Artists, Where Did You Learn the Value of Hard Work?

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been writing about the hard work and discipline it takes to create art. From what I’ve heard from readers, and what I’ve observed as I’ve interacted with artists, you all are a hard-working group of individuals!

This series of posts has had me thinking a lot about work ethic and the hard work it takes to make a successful career.  I’ve reflected on how I learned to work, and I’ve wondered if I’m doing enough to instill a love of hard work in my children.

How I Learned to Work Hard

I am very grateful to my parents for instilling in me a love of hard work. My dad, who is a painter, and my mother, who has worked as his business manager since he first began his career, are two of the hardest working people I know. They have labored tirelessly to build my father’s career since the late 1970’s. Their example alone would have given me a great perspective on the value of hard work, but they went much further to teach me first-hand the value of work.

From a very early age, I remember my mother giving me and my siblings responsibilities around the house. We learned how to clean and help cook. We were expected to do well in school without being hounded to finish our homework.

My family on a recent pilgrimage to the dome home

Around 1979, my parent began building a geodesic dome in Southern Idaho. This dome was to serve as our futuristic, highly-efficient home. Dad was a bit of a visionary and loved Buckminster Fuller’s vision for the future of architecture. Dad believed he could use some innovative materials, build the house by hand himself, and create an amazingly artistic home in less than a year. Well, it’s now been almost forty years since he started building the dome home, and it’s still not finished!

It took almost ten years to complete it to a point that we could move into it, but the interior is still pretty rough. To be fair, in addition to the technical aspects of building this house, my parents had a lot going on in their lives. The were working to secure Dad’s reputation in the art world and to make a living selling Dad’s art, and they were busy raising a huge family – I’m the oldest of my parent’s nine children! Eventually my parents bought a home in Arizona, where they spend most of their time now, and the dome became a kind of crazy cabin where they spend their summers.

The interior of the dome – still not quite finished . . .

While the building project was a bit ill-fated from the start, building the dome gave me countless opportunities to do hard, physical labor. I remember digging trenches with a pickaxe and shovel, I mixed concrete, I carried tons of cinder-blocks, and I drove hundreds of nails. I watched the structure rise from the ground and saw how my work impacted the progress of the building project. I remember some blisters and muscle-aches, but also remember feeling proud of the adult-like work I was doing.

As a teenager, I also joined the family art business. My father taught me how to build stretcher frames and how to stretch his custom canvases. I learned how to use a miter saw and the importance of quality-control. I thought it was pretty cool that my handiwork was ending up in the homes of art collectors. Dad paid me for each canvas I built, and by managing the money I earned, I learned the importance of saving and thrift.

I don’t want to make my childhood sound too idyllic – there were a lot of challenges along the way (don’t worry, I’m working on the memoire now!), but I have no doubt that my parents did a great job of preparing me to face the world and to embrace hard work.

Parents Play a Big Role In Teaching the Value of Work, But So Can Others

As I’ve reached out to readers to ask where they learned to work, I’ve come to see that my experience was far from unique. Parents obviously play a big role in the development of work ethic, along with other important role models. Here are some insights from artists who responded to the question “Where did you learn the value of hard work?”


That is an easy one – from my father and his work ethic. How did my father teach me work ethic? He had me drive the old Chevy truck down the hill in compound gear while they loaded the hay. When I could not reach the pedals and had to turn the truck off to stop it. He had me drive nails and fix things that would have been easier to do by himself. He did not yell at me when I dug a duck pond and accidentally drowned one of the sheep, just took me to a better place in the pasture and had me dig a new one there. He took me on long rides in the mountains, and complimented me on the things I did and made. He did not care what my grades were in school IF I had done my best.

Dale Ashcroft, Cache Valley, UT

I never shunned hard work. As a child, grew up on a farm with six siblings.  We all had chores to do, and there wasn’t any, “I don’t want to”.  After marriage at an early age to a Military Man, moved so many times, three daughters, many times he was overseas while I was the only had to be done.  When I started college after all three were in school, I went for Art Education as a way for me to earn a living,  if anything happened to my husband…and because I have always loved doing, seeing Art.
Yes, doing Art is hard work, but it is so satisfying and I love it!
Patricia Pope, Orlando Florida


My grandparents and parents set a very fine example of hard work, which they instilled in me at an early age, they also taught me to give 1000% to anything I am involved with, not room for slacking.

