Artist Spotlight: Lee Crutchley on Perseverance

In our digital age, there are more ways than ever to make a career out of your creative talents. This series spotlights remarkable artists, designers, and makers who have excelled at doing just that – and who offer their insights for other aspiring creatives.

Lee Crutchley is an artist and author whose previous books include The Art of Getting Started and How to Be Happy (or at Least Less Sad). He is also a night owl who enjoys the weird and wonderful ideas he has when he should be sleeping—a journey which he shares in The Nocturnal Journal.


Photo by Jayne Yong


TarcherPerigee: What were the biggest concerns or fears you experienced about becoming a working artist? How did you overcome them?

Lee Crutchley: The biggest fears I had were about not having enough work and not having enough money. I overcame those fears by having long periods where I had literally no work and literally no money. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best way to overcome those fears, but I didn’t have much choice at the time. I’ve since learned that being able to stick it out and keep going through periods without work and money is a very useful skill to have when working for yourself.


What do you do when you are discouraged or your ideas are rejected?

It can go one of two ways. Either I’ll wallow and feel sorry for myself until I get bored enough to go back to the drawing board. Or I’ll forget the first part and just get on with it.


What is your definition of creative success and how has this changed over time?

When I first started out, my definition of success was defined by my perception of other successful creatives. So things like having a large social media following, features in popular publications, and working with big clients. But these days it’s much more simple. I’m earning a living by making things I want to make. I don’t think there’s any better definition of success than that.


Looking back, is there anything you would do differently—or anything that you wish you’d known then that you know now?

I think I’d have embraced being myself, work wise, much earlier on. At first when I was approached by a big client I always kind of panicked a little. I would try to give the client work that I thought they wanted, rather than making work I would usually make. I’m not sure where that impulse came from, I think it was some sort of imposter syndrome. It took me a long time to realize that when a client approaches me it’s because they like my work and want me to make some of it for them.


What are your top tips or pieces of advice for someone who may be debating whether to pursue a career in a creative field?

I’m not sure if it counts as a tip, but it’s that a creative career is still a job. It’s very attractive to believe the myth that “doing what you love” is a magical, perfectly-filtered success ride that never ends. But that’s really not true. Doing what you love is still hard work. It’s actually often much harder work than doing things you don’t love. Doing what you love still sucks sometimes, especially when it becomes your job. I think it’s important to know and accept that as early as you can.


What are your three favorite books?

It changes each time I answer this question, but off the top of my head right now I’d say:

Naive. Super by Erlend Loe

It Chooses You by Miranda July

Room by Emma Donoghue


What do you read – or do – when you hit an impasse or creative block?

I’ve been walking a lot lately. Being out in the world, and away from my desk, is the only thing that ever helps me to get through creative blocks.