In my last in-house job, prior to pursuing a career in surface pattern design and illustration, I was responsible for managing the designer relationships for more than 90 artists. So I’ve received my fair share of pitch emails and already discussed my best tips for creating them, but today I want to discuss why you may not have heard back from my perspective as a former art buyer.
Because pitching your art to potential clients is a bit like a dance. It starts with the consistent practice of your art. Honing your skill and showing up to create artwork that conveys the right feeling for the theme. All the prep work; the time spent researching the companies, creating the marketing materials, scheduling to promote your work, and sprucing up your website.
Opening night is when you have everything in place and you hit the stage. With the click of the send button, the dance has started. After the first act of the show you might wonder, will the art director respond and want to work with me?
If you get a response right away, congratulations, that’s great! You’ll move on to the next act of the dance. However, there are many people that probably won’t get a response at all. It can be easy to feel like your art isn’t good enough and to take it personally after all the hard work, preparation, and angst of waiting. I’ve been there many times. I know it can be very challenging.
That’s one of the main reasons I always made it a point to respond to every submission email I received when I was an art buyer. I had the responsibility of reviewing all of the submissions that came in at the company I worked for in-house.
Now that I’m pursuing my own career as a surface pattern designer and illustrator, it’s not as hard for me if I don’t hear anything back when I send out my artwork to art directors. I know that there are so many factors and moving parts for not replying that have nothing to do with me or my art.
Here are some reasons you might not have gotten a response:
They already work with an artist with a similar style.
This came up a couple of times when I received submissions. An artist would submit work that was quite similar in style to an artist we already had an established, working relationship with. We wanted the art to be different to appeal to different tastes. Some companies want to have a similar style for the artwork they acquire so this probably depends, but it’s something to keep in mind if you notice in your research that a company has a lot of diverse styles between artists and one of them is similar to yours.
They’re too busy to reply.
I tried my best but there were times it would take me as long as six months to respond to inquiries. Managing the designer relationships was only one part of my job and I had to prioritize the artists I was currently working with and the implementation of the artwork that was acquired earlier in the year so that it all launched on time for the season. Unfortunately, art directors do not always have the time to respond to every submission.
They don’t think your work will translate to their products.
Art buyers are visual people but the work you pitch needs to be relevant and something that they can easily see translating to specific product lines. One time I had an artist pitch their coloring book work as a way to show me what they could do and had accomplished professionally.
This presented an issue because, while I could see that they were good with line work, I had no reference point for their sense of color. In your research, it’s good to make sure that you can see your art being a good fit for a company’s specific products.
You didn’t contact the right person.
Every year I would attend licensing trade shows with our Art Director and she would always make sure I was the one that handed out my business cards to potential artists. I was the gatekeeper for the company because I was in charge of maintaining designer relationships. I was responsible for onboarding, assigning work, sending specs, and answering questions. I worked closely with the Art Director in acquiring the artwork after we onboarded an artist but I was the first person to review an artist’s work and decide if they would be a good fit. I also made the decisions on certain artists that I would reach out to for certain art categories or commissions based on what I knew to be their past strengths and reliability.
It can be hard to find the right contact for submitting your work but if you don’t get a response try to go back to your research and see if there might be anyone else at the company that you should be contacting. If you contact the wrong person, they won’t necessarily forward your information.
They don’t need art at the time you pitch your work.
The artwork and time of year you submit is part of the dance in pitching your work and it can be very challenging at times to pin down when you first approach a company. Depending on the company’s licensing or buying schedule you could have missed the time frame.
Want more reasons why it’s never about your art when you don’t hear back?
Here are 10 reasons why written from Shannon’s perspective.
If you get a negative response, consider it a win. It’s an opportunity to gain clarity by inquiring about the reasons your work didn’t get accepted. If you don’t get a response, try critiquing your pitch and asking an accountability partner if they think the portfolio pieces you sent fit with the company’s aesthetic.
If the issue is timing, then the show’s not over. Inquire about an art acquisition calendar or being placed on an email list for art calls they may have throughout the year. You can also ask if you can add them to your newsletter list.
Be consistent in reaching out. You won’t necessarily know at first the reasons why you’re not getting a response, but until you do, friendly and respectful persistence is what will lead to success in getting your work accepted. It might be that very persistence that keeps you in the back of their minds for the next art opportunity.
Written by Cody Alice Moore
Cody is an illustrator & surface designer with 16 years of experience. Cody discovered surface design while working as an art buyer for a national photo lab. Since 2019, she has been creating art full-time for her budding portfolio & growing collection of licensed designs.