Diary of The Selection Process
Hello, I'm Ruby and I choose which images get licensed for use as greeting cards. Since we get submissions every day, we thought it would be helpful for aspiring card artists to read about how we go about choosing our images. Is it a science or a black art? We will leave it for you to decide....!
PS Once you've read this and you want to know more, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for a submission form.
Here at Green Pebble we love Christmas but lately we've had fewer snowy scenes, probably because it hasn't snowed properly over the past 4 - 5 years. Artists are inspired by what they see, so we get a lot more grey, muddy walks passing through our email in-box. Charming in their own right, but they don't shout 'Christmas!'. So, if you have some super snowy winter scenes saved up from years past, please make sure to include them in your submission. In the greeting card industry, you can't start on winter too soon, so even in the midst of the hottest July, please think 'snow'. It will definitely make us take a second look, with not a bah-humbug in sight :)
Watching Master of Photography on TV recently, one of the judges asked 'So what?' of the contestants' photos.
'So what?' It sounded harsh at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the same question could be applied to the images being submitted to us.
Artists, before sending in your submissions, how about standing back with an honest friend or family member (and I really mean honest, not someone who is afraid to hurt your feelings...so maybe your favourite enemy would be a better choice), looking at the 6 - 12 thumbnails you plan to send to us, and asking yourself (truthfully)...'So what?' In other words, why your work, and not someone else's?
You may react passionately with, 'Because I like it', or 'It's the best I can do', or 'I need the money'. None of these answers means the image will make a good art card.
'Because it's beautiful, skilled, moving, unusual, captures a moment'? That's better...and have you noticed that these answers are more about what the viewer experiences, than about what you feel?
The artists whose works appeal to the public have learned something key - to self-assess, critically, and to use that self-assessment to improve their skills. They apply the question 'So what' to everything they produce, probably without even knowing it, and they strive to improve themselves constantly.
So why not try it? 'So what?' And let's see if you can provide a sound defence or justification for each of your pieces.
Have had so many submissions recently from self-taught artists, and from artists who have returned to their passion after 20, 30 and 40 years away from it, that I am going to say it as kindly as possible, but in a way that hopefully will make a positive impression - please go (back) to school. Get lessons. Join a local art group. Do something that gives you professional guidance because being 'talented' isn't enough, and self-taught is rarely, if ever, enough. It's like every industry nowadays -- experience is a must. Understanding colour is a must. Understanding how to get the best out of the media of your choice, is a must. I know you love art or you wouldn't be slaving over it, so please do a class and get feedback from a professional. Following u-tube videos is not tuition; talking to a human being, is absolutely crucial.
Just been told by an artist how we should word our rejection letter. Am I the only one who thinks that perhaps it isn't wise to burn one's bridges by being 'smart' with the very people whose funding you are seeking? It's never, never, never a good idea.
Time and time again, we at Green Pebble receive phone calls and emails from customers telling us how much they love our cards, love the images, and how important the images are to them. Yes, important. We have even had card recipients (the people who received the cards, not even the ones who bought them!) thanking us for the card their friend sent to them. It is absolutely humbling to realise how receiving a card can turn a dark day into something magnificent. So, that is what the selection process is fundamentally about -- finding images that speak to the heart of a situation, and remembering that art truly changes lives.
If you're going to submit to a publisher and direct them to your website to view your work, please make sure the website is up-to-date and the photography is as good as you can get it. My heart sinks every time I get directed to a lackluster website with poor photos. I don't expect every artist to be a computer expert, but please, you are trying to excite me (or anyone visiting your site, for that matter) with your work, and poor photography and a half-hearted collection isn't going to do it. This is your portfolio, your shopfront. Best not to direct me to the website at all, than to direct me to an uninspiring and out-of-date one.
Of course, poor photography on your website probably means that you will be sending me poor photos to work from, as well. It hardly fills me with optimism.
Are you expecting the publisher to professionally photograph your work? You could be lucky, one or two do, but remember, you're not going to sign on with them if your images don't inspire them in the first place.
Interesting day. Had one aspiring artist write to tell me that our selection criteria is too harsh. Had a second one arguing with me about why we were wrong not to select her. As I said, an interesting day.
I seem to remember being told that you can tell a good artist by how well they paint hands. Well, I think the same is true of faces. Judging by the submissions that come past my desk, faces are such a challenge, and I'd love to see much more thought and practise being put into them. Please show me contemporary faces that draw a person in and speak volumes; not naive blobs or drawn cartoon-like sketches. As I said to a very promising artist just recently, I'm looking for faces that have grown 'from'...not ones that are drawn 'on'.
A tip for judging whether your images could work as cards: Place the image as close or as far from you as to realistically represent the size of a greeting card. Squint (or take your specs off!). Walk past it sideways, like a shopper passing through the door of a shop, and glance across at it. What do you see? A blur of colour or a recognisable narrative? If the former, you may have a problem. If the latter, you've got a better chance. After all, if a shopper can't make out what that brown and white smudge is in their wanderings through the shop, why would they favour that image over something that is more easily read? Chances are that the shop will have hundreds - sometimes even thousands - of designs vying for attention. Yours has got to jump out.
Six submissions in my inbox. One has excellent potential. The other five won't suit our range for a variety of reasons -- too 'empty', too similar to other artists, too 'sweet' for a fine art range.
