Shot Down on My Birthday

Earlier this month, I entered my first art contest since the Peru Merchants Halloween poster contest. It was as gory as a poster made by a middle schooler with a full set of Crayola markers could ever be.

Recently, a friend sent me a link for an art competition hosted by the Wisconsin State Fair. They were looking for someone to create a commemorative poster for this year’s festivities. The top four finalists would get $400, and the winner $1,000. More important to me would be the exposure for my art. The thought of my poster being promoted at the Fair and being purchased by all kinds of people was very exciting to think about!

When I learned about the contest, the deadline was already only a few days away; I’d have to act fast. Fortunately, the judges only asked for a sketch. (The four finalists would eventually have the chance to do a color comp.) Unfortunately, my style and vision for the poster could not be fully captured without color. So I spent about four hours coming up with my “rough sketch” that was honestly about 30% away from being a final piece. I wanted to stand out. I struggled with the composition and the colors. I let other more “pressing” things slide by the wayside. I had to spend extra money to overnight the packet to make sure it arrived on time.

I was pretty happy with how it turned out and felt good about my chances. The fact that the four finalists would be announced on February 11 — my birthday — seemed like a good omen.


The first email I read the morning of my birthday was one informing me that I was not selected as a finalist.


On the plus side, I did get 4 free tickets to the fair, on account of being deemed worthy of an honorable mention. So that’s something.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed. I have been at this long enough to know that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Most big breaks are a series of little breaks built on a foundation of many years of hard work. I know that winning this poster contest wouldn’t have catapulted me into rock star status in the art field. But it would have been a nice “little” break that let me know I was on the right track.

I could really use one of those.

They say that the people who succeed are the ones who got up one more time than everybody else. Rejection is always a fork in the road. Do you turn inward, cash in your chips and give up? Or do you keep plugging along, knowing that most yes’s demand a certain amount of no’s before they knock on your door.

I want to create the kind of art that inspires people and makes them happy; the stuff that gets hung in a kitchen or cubicle to remind their owners to stay childlike and persistent and hopeful. I dream of someday seeing my art on a national greeting card line, on pillows and coffee mugs in stores like Target, and on calendars like Mary Engelbreit.

Maybe none of those things will ever happen, but I can’t stop trying. I am an artist. Making art is what I want to spend most of my life doing. And so onward (and upward?) I go, secretly expecting that someday, in the biography of an artist who ended up impacting millions of people, there will be an tiny anecdote about the time his State Fair poster got rejected.

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  1. Marci J says:


    Happy Birthday! (the greeting is belated, but not the wishes : ) Feb is an awesome month for a birthday, I must say! ; )

    Congrats on your Honorable Mention in the State Fair poster contest – though I know you were hoping for first place, I hear your disappointment. In the words of Brene Brown, one of my all-time favorites….you were courageous, vulnerable and “dared greatly” in entering the poster contest – that’s what counts! Sometimes the arena of life kicks our butt…..thank goodness we have friends and cheerleaders in the arena to pick us up! Perhaps the judges were in a sugar coma because they had just finished judging the “newest fried fair food” contest before judging your poster!? When you guys use your free tickets to the fair, please do blog about the sights, sounds and tastes…..what will they fry next??

    I’m a K&J Superfan forever – the characters and the real ones! : )


    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Marci! You have always been such a super-powered encourager!

  2. Jason,

    Happy belated birthday!!!
    I am so sorry that your poster did not get picked. I think it looks awesome!!
    I would have made you a finalist… :-)
    I am glad that you are not giving up so easily as you shouldn’t…. you have all of our support in your anti-adultits nation…. :-)
    Keep working hard and your yes will come; I just know it… :-)
    Thanks for all that you and Kim do for us; I appreciate it a lot.
    Enjoy your family…


  3. Jason:
    Looks to me like the judges don’t know how to pick a winner and I’m pretty sure they all have a serious case of adultitis! You may not be the winner of this contest but you are a winner as husband, father, son, and brother!

  4. Patty Borkowski says:

    Ya shoulda won. It’s fantastic!

  5. Terri J says:

    I love the poster. I’d recognize your art anywhere. Always makes me feel like a kid and we all need that. Congrats on at least winning honorable mention!

    • Thanks Terri — it’s cool to hear that my style has developed to the point of being recognizable!

