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11 Comments an Artist Never Wants to Hear

Updated on July 11, 2020
PAINTDRIPS profile image

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

My photo depicting the effects of bullying.
My photo depicting the effects of bullying. | Source

A Question

I found this so interesting and struck such a nerve with me that I couldn’t resist sharing it. Dennie Bright on Twitter asked for people to post “Things an artist never wants to hear in 5 words or less.” Here are some of the responses that resonated with me most.

My collage of the photo Bullying
My collage of the photo Bullying | Source

“Can you draw me?”

When I was just about 14 years old, a friend spied me drawing a deer. This was the first time I heard this question. Back then I thought it was a challenge. I drew animals more than people at the time and shied away from portraits. By the time I was in my twenties I was still hearing this question regularly and came to realize people wanted a free portrait of themselves. After all these years, I still hear this question from time to time and have a standard answer, “Yes, I can for a price.”

“It’ll be great exposure!”

This has to be the most annoying statement an artist can hear. What it says is that they want free art, work that will take anywhere from 10 hours to 100 hours of my time for no compensation. The excuse was that work for this magazine/organization/publication would increase my exposure and get me more jobs. I fell for this thinking several times and I can safely say, I never received one single referral or job from the “exposure” any of those jobs gave me. I will never work for exposure again. I just can’t seem to pay rent or buy food with exposure.

Another commission for a pet collage
Another commission for a pet collage | Source

“Do you have a REAL job?”

It is a sad but true reality that many (dare I say, most) artists have to work at side jobs just to be able to pay bills while working on art projects. When the commissions are few and the painting sales are down, the rent and electric bill continues. Just because the artist has to get a second job it doesn’t mean it’s his “real” job. It means it is extraneous and outside of his real work.

Whatever happened to the days when patrons used to “adopt” an artist and pay for their room and board while that artist painted and created works some of their family members but also of religious or mythological scenes that struck the artist’s fancy? It seemed like those days were gone until I discovered Patreon. Patreon is a platform made available for people to support artists, musicians, and creators of all kinds in exchange for some small token from the artist. Musicians give musical downloads to their patrons on Patreon. Artists give monthly digital downloads and sometimes physical stickers and booklets and other keepsakes.

A collage of my grandfather
A collage of my grandfather | Source

“My kid can draw too.”

Actually all kids can draw. The problem is to maintain that talent into adulthood. Only after someone has made fun of your attempts or has asked in a derogatory way “What is it,” do children stop drawing and give up the idea.

Collage of a little girl
Collage of a little girl | Source

“I could do this.”

The snarky part of me wants to say, “I’d like to see you try.” But I never say that; I smile and go on. Years ago I used to take my arts and crafts on the flea market circuit, rent a space, and stand next to my wares for two days listening to people say exactly that. None of them really could or would do “this” art but they say it nonetheless. It gets pretty discouraging. Actually I do it well enough to get commissions and paid for it. Top that.

Portrait of a girl
Portrait of a girl | Source

“-Insert Chain Store- Sells This for Less.”

Honestly? Chain stores are not selling original art and if they were they wouldn’t sell it for less. They sell it for more: the artist’s price plus a mark up of possibly 100%. No. The chain stores sell prints because they can sell more of them for less and still make much more. Don’t compare an artist’s work with what sells at chain stores. Much of that art and crafts were made in China by slave labor for mere pennies. No need to help the chain stores make a fortune on the backs of poor laborers when the starving artists right here need support too.

Collage of a writer, later used for a book cover.
Collage of a writer, later used for a book cover. | Source

“It’s free because we’re friends, right?”

Should I even answer this? You would think this statement absurd but I’ve had it asked me before. A friend should be one of the first people to want to support me both emotionally and financially. And if I decide to gift a piece, it’s because I wanted to not because I was cajoled into it.

Collage of my granddaughter
Collage of my granddaughter | Source

“Nice hobby.”

My dad used to say this. It hurt then and it hurts now. True it would be a nice hobby if I engaged in it now and then, but spend 8 to 10 hours doing it every day even today. I have dedicated my life to it so I feel it has become much more than a hobby. It is my life and livelihood.

Collage of some girls, "Friends"
Collage of some girls, "Friends" | Source

“That’s not what I imagined” after asking for something with a vague description.

I’ve always said that language is so fragile a thing and no one seems to be its master. I have had so many people describe their idea with words and had me at the drawing board over and over because it wasn’t what they pictured. It is the same as if you said you wanted potatoes and I pictured mashed or baked but you were thinking French-fried. You just have to give me more words and better descriptions before we begin. This is why most illustrators put a 3-rough clause in their contracts. We will allow you to send us to the drawing board 3 times before we begin charging more money. It seems only fair.

Collage of a woman reading
Collage of a woman reading | Source

“Graduate school… for that… really?”

My sister still talks about that. She used to scoff when I said I had homework and she would tell people “SHE MAJORS IN ART” like there is no homework or it isn’t hard and doesn’t take 15 to 20 hours to complete. Okay, so she majored in Microbiology and that was hard. I couldn’t do her homework and I daresay, she couldn’t do mine. I just shake my head when she still tells that story. She will never get it I suppose. Time to let it go. I went to graduate school to be the best illustrator I could be. I learned more than art. I learned about the requirements of freelance record keeping and taxes, pricing my work, marketing myself, approaching publishers, creating postcards and flyers that catch the eye, not to mention honing my skills and trying new mediums. I worked at it, drawing and painting 8 to 14 hours each day. That is no hobby.

Collage of a black girl
Collage of a black girl | Source

Final Thoughts

Do any of these strike a chord with you? What would you answer someone with statements like these? I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments below.


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