Artist Envy

I find one of the most frustrating and demotivating things about my favorite hobby is comparing my work to the work of someone else. For any art form, be it music, painting or writing, every artist has their own distinct style. Trying to compare two styles to each other is a lot like sizing up snowflakes — there’s only so far you can get before it becomes meaningless.

Perhaps one illustrator likes to use a skeleton sketch and then draw on top while another goes straight into the line work and edit as they go. I’ve seen some digital artists who can start painting without a sketch or lines at all. I can’t even begin to contemplate how one could dive so far into a work without so much as a simple guideline.

As inspiring and thought-provoking as perusing the work of other artists can be, I find myself becoming more and more critical of my own abilities.

To an extent this can be a good thing. One should never become too sure of their talent lest they stifle further growth. However, there are times I have caught myself drearily whining: “Why can’t my work look like that?”

In truth, it is more than likely that my work will never look exactly like the drawings of others—nor, I argue, should it. An artist’s style is a signature beyond their doodled initials hastily scrawled in one of the corners of their painting. It’s something that allows an audience to take one glance at a drawing and say, “Yep, that’s definitely the work of so and so.”

There’s certainly a power in that, and one that artists can be hard-pressed to earn. It can take quite a while of mulling over the basics for an artist to build their style, and often even longer for that same artist to construct a style they are proud of. Every change in my style is a step forward, though I don’t always see it that way at the time. It’s easier to focus on the bits I’m disappointed it, which is possibly to blame for my constant dives in and out of disillusionment with myself.

Starting out, my work was the stuff of cookie-cutters. I tried to draw one way, and one way only. Lop-sided halfdogs with eyes too big for the skulls they were supposed to have and mismatched colors that were blindingly bright. It was stifling, but in my mind it was much easier and less strenuous on my ego than trying methods that were more difficult that I might not master right away. I’ve always been somewhat stubborn like that — never mind it will better me in the future, I’ve no patience for it in the now, and so I’m not going to bother with it at all. It wasn’t until the early part of my college career that I actually tried pushing myself to build my style and repertoire of skills, and it has been nothing short of a numb-legged hobble uphill.

I believe it’s most important not to strictly compare one’s own style to someone else’s, but rather to learn from other’s techniques and study them. Only, comparing has more often than not led me down a wooded path of, “Wow, I can’t draw this half as well as they can.” A healthier primary question to ask is rather, “How might I emulate this technique in my work?” One must learn to strive for active progression, rather than remaining focused on an unreachable ideal.

If all styles were the same there would be no originality, and thus no intrigue. Build off of what you see, rather than covet it.