Hard confession

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years convincing people that making art is just as natural as breathing. And as easy. 

But maybe I’ve been avoiding the hard truth. That making art can be hard. It can be hard keeping to a habit. Hard pushing past blocks. Hard mastering new media. Hard facing your mistakes. Hard being your own cheerleader. Hard seeing clearly. And hard putting yourself out there.

I’d convinced myself that if I make it seem like the barrier to entry is just a bead curtain that I will be doing people a favor. But when I make it seem easy and you find it hard, you might worry that you are exceptionally untalented or lazy or dumb. Which is far from true. 

The fact is that sometimes making art can be very demanding. 

And that’s okay.

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s scary or to be avoided. Hard can be good. It can make the corpuscles course through your veins. It can make you stand taller. The things that are hard to do are often the ones worth doing. Success isn’t meant to be easy. 

In my own life, I have many things on my plate, but I’ve been working to eat my vegetables first and save dessert for last. Just because something is easy to tick off the list doesn’t mean I should do it first. Instead, I try to crack at least one tough nut a day.

At times, I’ve had the reverse approach. I told myself that it is better to have a sense of accomplishment by plucking low-hanging fruit and doing something easy — making the bed, answering email, emptying the dishwasher — than it is to tackle the things I dread.

But Ive learned that the pleasure of having won the hard battle is far greater and worth the pain. 

Now I start the day by thinking and writing and inching ahead, and end it in front of the TV with a basket of towels to fold. Life is easier when you scale the mountain first and coast down it the rest of the day.

My advice: Your days are numbered and there’s loads to learn — so don’t be afraid of something because it seems difficult. Rather, seek out the toughest challenges and fight your way through them.

It can be done. And you are the one to do it.

33 thoughts on “Hard confession

  1. Yes my days are numbered and I want to squeeze as much art in as i can making up for all those years i missed out on.

  2. Thanks for the advice. We all need a reminder to ‘eat our peas’ every now and then. I for one, become overwhelmed easily and find eating my peas slowly, one at a time, methodically works best for me. Others may find pinching their nose and gulping them down in one big swallow is best. Which ever way works for us… we all need to make it happen. Once you ‘get in the groove’ the world melts away and before you know it, it’s time for dessert!!! Of course you all know I’m not really talking about eating peas… right?

  3. I grew up in a culture where art had to be practical/functional (quilts, meals, afghans, flower beds) or something you got paid for. Once you pull it into the world of journal keeping, it’s also ok, defensible. Grandma kept a rudimentary log of her days: “canned green beans”. Sketch booking is comprehensible in this framework.

  4. Those were encouraging words, Danny. Now I am thinking that I don’t want to go out to the gym to exercise. But I probably will, after breakfast. I know that I will be okay with working out once I get there. Perhaps the workout will allow me a few extra days on earth. This day just might be my last, so I’m just going to make the best of it. Rather grim thinking but could be true.

    • I feel the same way. I don’t want to go to the gym either, but I will go. Riddled with so many health issues, it’s easy to give up, but I feel that doing something physical is good for my energy levels as long as it’s done right. When I don’t do any movement, I feel word.

  5. I read your posts ….so much truth in them, not sure which I love more, your drawings or your writing, you are such a friend to me now…..and you don’t even know me, well not as I know you, but keep on keeping on……as you say, you are huge in so many lives! Thank you, and hugs from me…..Lynn Spillane, a beginning student.

  6. I appreciate the supportive words and camaraderie in them. I’m new to making art, but not new to learning. I understand how it works. This past week I was in the “lab” experimenting with art. Things didn’t turn out anywhere close to what I’d hoped. I enjoyed experimenting, but have to say was a bit disappointed nothing turned out. I’m not new to learning. I know I have to go through these times, they are the cognitive dissonance times and often, the preface to a new level of understanding. I look forward to this week and allowing myself to experiment in my lab and think art. This post came at a perfect time for me; it gave me that extra bit of umph to “just do it
    .” Thanks Danny!

  7. Like everything I do that I find difficult, two things echo in the back of my head. First is the question, “is this a molehill of a mountain?” Second is, “just take that first step, sweetie. Just one step. That’s all. Just one. Now every step after that is easier for having taken that first one.” Thanks, Danny! Good message!!

