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5 Things I Would Change About Illustration

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

We are raising today's children in sterile, risk-averse and highly structured environments. In so doing, we are failing to cultivate artists, pioneers and entrepreneurs, and instead cultivating a generation of children who can follow the rules in organized sports games, sit for hours in front of screens and mark bubbles on standardized tests.

— Darell Hammond

Wave A Magic Wand

If I could wave a magic wand and change anything about my beloved field of art and illustration, the first thing I would change would be the mistaken attitude that art should be free to everyone. It seems the average person forgets that art for the artist is more than a passion and a whim, but a way of life and something we labor over. There often is literally blood, sweat and tears poured into our work, along with many late night sleepless nights to meet deadlines and heartaches over work that is passed over or rejected.

I think it always feels riskier and scarier to go after something you really love and want because the rejection and failure hurts more.

— Emily Giffin


Unless you are an artist you probably don’t know that ours is possibly the only profession where we pay people to reject us. We pay a fee to enter juried art shows where many awesome pieces of art are rejected because of one, two, or three judges’ personal preference and lack of space. The work was great, just not what they were looking for. Sometimes I will get a commission to create a piece for a certain price and when I send them the preliminary sketches or even a semi-final color composition, I find they decided to “go a different direction,” and cancel the commission. This hurts my feelings and my wallet. I simply lose out on the time spent. Once I agreed to create some work for a friend for a set price, only to later find out she was publishing the work and selling it to her students at a profit. When I told her I should be getting royalties for each sale she makes using my work, she reminded me I agreed on the one-time price upfront. Because she used to be a friend, I didn’t take it any further but I felt more than cheated. I had been defrauded. She hadn’t revealed that the ultimate goal was to republish my work. If I could wave a magic wand over the art industry, I would make it an industry where people treat us and our work like a real profession and not just some hobby. If I asked a doctor or lawyer to do a job for me and maybe I would pay them if I liked the finished product they would laugh at me. Why should that be okay for an artist and not for anyone else?

Dinosaur ride

Dinosaur ride

Working for Free

Then there are the times when we are talked into working on spec for a company who could afford to pay but is too cheap to offer what the artist is worth. I often get asked to do 20 to 40-hour pieces for free for a non-profit organization for the “exposure” which is minimal if that. Most of these are not worth my time. Unless I really believe in the organization or the cause, I won’t take “exposure” gigs anymore. My time is more valuable than that. If I could wave a magic wand over the illustration industry, I would make the public realize that artists have bills and rent and like to eat like everyone else.

Read a book and let it carry you away.

Read a book and let it carry you away.

The biggest hurdle is rejection. Any business you start, be ready for it. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don't want to do. When 10 doors are slammed in your face, go to door number 11 enthusiastically, with a smile on your face.

— John Paul DeJoria

Lifetime of Experience

I can’t begin to number the times where someone has asked to have a piece of my art for little or nothing. They loved the work but didn’t want to pay for my time and effort. In one art show (where I paid to enter) I heard people scoffing over my listed prices. Doesn’t the average person realize that I had to pay a framer to frame the art (anywhere from $75 to $220) and then pay to enter the venue where it is hanging? If my price reflects more than the frame cost people scoff like I’m trying to rob them. I love to remember the famous court case between James McNeil Whistler and the critic John Ruskin who accused Whistler of robbing the public for charging too much money for “throwing paint on the canvas.” The defense attorney asked Whistler how much he charged for the piece in question. He answered 200 pounds (British). The attorney then asked how long the painting took to paint and Whistler answered 2 days. Thinking he had him, the attorney said then that Whistler had the nerve to charge the British public 200 pounds for two days work, and Whistler rebuffed him with a curt “NO”. Then he said, “I charge the British public 200 pounds for a lifetime of experience in art!” That is the best answer I ever heard of. I wish I had the fortitude to say the same to the scoffers. I was charging that much from my lifetime of experience in art and if they didn’t want to pay that, I’d love to see them create the same work for themselves without the benefit of my experience and passion. If I could wave a magic wand over my profession, I would instantly give the public the insight on the time and value of art.

Mad Mushroom Fairy

Mad Mushroom Fairy

In Touch With The Public

In the field of children’s book illustration, it must be a case of knowing someone who knows someone to get published, or pure luck. The publishers do not always recognize good work that the public often goes wild over. Beatrix Potter had to publish her little Peter Rabbit book herself before being offered a real publishing contract. Twenty-seven publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book before one publisher took a chance on him. There are so many cases of famous and hugely popular children’s books that were rejected because the publishers are not always in tune with what the public wants or likes. They only look at what they think will make them money. If I could wave a magic wand and change the industry, I would give publishers better insight into the future popularity and success of certain authors and illustrators. Although I say this I still recognize that rejection sometimes makes us stronger and more determined as artists. Like a butterfly that must struggle to emerge from a cocoon or a chick that has to peck and fight her way out of the eggshell, we artists hate rejection but emerge resilient and unwavering to succeed more than ever before. With the availability of self-publishing, many of my books don’t have to wait for a publisher to discover their popularity or my potential. Like Beatrix Potter, I’m publishing them myself.


It has been said that creativity and the arts are what make life worth living. When you wake in the morning your room probably has color; your wardrobe has been designed and dreamed up in the heart of some artist; the décor on your walls were once just an image in the mind of some painter; the house you live in was conceived and drafted by an architect; the car you get into the drive to work used to be on some designers drafting board; the music you play while navigating the freeway was once a tune in the heart of a musician; the packaged food you buy had a graphic designer create the packaging to get your attention enough to open your wallet; and the list goes on and on. Imagine a world with no music, no literature, no painting, no sculpture, no poetry, no movies, no television, no photography. It would be a drab, colorless, depressing black and white world. Yet the very things that make waking up a joy are the very things so taken for granted that artists are overlooked and underpaid. If I could wave a magic wand over the world I would make artists valued and revered. I would make them all rock stars, adored and honored by the general public and paid in like.

Dinosaur Tattoo Artist

Dinosaur Tattoo Artist

Your Magic Wand

Now if you had a magic wand and could change something about your chosen field of labor, what would it be and why? If you have nothing you would change, you are either retired or are the blessed human on the planet.

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