Thursday, September 05, 2013

9 Things I've Learned About No

drizzt beholder
My newest painting, "Eyes of the Underdark", based on applying some of what I learned from an important critique

I recently had the opportunity to get an in-depth portfolio review from Jon Schindehette, and I jumped at the chance, because my life-long dream is to be among the artists who inspired me to become one. That is to say, I want to be an artist for Dungeons and Dragons. The review was honest. Brutally honest at times. He pointed to enough flaws to rival even my own harsh inner critic. It's not easy to be told to study the masters when you've been out of art school for 10 years. His 2-page e-mail ended with "Got any specific questions for me?"

Well, I did have some questions, but there was one question that stood out among the others. It was a question with a seemingly obvious answer, but nevertheless I felt compelled to ask it: "Is there any project now or in the near future that we can work on together?"

I'll stop the story there, and jump to what I want to talk about, and that is the word "No." Specifically, I want to talk about the various things I've learned from various people and experience over the last few years.


1. Stop Avoiding No

Often, in order to avoid the No, we simply don't ask. We play out the scenario in our heads like a nightmare, and wake ourselves up just before the potential client says no. The problem with that is, of course, that even though it stamps out any possibility of a No, it also stamps out any possibility of a Yes.

2. There's a Bright Side to No.

A No usually comes with reasons. These reasons are a sign post. They are a gift. Essentially the client is telling you what exactly you need to do to get a Yes. Where before you were operating on limited information, now you're hearing from the horse's mouth what you need to do. All that is left now is for you to do it.

3. No Sets the Price of Carrying On.

Sometimes you realize that the things you have to do to get a Yes aren't worth it to you. This is when you know it's time to quit, or to pursue a different avenue, or do something completely different. This is perfectly OK. There are those who would make you feel ashamed of this, but that's about them and nothing to do with you.

4. No is temporary.

No means not yet, or not right now. You might even say that No means "yes, but later". This is not to say you should harass a client until they say yes, but use this opportunity to construct a map to where you need to go. Study the masters. Get feedback on those thumbnail sketches. Focus on anatomy.

5. No is not about you. 

No is not saying you're a bad artist, or a bad person. Don't get defensive. No is about the person who is saying no. If I asked you for a thousand bucks right now, would you say no? Would it be because I'm not worthy of your money? Or would you be more concerned with your rent, your bills, that Chinese back scratcher you wanted to buy? By the way, if you want to give me a thousand bucks, I'd greatly appreciate it.

6. Dare yourself to ask.

You can turn your fear of rejection into an adrenaline rush. I've done it. It's addicting. You didn't sit on the sidelines like you always do. You went for it!

7. Love the No, Expect a Yes.

Sometimes you feel like you deserved a Yes. There are a lot of people who always feel this way. They are called by many different names but what really matters is that they get more Yesses than you. They get more Nos than you, too. Which leads me to...

8. Yes=1, No=0. 

This means that if you ask 1000 people, and 975 of them say no, you still have 25 yesses. If you ask 20 people, and 100% of them say yes, that's still fewer yesses. For many of us, though, we overvalue the No so it counts as -1. Move past this notion.

9. Use the No as Fuel. 

Wear that No with pride. In the last few years, I've been rejected too many times to count. I use this as motivation. I no longer ever say to myself, "maybe you're not working hard enough." When I do get a yes, it always feels well deserved. I have a mountain of skulls beneath me, each skull representing a rejection, that prove how hard and high I've climbed.

    I don't mean to come off as preachy, but I see the fear of No affecting a lot of incredible artists. It's those people that I hope these observations will help, because the world will be a better place if the good artists step forward to rival the ambitious artists.

    9 comments:

    Amanda Makepeace said...

    Well said. Just as critiques are meant to help an improve, not belittle. I'll be sharing this one!

    Kelley said...

    "Sometimes you realize that the things you have to do to get a Yes aren't worth it to you. This is when you know it's time to quit, or to pursue a different avenue, or do something completely different."

    I have never heard this put more eloquently. Thanks for such a great post.

    Greg Newbold said...

    As someone who has been climbing this mountain for 20 years, I appreciate the truths you express. A wise friend of mine once told me that "the only guarantee I can give you is that if you don't try, won't win". The only artists that have a 30 or 40 year career are the ones that kept trying. Thanks!

    Wylie Elise Beckert said...

    Awesome post - it's inspiring to think of rejection as something useful, positive, and necessary (especially for defeatists like myself). I'll have to bookmark this for the next time I catch myself shaking my fist at the sky.

    Gabriele Gabba said...

    Great post, thank you so much! :)

    Zoƫ van Dijk said...

    Hey Levon!
    I'm really enjoying your blog. Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and insights.

    Juan Francisco Bautista said...

    So inspiring! Man, you made my day. Specially that "Yes=1 No=0" blew my mind. I've always been afraid of it because I thought it would somehow dig me deeper. :)

    Rachel said...

    You're very inspiring. Thank you for writing what you do. I hope to see great things from you in the future!

    Joseph Barbaccia said...

    Been a graphic designer for 25+ years and am turning my talents towards illustration at the end of my career. Brought here by "TheArtOrder" I truly understand this post. Nos can even sometimes make me angry. But I've learned to use the energy in productive ways. Thanks for the post. But I must add that my answer to number 5 is NO.