How to Keep Going When Your Art is Rejected

Several years ago I submitted a number of watercolor landscape paintings to a card company that I admired, hoping for a positive response. I’d submitted to this company the previous year, and though my art wasn’t selected, the art director wrote me a very nice note, which I really appreciated.

A few weeks after hitting send on that second email submission, the art director contacted me, telling me he liked the work and asked if I had any paintings that were Christmas or winter-themed. I didn’t (this was before I understood that Christmas and winter items are the biggest category for just about any company to license!), but I decided to spend the weekend painting in order to submit something to him.

I was so excited! I thought I’d finally get my first licensing deal, so I painted and painted and painted, then sent off my winter landscapes. The art director wrote back and said they’d be in touch if they were interested in anything, but then…nothing. I never heard back, nothing ever came from that submission, and I was deeply, deeply disappointed.

I didn’t give up after that, though, and you know what? That same company ended up giving me my first-ever licensing deal, but it wasn’t for several more years, and it was after lots of persistence on my part.

Since then I’ve been rejected many, many times, and it still gets me down here and there, but I’ve learned how to cope with it and how to keep going, and that seems like something worth sharing!

Here are some of the ways I’ve found to submit again after getting a no:

Look for stories of other artists who have been rejected

You know the saying, “misery loves company?” When you’ve been rejected you most certainly don’t want to wallow in it, but I’ve sure found it helpful to hear that other artists have had similar experiences to my own and have kept going. Heck, that’s part of the reason I wrote this blog post, so other artists and surface designers could hear that yes, I’ve been rejected, but I’ve also persisted and had success.

If my story isn’t enough, reach out to other artists and designers and ask if they’ve ever been rejected. Shannon’s discussed this topic on Instagram herself. If we normalize being turned down, it won’t seem so scary and you won’t feel alone.

How to Keep Going When Your Art is Rejected | Sketch Design Repeat
Practice positive self talk

Okay, you got me, I love a good self-help blog post or book — there’s several great recommendations on SDR’s resource page. It might sound cheesy, but after you get rejected you’re likely telling yourself a ton of really unhelpful stuff, like, “I’ll never be as good as other designers,” “I may as well quit,” “No one thinks I’m good at this,” and on and on.

The more times you tell yourself that stuff, the worse you’re going to feel. When you notice you’re doing it, stop and say something positive to yourself, anything! Remind yourself of a past success, give yourself a pat on the back for being brave enough to reach out in the first place, or tell yourself you’re doing a great job.

Remember that if you’re being rejected, it means you’re putting yourself out there!

Do you know how many people have dreams of being an artist or designer (or any other fun, creative job)? Zillions. But how many of them submit their artwork to a company for consideration? How many of them reach out to an art director and introduce themselves? Very, very few!

Just by reaching out and getting rejected, you’re ahead of 95% of the other hopeful surface designers out there!

Good job, you did it! You put yourself out there, made yourself vulnerable, and took a step forward in your career.

Learn from your rejection

Being rejected doesn’t mean you’re a terrible designer or that you have no talent. It means your work wasn’t a good fit this time around. Or they wanted something blue for next year’s catalog and you submitted something green. Or maybe even they want something very traditional and you submitted something very modern.

Just because a rejection doesn’t mean you’re a bad designer, it can mean you didn’t submit the right work or didn’t research the company properly.

Go back and take a good look at the work you submitted. Does it fit with the overall look and feel of the brand? Was it executed in a technically proficient way? Does it look a little too similar to their other designs? Use this opportunity to gently critique your own work and learn from it for the next time you submit. (Which will be soon, right?)

RELATED ARTICLE: Email Pitching Tips from a Former Art Buyer

Remind yourself you’ll become less upset each time you’re rejected

It’s not that submitting your work over and over leaves you a cold, hard shell of a human, but it does make you a little more immune to rejection. The first time you get rejected it may feel like the absolute end of the world. Even the second and third times can feel like that, but eventually, especially if you remind yourself of your successes (big or small), you’ll see that rejection is just part of the journey.

There is simply no way to be a successful pattern or surface designer without bumping up against rejection now and again.

In fact, in most cases, if you’re not being rejected, you’re not putting yourself out there enough. Congratulate yourself when you get that first (or fifth) “no,” because it means you’re ahead of the curve and showing off your work, even when it’s hard or scary.

Yup, I’m still getting rejected. Most of the time, though, I never ever hear back when I submit work, which isn’t quite as painful as getting a straight-up no, but it doesn’t bother me like it used to. Now I know my work isn’t for everyone, and if I want to avoid rejection, it means avoiding success, too.

Keep going, because there’s a place for your work, even if you haven’t quite found it yet.

SDR Blog Team Member Jen Picicci
Written by Jen Picicci

Instagram: @jenpicicci

Jen Picicci is an enthusiastic painter and surface designer. She’s always loved art, but didn’t think she could pursue it as a career until the birth of her daughter. These days if she’s not painting, you can find her hiking, planting flowers, reading a book, or eating a brownie.

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