  6. Libby says:

    Great poster- sorry it wasn’t chosen but think of the fun you’ll have taking your troop to the fair. Have you thought about making your own poster calendars or print calendars to sell yourself?

    • Libby,

      Thanks! We did do a print calendar this past year and they sold out, so I will be definitely doing more of those in the future! :)

  7. Debbie Green says:

    I just have to say the pig holding the often candy with his tail is too much!!! I love it!

  8. Shelley says:

    Kudos Jason for sharing that story! I feel as though we live in a world where we have to prove we have the perfect life. We all have our rejection stories, unfortunately those stories are rarely shared. What’s ironic is that it’s in those low points that we grow stronger from the support and encouragement of those around us. Sharing our successes is wonderful, but sharing our failures is empowering! Thanks Jason for sharing! And….the poster is awesome! Love your artwork!

    • Shelley,

      Some days it feels like I have more failures to share than successes :)

      But I’m happy they can serve as inspiration! Thanks for the kind words :)

  9. Thanks for sharing this! It was a really great chance to reinforce to my kids, while they weren’t personally emotionally invested and so could hear what I was saying, that just because something gets turned down by the powers that be, doesn’t mean it isn’t AMAZING (because it totally is!). All it means is that it wasn’t what they were looking for at that particular time.-

    • So true! Just read a blog post the other day about a producer talking about casting for his film. He said all of the talent he saw was awesome. The fact that an actor wasn’t chosen didn’t say anything about their talent, just that they weren’t right for that particular role. Always a good reminder :)

  10. Sue Wallace says:

    Hi Jason — I’m really glad you shared this. Not for the story (that was good too) – but for the art. I really love it! And I think you achieved exactly what you were shooting for. I guess we just have to wonder if the fair wanted a different message this year. But you have my vote for sure! This is a special piece with a clearly unique personality and I’d love to see more. Keep posting. :-)

  11. Janet Micnks says:

    Congratulations for submitting your art and winning an honorable mention, I personally thought the picture represented Wisconsin’s State Fair . I think if they would of posted the contestents pictures on a website and had the public vote, your entry would of taken first place.

  12. Hi Jason,
    We just wanted to reach out and once again congratulate and thank you for entering the Wisconsin State Fair’s first annual Art Poster Competition. We were overwhelmed by the response this first year and were truly challenged to select the four top finalists. We also did not originally intend to award honorable mentions, but wanted to further acknowledge some of the truly amazing and creative artwork that didn’t make it to the finals, so take pride in the fact we were very impressed with your artwork.
    We would personally encourage you to enter again next year, as we wish to make the Art Poster Competition an annual contest for talented artists such as yourself. You’ve created a beautiful poster and we look forward to seeing more of your entries in the future. Thank you for all your hard work and happy belated birthday.
    Wisconsin State Fair

  13. About two years ago I emailed you looking for some art or a card to give to my mom who had had multiple strokes. You sent me some free artwork and cards. I hung the one up in her room at each hospital she went to and it’s still up in her room at the nursing home. It’s this image here, and I must say, the nurses and the CNA’s that come in to take care of my mom all talk about how nice it is and how uplifting it is. So, you’re doing something right with your art!

    Also, my mom is doing much better than the doctors ever expected. She’s not expected to ever be able to take care of herself again but the fact that she can speak and knows her family is a miracle in it’s own. I appreciate your gift of your art you sent me. I have not forgotten your generosity at a time I needed it :)

    • You are so sweet, Anin! I’m thrilled to hear that my art has served as such a blessing. Thanks so much for sharing :)

  14. Bonniejean Hinde says:

    I have been rejected so many times it isn’t even funny. Just this past semester, I was rejected for the 5th time for the same poetry journal. I wonder why I keep trying. Simply because if I don’t I know I won’t be a success. I am an artist. I am a writer. I am a poet. I am taking the biggest leap of my life right now. I am taking a sabbatical from teaching to write and build my business. I WILL be a success because I am good enough. You are already a success Jason. I share your work with so many people. It will go international one day. And I will be right there with you. As my husband always tells me, I am already famous, the world just doesn’t know it yet. Same goes for you. We both are awesome. We do what we do and we make the world all the better for it, one fan at a time. Thanks for changing my life so many years ago just by becoming my friend.

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