How to handle rejection- Calling all Botanical Artists!

Have you been rejected from a juried exhibition? I have many times.

Everytime I received a rejection from a juried exhibition I felt awful. It seemed like a personal attack. I felt that jury did not like my work, but I also felt that they didn't like me. What a lousy feeling. I took it personally.

Here is a brief story of how and what I did to overcome the hurdle of rejection.

I was teaching at NYBG and coordinatiing the Botanical Illustration program. At the time I was teaching a wide variety of classes with approximately 1,000 students enrolled in the program. The American Society of Botanical Artists were having their annual juried members show at the horticultural society in NYC, right in my back yard. The first year I submitted work, I was rejected. The second year I submitted, I was rejected. I was beginning to get paranoid and very embarrassed. My colleagues were getting in and so were my students!!!!! I thought about never trying again and at one point I even thought about never painting again. I took a deep breathe and decided my best choice was to go to the show and see the work.

I went to the opening, not only to see the show, but to also to congratulate the other artists. I remember feeling very nervous. As I looked at the pieces on the wall, I realized that my style was very different than the others. Most of the compositions were of plants that were floating in space, were painted in watercolor, and were delicate and refined. My work was big, bold, painted in gouache. They made an impact from across the room and were best viewed at a distance. If the work had been accepted into this show, it would have been screaming, while the others were gently humming. My work really didn't belong. I now had a choice, change my style, keep getting rejected, or give up.

The next year I decided to do an experiment. I submitted 3 pieces, one was what I thought they wanted, one was in-between and the last one was my regular style. I was relieved when on my third try I got in! It was the painting I did in the style I thought they wanted. It was my least favorite piece, but my goal was to get in. Then I got huffy….. Did this mean that I had to paint for someone else? For a judge, for a group, for my students….. What about me? I had proven to myself that I could do it, I wasn't a failure, but now what……


For a few years I didn't enter the show. I decided I didn't want to paint to please someone else, I wanted to paint for myself. I pursued other venues… Teaching, solo shows, natural science and book illustration. This kept me busy. I also continued to paint and be a student. Classes are always a way to keep my work fresh and exciting to do. I started to really like botanical watercolor after taking a class with Jenny Phillips.

I decided this past year to enter the show. The show in 2010 was the year that I really felt great about my style as well as my technique. Over the past years I had gotten better and my technique in watercolor and gouache were much more refined. I was able to keep my "personality" and bold hand in my paintings. I got one of my orchid paintings in the show. It was one that I painted for myself, but also fit the criteria of what the judges were looking for.

Here are some tips I recommend about entering shows.

If the show is established, if possible go see it before you enter it. If you get rejected, go see it.  Ask yourself the following questions:
How many pieces got in?
What is the overall style of the show? Is there a specific theme, medium, size?
What kind of compositions are displayed? Are they all floating, cropped, magnifications?
What are the size restrictions?
How many jurors are there? Are they painters, botanists, gallery owners?
Does your work measure up?
Is there a great range of quality?

Last year one of my students Carrie diCostanza entered the show. Her work is gorgeous and to her dismay…. She got rejected. She came to me and the advise that I write here in this blog is the same advise I gave her. It is very rare that a show or juror will tell you what they are looking for, or tell you why they rejected your work. The ASBA has started a walk through gallery talk to help artists understand the jurors process. In 2010, Carrie went to the show and came away from it with a good education. This year Carrie and I both entered the 2011 ASBA NY Horticultural show and this was Carrie's year. She got in! I on the hand, did not. I am so thrilled for her. The show is getting harder and harder to get in and she did it. Way to go Carrie! As for myself, this year I am in Florida so I can't get to the show, but I am scoping out my local venues to see where my work might fit in and will continue to enter those juried shows. I look at rejection as a way of raising the bar. It makes me try harder to be the best artist I can be. I could have quit a long time ago, but I have gained confidence, knowledge and skill. I hope this will help you develop a thicker shell and pursue your dreams with much success! If you are in the NY/Metro area go see The ASBA 14th Annual International Juried Botanical Art Exhibition at the NY Horticultural Society. If you are unable to get to the show they have a virtual tour on their website.