Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimizu

Award winning Japanese illustrator based in New York City and instructor at School of Visual Arts.

I got rejected from grad school! (and I ended up making the best lemonade out of it.) Guide to surviving the rejections.

Yup. I got rejected from graduate school. It’s not a secret.
I want to talk about rejection, because it’s that time of the year.
Colleges are making decisions, and it’s the award season in my industry. That means, while there are people who are so excited to be receiving the acceptance letters they have been dreaming of, there are also those who cry over the disappointment of rejection letters.

I came back to art school at age 34. I had four year college degree in business, and worked in corporate PR for 11 years before I decided to go back to school to study illustration. I didn’t feel like doing total of 8 years of college, so I applied to graduate program when I was finishing up the first year. I ‘thought’ it was a natural thing to do,  I ‘thought’ I was good, and I ‘thought’ I was ready. But I TOTALLY wasn’t.

After crying and bitching (yup I did) for a while, there miraculously came a point where I was surprisingly not sad anymore. I finally gave up on thinking about imagining myself as a grad student, and instead, started planning for the second year in college. I soon realized there were many many things I was still able to learn in undergraduate studies.
I ended up filling my schedule with anything and everything I ever wanted to learn.
That was the first year I took silkscreen class, which, till this day, is the skill set I use to color my work digitally (thank you Larry Wright). I studied fine art painting under Marilyn Minter (now one of the biggest stars of contemporary art as you may know. Luckily, it was a few years before her big break) who taught me how to bring fine art thinking into illustration. I took as many drawing classes as I could so I was able to finally connect what I picture in my head to the pictures I create with my hand. I sat in senior class (Thank you Tom Woodruff for allowing me) to participate in group crits, so at least I can learn from higher level of discussion (though my work level was not quite there yet).
And, most importantly, that was the year I made many friends with whom the friendship was going to last for many many years to come.

The following year, I applied to graduate school again. While I was waiting for the result, I had this clear idea in my head: “I’ve  learned everything I ever wanted to learn in undergraduate. If I don’t get in this year, honestly, I have zero idea what I should do next school year.”
Then, I got the acceptance letter.

Looking back, I don’t think I would be working right now as a professional illustrator if I didn’t have that one extra year.
The year I didn’t get in, I was just not ready or meant to be a graduate student.
It was OK to feel sad, it was OK to cry. The important thing was the decision I made AFTER I was in peace with the rejection.  I cannot be happier with what I did during that one extra year.  Life threw lemons at me, and I made a delicious lemonade. Lemonade so delicious, if I ever get a chance to go back and re-live, I would even pay to buy that lemonade.

The truth is, life of being an illustrator is dealing with constant rejections. It won’t make it easier even if your name gets bigger.
Sorry you were not right for this project. We decided to change the directions. My editor didn’t love the sketches. We decided to run photo on the cover, etc, etc…
I appreciate when clients apologetically call to explain why the job got killed. I laugh off and tell them it’s totally OK, it is part of my job.
It is true I would have loved to get that big advertising campaign, or wished that TIME Magazine cover had run. But it was also totally OK they didn’t. There are many more projects to come in future, and more, and hopefully better, artwork I can create in future. Rejections in past helped to make my skin thicker to survive longer in the industry (plus more lemonade).

So, if you got accepted into schools, competitions, or anything else, congratulations to you. But if you didn’t get that acceptance letter, let’s start making lemonade. Surprise yourself with the best lemonade recipe you can ever come up with.
Trust me, you will one day look back and you would be SO glad you got that rejection.