Being able to deal with rejection can be a difficult, often painful lesson most artists will inevitably face, especially if you’re trying to commercialize your skill. It might happen a few times. Or if you’re like me, it’s happened a lot.
It still stings too. but you can’t let it stop you. I think it tends to stop a lot of folks. It’s a filter of sorts, and only the thickest heads will make it.
My first real rejection happened in San Diego, 1995. I was road tripping across the country with a friend, and we’d connected with some buddies of ours from back in El Paso who’d moved out to SD. San Diego in the early 90’s was like this Mecca of west coast skate and surf culture, and the homies were pretty plugged into that whole scene.
Catching up in a dark Smokey apartment, my friend Haj was like “you know I have the contact for Tribal Gear. They’re based out here. You should give them a call and try to set up a meeting…”
For context, Tribal Gear was a graffiti clothing label that, if you were into graf in the early 90’s and lived in the western United States, they were sort of a big deal. They had some of the best dudes doing graphics for them and really embodied that west coast graffiti scene aesthetic. To a scrappy little guy like myself, they were like the holy grail.
“Nah, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. My works not there yet.”
“Bullshit dude, just call them up, tell them you’re a graf artist rolling through town, and you have some work they would probably want to see, and see if you can come by to talk”
I took what he said to heart. When was I gonna be out here again? The worst thing that could happen is they say no.
I built my courage up and called their office, and asked to speak to the owner. I wanna say his name was like Carlos or something. I basically told him word for word what Haj had told me to say.
to my surprise/shock he’s like “ok why don’t you come by the shop and we can talk?”
Gulp. So I loaded up my backpack with some sketchbooks and my buddy and I hopped in the car and went down there.
My god. I was so nervous. This was my first real shot. I was gonna swing for the fences and see what happens.
We got to the shop, and it was in like an industrial park. they had crazy graffiti pieces all over the place. I recognized a bunch of the artists who’d done stuff for them. Joker, Giant, Zodak…holy crap. I couldn’t believe I was there. I introduced myself to dude I’d spoken to on the phone and his partner. I nervously handed them a couple of sketchbooks and stood quietly as they thumbed through them.
They went through it, stopped on a few pages, and were generally positive. At the end, they thanked me for coming by, but that they just didn’t have a spot for me. They gave me a handful of swag, I thanked them, and slunk out to the parking lot.
It sorta felt like getting dumped. I had the lump in my throat and was covered in sweat. I felt like I was outside my body. I was so embarrassed because while deep down I knew my work wasn’t there, I’d secretly hoped that it was. I remember driving back to where we were staying in silence. It was a bright sunny San Diego day, which only seemed to twist the knife more. I felt so defeated. This was my shot, and I got stuffed.
But you know what? It wasn’t the end of the world. And while I was bummed out and crushed, it certainly didn’t stop me. If anything it sort of emboldened me. Even though they rejected me, they were really nice about it. It helped soften the blow and drove home the idea that it wasn’t personal. I couldn’t be mad at them. I could be mad at the situation, mad at my self because my work wasn’t there yet, and let that light the fire to improve my stuff.
It’s almost 30 years later, and I still get rejected for stuff all the time. And it still hurts. And I still get mad at myself. But you always have to remember that the alternative is not trying at all, and that’s exactly the recipe for getting nowhere.
The career of an artist can be so unpredictable. But there’s no question you better your odds by putting yourself out there. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been able to earn a living drawing pictures not because I’m especially great at it, but more because I’m willing to throw my hat in the ring and try. so try.
Pretty embarrassing posting that old stuff haha.
Here are a couple little 5×7 mixed media drawings of our two youngest this last weekend.