In this line of business, rejection is a normal thing. The illustration/cartooning industry is so competitive that, for many people, it's a struggle and a half just to get a foot in the door. Even for folks like me, who have kinda sorta almost made it but are barely getting by on my work, we're no strangers to a big fat "nope." A lot of times, no matter how good you may be, there will be someone better suited for a job. And you know what, back tracking for a second; Even if you AREN'T where you want to be skill-wise with your craft, that's nothing to be discouraged over.
A lot of people say that it's all about knowing someone, or being at the right place at the right time. I say (and excuse my language): Fuck that. Sure, that stuff HELPS, but it isn't the key to making it. If you're a hard worker, are kind to people, and are honest with yourself and your abilities, then you have all the tools you will need to go as far as you want to. That's not to say that having those tools automatically makes you ready to be a full time career artist (hell, I'm not even saying that about myself), but having them WILL get you to where you need to be, because you'll simply keep working until you're ready. You'll stay motivated, stay hungry, and improve leaps and bounds at a time.
You'll find that, once you use those critical tools (again, they're hard work/perseverance, kindness, and self-honesty), THAT is when you'll start meeting people and picking up on a lot of opportunities. It just sort of...happens! Of course, there's other variables to take into account, but those are the driving factors. Let's look at them more closely:
1) Hard work/perseverance. This is easily the most critical of the three, but I have the least to say about it. Simply put, if you want it, you're going to go get it. You're going to get knocked down, but you want your goal so badly that you're going to get back up. There will be bad days, failures, and rejections, but you keep your eye on the prize and keep kicking, screaming, scratching, and biting your way to the prize. You. Will. Get. There. Life doesn't always move at the pace we want or expect, but we all have control over our own destinies.
Taking chances is also a big part of this. More often than not, I used to tell myself "Oh man, I have no chance. Why should I bother applying for that?" I eventually, going nowhere, decided to take chances. And awesome things happened. Nowadays, I take chances, and REALLY awesome things happen. Nowadays, it's more like "Well I had all this dumb luck before, so why not! I got nothing to lose by trying!" and because of that, pretty ridiculously awesome stuff happens.
And really, what's the worst that could happen? They say "no thanks." Big deal! What if they say YES?
2) Kindness. This one is really simple. Some people are more personable than others by nature. Either way, it doesn't matter, because you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Think about it. You're sitting at Comic Con, trying to sell stuff. Your work can be the coolest art there, but if you're a grump with people, or worse, anti-social, people are going to keep walking. People gravitate towards positivity, so it's a . There's artists out there that, on more than one occasion, have acted like they were doing ME a favor by talking to me at a convention...and the topic of conversation was me commissioning them! Dude was acting like he'd rather be doing ANYTHING but talking to me. Needless to say, I didn't follow through with the commission.
Another way to look at it is simply that fellow artists/editors don't want to WORK with an asshole either! If you're the jerk of the group, no one's going to want to work with you on the next project, or want you back if they're in need of other artists.
Finally, simply put: YOU NEED PEOPLE TO SURVIVE. Being an island is NOT going to get you anywhere in this line of work. A good commercial artist looks out for the fellow artists that look out for him, and help others get gigs when they can (the favor will most likely be returned). A good employee will appreciate the work he gets from the editors and project leaders that select them. And finally, a DECENT HUMAN BEING appreciates any and all fans and followers they might have. It blows my mind how, as soon as people get a following, many of them think they're hot shit, and treat their fans like crap. They're the ones keeping you afloat. Use your head!
3) Self-Honesty. Sometimes, it's really difficult to look at your own work objectively. You may have improved a metric crap-ton over the last few years, and your work is approaching professional quality, but not quite there yet. This is where I feel like I am right now. I'm kinda there, but not quite yet. Close, but no cigar. So, what do you do? You ask for help. You go to people at your level, and the artists you admire. I can't tell you how many times I've pestered artists like Grant Gould about his opinions on my work. No one's work is going to be perfect, and outside parties are going to spot mistakes and flaws before you are, most likely.
If you can stay objective, and train yourself to be unattached, you'll improve much quicker. This is because, instead of taking criticism as a personal attack, you'll know that it's more about making the work better and getting one step closer to that goal. Think of it as self-help!
Self-honesty is also about knowing where you should be looking for work. If you're ready and have developed your voice and style, where are you applying? This might sound like common sense, but I have a super cartoony style. Therefore, I'm not about to go applying to get a job doing realistic portraits for Hasbro. You need to be self-aware of your own work and what jobs are appropriate for it. This was some pretty critical advice Randy Martinez gave me a few months back, and it's absolutely true! Your work could be great, but if you aren't right for the project, you aren't right for the project.
Now, say you have those tools already, but haven't had any luck with gigs yet. You're super talented because you've worked hard everyday for the last X amount of years. You're personable and outgoing, so people like you and want to work with you. You're honest with your work, have endured hundreds of crits and have used them to improve. So, now what?
Nothing. Stay focused. Stay working. Stay kind. Stay Honest. It may take time, it may not. Rejection is NOTHING to be ashamed of. I promise, the top artists of today were turned away plenty of times, and I'm sure the amount of "no" they received early in their careers far outweighed the amount of "yes" they heard! It may as well be a rite of passage!
Much love to you guys for helping me get this far (KINDNESS!), and I hope this was remotely helpful for someone! Also, happy Mother's Day to any of the moms out there!
Cheers from New York,