Access Denied: The Importance of Rejection

Rejection- we've all been there at one point or another. Whether it be from a magazine publication, exhibition/call-for-artist opportunity, or even something as crushing as a college or grad school application, we've all been denied access during our careers. It's the same every time, too. You see the email you've been waiting for, and then SHIT! You've been rejected! Sorry, pal. Not this time.

This isn't unique to artists, either- everyone has dealt with rejection on some level in their lives. I've been rejected from several opportunities this year (as in "damn near everything I've applied for" levels of rejection), and figured I'd come back to my blog with some tough love and hard truths about what it really means to work your ass off for your art, and how we can all benefit from a little rejection.

  My latest rejection email. Feels good, man.

My latest rejection email. Feels good, man.

Come to me, Sweet Angel of Death (Or exclusion, whatever..)

A good rule to set for yourself is to not only accept rejection, but to welcome it. So many makers take rejection as a personal attack on their work, thinking that, "Well, I'm not good enough to be in that show... That's why I didn't get in." That couldn't be further from the truth! What does rejection actually mean, if it doesn't mean our art is total shit?

It means several things and nothing, all at once. For starters, perhaps the curators simply had a vision in mind for the overall aesthetic of the show/publication/etc., and your work didn't fit within the look they were going for. They might have loved your piece, but if it didn't fit the overall vision in their head, the curator simply isn't going to choose a piece based on whether they like it or not. As shitty as it sounds, planning something like a magazine (or any other artist opportunity) isn't as cut and dry as "I like this" and "I don't like this". I personally love a lot of artwork that I'd never hang on my wall- does that make the art bad? Hell no! It just doesn't match the space I want to create for myself. 

Pick Your Poison Wisely

Considering this approach to the overall design or aesthetic of a show, a great rule of thumb to abide by when looking for opportunities is to research your curator. I've saved myself a lot of time, money and heartache by simply googling the curator associated with an application! Once you find that curator's instagram, website, etc., you'll see examples of the type of work that they're attracted to. If you think your work fits into that niche, then APPLY! If not, save your money and look for something else. There's plenty of opportunity for everyone, including you. Awhile back, I applied to a magazine called Fresh Paint Magazine- I was rejected. Why was that? Because I didn't research my curator, and stupidly sent my artwork in to a curator that wasn't looking for my particular style of work for that issue of the magazine. Once I realized this was one of the main reasons I was rejected (and hey, my art might have been shit, but this is what I'm telling myself!), I started researching curators. Another Call for Artists opened for the magazine soon after, curated by Alice Herrick of Herrick Gallery in London. Upon looking at her instagram, I saw that she had a particular affinity for Giorgio Morandi's work (have you seen his work? Have you seen mine? You get the idea.). When I saw this, I applied immediately. That was issue 11 of Fresh Paint, and my work is on page 35. (Fun fact, one of my studio mates from grad school, Josh Mitchel, is ALSO in that issue. He's a badass, go look him up. Now.)

Support Systems: Have One. Be One.

One thing I've learned in my time applying for (and getting rejected from) opportunities is to support the artists that do get accepted for said opportunity. Sure, when I received my first few rejections alongside those that didn't get the same emails, I was jealous as all hell. I didn't like feeling left behind, and blamed my own skillset for my demise. As I grew as a painter and a person (A painter person? A person painter? a painterson? Someone cut me off), I realized that the jealousy wasn't only toxic for my peers, but for myself as well. You can't feel good about your work if you spend more time hating someone else's for being what a curator wanted! When I get rejected from something now, I feel that initial sting, sure. But you know what I feel even more? I feel accomplished for shooting my shot and putting my work out there. Sure, I didn't get into the show or whatever, but someone saw it, and the money spent on the application helped the magazine/show/etc. pay for other things to ensure that we'll all be able to apply again someday!

If at First You Don't Succeed; Apply, apply again (when you're ready).

