Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is awesome. Give them a listen and join me in wishing the big bands back.
They are not what this post is about, however. No, no. Whilst they did an awesome cover of the Jungle Book’s “I Wanna Be Like You”, they are not the focus.
The focus is on the one thing artists must never do. That, kiddies, is play the comparison game. We all do it, we’re all guilty. We all tell ourselves “I’ll never be as good as” or “I’m not good at all” or “I suck”, among a very long list of negativity that seems part and parcel in the artist game.
I’m an artist and a writer. These things are as central to my personality as air is to my lungs. I’ll never be happy unless I’m doing both.
Sometimes it’s easier to be happy writing than it is to art.
Art is hard. Art isn’t just about looking at something and replicating it with paints. Art is about trying to figure out what the f&$k light and shadow do to colour and how the human skin isn’t really black, white, or brown; how it’s actually a mixture of a bunch of other colours that have less to do with the melanin in your skin and more about your surroundings, fat, and muscle underneath.
And how digital painting is a bitch.
And how every artist everywhere seems way better than me and I should just give up now.
See! See what I did there?
How many times have ya’ll read a Stephen King or Terry Pratchett, or hell for the sake of argument, a George Martin novel, threw it down and moped in self-pity because you’ll ‘never be that good’?
I did it last night. But not about my book. I’ll get there in a minute. I did it about my drawings. Every now and again I’ll go out and spend $15 and get myself an ImagineFX magazine. They’re awesome. Chock full of tutorials and advice from the absolute best in the business. It’s also full of amazing, jaw dropping, soul sucking awesome artwork from artists around the world.
The magazine isn’t pretentious. It wants to help you to be the best you possibly can. It provides hours of video tutorials (that I can’t download because DISH internet is terrible) and step by step instructions on how to better your painting skills. It’s awesome. I highly recommend it.
I also hate it. As much as I need it. I hate it. For the simple fact that I focus on how much better the other artists are in the magazine. And how I can’t replicate what they’re doing on my digital canvas.
I mean, seriously. How the f&@k do I get people to look real in Photoshop? This is a problem I’ve been facing for a while now. I’m not even kidding. It’s been a few years that I’ve had a desire to make realistic portraiture. To read the magazine, it’s a simple manipulation of different layers, colours, and brushes. It’s really not that hard.
Except that it is and it’s frustrating that I can’t get it right. That every time I try, my characters come out looking bulgy and like they’re inflated somehow. It’s not fair!
Never mind that these are professionals who are at the top of their game and who have been doing this for quite a while. I want to be able to do it now!
Remember that conversation about perfectionism and the complex I have?
Yeah. See? Told you it was messed up.
The funny thing about getting wound up in comparisons with other artists is forgetting that art is subjective. That every artist everywhere has a certain style that they have worked very hard to find over the years. That their style doesn’t necessarily have to be your style and emulating their style might actually be a hindrance rather than a help.
Nah, you say, that’s not true. Besides, this is a writing blog. What does style have to do with writing? Pshaw.
The funny thing about style is its writing translation: voice.
Every writer has their own voice. It’s buried down deep inside of you, but it’s there. And you’ll know it when you find it.
Have you ever written something just like someone else? Written a story like Stephen King? Dean Koontz (why?)? Or maybe you decided to pull GRRM and write an epic fantasy in his style and failed epically because you couldn’t pull off what GRRM did, or that scene that was supposed to be just like Stephen King’s fell flat?
Why? You screamed to the Cosmos. I did everything right!
Except that maybe you didn’t. Maybe in taking Stephen King or GRRM too literally and trying to do exactly as they did, you missed the most important part of writing; that little voice that comes out and helps you out. Every story has a particular voice. Every story has a way it wants to be told, and I am of the sincere belief that it will not be told any other way than the way that makes the pen very difficult to put down.
Because you have to know what happens next.
And if you write in someone else’s voice, well, you’re not really writing your story, are you?
My voice is an amalgamation of anyone and everyone I’ve ever read.
Kind of like my art.
At some point, kids, you have to look at your creative process and decide what kind of writer/artist you are.
Some people take to Photoshop like a fish to water. I am not one of those people. Digital painting is a mystery to me. Tactile medium is not. I love drawing on paper and with any medium; charcoal being one of my favourites.
Some people know their voice right when their fingers hit the keys. Others take time and trying out of styles from others who have come before them.
I want to be like Sakimi-chan. He has some gorgeous artwork that is pure digital goodness. But I also kind of want to do it in my own way. And maybe scan in a paper copy before I touch my wacom tablet and pen.
You can want to be like someone until the sky turns purple and the mome-raths come home to play, kids, but don’t ever play the comparison game. It’s not fun, and you’ll always come out the loser in your own head.