So the rejection letter comes through the letterbox and there is that usual rush of disappointment. I scour the single slip of paper several times hoping that I can detect an element of ambiguity, but there is absolutely no doubt. "R in the column above denotes rejected," it says, and there above it is an R. It's a flamboyant R, an R that shows no sign of equivocation. It's bold, in upper case, and couldn't in any way be confused with the A that would have denoted that the work had been accepted. It has been written, I can't help thinking, by someone who has taken some pleasure in it.
This is the kind of rejection that is familiar at one time or another to all artists who enter competitions. I think this to myself quite a lot to cheer myself up. In order to win you have to be ready to lose. Entering art competitions is like falling in love: you can get hurt. There is always the chance that the object of your affections won't see you in quite the same way as you see them. I open my heart by sending in a painting, and get a swift slap around the chops in the shape of an R for rejection in return. (I check the slip one more time to see if I could have made a mistake, but in the intervening hours the R seems a little larger, perhaps a little bolder.)
It's easy to look on the dark side when you're an artist. Every step promises disaster. The work wasn't selected for the exhibition, which was a failure. If it was selected but then not noticed by a talent-spotting gallery, that would be a failure. If that gallery offered me a show and nothing sold, that would be a failure. If the show sold out and received bad reviews, then that, too, would be a kind of failure. It's hard to know where this trail of misery could end, and at the rate I'm going, it's unlikely I am going to find out.
The next job is to collect the rejected painting, which is as discomforting as buying condoms in the chemist for the first time. Anyone you meet when you're picking up a rejected painting is probably there for the same reason and so there's the opportunity for mutual sympathising, but people are quiet and in a hurry, and in no mood to chat.
With anther entry deadline bearing down, I download entry forms for another competition, the Jerwood Drawing Prize, that is more suitable for my kind of work, and enter it on the rebound. It's a squeeze finding time to get things ready for it: I'm framing one of the two drawings I enter on the evening before they need handing in, and crack the glass soon after midnight, and have to frame it all over again. Then I have to cross town on the morning of elder daughter's birthday party to deliver it, which isn't the best timing when there's lots to do, like blowing up balloons and hiding breakable things while 12 eight-year-old girls bear down on the house. If I hadn't already paid the entry fee I may well have persuaded myself I didn't have time to enter at all.
About a week later the phone rings. One of the drawings, of Buxton – another from a series completed sitting in a cafe - has been accepted. I whoop around the house a bit, which draws concerned glances from the children. The feeling of triumph is somehow even better because I had been through the R for rejection episode just the week before. There is a CV to write, a statement to shape and perhaps now I can get around to getting that website sorted out. It's suddenly much easier to look on the bright side.