Remember- applying to something once isn't the end. I've applied to New American Paintings several times over the years, and have yet to get in. Keep applying! I know that sometimes money is an issue with applying to so many things (I always tell myself I'll be rejected from 100 things per year, but you know what? I never APPLY to 100 things, so I need to shut my trap until I actually do.), so look for free opportunities!! The above rejection? That was a free application. Seek out opportunities- don't sit around and wait for one to land on your lap. They can't land there if they don't know your lap is available for the landing. 

Another important part of keeping up with the application game is to apply when you're ready. What do I mean by this? I mean that several rejections of mine over the years actually had nothing to do with the curator's vision not matching my work, but my work not meeting the standards of the lady that made it. I've jumped the gun several times, applying for things with work that isn't fully developed (I don't mean it's unfinished- oh hell nah. I mean that I haven't hit my stride with the particular series yet, but applied anyway with a false sense of confidence, i.e., I was full of myself). Honestly? The Bombay Sapphire application above was a result of this. I knew the application was free, and instead of hustling to finish a painting that I knew I had better chances with, I applied with a newer piece in a series that isn't fully developed yet. Remember, knowing your shit helps you to avoid feeling like you're shit later on. ;) 

The Moral of the Story

All of these personal stories and motivational hullabaloo (let's have a round of applause- I spelled that right on the first try) have purpose- Don't allow your inner demons and/or critic tell you that you can't apply to things due to fear of rejection! Rejection is inevitable. Rejection is necessary in order to grow. "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it." (thanks, Dali.) 

Do you. Make art. Apply to things when you're ready, and research the hell out of the opportunity and who's curating it. After that? Make more art. It doesn't come easier if you're not making.

Time: Why Can't I Bottle Some? (+ PRO PRACTICE TIPS!)

Wow, it's been awhile! Has time ever gotten away from you? I bet it has. Everyone has periods of varying intensity in their lives, but time continues on whether we're ready or not, and doesn't give a tiny rat's ass how busy we are! Because of that, I'm coming at you with TONS of tips this week (in bold, as always)!!! I won't even count 'em- let's talk life and art!

The rest of January was quite busy- between work, play (important- trust me), and planning out my upcoming show (more on that below), your girl didn't lend much time to working on the blog. I also did something that was a big (and a little scary) step for me- I removed my work from the co-op gallery that was representing me. I took down the work for several reasons, but I won't bore you with the details. The main reason for removing myself from the artist membership was time. I simply didn't have enough to devote to the gallery (though I'm still very much involved as a board member), my job, my profession as a painter, and my personal life all at once. I had to let go of what served me the least, and was most feasible to walk away from. It's okay to be selfish sometimes; always do what is best for you, your artwork, and your wellbeing. This is absolutely essential to your success as an artist and a person. Sometimes these decisions will be difficult, or damn-near impossible to make! Even if one of those decisions involves walking away from something that seemed like a wonderful idea when you first chose to embark upon said idea. The gallery was one of those ideas for me; however, there are more galleries out there and so many opportunities to discover!

Overall, January proved to be a big step in personal development, which is just as important, if not more so, than the professional variety. 

 A friend I met on my way to a committee meeting last month ❤️ 

A friend I met on my way to a committee meeting last month ❤️ 

Now, what about February? I am currently planning my upcoming solo exhibition at the Clinton County Council of the Arts in Lock Haven, PA. The show, opening September 14th, is my first solo venture since my MFA Thesis show in 2016! Because this is my second show (and I've changed quite a bit in the last two years-WAIT. I've been out of grad school for almost two years? Shut the front door... That time, she really does wait for no one...), I've decided to change up my work, or rather, evolve into the next step of what I'm trying to communicate. Though it may not be a tip for you personally, I like to view my artwork as a continuously developing conversation about who I am and how I navigate this thing we call life- Try it on and see if it fits!

This body of work, though visually similar to my last (Chasing the Ghost), is more grounded in living than in the acceptance that death is inevitable. Though I could paint about death and impermanence forever, it was simply time to move on to new thoughts- one important tip that can branch beyond the artistic realm is to reinvent yourself and your work when you feel it necessary. Never let yourself paint something to death- I mean that. Painting something to death can cause you to burnout, and that's not what we're looking for! (However, if you do feel burnt out, I recommend a break. Take as long as you need, but always keep thinking and dreaming to build upon what you'll create next.) I’ll elaborate more on the new work as we get closer to the show (with progress pictures- Eep!) - for now, let’s talk about how I plan for upcoming exhibitions. As always, please leave me comments and tips of your own for how you tackle your goals and plan for success! 

