Lots going on with my art practice this week. I tried a lot of new things.
I gave myself permission to try new things. Big difference. This week I let myself follow my creativity wherever it saw fit, and how the time did fly!
Possibly one of the most enlightening things I found this week is Creativebug. I had no idea what this was really about before, but I am a little bit hooked now. I watched a few of Lisa Congdon‘s classes (one of my very favorite artists for a multitude of reasons) and it opened up all kinds of doors in my mind.
Have you read the book Steal Like an Artist?
You should. It’s fabulous.
The author, Austin Kleon, talks about the necessity (not luxury or happy accident, mind you) of stealing ideas from other artists. His whole thesis revolves around the idea that art is all theft. Everyone steals ideas from everyone else. All the time.
Beyond simple plagiarism, for good artists stealing is the equivalent of stepping into a visual conversation. You bounce ideas back and forth, present concepts in a new light, counter others’ views with contradictory evidence and so on.
Stealing doesn’t mean copying, it means looking at what someone does with their art (whether you admire or abhor it), figuring out what elements of it really strike you, letting those ideas spark your own creativity and using those concepts in a piece of your own.
I did not do any of that with the piece above. It is 100% theft. Ok it’s not an exact replica of Lisa’s work, but it is very clearly all of her ideas and none of my own. If I were to sell it, I wouldn’t sleep well at night. But, for me, copying other artists as part of my practice helps me hone in on my own style and also unlocks some important creative shackles in my mind.
When I look at a piece that I really love (as in truly can’t tear myself away from it because it is somehow filling my soul with joy just to absorb it for as many seconds as I possibly can) it gives me a certain level of reverence for the artist who created it.
It also sets a bar in my mind that in order for my own art to be compelling it should make people feel that way. That’s a high bar. An unfair bar. A debilitating bar. It’s a bar that beats me into submission whenever I dare to think that I might be able to free my mind and create something truly wonderful.
Idolising artists or particular pieces is not really the way forward in your own artistic practice. It’s great to admire them, respect them, even completely adore their fantastic spirit and joie de vivre, but it verges into dangerous territory if you tell yourself that they are capable of something you aren’t.
A great way to dismantle the trap of feeling incapable or untalented is to copy the shit out of the artists/pieces you love so much (it’s like calling Voldemort Voldemort instead of He Who Must Not Be Named – only the good guy version of that). Pull up a paper and copy the thing you admire and suddenly you’ll see that it wasn’t created by the hand of some superhuman being – it’s something you can totally do too.
Insert self-confidence power boost here.
Add to that the actual artist telling you how they do the thing you admire so much, walking you through every step of their process, messing up along the way and rolling with it, and constantly encouraging you to make mistakes, embrace imperfection and put yourself into your work and you’ve got a great jumping off point for your artistic confidence to take flight.
After I copied Lisa’s poppies, I really felt liberated about my own art. I saw that her skills and abilities don’t come from a magic wand, she developed them over years of practice and refinement.
In just one attempt at drawing her poppies I saw that, given some time and practice, I could make them just as beautiful as hers. And after watching her line drawing class, I saw that I could develop my own way of illustrating the world that, while informed by her advice and experience, would be entirely my own creation.
Copying other artists highlights the fact that the only real difference between us and the artists we admire is practice. Practice, practice, practice. That’s it. They’ve put in the time to hone their skills and develop their style.
For me, hearing that in person (ok, through a video, but still) straight from artists I admire makes everything seem possible.
Until next time,