You work in this thing long enough and your rejects pile gets pretty big. Mine is HUGE. In fact I had no idea how big it was until I started culling pieces for this article, and let me tell you, for as much lost work as you see here today, there’s at least four times this much not seen. A lot of this is die to my own personal weird way of working which sends me to final fully fleshed out pieces WAY early. And while oftentimes this does what such a leap tends to wish for- it sells the notion by showing the idea not telling. But sometimes it Ain;t enough and the image goes down.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE art all ultimately junked due to a number of understandable issues directly from the director which in the end forced my hand into a Hail Mary solve that succeeded far beyond these ever could.

Rejects can come from a million different places and for twice that in reasons…. This is not going to be revenge porn from a disgruntled artist- aside from that being tactically stupid, it’s also petulant and petty and super childish. So no kissing and telling here, but merely an honorific to the fallen.

A rejected poster for NEON AMMONITE due to notes from client reps

A thing can go pear shaped for a thousand reasons. Book covers and posters are the primary point of sale for a piece of work, and our job as illustrators is to do two things at once: grab the audience’s attention from the presumed melee of visual noise it sits nestled into, and get them to not only want to come in closer and check the book out, or see the trailer… but to purchase the thing. If we don’t fulfill that need, the red flag goes down and we try again. Sometimes a client doesn’t know what they want until they see it, and they waste a lot of your time and energy throwing darts int he dark room until you either strike the target or someone halts the process out of mercy. I’ve had a job change or go sideways because an actor’s hairdresser said a thing, a client’s son preferred red over blue, a client thought the jute rope he asked for was “too ropey”, the piece showed less inner strength than outward power, a character looked to much like an ex wife I never met, a marketing person thought pink was the in-color of the year, freckles made one client angry for some reason, and another who just hated a friend of mine I work with and thought this could be a decent place to punch. People can be crazy, if they aren’t always and you’ll find that the level of crazy goes up exponentially when a committee takes control and groupthink rolls in to make editorial decision.

An unused piece sacrificed on the mantle of Covid layoffs and turmoil celebrating Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Happily more often than not, it’s none of those absurd things and I simply didn’t capture the need properly, set the wrong tone, drew too old for a younger audience or drew to young for an older. I’ve sometimes gone to weird on a piece and not weird enough on another, and a lot of times it’s simply because I needed to break bad to turning over a new leaf. A victim doesn’t always require a villain, and in the end, in the long game of it all, it’s all part and parcel off the work.


Still to this day I cannot recall why this went south and they chose the other, for a book called THE GREY BASTARDS. Even if you don’t agree with the decision, you abide by it.


Still a favorite of mine in particular for THE NIGHTINGALE, but for whatever reason it did not light the client’s fire


More cutting room floor approaches that for whatever reason did not sail far. It happens.


Because I leap to final art sooner than most, it does put on the line the risk of having to do it again, and much of the work stems from that choice by me. It’s the least I can do to alleviate the box I put a client in by going to finals, because it’s a LOT more difficult to reject a thing if there’s a lot of effort put into it. Which I confess is part of the point, but it does help separate the strong from the weak in that if there’s cause to kill a full rendered piece, there’s usually a good reason for it.


A particularly famous cutting room floor victim, but legitimately for not capturing the right tone and target age for the story, in DRAGONKIND


So far the only utter fail in my many books for Nnedi Okorafor. The committee felt it skewed too old despite the heroic efforts of our AD to save it


Sometimes a thing does on the field simply because it was mistaken for the goal when it was part of the journey to the goal. In the case of many of these, the final that was born in their response was greatly aided by this big step along the way. the wrong alley is often what’s needed to find the right street, and so I chalk a lot it all up to that.


I can’t recall why this dropped, but the final we went with for Walter Mosely’s INSIDE THE SILVER BOX was far superior anyway. Sometimes I gild the lily as a means to cover some other problem. I suspect the rank biracial nudity was a bit on the nose here for a cover piece.


A series of posters for the film IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE which would have had them all connect together vis the dog’s bloody footprints across them. Not sure what happened here still but eventually it got junked entirely. Sometimes the fruit rots on the vine and sometimes something happened and you just never heard tell why.


The unused alt piece for MY OCTOPUS TEACHER that was left out due to a mutually agreed call. I think we all liked the one we went with, but at the time was fearful all the necessary copy would have been too much for the composition. This was me coming up with a backup plan to retreat to if we needed it because we only had a week to get it done and turned in, and it was a useful tactical sacrifice.


At the end of it all the end is what justifies the means to get there. This is not at all to suggest that being overworked by a client is ever copacetic, and part of navigating that comes from having to intuit what the client is after. They don’t always know for sure, or you’ll find an AD is more or less rendered inert by a domineering committee system leaving you to wrench your fists at an office building with about as much effect. I’ve found the cheap projects can be as vexing as the biggest ones and the big budget enterprises sometimes easier and more freeing than the little indy runs. You can’t always tell where the bullet is going to come from, and each new jobs each new client presents an entirely new relationship with all the attending surprises and horror and delights anyone can deliver. But if you stand tall, do your work and remain professional even a disaster can lead to a renaissance and a return to the wheel you thought might have been broken. Long term solid relationships can be a real salve to such surprises, because you go in know that client A has a lot of free hand and shared vision or is subject to the rolling monotonous chase after the mediocre committee systems tend to love to achieve. If you have a new client you’re unfamiliar with personally, ask a colleague for input. This kind of thing happens all the time and we can be of great aid to our brothers and sisters in art either to cheer them on when they get tapped by a client we love, or to save them from a disreputable scalawag, which are out there in the tall grass with their loaded weapons too. The individual cream may not always float to the top, but if you keep to these ideals, the career cream does, and then after a time you’re more in a position of power to help push a teetering thing to rights, or know when to pull the ripcord before it’s too late.

That thing they say about it taking a thousand bad drawings to create a good one- this is that. If you’re gonna make a life of this kind of art-making , you need to make a home of it too. Don’t shit where you eat, try not to ring bells that can’t be un-rung, listen be empathetic and understanding in all ways and if you do this, keep your eye not he long goal rather than the short change… you may have a drawer full of rejected children like I do, but you’ll have an even bugger one for the successes. Stumble to the finish like the rest of us so you can win the opportunity to do it again.