Joseph Marion, Santa Fe, NM


Throughout my life I have worked on projects and initiatives in the community that created opportunities for people to improve their lives. What I learnt from that is that if I love doing something it is not hard work. The hard work for me is getting to do the work, once I am creating or teaching it ceases to be work for me. I get frustrated and get things wrong but love the challenge of making it ‘right’. I get lost in the creative process and seeing something come into being that was not there before. What a privilege to be able to do that, to have the courage and commitment to create something and ‘put it out there’ and hope it has some good influence on those who receive or are in proximity to it. Of course I had to learn how to quilt and paint and went through some tough times to learn the basics but once I had those down the world of creativity opened up for me. Hard work for me is having to do things that don’t enable me to feel I am creating something of value. Art is not hard work once I get to it. My sister bought me a wonderful canvas for my birthday that says ‘Do more of what makes you sparkle’. Creating makes me sparkle.

Chrissie Hawkes, Cambridge, UK


As to the value of hard work, as a young man in collage I was a member of the schools rifle team. I held national records, won a national championship, and was named to the collegiate All American rifle team. Those achievements took an enormous amount of hard work and discipline. I believe that if you want to be the the best at anything, it has to be your passion and you have to work harder than anyone else.

Bob Hays


It was never a question of “IF” my father would go to work. He was a very dedicated employee. On weekends both my parents worked on a ski resort. When the resort was closed, they still went and worked helping build, clear brush, whatever was needed. I learned that if someone needed help, you just pitched in in any way you could. I don’t have any memories of my father complaining.

Vicki Gough, Hesston, KS


I grew up is rural eastern North Carolina. Both my parents had working class jobs. We were not affluent but they made ends meet. At 16 I worked in the tobacco fields in the summer. I was a store clerk at a discount store while in high school. I apply the work ethic I learned then to my art.

Rick Bennet

How Did You Learn the Value of Work?

Where did you learn to work hard? What experiences in your life prepared you for the work you do as an artist? What did your parents teach you about work? How did you teach your children the value of work? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I learned the value of hard work from several generations … my parents, my grandparents, and even my great-grandmother. We come from a line of long life spans and learned early the importance of working hard to earn what you need for survival and for the little luxuries of life, as well as the importance of taking care of what you have.

    We also learned our most valuable asset in life was our will and ability to learn. I remember when I was a child, my mother was in a car accident. Her vehicle ended up wrapped around a giant oak tree. Rather than take the car to a body shop and have it repaired, my mother enrolled in an auto paint and body class at the local college. In the evening, after working all day, she came home, fed us kids, made sure our homework was done, and we were ready for bed. Then she would gather up her toolkit and my father would drive her to the college and drop her off for a few hours. She repaired that car herself.

    I am proud to see that work ethic which was handed down from her grandparents to her parent, passing through her to me, now alive and kicking in my children. My grandchildren are learning, too. I wish more of the world had been able to learn from my people.

    Thank you, Jason, for all of your hard work and all that you are passing on to us.

    1. I learned how to work hard from my family. I never learned the VALUE of hard work. As I read the part that said you were paid for the work you did in the gallery, a light went off. No allowance, either. So I did not learn the handling of money. When we worked for the neighbors, my mother took whatever we were paid. So I am still untangling the emotions from getting paid for my art, giving it away. Not a good thing on either side. Thanks!

  2. My parents worked hard. My father had three jobs. They still work hard. At 88 my Mum still does all the housework: bed changing, gardening, cooking, cleaning etc. at 90 my Dad does the driving, shopping, bill paying, handy man chores. I worked at age 10. I grew up with the understanding that is just what you do. So when an an art teacher said “Painting is all hard work” I thought to myself “Hard work? No problem. I can do that.” Learned hard work by working hard.

  3. Excellent article! I think that in order to be successful at anything, one has to not only be passionate and determined, but diligent and prepared for the long hours of hard work to make your dreams a reality.

