Finding the right contact is a really complex topic, but there is one easy way to weed things out: don’t bother with art directors in the graphic design department as they’re almost never on the product development side of things.
8. The person doesn’t work there anymore.
This is WAY more common than you might think! But if you’ve been contacting an art director for awhile and they stop opening your emails, one possibility is it’s because they’ve moved on to another job.
Sometimes you might get lucky and their email will be forwarded to the new art director that replaced them, but most of the time it’ll just end up going nowhere.
9. They have too many submissions to contact everyone.
Think about when you apply for a job: how often do you hear back that you weren’t chosen for an interview? Most of the time, you won’t hear back at all, right? And it’s not because they don’t want to respond, it’s that they’ve probably received hundreds of applicants and it’s far too time consuming to contact everyone.
The same thing happens with art directors. Popular companies receive tons of new art emails each week and sometimes it’s just not possible for an art director to write back to every single one they get.
10. They read it, but forget to respond.
You get an email, read it, and put it aside to answer later, but then completely forget to go back to it and follow up. Has this happened to you? Because I KNOW it’s happened to me!
And the same thing happens to art directors. A new meeting may come up. A project might need immediate attention. They just get busy. But that doesn’t mean they’re not interested.
And that’s why it’s SO important for you to regularly and consistently follow up with every company you contact. You have to show them you’re serious about working with them and are there to make their life easier – by sending them your beautiful art!
But maybe your feeling stuck and it not just because you haven’t heard back from art directors.
Maybe you’re not sure where to start when it comes to finding companies beyond the ones we all know about (I’m looking at you Target and Anthropologie) OR you have a small list of companies, but aren’t sure what to say or which art to send.
I was totally in your shoes when I first started out as a surface designer and spent the first two years fumbling and full of self-doubt.
Finally, I realized I couldn’t rely on companies to come to me. Instead, I needed to be proactive and contact them. So I built a plan to consistently do just that and once I did, things clicked and I started making money!
But I don’t want it to take you years to get there like it took me.
So I created Pitch Your Portfolio.
I built this course so I could share with you the EXACT method I used for finding companies that has allowed me to license and sell over 50 designs in the past 4 years, so you can leverage YOUR portfolio like I have and start making money from YOUR art.