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Sarah Dale: Accepting Rejection as a Challenge

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Sarah Dale is an emerging Alexandria artist who uses upcycled materials to experiment with color and visual elements. Her 3D pieces bridge the gap from painting to sculpture where she focuses on trying to find her own voice using color and form. Learn more on her website or by following her on Twitter.

My first official rejection letter was an accolade — it marked the climax of a hard year spent launching my fine art practice. I felt so strongly about it that I posted my rejection letter on my blog for the world to see.

When I began working as a fine artist, I was an art director at an advertising agency by day, working on nights and weekends to reawaken the fine artist in me that had been tucked away. I had to start somewhere so I started with a blog. If I was serious about my journey I needed accountability. Together with my family I began Yates Family Artisans. Posting on the blog every week required me to consistently pursue my art — if I didn’t, what would I write about that week?

After much experimentation and dabbling, I began working in a solid direction — I had found my niche in upcycled art. I began to have a rhythm to my practice and actually started finishing pieces, not leaving them as UFOs (unfinished objects). As I started to complete pieces, I decided to look for local shows to which I could enter my work.

As a professional marketer, I already understood the value of marketing a product to the right audience. I looked for calls for entry describing my exact work — abstract pieces made from recycled materials. As all things “green” are top of mind these days, it didn’t take long to find a call for upcycled art.

I found a call for entry from the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory entitled “Trash Talk.” I thought – I’m a shoo-in! I make art from trash – this show is for me! I read the requirements for entry, marked the deadline and planned a time to photograph my artwork.

Photographing my work turned out to be a disaster. It was tough to find time in my schedule where I could shoot during the day and even tougher to coordinate borrowing a camera from a friend. So circumstances would have that I ended up photographing my pieces after work, in poor lighting, with a simple point and shoot camera. I did what I could in Photoshop to adjust the color but a poor photo is simply that – there isn’t much you can do.

Sarah's first set of submission photos.
Sarah’s first set of submission photos didn’t capture the right color or texture.

With no time left before the deadline I fired off my digital entry and waited for the result. A few weeks later, the rejection letter came via email. I was disappointed at first, but then I felt so proud. I thought about all the hard work I had done to get to this point. I thought about how this is only the beginning of my journey and that getting to this first step was the hardest part. I had a consistent art practice under my belt, an understanding of the general requirements for entering shows and I had learned my lesson the hard way about proper photography.

Armed with this experience I decided to turn my rejection into a challenge. I needed proper photography and new shows to enter. I started right away. I gave myself time on a weekend, plenty of daylight and waited until I could borrow a friend’s professional camera. The results were phenomenal. The comparison in photography was clear: my previous photos were downright embarrassing, it’s no wonder they didn’t accept me! You can see the clear difference in the photos below:



Half of the interest in my work is the color and the texture of the materials, thus to send in unclear photos with poor color secured my rejection — half the interest couldn’t be found! My new sharp, professional photos allowed the viewer to clearly see the materials and color.

I entered my second juried show, and then it came via email – my first acceptance letter! I was officially accepted into my first juried show — Art in City Hall. Just as my first rejection letter was an accolade, so was this. In the same way the rejection inspired me to try again, my first acceptance felt like a seal of approval. I felt justified in my decision to refuse to accept my first rejection but instead turn it into a challenge.

Concentric Circles on Teal and Concentric Circles on Light Blue by Sarah Dale, on view in Art in City Hall.
Concentric Circles on Teal and Concentric Circles on Light Blue by Sarah Dale, on view in Art in City Hall.

Just imagine what our lives would be like if we accepted rejection. What challenges would we be missing? What moments of opportunity would we be passing up? Moments of rejection are times for us to push ourselves, not just as artists but also as individuals – refusing to accept rejection as discouragement, but instead accepting it as a challenge.

— Sarah Dale

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