How to fight a critic.


It’s tempting to fight back against criticism. But where does it get you?

Take Manet, the father of Impressionism. Outraged by a critic’s attack, he challenged him to a duel. They met in a forest, hacked ineffectually at each other with swords until they bent them, shook hands, and limped away. Neither man was badly injured and they both went back to work.

Take Whistler, a bad-tempered and thin-skinned genius whose memoir is called “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” When John Ruskin wrote an especially vicious review of one of his paintings, Whistler took him to court, strenuously defended his modernist aesthetic — and was awarded a farthing for his troubles.

In the long run, both men beat the critics with a different weapon — the brush.

Manet is known for launching impressionism, for making it acceptable to paint everyday life, for Olympia, Le Dejeuner, and the critic, well, his name was Edmond Duranty—ever heard of him? Whistler’s legacy is bit more ironic, due not to his critics but to fans of his most famous work, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1.”  After spending his life fighting against art based on moral lessons and maudlin emotion, he is known for a painting of his mommy. But it is a great painting and, even after the trial, he continued making many more.

Critics, internal and external, can raise any artist’s hackles. They can provoke you into violent defense of your work, into self-doubt, even into halting your creativity all together. One man’s opinion, published in a newspaper, or muttered in a gallery, or imagined in a moment of weakness, can suck up your energy and threaten your creative life.  Few critic’s opinions endure and that’s something to remind yourself of. Because opinions are products of the moment, influenced by current trends, by ignorance, by poor digestion. They are not eternal, objective, blanket truth.

Any condemnation of a work of art, whether it comes from a professional, from a neighbor, from a monkey’s voice in your head, should only be responded to with more work. Prove them wrong — if you have to acknowledge them at all — but never let them get you down.

Forget lawyers and swords. Make your case with a brush, a pen, a blog post.

Monkey goes to the publisher.

Signing the book contract for "Shut Your Monkey"

“Okay, but once you sign the contract, you have to write the book.”

“I know, I want to write the book. People need to know how to shut you up once for all.”

“And you think you can write a book about that?”


“A whole book?”


“Sez who? You’re not a shrink or a counselor or an expert of any kind. Who cares what you have to say?”

“I’ve lived with your voice in my head for decades, haven’t I? I’m pretty much as expert as you can get.”

“And you think you can shut me up?”

“Watch me. Hand me that pen.”

Book contract for "Shut Your Monkey" signed. 
Book out next fall.
Let the fun begin! 

A conversation with Richard Sheppard from “An Illustrated Journey”

Here’s the next interview with the contributors to my new book An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers

Interview continues here….

Richard Sheppard is a longtime illustrator but only started drawing on location about three years ago. I love his work and his interesting color palette. aWWGKiUMpGaVC8H4lXCBgTWbbDbZn_E2GMKE8_hmaK8%2C_TX-HLe2l2fS1TCgRGhlz8EeP8fEFduLarOlaDwnsvY%2Cm6Gu5OJ4mAElWj1oItxPezmRQyd1VUmnvv29rD-MQuA%2CabP29pigHuo3YPZyiqG4X4yP1GS7MyhEQzOQJlqjeRo%2CUFkBTsPOiftIJ1RN8BBkIk9i3fV5cWPMgICp7Ko2aRQ%2CcA0Dp14dUuyQzxdSTnb Karyatids F_F_Coppola-Winery

_aSCuQZ_tuLZyJUnOT6uit-jL830VxYh8b_lD_Obnyw%2CoaeznTTmweh-ddS_HJo1s-BWATmn6EMz4IH9W8BHyTs%2CGCO8nwE4zddx_T1HBSsA_elkqV6lUDYZign7WZRZKFY%2CVLH4giQUTs43KchTz8DL0CfM_jmsjLPIf1yJPj2pifs%2CH2aZsxjnl9720LZqSbRTVYA5Nsp_a4B3FaMpBMih6MYRichard shares a lot more in my book. Here’s an excerpt:

“But upon arriving in Ireland, I found that sketching from photographs didn’t prepare me for anything other than sketching from photographs. I was too self-conscious to draw in public and ended up taking photographs the entire time. I kept telling myself that I could paint from the photographs when I returned home. It never happened. There is no substitute for learning to draw from life, out-of-doors. You can’t fake it.…” (continued)

Please don’t forget to check out Richard’s work.

A conversation with Felix Scheinberger from “An Illustrated Journey”

Here’s the next interview with the contributors to my new book, An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers.

Felix Scheinberger is a German illustrator and teacher who loves to hit the road and see the world (and takes his students too!). I love the comic darkness of his work, the looseness of his line, and his debt to Tomi Ungerer who had  long been one of my favorite illustrators too.  I also love his passion for travelling and seeing the rawness of the world.

We had some technical problems at one point so our conversation comes in two servings:


Felix shares a lot more in my book. Here’s an excerpt:

“Travelling is an integral part of my work. But I don’t travel to illustrate, I illustrate to travel, and I travel to understand the world and my role in it. Spectacular journeys aren’t what I am looking for, I want to depict things that mean a lot to me, and sometimes journeys don’t evoke the feelings I am looking for. And I don’t travel on the look-out for beauty. I look for real images, real emotions. So a journey to the Toscana just to draw terra cotta paths seems like a waste of time. These images have been made a hundred times over….” (continued)

Please don’t forget to check out Felix’s blog.

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A conversation with Ian Sidaway from “An Illustrated Journey”

Here’s the next interview with the contributors to my new book An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers

Ian Sidaway has taught so many people to become better artists; as the author of many instructional books, he is a legend. I find looking at his work so inspiring — his watercolors are so pristine, the colors so vivid but still atmospheric. And his line is so consistent and almost photographic. I have learned the most from his compositions; he turns every landscape spread in his Moleskines into perfectly balanced CinemaScope.

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Ian shares a lot more in my book. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was born in the Industrial East Midlands into a family of miners and clay workers. My passion was the great outdoors and collecting bones, birds eggs, nests, and pressed flowers, and in the 1950s and early 60s, believe me, not many working class boys did that! These are the things I would draw and I hoped to pursue that interest by working either in the Nature Conservancy or the Forestry Commission. Both required academic qualifications which were beyond me, so I went to art college as a way of entering either of these organizations through the back door, possibly as an illustrator. Once at art college, design became my metier and, after four years of study, I found myself working as a designer at the J W Thompson advertising agency in London, a job I disliked. There followed a period of freelancing during which time I began to paint. I guess I dropped out before I ever dropped in..…” (continued)


Please don’t forget to check out Ian’s blog.