    As a rancher’s daughter, the value of hard work was easily recognized and demonstrated. As an adult, I worked very hard to get to the place of living my dream as an artist. Today I need to remember those times and realize that I’ve grown a bit lazy lately. I need to push myself like I did when I was younger, for only through diligent work and constant practice will my work improve. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Generations of Irish and Norwegian immigrants! Hard work, getting a job completed with the best of your abilities, and then, doing it better next time…those are some of the the values we had to live by every day.
    Even as a little kid, at 6 years old, in the glorious Montana countryside, I had to do things that needed doing: Lots of animals, horses, dogs, tending a huge garden with my parents, storing food, building a barn with dad, or building fences, and more, taught me and my 4 siblings the value of hard work and the pride it brought when we could see what we accomplished. We did our chores first, then we could go play. All I ever heard was “Get up and get it done!” And, “Do it right!” Even in winters 30 below, we had to take care of animals and siblings and chores. Today, I have over-bearing guilt if I don’t get going. Blisters and backaches are no excuse…even at my age. I value all I was taught and shown.

  5. I grew up very poor in a very rural and isolated part of eastern Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay. My mother worked hard at a low-paying receptionist job while Daddy, who was abusive and an alcoholic, couldn’t hold a steady job. He was very artistic but never developed his skills in that field. I took out student loans to go to college and majored in commercial art, which I hated, but I learned some good things. Dropped out in jr. yr because I couldn’t afford it. Although I had many hard chores to do growing up, I didn’t get any support from my parents in art. So, to make it in the wildlife art field, which is where my passion was, I had to study my subject matter. Accuracy was a big deal, and if you got stuff wrong, your viewers would let you know! I worked hard to make sure I didn’t get embarrassed by someone calling me out for inaccuracy. Plagiarism was another issue which was rampant, so I also did all my own field work, photography of subject matter, and research. All of that was time-consuming, hard work, but I was determined to make it work mostly because my father said it couldn’t be done. I still work hard today, have just written a book (to be released in November) and have more works on my drafting table! I love my chosen field!

  6. Parents taught hard work toward goals resulted in accomplishment. Piano lessons from 2nd grade on, many recitals and top grades expected in school all taught me the preciousness of time. And the harder I worked, the better the results. Accomplishment instills drive and encourages the setting of new goals….. and when we enjoy what we’re doing, it is play.

  7. I’m not sure there were any “lessons” per se. What I had were examples of how Mom, Dad, and Mom’s aunt lived through their days. We grew up on a farm and dad was not the farmer his previous 4 generations were. Mom was a city woman who moved with her husband to a rural farm (in the midst of WW-2), together with her dad and her aunt. “Aunt Annie” did the job of raising us while mom and dad worked.
    Dad was a rose hybridizer (his dream and passion), Mom was teacher but in 1931- work in an insurance company was a necessity. WW-2 intervened and they never went back to their dream jobs. They resolved to give us the chances they had.
    So- what I learned was this-
    You play the hand you’re dealt.
    You make whatever it is work to the best of your ability.
    You give it your best shot because others depend upon you.
    Being tired after a long day’s miserable work is a kind of good tired because you did what you did (with the above 3)
    Labor on behalf of a common good or to help someone less fortunate is always rewarding.
    Do your best work.
    There will be hardships demanding a work around but sacrificing who you are and what you can do is an asset not extortion from the hardship.
    Everything is an opportunity.
    Family is a backbone and no matter what- that door is always open. (That was driven home by way of the Depression experience and it is a practice well worth replicating.)

    backstory note: The upper pasture I could go to for some alone time featured a view across a valley to Carpenter Hill which is where all the generations from the first Carpenter settler owned land. My web presence “CarpenterHillStudios” allows me that view. Although today, it is altered by time, recollection, and circumstances, there remains a deep re-assurance in the late hours of the night…

  8. It was drummed into us at art school. ‘90% perspiration and all that. I think now in terms of ‘Continuous Inspiration’ intertwined with a life that’s lived as being closer to how it should be…

  9. I was the oldest, old enough to babysit each brother who came along. My father worked 2 full-time jobs, my mother went to work and the baby went to care. My first job after school was to cook Dad;s dinner so he could get home, eat and leave again. I also washed the baby’s diapers and hung them on the line, was finished about the time Mum came home with the baby to make our dinners. Later, Dad also became my school bus driver (yikes!).