  8. Great words. Thank you for your honesty. Some days everything seems like it takes an effort and especially creating art. I think if we acknowledge the truth, it’s easier to get to the meat of what needs to be done to get through it.

  9. …speechless in tears … … … I love you Danny Gregory !! You KNOW how to say the right thing at the right time !!!

  10. At some level, I know what you’re saying to be true, but seeing it in writing makes it inescapable. Time to get out of my pajamas and sew up a book whose structure is challenging. Thanks.

  11. As one person already said…I like your writings as much as your artwork. Both are honest…both encourage others to keep moving forward. I am glad that you are telling people that the creative process can be “hard”…but a bird could say the same thing about flying miles and miles on it’s migratory journey each year. And yet…birds must fly…it’s what they were made to do. I have a friend who took your “Skool” online last semester. She was SO used to doing the “hard work” of making art, that she had lost the joy of it. The idea that making art was supposed to be as easy as breathing…well it was just what she needed to hear. It changed her, and she’s now more free to create than ever before. Thanks, Danny!

  12. I like creating art. I usually enjoy the middle & end of the process. I still struggle with starting – with the unknown first marks. I see the art of others & they seem to create endlessly and effortlessly. So, then I wonder why I’m the paranoid slacker. I mean, I WANT to draw, but even when you think you’re capable, starting is hard. It’s reassuring to know that we ALL should all be braver. We must kick it in gear since our days really are limited. Thanks for the timely advice!

  13. Have you seen the “ten thousand hours of practice” theory? Spending ten thousand hours working on something just to become good at it is a big ask. It takes five years of 9-5 working to rack up 10,000 hours. Why do it? Because we love doing it.
    There is a polite fiction that has been going around that we can all be artists. But it seems to me that, unless a would-be artist prefers to work on their art than ‘most anything else, they are unlikely to get past the first stage of perfecting a craft.
    But that is OK. Would-be artists who would rather be doing something else should do something else. As you say, our days are numbered. If we love spending time with friends, or playing games, or any one of a billion other things to perfecting our art, why not do the things we love instead?

  14. Thank you, Danny, for this post. I think the hardest part of anything is getting started. For me it’s putting art first, before chores and other distractions (even paying work!) because if I don’t do the art, I won’t have the ideas that generate work. I found this out the hard way: neglect the muse, and she takes off in a huff. It takes discipline to make time in my day to play like a kid with crayons, glue and paper. Sometimes I just stare at the paper, but I know that something is working in my brain and that I showed up.

    PS. Really enjoying Sketchbook Skool, although as an English major, it kills me to write “Skool!”

  15. Some days the art is “ugly” and I am learning to love my ugly art, and see it as a warmup for something I will like better or as something I will re-see later in the day as uniquely me and actually quite beautiful. I am also learning to take the art in smaller bites, to let it breath in between and give myself a chance to make more interesting choices than had I just pushed through without inspiration.

  16. Damn straight it can, is, …. Today I redid one of my SBS assignments in your class. I LOVE the outcome. That extra bit of work, to re-draw over my previously drawn drawing paid off in bolder, outstanding-in-the-basket-veggies, that made me sit back with pride pondering what I had done. I love the “hard work” of stretching myself to try new things, tools, experiences, drawings! My life has been enriched a thousand fold since starting to draw just a couple of short years ago.

  17. Dear Danny

    I just wrote a small post (not yet published, in some minutes) on my blog about talent, work and succès (all kind of success).
    I think that’s not talent, nor laziness BUT passion!
    Yes, a long BUT nice battle also, and I agree with you, the more we do art, the less we will be afraid!
    thank you for your post
    bye
    Renata

  18. Thank you, Danny. It is true it sometimes takes me awhile to get started (fear of not being “good”); but, after I’m in it and finally finished with my art I’m so excited and feel that it didn’t take that long at all to do. What was I afraid of? I’ve only been creating art for about 2 1/2 years and I’m 72 right now. Those 10,000 hours seem almost impossible, and yet, I can hardly wait each day to do something…whether it’s Sketchbook Skool, or my watercolors. I so enjoy reading your blogs and listening to you on Sketchbook Skool….I need to buy your books, too…….but, I need time for my art…LOL.

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