What should you do with rejected ideas?

Artist Akiko Stehrenberger, illustrator Tara Anand, ECD Tom Bender, and designer Mark Richardson share their pearls of wisdom about how and when ditched concepts can be rescued

Rejection is an inevitable part of a creative career, from concepts that were turned down before they made it off the ground to works-in-progress that fizzled out halfway through. When that happens, then what? Should ideas be rehomed, reworked or let go altogether? We spoke to a mix of creatives across the worlds of illustration, design, and advertising for advice.

The entertainment industry is known for being pretty brutal when it comes to rejecting talent, and that goes for the visual artists working adjacent to it too, according to Akiko Stehrenberger, known for her powerful poster art for films and TV shows like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Tár, and Beef. “It happens more than it doesn’t in my line of work,” she says. “Within the first couple years of when I started, I had to build a really thick skin and learn not to take things personally. More than likely decisions are made to tick marketing boxes over what one may feel is the best piece of art.”

“For the most part, I always have multiple ideas for one project and they get whittled down to just one,” says Stehrenberger. “I’ll definitely stick to my guns if I feel strongly about a piece if through the revision process it’s losing its core concept or legibility. However, all in all, I don’t get caught up too much in rejection. I work on so many projects all the time and there is always an opportunity to take rejected ideas and somehow let them inspire future work.”