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.

30 thoughts on “When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

  1. Wait, this was supposed to just be about your life, right? After the rain, there is always a rainbow, even if you have to get 4 friends to help you paint it. I’ll always be the red in yours:)

  2. Been there, lost that, sued them, moved on…. Then the whole thing repeats. Gratefully our art world is filled with more love, respect and joy. I am so grateful for the good guys We get to deal with. They far out weigh the bad. Hope things get better. Just wanted to let you know….I totally, 100% get it and understand.

  3. OOOoooooo . . . Can I RELATE!!! I just told my daughter (a budding licensing agent), that business is mostly disaster, interspersed with light showers of “That worked out OK”. Overall, in 35 years of business, I’ve spent more time getting up (AGAIN!!), than standing on any glimmer of success. And then the next deal comes along and you cross your fingers, try to make good decisions and keep a positive attitude!! Thanks Ronnie for sharing reality with ALL of us! XO

  4. Thanks for sharing! I so know how you feel and where you have been. I’ve been working on a deal since January and still no contract and they are now going in a different direction. Will I stop creating? Or will you stop? Heck no! Keep doing what we do best-Create!

  5. I have ALWAYS believed in you! I am so PROUD to have been there at the beginning of the beginning. I have always been in awe of you and your talent! You will always have a place in my heart. I love finding and purchasing your products in stores. I always look for it and ask managers for it.

  6. Thanks for the honesty. I’m at a fork in the road…back to the whole health care thing again. But, I’m still going to give it my best shot!

  7. You’re not only a talented artist, you’re a talented writer. Great article. Who knew drawing cute pictures for a living was so difficult? In all honesty, I could never do what you do and my daughter thinks you’re a celebrity. You make the world a cuter place.

  8. Funny, I needed to hear this today. I saw it when you first posted it, wanted to read it and then it got buried in my feed. It wasn’t time then. Thank you for your honesty and humor. You have such insight. ❤️

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