    I was the constant built-in babysitter. On weekends I helped clean house. We had a large property and I became the mowers of acres.

    Through all this I did not know I was a hard worker, it was just the way it is. No excuses, everybody pitches in for the family and don’t leave it for somebody else to do. Do your fair share. We did earn a small pocket money, flat flee, no hourly wages or pay per task.

    This is just my way of life. It is what was, it is what is.

    Teach your children well. Too many do not these days.

  10. My Gramma worked for many years side by side with my grandpa in their cement pipe, irrigation business. By the time I was working by her side her hands were old and gnarled with arthritis …but still she worked. I would watch her, all bent over with osteoporosis, pulling weeds (roots and all) in the garden and I couldn’t help but pitch in, I would have been ashamed of myself if I didn’t. Growing up I had the privilege of helping her with many chores; one of them being the upkeep of the monuments in our family cemetery plot. All these years later, I continue to keep them clean while visiting our passed loved ones and my kids help too. My mother grew up working in the pipe yard and after marrying my father and becoming a mother of six she worked day and night to provide for the family’s many needs. It wasn’t uncommon to see her still doing yard work as the sun was setting. My father, an aircraft mechanic, left the house at 5:30 every morning returning twelve hours later to provide for our family of eight. And after working hard all day he was usually working under one of the family cars in the evening before dinner. They were hard workers – they taught me to do my best and work hard. Now, I’m proud to be like them …a hard worker.

  11. From a family of 8, early on we were given chores. My father owned a small gallery, picture framing shop in a small town. We all worked there at some point. I started at age 13. My parents never complimented us on a job well done. But, if you did well, you received more work! I survived that strange mentality, unscathed. I restored antique paintings at age 18, in a third floor attic room, without air conditioning. I strove to please my father, but I also really enjoyed the artwork.
    When I went to college, I was often complimented on how hard I worked. I thought everyone did that. I couldn’t see the point in being there, if you weren’t working hard, producing a lot. I suppose the fact that I also held jobs to put myself through college helped. No one paid my way but myself.
    My husband and I built a manufacturing business from nothing. We always had our children with us, after school, and on weekends. We built houses with them, teaching all kinds of skills. It is definitely best to teach your children and have them at your side as much as possible. They are all successful business owners now.

  12. I first learned about the necessity of working hard when I lived on a farm in southern Illinois in the 50’s. Feeding the animals, milking the cow, driving the tractor to pick up hay. I left home when I was 17 to attend college 600 miles away in Atlanta, GA. Married at age 18 then as our 9 children were born I learned more about hard work. I was a stay at home mom, and began to paint and go to art shows for any extra income I could make for our growing family. As I began to be accepted into more and more shows I really worked hard at meeting our children’s needs and sometimes painting up to 50 paintings at a time, including cutting mats and framing for a particular show. This has been an art span of about 50 years!

  13. I learned hardwork the hard way- working on old steam locomotives. I had a father whose job had him travel and a mother distracted by 4 boys. I received an lot of what makes me a good person from my parents, but the work ethic was not one of them. I dropped out of college and my parents said, “OK, you are on your own now, see ya!”. At 20 I went to work on a preserved narrow – gauge railroad that ran in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. I shoveled coal into their 1925 Baldwin locomotives that ran 64 mountain miles a trip and climbed half a mile in elevation. If you didn’t stay on that shovel, the train would stop! It was an excellent incentive to shovel 5 tons of coal a day! There were other jobs we did, like working on the train equipment on some days. Railroading was based on a military model, so you did as you were told and were expected to do the job. The pay was low, but in the 1970’s living was cheap. The big bonus was the awesome beauty of the Southern Rockies, the mystery of the native pueblos of Taos and the romance of Old Santa Fe. It was the time of my life, and I was rewarded with a lifetime of subject matter for my future as an artist. As time passed I was called to the arts. Northern New Mexico was full of excellent artists in many disciplines, and all were inspiring. The people in the arts were different and interesting, and the lifestyle was appealing. Fortunately I received great advice from working artists. They told me that it would take about 10 years to develop a market and that hard work and DISCIPLINE were essential. Railroading taught me how to work, and made a man out of me. Art showed me the reward of work. Something strange happened. It was almost like God wanted me to become and artist. Art became a calling it gave me a direction when my railroad career withered. Art saved my life.I am grateful to both callings because they define my character. Excuse me- now I have to get back to my painting.