Before I do anything involving paint, I sit down with a notebook and write down everything I want my work to communicate to my audience. This builds off one of our previous tips of writing down your goals- Whether you're writing down detailed narrative or piles and piles of word vomit, writing down your goals can not only help you achieve them, but can also allow you to visualize what it is you're trying to do and how you can get there. Brainstorming allows me to do this, though sometimes it gets messy! While I'm writing down my goals for communication and revised artist statements, I'm also doodling- YES, doodling is a tip. If you're reading these tips as a fellow artist, you probably know the importance of sketching your ideas for compositions and goals! I'm always surprised to find out just how many artists don't sketch. Don't stop sketching, friends! Drawing is the root of all art forms! Well, kinda.. At least It think so.

I'm currently in the sketching phase of my show- I always sketch my compositions before I draw them onto canvas (or even photograph the objects/set up the still life!). It has to be right in my brain before I can even consider making it (semi) permanent on substrate. Sure, I over-plan. It's in my nature. One great thing about sketching, though? It keeps me sharp- my skillset, my brain, and (believe it or not), my memory. More on my memory later, and how I'm relying on it a bit more for this body of work. ;) I can't divulge any more, or I'll give it all away!

Tell me, friends: how do you plan for shows or new bodies of work? How much of the process do you make public, and how much do you keep to yourself? Let's talk! 

Also... What are you reading right now? 

Talk soon, friends! I can't wait to continue sharing the process of this show with you. For more consistent updates on my life in general as a weirdo, follow me on insta! @claira.bug - For the professional updates, follow @c.l.a.i.r.a :)

Happy Sunday- make this week a great one!

Winter Blehs, Work and Coffee (& FREE Pro-Practice Tip #2!)

Is anyone else feeling the creeping dread of winter yet, or is that just me? I have to admit, going to the easel every day is a bit difficult when the air outside hurts my face. Don’t get me wrong- I love living in a state that gets to experience all four seasons, but winter is my absolute least favorite (after the holidays). Do the seasons influence your work and ability to make? Let me know!

Thankfully, I work in a beautiful environment that’s full of color and warmth!  

  A gorgeous view from the lobby- that couch!  

A gorgeous view from the lobby- that couch! 

Where do I work, you ask? Hold up, I gotchu- when I’m not painting, I’m the Youth, Arts and Events Coordinator at the Brockway Center for Arts and Technology, located in the bustling metropolis of Brockway, Pennsylvania. We’re a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through the Arts and job training. If you’ve heard of the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild in Pittsburgh, then you know exactly what we do. 😉 If you haven’t, check us out at!  

One of the great things about my job is working with kids- we offer a no-cost after school program for students in grades 9-12, where they can come into a safe environment and transform their lives through creating art. Whether it be ceramics, jewelry and metals, or (shh- coming soon!) 2D art, the students have the ability to express themselves outside of their high school art room. If you’re lucky enough to love your job, are you even really “working”? (There’s always coffee if you need a little push in the right direction, too!)

Speaking of coffee, how about this week’s PRO TIP!? This week, let’s talk about motivation and routine- without these two steps, getting to work can sometimes seem tough! I’ll be honest- sometimes this tip is hard for me! Between working, life and volunteering at the local art gallery, mama’s tired. But you know what? I still do it, because I know the consequences of not  doing it. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can only fail if you quit- so don’t quit! 

A great way to get motivated enough to form a routine is to get organized. I can’t recommend this enough- get yourself a nice planner and physically schedule  a slot to get into the studio. If this isn’t enough motivation alone, also make sure to write down your goals . What do you want to accomplish in 2018? Write it down!  These tips may seem simple when you read them, but you’d be surprised at how much can fall by the wayside when you neglect to make a physical record of what you want to achieve. You can also use apps like Google Calendar to schedule studio time, so that way your phone (that I guarantee is in your hand when you aren’t working- I’m even writing this post from mine!) can remind you to get your booty to the easel (or the wheel, writing desk, etc...). The hardest part of getting into a routine is simply starting- but I believe in you. Comment and let me know what you do to get moving in your art practice! I’d love to see how y’all work, and would love to feature some of your tips right here! 

