When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

RonnieInCup-WEBIf you know anything about me, you know I’m pretty positive. I try to be upbeat in the worst of situations, in fact sometimes I feel like I am cursed with a sunny disposition.

And I know how much we want to put a rainbow and Skittles® face on how super uber fabulous drawing pictures for a living is. And it is.


I have been in the illustration biz almost longer than I have not been. I have had products that stayed on the market for years generating good royalties in some of the biggest retailers in America. At any given moment I have projects cooking, my work is under consideration somewhere and the royalty fairies are working their magic.

I have managed to not have a ”job job” despite the cultural bias that says that artists can’t be successful and we’re all a bunch of flakes. OK, maybe the second part of that can be true in some cases, but I’m not naming names. Although I could.

And of course, getting paid via royalties can involve wild swings from “I’m rich!” to “I’m broke!” over the course of any given year (or week). And truth be told, I have managed to make enough money to not worry every night about whether or not I will be eating cat food when I’m 82. I mean, I even went on vacation that one time!

So far, so good.

But what do you do if, for instance, in spite of your best efforts you never ever get that client or project you want? Or things were going along swimmingly, and then all of a sudden pulling together your next mortgage payment, or student loan–or grocery money—becomes tricky at best, or maybe scary beyond what you have previously known in your life?

What if a project that showed so much promise and consumed months of your work and talent tanked at retail? Like really tanked—even though all kinds of pretty smart, experienced people gave it the green light every step of the way?

What if you were having conversations with someone about a juicy awesome project and you shared your whole bloody hopes, dreams and unique plans with them, and five minutes after they passed on it (with you) you see that they have implemented your hopes, dreams and unique plans with someone else?

Or (deep breaths, kids) you found yourself in the middle of a (gulp) really expensive lawsuit?

Well, there! How’s that sunny demeanor working out now? And just so you know, over the course of my career every one of those things has happened to me at least once. Thankfully, not all in one year but spread over lots of years of drawing pictures for a living.

Ask anyone who has a business doing anything. The guy who owns the tire store. Your hair stylist. Heck, even your gynecologist (because who doesn’t like a bit of small talk during your exam?). They will tell you this: business is fraught with risk. And rewards. That’s why many of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners. They have weathered any number of hardships and slip-ups and bone-headed moves and still managed to stay focused on the big picture. Of course, many businesses do not make it. That does not make them horrible people or losers or any kind of “less-than”. But most of them will tell you, it’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get up that makes the difference. And knowing when enough is truly enough helps too.

Each time I was tripped up I chose to get up. To brush myself off. To absorb the hurt and maybe the anger. To make it right when I could. And forgive myself when I couldn’t.

And then I go find something funny or surround myself with the people who love me and still think I am adorable and hilarious.

And then I draw a picture. Or maybe two or three.

Passion, Purpose…Paycheck?

2Coffees-WEBDon’t we wish they were one and the same? Because that’s the dream, right?

Picture this: Each morning you waltz down the cobblestone path to your vine covered studio, clad in a breezy white linen tunic with soft leather (vegan leather if you like) shoes in teal or raspberry or sage that appear to have been crafted by a hobbit to your exact specifications, but on you they look somehow elegant and effortless.

You slowly sip your cold-brewed coffee as you prepare to start your day. You’ll spend the next 2 or 3 hours on a painting, or that screenplay you’re writing; only interrupted by the chirps of the chubby bluebirds on the windowsill as they serenade the Shetland pony in the field across from your organic garden.

Your phone rings and it’s your editor or your agent or George Clooney hoping you can join them for a quick bite–on their yacht–to discuss how much they love your current paintings/screenplay/novel/in-depth exposé of what is really in tofu.

Oh, and then you wake up. And realize that although what you really want to be doing is paint/write/share your brilliance, reality hits. You know what I’m talking about; those pesky things like paying the electric bill, raising the children (apparently they don’t raise themselves) and going out for the occasional meal you don’t have to cobble together yourself.

Those things.

So is it unrealistic to expect your passion to hand you a paycheck now and then? Maybe. But when you get right down to it—maybe your passion might take the form of writing or painting but it’s really about what your purpose is in doing that thing. Do you want to help people say things that are hard to say? Do you want to bring joy and happiness to others? Do you want to stir things up, rattle a few cages?

Because maybe if you switch “your what” to focus on “your why” you can start to imagine the value—and if it resonates with some, it might just resonate with others.

Then you can spend the afternoon strolling through the woods to find that hobbit cobbler–I hear he now offers those shoes in celadon.