Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Traffic Wardens of Style

I've suddenly had a little cluster of sales through GCU in the week or so since my age-specific birthday cards were approved, not enough to make me rich, by a long way, but encouraging all the same. Some of the sales have been age-specific, including yet another one of those 'dancing man' cards.

But the one that has pleased me most is the 'New Baby Girl' card, which was one of the first greeting card designs I submitted to a publisher, along with a batch of somewhat 'quilt-like' designs I had painstakingly painted in gouache.

When I painted this one, it was some years since I had used a paintbrush as I normally work in soft pastels - and it took some getting used to! When I paint landscapes and so on, I work fast.  A pastel painting usually takes me about the length of time a CD takes to play; if it takes me longer, I can be pretty sure that I've ruined it. I can do this because there's no stopping to mix colours or rinse the paintbrush. Working so directly with pastels gives the painting a chance to flow without interruption.

Also I normally work quite large. One of my pastel life drawings took up most of a sheet of plasterboard, far too large and heavy for an easel and I ended up working on the floor! So restricting myself to a 5" x 7" space and having to mix the gouache was quite a trial for me to begin with.

But I gradually adjusted and sent a collection of Christmas card designs like this one to various publishers listed on the Greeting Card Association website.

Gradually the emails came back - 'We enjoyed looking at your work but unfortunately, it is not our style.'

By the time I'd spent nearly a year of submitting my designs to publishers, with just the one 'near miss' to show for it, I was beginning to think of publishers in very much the same way as I think of some gallery owners, as persons of immense POWER, power that, at times, I doubt is warranted.

As artists/designers we depend on them and I've met a few who seemed pleased to make sure that we are aware if it. Sometimes it can seem as if the balance of power is all wrong, when you think of the talent they reject, whilst possibly having no artistic talent themselves. Rather like the saying, 'If you can't DO it, teach it!', or, in this case, 'If you can't paint, run a gallery!' Or a publishing company...and yet maybe that's just the sting of rejection speaking. To be a successful gallery owner or publisher requires talent, just a different talent, the talent for business which many artists lack and have no interest in acquiring. Both publishers and gallery owners know exactly what they are - and are not! - looking for; and let's not forget that they have a living to make too!

Even so, I must confess to feeling a certain satisfaction when, through Greeting Card Universe, total strangers on the other side of the world began buying cards I had designed that had been rejected by publishers. As well as the 'not our style' emails, I'd received some with 'we already have cards in your style'. How confusing is that!

They say that there are two things you need to succeed in greeting card design; you need to be prolific and you need to be able to take a lot of rejection. But it can be frustrating when that rejection consists simply of  'not our style', with no constructive feedback. Probably most of us would like to know where we are going wrong so that we can perhaps do something about it. It took me a long time to realise that my 'style' wasn't actually the issue: it was just a polite way of saying, 'Thanks, but no thanks'. What I did, naively, before the penny dropped and I realised my 'style' had nothing to do with it, was I changed my style. With each batch of  'rejection' emails, I dug deeper and found a new 'style'.

First  I returned to the pen and wash style I'd used as a teenager -

- then oil pastels - until the summer heat in my attic studio melted them!

At which point I switched to exploring wet-in-wet watercolours -

Then I turned to collage, more as a solution to an illustration problem than as a greeting card design 'style'. Because by then I'd had enough of the 'rejection' emails and had begun to work on illustrating one of the decodable reading books I'd written for my struggling literacy pupils.

But my first attempt, 'Snowballing', was immediately so popular with Greeting Card Universe customers  that I began to wonder whether the publishers had really been as omniscient as they had seemed!

So how do I feel about all those 'not our style' emails now? Frustrated? Jaded? Embittered?

Well, actually, no, not at all! I'm thrilled that I spent the best part of last year going down roads that I'd never have thought of exploring if my first attempts had met with success! 2009 was a year of experimenting, learning, acquiring confidence in a broad range of styles, having fun! Yes, at times it was disappointing and yet it was also exciting, stimulating. I've found I can do things I had no idea I could do!

Or maybe it's my pencil that can do things - I certainly don't accept any responsibility for what it sometimes gets up to, particularly when it produces irreverent little doodles like this one!

Recently I was asked whether I have a recognisable style? On the face of it the answer has to be 'no, I have a lot of different styles'. But then I read on a blog, which I've unfortunately lost track of, that we all have our own unique 'style', whether we can see it or not. I certainly can't 'see' my style but maybe I'm confusing 'style' with 'medium'? I'd be really interested to know whether others can see a defining style in my work - and even more intersted in knowing what it is!


Country Mouse Studio said...

Yes, I can see a style,I probably couldn't tell you what to call it but your pictures remind me a little of Norman Rockwell.

They are full of light and joy and humor. They capture a human element that I can immediately relate to, like your "Not our style" lady above. I've met her.

I've also felt like your dancing man and from your card sales, apparently it doesn't matter what country you come from, people can relate.

Same with your landscapes or florals, they are full of light and they're uplifting.

Michele said...

I have also met the 'not our style' lady, she gets about a lot, put her on a card, she will make you rich! The older I get the less prepared I am to waste time trying to get my art approved by others. The last gallery I took the time to send images to didn't even have the courtesy to reply. Yet I do sell work.

You don't need to find a style, everyone has one, although it can vary between media.

I was once rejected from an exhibition I applied to (after they had extracted my 'submission' fees, when I visited the exhibition to see what got in there was a video installation of ants eating an apple. Go figure. Now we have the internet we can all market our own work, and a good job too:-)