Do you believe in your work?
I’ve been asked to write about “Night Walk”, a painting that recently made the cut into the American Watercolor Society’s International Exhibition in New York City.
A bit of background for the un-initiated: in an international, juried show like AWS, one sends a digital image, plus an entry fee, and a panel of 5 judges review thousands of entries to select a show of between 100-150 paintings from all over the world. Once the show has been through preliminary selections, the original works are shipped to the venue, and awards are selected, in this case by a different panel of judges.
GIANT DISCLAIMER: My hunch is that my friend asked me to write this post so she could glean my ‘secret’ to success. The secret is: there is no secret. The only way to success is through repeated ‘failures’ or rejections. I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
So far, my favorite Chapter is titled “Persistence.” If there is one key to succeeding here, that would be it!
Gilbert writes about “The patron goddess of creativity” and how she “can make really weird decisions about who gets her money.” “In short, she may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.” This is how I look at it, and how I was able to write “Rejected Again, Hooray.”
I’ve been working to gain entry to this show for about 15 years. It is a tough nut to crack, and I’m not sure I have a lot of light to shed on how to do it. I think a lot of it is luck… Of course luck often finds me hard at work! But for what it is worth, here are my observations.
- Believe in your work – this particular painting was rejected from the AWS show last year… I still thought it was among my best work and decided to submit it again… This time it was accepted!
- Gain exposure by entering other high visibility shows – if the panel of judges have seen your work before and been suitably impressed, they are more likely to recognize your piece. This piece had been in a national show and won an award.
- Save your best work for the most competitive venues.
- Strong contrasts and Unity are big selling points – This painting has both.
- Thoughtful design choices – this painting utilizes a z shaped design, and shape repetition.
- Look for areas of complexity and areas of simplicity – this painting has both.
- Listen to what peers say when they view your work. In this case, a respected friend said she couldn’t stop thinking about the painting, couldn’t get it out of her head. Another friend identified it as a quantum leap in my work.
- I think there is something to be said for letting the ‘Hand of the Artist’ show… The gestural line work in this piece definitely qualifies, and contrasts with the more regular, geometric patterns.
- I can’t stress enough that belief in oneself is the key- even when this piece was “Rejected Again” I still liked it and believed in it. Be persistent.
- Go with your gut!
Another reason to believe in your work is that the perfect buyer for a painting might not surface immediately. Often it takes years for an artwork to find its forever home. In the meantime, it is easy for us as creators to feel doubt and insecurity creep in, regardless of the quality of the work, or how we viewed it when we first completed it.
This can be one of the most difficult parts of being an artist: being an objective viewer of one’s own work. Where does it fit within the body of work? Which opinions or critiques does one listen to? Ultimately, the artist must listen to their own instincts most strongly.
I’ll leave you with the words of Honore’ de Balzac:
“All happiness depends on courage and work.”