Several submissions this morning, one with an illustration of nudists doing a conga line. Hilarious, but not quite GP, sorry. But I'd like them to succeed. Gift wrap, perhaps?
Another submission has lots of screaming, agonised faces in the paintings. This one is easier to decide on -- in my opinion, agony does not sell unless you're a renowned artist and people buy your cards to remember your paintings by. Otherwise, really, why would the average person buy a miserable image and who would they send it to? Even the sympathy market doesn't usually want to be reminded of their agony.
Received a clear, succinct submission from someone who has only recently started painting. Was a bit sceptical, but his work was surprisingly good for someone who had never been taught. The subject matter was wrong for us, but he and I did have a discussion about how he should proceed. I am all for maintaining the integrity of the art, so said what I always say -- follow your heart. Whether you paint in order to exhibit or because you want to become a commercial card artist, you have to love what you are doing. Be passionate, seek tuition, and love every second.
We regularly get submissions from our existing artists and today I had one where I hummed and harred for quite a while. I loved the image, but when I stepped back and squinted, the subject matter of the piece 'disappeared'. At times like this I am reminded once more that good paintings don't automatically make good cards.
Am so excited, two great artists in one day. One a printmaker, one a painter. Each works with a variety of subject matter, but both have their own strong and recognisable style. Having variation of images in a range is important to us. There's no point having six Robins, for instance -- we will only ever want one. But the range mustn't be too eclectic either. It's a fine line and I'm not being very clear, sorry. I suppose it's fair to say that I know a range when I see it, which is why we ask for at least 12 thumbnails for starters.
Three submissions awaited me this morning. Will enjoy looking through these; all have provided their details, a website and thumbnails.
Had two submissions today, one from an artist with a licensing agent. We have good relationships with agents, but it does flag to us that this is an artist who is trying to make a commercial living; this is not an artist who earns their living from exhibiting and selling their work, with cards playing a nice -- but not essential -- supporting role. Experience tells us that their expectation will be very high and we are likely to disappoint. We are niche. We go into superb retail outlets but we will never be a volume player. So, if you are looking to sell through High Street card shops, better to approach one of the bigger, more commercial players.
Something quirky passed over my desk today. Part painting, part mixed media. Have asked for time as I need to run it past Michael, the publisher.
Another submission today. Just love it but can't see how the range will grow. All the images are the same. Pity.
We get a lot of submissions from self-taught artists. I know it's a badge of honour nowadays but, to be brutally honest, most self-taught artists could benefit from some tuition. Join an art class or printmaker's group. No-one is too good to learn. There, said it!
Photography. As I sit here cleaning up submitted images, can I say two things from the bottom of my heart? Please photograph every painting/print before you send them off to your galleries (it's SO heartbreaking to discover we can't produce a card because there is no photographic record of it). And secondly, use a good camera set to the highest setting, or better still, ask a friendly photographer to do it for you under studio conditions. We have an excellent photographer here who does it for £10/painting, so that gives you an idea of what can be accomplished locally.
Just had a submission from an artist who doesn't like having her images cropped. This is a valid concern, but the the reality of card publishing is that certain shapes fit more easily into shop spinners and card racks, and we have to provide the best impact we can for the shops who buy from us. When a potential customer steps into a shop, they expend a fleeting amount of time taking in everything the shop sells -- including the cards -- and then starts making decisions, probably already walking away. Our cards have to jump out. The wrong shape or orientation and that card doesn't stand a chance. So, sadly, we have to crop. Obviously we try to be sympathetic at every turn, but to start a relationship with the artist resisting cropping just isn't going to work. And you know what? We have artists come back with the comment, 'Actually, it looks better cropped that way', so it doesn't have to be painful.
Today is proving to be a good day! One of our agents put us onto an artist he had come across on his journeys, and we have signed her up. Her work is exactly what we look for:strong colours, strong narratives, strong individual style. There is a lot of West Country in her work, which may or may not work nationally, but I suspect the paintings will go down well across most of the country because they have more going on in them than just the cliffs and the sea. As an artist, she is exactly what we are looking for. Am thrilled.
Am so excited. Picked up a little painting on Thursday for a 50th birthday and fell in love with the image. Contacted the artist to see if she has any others like it (for cards, of course) and she had actually been talking to her partner about contacting us. Serendipity! Now we just have to see if she has sufficient images to make a range.
Wow, nice, mixed media, very unusual. Then, the disappointment. This artist already has cards with another publisher. We seek artists who are dedicated to their art, not to getting published with as many publishers as possible. What a shame. Will have to say no.
Excellent artist has approached us but in conversation it has become apparent they already publish some images with another art publisher as well. Again, so disappointing.
And a third submission! But they too are already with a competitor.
I think I'll go home now and see what next week brings.
A very accomplished artist has written in to be considered as a card artist. Unfortunately, his images are too photo-realistic. Scaled down to card size, there is little to differentiate his images from the many photo cards in the shops, so, for us, it defeats the purpose. Will tell him this and see if he has anything else for us to consider, since his skills are excellent.
Another painter. Lots of very good animals but I've seen similar. Too many, too similar? I'd like a different take on dogs and cats; something I've never seen before. Classic animal portraits just don't stand out from all the other animal cards on the market and I know our market isn't interested in same-same.