  14. I was born and raised in South Africa. We didn’t grow up with a welfare state so no work equals homelessness. It is also a young’ish’ country with no massive inheritances that could be transferred thought generations so we just grew up knowing that every minute counts basically… Saying that, I have no idea where my motivation comes from. I was severely discouraged to be an artist and didn’t think I could ever make it but after working in the ‘real boring world’, crashing and burning and deciding to just do what I love, I see no problem with hard work and making a career out of art. But it is really hard work and I do think that only those that puts in the effort will win in the end. I work in a studio with 28 other people, they are sometimes so depressing because they all seem to believe that you cannot make a career of it. Most have second jobs and they are sometimes just downright depressing. I have only been doing my art full time for about 2 years now, September to be exact… and I have already had rejections and whatnot but I have a plan and yes it takes some time but I am 100% confident that I will make it. I have no idea where this mindset comes from either…

  15. First of all from my parents who raised 7 kids, 6 boys and 1 girl, still not sure how they pulled that off. As far as art is concerned, I had the best teacher (Joe Price), an amazing and successful artist in his own right. He was so intense, and passionate it was infectious. I will never forget a morning drawing class in college I had with him, and there was a still life set up for the class to sketch, and class had started, but half the class was still outside drinking coffee and socializing, (of course I was inside dutifully sketching). He came in and went on a tirade, saying, “You people think you are artists? You can’t “try” to be an artist, the word “try” shouldn’t even be in the English language, you can’t “try” to do something. What am I going to do, “try” and pick up this pencil (as he slams a pencil on the table and struggles to pick it up), no, you either pick it up (as he grabs it) or you don’t pick it up (as he slams it back on the table) then he stormed out of the classroom. Jaws dropped, and I am sure some people were offended, but not me. I was thinking to myself, this guy is amazing. I knew then that being an artist was not going to be easy, and you were going to have to push your work and abilities to their limits to see what you are truly capable of. Thank you Joe Price!

  16. I was an abused child. All of the backbreaking work we children did was just more misery in between the abuse. Art and reading became my escape hatches to a different and better world.
    I didn’t even realize I was working at my art until one day I discovered I couldn’t move without pain.
    Pain with effort = hard work.

  17. My parents taught us well the discipline of work. We always had a garden growing up and were expected to help with it, planting, weeding, harvesting and cleanup. Although we often complained, my sisters and I made a game of it and learned not only about hard work and discipline but also how to find pleasure in our daily work. That experience also gave me a playful and deep love of nature. I was always exploring. It carried over into my adult world as a curious and respectful lover of nature, keeping me daily (and playfully!) in my routines of exercise and discipline.

  18. Jason,
    You’re truly a man that gives inspiration to every artist and business men as well. Keep up the good work as our “ementor” (mentor on line). God bless you and your love ones and Xanadu.

  19. I grew up with a very demanding father, the kind that would not praise me if I got a 10 at school but rather, smile and say “Next time, get an 11”. So I worked my little arse off for that unatainable 11 and became a dedicated perfectionist. There was a poem that I remember my granny teaching me:

    Do your job well if you do it at all
    Whether important or something quite small
    You’ll have your reward when your work you survey
    And proud you can feel at the end of the day
    Of what you’ve accomplished
    Although it may be
    Something that no one is likely to see
    Even although you’ve to answer to none
    You’ll know in your heart that your job was well done!

    All this perfectionism cost me years of therapy, but you bet it taught me to work!!! 🙂

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