Tough Love - 8 Hard Truths for Artists

Heather Martin

Many of us have had those teachers. The ones with notorious reputations for being tough as nails, and making students drink their own tears for breakfast. Some people loathed their existence, yet others thrived on that brutal criticism. 

Anyone that knows me, knows that I lean hard on the soft-hearted, positive, and sappy side. It’s crucial to keep people motivated and excited about creating. One needs a certain level of confidence to gain that brush mileage and work towards their 10,000 hours. However, when it comes to myself, I only have tough love, and think it’s what helps me grow and persevere. 

I’ve collaborated with my mentor/friend Chris Greco on some hard truths to serve up for you. If you’re ready to face them, continue on, but be warned; it’s not for the weak...

(note: This list is not intended for people that just paint for enjoyment and relaxation. If this is you fortheloveofGod, just STOP here, because I don't want to take any of that joy away from you.)

Not Everyone Will Like You - People pleasers...this truth can be especially difficult to swallow. If you want to grow as an artist, be okay with not everyone liking you or your work. It’s tough to put yourself out there, and share these intimate and honest creations. But you know what? Your art doesn’t need to appeal to everyone, and shouldn’t. Your right audience will find you, so just keep your eye on the goal - to create the artwork YOU want to create.

not everyone will like you

There is No Silver Bullet - “What paint (paper, brushes, easels, lights, etc.) do you use?” If I had a dime for every question like that I got, I’d be so mildly-richer!! While there are definitely things that make life a little easier, THERE. IS. NO. SILVER. BULLET. No magical material to transfer the art you envision effortlessly onto paper. So stop sitting around with your hands folded waiting for those perfect brushes to arrive from across the world, or that unicorn of an easel to come back in stock, and PAINT. Plenty of great art comes from less than ideal tools. What you need is the practice and brush mileage.

You WILL Fail - It’s inevitable. You’re going to have flops, and if you’re human (which I’m hoping you are), you’ll have many. Don’t get discouraged or upset. Don’t let that fear of failure control your actions and life. It’s part of the process and you can learn from them. Keep those cringey pieces around so you can look back and see your progress. You never know, sometimes they become pretty great with a fresh perspective.

you will fail

Sometimes it’s Not the Algorithm - I’ll be the first to shamefully admit it, I’ve been there. I’ve blamed the algorithm when things didn’t go as expected. There are certainly problems with social media, but don’t let every lackluster receptance of your work lead you to pointing fingers. Quit blaming technology, and other obstacles. Take some ownership. Not everything you do is going to deserve a round of applause. Accept that discomfort and remember who you're creating the work for (YOU).

It’s A Lonely Journey - Many people start by painting in groups. The camaraderie is encouraging, and it’s great to inspire and motivate each other. The hard truth though, at least in my experience, is that at some point you need to break away and find your own true path. These lonely journeys can be pivotal in finding your own voice. Quit following the crowd. Stop signing up for all those workshops. Break away to do some soul searching.

It’s Always Going to Be A Struggle - A common misconception is that there’s this invisible line from bad to good that you cross when everything just becomes effortless. Things DO get easier with practice, but the struggle never ends if you are on a true path to grow and improve. Welcome the struggle. 

You’re Making Excuses - “I just don’t have TIME!” or “I ran out of my very specific and totally unnecessary shade of yellow” or the classic, “I’m feeling fatigued, maybe I’m coming down with a cold, I’d better rest and watch more tv.” Start recognizing when you are making up excuses to not create art. AND BE HONEST. Your brain can be pretty crafty and creative when it wants to avoid something.

You Can’t Have It All - That leads us to the final hard truth. You just can’t have it all. The amazingly fit and healthy body, the title of being the perfect friend and family member, raise-worthy work ethics at your full time job, those gourmet home cooked meals, the sparkling clean house, a glorious eight hours of sleep each night, staying up to date with all the latest Netflix shows (I could go on…). Something has to give, and hopefully it’s not your sanity. Take a step back and figure out your priorities. They may need some rebalancing and tweaking if you can’t fit in time for your art. Or maybe, art just isn't a priority, and that's okay too. 

So there we have it. Eight hard truths. Was this the rude awakening you needed to whip yourself back into art shape? What can you be better at accepting? I’m rooting for you!

Oh wait...tough love. I mean, get back to work and stop whining! 😂

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  • Heather, you’re an art genius. The time you take to help other artists is truly a wonderful gift. I love your cartoons and it was fun to see the hubs and pets in them too!

    C Radich

  • Heather, you are a true rara avis.


  • truth. and i love the comics, especially the one of you in a ball on the floor surrounded by cheerful dogs and a well-meaning partner— very evocative. :)


  • You nailed it Heather…I agree with all of the above. Especially the part of breaking away and going off by yourself. That’s also how I learned to drive a stick shift when I was 16, Just making lots of mistakes all alone in the car. Thanks for your great drawings and insights on this post!

    Erika Perloff

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