Sarah Morrison

Taking the Long Road

I’ve been living by a quote I saw on social media a while back.

“Just because you took longer than others doesn’t mean you failed.”

It meant a lot to me at the time. It was sometime in the mid-2010s my husband and I were in our 30s. I was working a retail management job while he was completing his doctorate in Physical Therapy. We couldn’t afford a place of our own, so we were still living with roommates. This also meant we didn’t have kids yet. Many of the artists I admired had been able to take paths more directly into art careers after college, but I had chosen to “play it safe” by starting with a stable income. It gave me the opportunity to develop my artistic direction and voice in my free time, if more slowly than I would have liked. But I needed to keep reminding myself that this path wasn’t the “wrong” path because it was taking longer.

And I always kept making art. While my job didn’t pay as well as I wanted, at least I was still able to foster my creative side. Many of my friends made more than me, but no longer had time or energy to pursue art outside of their day jobs. I took classes when I could afford to and explored new mediums and tools to learn what worked for me. The science fiction and fantasy illustration community is a very giving community! There are wellsprings of articles and tutorials available at our fingertips. (Sometimes, it’s too much to absorb while still making time to employ the information.) There were points when I felt my skills were plateauing and I wasn’t continuing to improve―these were good times to explore new techniques and subject matter. During one such time in 2015, I found a mentor, Jason Polins, who helped me push forward, and suddenly I was painting faster and more accurately.

A few stumbling blocks kept me in retail longer than I wished, and I burned out there. I grappled with imposter syndrome and depression. But as soon as our finances stabilized, after my husband completed his doctorate, I took the leap I’d been anticipating for so long. It was 2019, and everything felt glorious, even with the new mountain ahead of me.

I also had doubts. I was almost 40. Was that “too late” to start an art career? Would prospective clients wonder why I was “so old” and not established yet? Most “emerging artists” are much younger.

“Just because you took longer than others doesn’t mean you failed.”

This quote continued to bring me confidence and keep me climbing this new mountain steadily.

The next two years were full of growth and development. I researched small publishing companies and reached out to ones my art was aligned with. I took an online class with Marc Scheff through the SmArt School. I averaged two paintings a month in 2020 on top of all of my general outreach and other business needs. Most were small commissions, so although they were low-paying, I felt like I was finding my stride.

I maintained reasonable productivity through part of 2021, until pregnancy predictably slowed me down. Getting to this point, having a baby happened to be another aspect of my life where I was taking longer than others and worried about failure. My husband and I had struggled through years of miscarriages and IVF. We were finally excited to welcome our newest family member in July.

I’d had grand hopes of painting while baby-wearing, but never achieved that goal. Compounding the challenges inherent to being new parents, my husband and I had additional stumbling blocks thrown our way, some of which were the consequences of being new parents in the midst of a global pandemic. All of this pushed me into massive sleep debt. I no longer had time or energy to paint. Worries about losing my stride and failing at my new career plagued my mind. I needed to remind myself that it was okay to need extra time. Time to take care of myself and my family first.

I turned some of my efforts towards entering art competitions. I had to be selective; it can be expensive with a low chance of return on investment. Near the end of 2021, I learned about the Illustrators of the Future Contest from Jim Zaccaria, a winner in Volume 38. I was impressed that it was free to enter, as this is rare. Plus, there has been a huge diversity in ages and life stages of the winners.

Was I still eligible? Having taken on paid commissions that resulted in my art published on book covers, in an anthology, and in a card game, I fell on the border of amateur and professional. But I was by no means making a living wage. I talked with Joni Labaqui to make sure I hadn’t quite reached the point of “pro-ing out,” and she encouraged me to enter. And I won!

And winning has meant so much more than being named a winner, the gift of award funds, and a trophy. Even more than being published in a best-selling anthology. Beyond the prizes, the IotF Contest has given me tools to succeed. During the workshop week, I learned from expert artists in the field and made personal and business connections. Author Services and Galaxy Press will continue to provide me (and all of the winners) with support throughout my career, a valuable ongoing gift.

I’m still learning how to balance being a stay-at-home parent with my art career (and looking forward to when public school eventually affords me more time to paint). I continue to remind myself that it’s ok to take longer than I wanted to. To take longer than others I admire.

I am not failing.

Sarah Morrison

Sarah Morrison (she/her) is an award-winning fantasy illustrator and portrait artist. Working primarily with oil paint, she focuses on figurative works designed to inspire narrative, with attention toward faces and fabric. Escapism through fantasy has always been a central theme of her art, and she embraces whimsy and enigmatic details. Sarah’s imagery is designed to inspire a sense of wonder, encouraging viewers to develop stories about what might be going on in each piece.

Sarah also occasionally works with printmaking techniques and textiles. Born in Canada, she currently resides just outside of Boston, MA (USA), with her husband, toddler, and cat.

Her illustration accompanying David Hankins’ “Death and the Taxman” was published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 39, and you can see more of her work at

2 replies
  1. Dustin Adams
    Dustin Adams says:

    Great article, Sarah!
    Nothing wrong with taking longer – just makes the reward that much sweeter.
    I’m hoping to have a signing with you some time this summer or autumn. (Boston!)
    Stay tuned 😉 for details.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *