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Fighting the Artist’s Depression

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.

Peach Roses in watercolor on my art table.

Peach Roses in watercolor on my art table.

An Artist’s Dilemma

Artists typically have a hard time separating themselves from their art. I am my art. My art is me. You criticize my art and you are criticizing me personally. I know I shouldn’t think that way but I’m very close to my work and although I try to stay separate, it isn’t easy. Someone asked once which was my favorite painting of the dozen or so she was looking at. I couldn’t tell her, because I love them all. They are like my children. You can’t pick a favorite child. Some are easier to manage than others but you love them all. Maybe this is why it is so difficult to put a price on art. How do you sell your children? How can you put a price on them? They are priceless to you as their creator. You only hope when they leave your home they go somewhere nice where they are treated like the priceless treasure you know them to be.

Once I was so loath to part with a painting that someone wanted to buy that I painted two of them: one for the buyer and one to keep for myself. Eventually, I parted with my copy too, but it was hard to let it go.

My copy of the Buck that I eventually parted with too.

My copy of the Buck that I eventually parted with too.

Depression and the Artist

This is part of why artists get the reputation of been moody and petulant. They typically are unreliable and procrastinators. It all goes back to the love/hate relationship we all have with the art we create. Sometimes it flows out of us and other times it is a long-drawn-out struggle to birth them. I love the process and I hate it too. I resent time spent away from them so much that I don’t want to stop to eat or even attend to personal hygiene. At the same time, when I do pull myself away and return later, I am glad of the diversion because it means I return with “fresh” eyes. I can more clearly see when I may be going wrong and fix it.

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Watercolor Dahlia on wrinkled paper

Watercolor Dahlia on wrinkled paper

Self-Publish Books

I have been writing and illustrating books seriously for the past 8 years; some craft books, some art history books, coloring books, and children's stories. I wouldn't say I'm great but I am happy with who I am and happy to be doing what I love. Isn't that what life is all about? You can see many of my books on Amazon and on Lulu.

Encourage Reading

I know I have a lot to offer the art community. I may not be the next Dr. Seuss or Maurice Sendak, but I do know that I want to share my talent with the world. I want to encourage children to read and fall in love with literature the way my teachers and my mother made me fall in love with it. I want to use art to entice children to read. I think it can happen.

Let a good book take you on an adventure.

Let a good book take you on an adventure.

Storytelling

As an artist, I am essentially a storyteller. As a storyteller, my goal is to speculate upon and the issues at hand around us, both the good and the bad and the moral ambiguities that go along with them, and invite the audience to explore them with me in the controlled environment of creative storytelling. I've found from experience that as an artist we usually cannot change the culture by conscientiously trying to do it. All we can do is to offer a starting point encouraging people to think, not an ending point telling people what to think. So long as we do our work honestly and with a sincere passion for the work, it can and often will, positively influence those who choose to partake in it. My intention as a storyteller is to discover things through the story to portray, not to tell people things they may or may not already know. I want them to participate in the illustration by searching for their own truth with the breadcrumbs of imagery I have left for them to find.

Carrie in the Woods

Carrie in the Woods

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.

— Michelangelo

Photo Composites

I have created some photo composites and photo manipulation to create what is called Fine Art Photography. These are a load of fun for me. I take a photo and then change the background, add elements like flower wreaths and butterflies, add filters that give an old grungy look or a canvas look to the overall composite and then finish it with a vignette (darkening the corners and borders).

My Carrie in the Woods photo I took ages ago looking up at her from an almost prone position. I had to find just the right perspective photo of the woods to match the looking-up position. Later I wanted her to have flowers on her head, so I spent a lot of time cut out and pasting dozens of flowers around her head and adjusting the color to match. This is the part that took the longest.

Catch a good book.  Who knows where it will take you.

Catch a good book. Who knows where it will take you.

More On Art

It seems the more of anything we have in our lives, the more we take it for granted (in general), and thus we want more and more. It's like addiction, a narcotic. We love music so we want more: the radio must be on in the car, in our homes, at work, plugged into our ears when we run and exercise, etc. Is this bad? Not on the surface but it makes me wonder when the addiction will end. You can’t always have more.

So I make more illustrations for more books, for more magazines, for fun for me. Yet, the general public doesn’t pay for it like it were a necessity. Even high-end magazines who used to pay illustrators top dollar have started being very cheap with their illustration budget and if you don’t negotiate with them, reminding them of your experience and the time needed for their work, you simply cannot make a living wage. There is nothing wrong with negotiation, per se, but to constantly have to demand your due gets exhausting. Unlike other professions where you negotiate your wage once and then work for a company, freelance illustration means that I am constantly looking for more work and almost weekly negotiation with another company.

The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

— Ecclesiastes 1:8

Tea Roses in Watercolor

Tea Roses in Watercolor

Final Thoughts

Like most sensitive creatives, I fight depression and discouragement daily. But when I get up each morning and see all the art surrounding me (finished art, art in process, and commissioned art), I think what a fortunate person I am to be able to do this every day. It’s all in the attitude you decide to take. What do you think?

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