Love, coffee and WARMTH! PA is too dang cold- 




2018: New Horizons & Falling on Your Face


2018... Oh, there you are. (Insert the weak, breathy "Phwhew" of a kazoo)

  chasing the ghost,  2016

chasing the ghost, 2016

It certainly has been awhile! I have to be honest, this artist did not do the best job of keeping up with herself or her career in 2017, for myriad reasons that took my time and energy for a little while. I think it imperative to the success of an artist to recognize the onset of failure and  when it stares them in the face. Now... Did I fail in 2017? No. Though I didn't create as much new work as I may have wanted, I succeeded in something equally important, that we all could use a little more of, even when we think we don't: I discovered self love, and how important it is to take time for yourself when you need it the most. While I did participate in a few exhibitions, had my work published in Studio Visit Magazine and finished a few commission pieces, the vast majority of my 2017 was spent on me. I traveled to beaches, suffered loss on a few occasions, spent time with friends and family, found new hope and happiness, and changed. A lot. 

That personal growth is what allowed me to write this post- to share with you all my metaphorical slip on the ice (I had to- it's COLD in Pennsylvania right now.). What that slip really did was motivate me to continue on creating, loving, reading, and living life (and damnit, falling in love with it, too!). I'm so, so excited to share this journey with you, and let you in on the little secrets I learn along the way. Keep creating, everyone, and remember: Sometimes it's okay to take a time out, as long as it's what's right for YOU.

UPCOMING SHOWS & EVENTS (and a little update)

  Give up the Ghost , 2016

Give up the Ghost, 2016

First things, first- hello! It's been an awfully long time since my last blog post, I've missed you! You might remember that I was previously using blogger (blogspot for those of us who've been using the internet for a hot minute) to keep y'all updated on what's going on in this crazy whirlwind of an artist life- as much as I enjoyed blogging that way, I felt as though it was less accessible to have my blog and website in two different places. Ya feel? Good. I'm happy to announce that I'll be posting regularly right on the homepage of my website, so stay tuned for more! 

So, what's been going on? Goodness. This has been one BUSY year for me so far! If you don't follow me on Instagram (you totally should- @c.l.a.i.r.a), you might have missed out on what's been happenin'. But not to worry, Claira's got you covered: My position as the Youth, Arts and Events Coordinator at BCAT has provided tons of opportunities in the 6 short months I've worked there, including serving as a panelist for the PA Council on the Arts' yearly Entry Grant Panel! In addition to that, you'll be seeing me in a few places this year:

+ Currently, my work is on display at the juried exhibition at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, PA! This show will only be available for a few more days, so check it out!
+ Look out for the next issue of Studio Visit Magazine, as I'll be featured in there with my babe Chasing the Ghost from my MFA thesis show (can you believe it's been a year since grad school already? YEESH.)
+ My work was featured on the April edition of Red Flag Poetry's mailers- so exciting to work with a great organization and friend from all the way back in high school. Always keep your friends close! #protip
+ The painting above, Give up the Ghost, will be traveling to Warren, PA this fall to the Crary Gallery for A Legacy in Observation, a show exhibiting the works of Edinboro University alumni within the painting department. 

In addition to all of that, I've recently moved, traveled to Portland, OR for this year's NCECA conference (SO COOL- painting totally needs something like that), and have participated in various other events and thangs all motivating me in my professional journey. I'm learning to love arts administration- who knew? Anyway, look for my blog to not only include updates about what I'm up to, but what I'm looking at and inspired by as well as my life in general. I really think that there's something to be said about an artist that allows a glimpse into who they are outside of the studio- that vulnerability can really make us feel more connected, don't you think? Let me know in the comments how you connect to other artists and how that influences you! 

Talk soon, artist babes!