Hello! Lately I have been writing step by step tutorials, so to mix things up, this week I want to share some advice and a short story. I’ll be writing about why you need to stop comparing your work to the work of other artists.
It’s ok to marvel at the beauty of a well crafted and awe inspiring piece of artwork, but there is a fine line that we need to be aware of between appreciation and envy. I went through a phase of envying successful artists work, and it made my life more stressful that it needed to be.
One of the most stressful times for me was when I first started working full time as a package designer. It’s a demanding job, and fresh out of college without a specialized degree in package design, I had a lot to learn and a lot of weight on my shoulders. In addition to learning a new vocabulary, I also needed to streamline my skills in the adobe programs and I had to become an idea machine, which I definitely did not consider myself to be. Time spent on the job was an incredible opportunity for learning and growth, but it was also a time of great struggle.
My lack of experience in package design brought out a strong feeling of inadequacy at the workplace. I remember pinning my questionable design concepts onto the wall next to the other designer’s work. After seeing what everybody else had come up with, I would think, “that’s a great simple idea, I could have come up with that”. And then there is an ice cold splash of reality that hits when you realize, “...but I didn’t come up with that simple idea”. I guess what I am trying to say is that often times, coming up with a simple and/or effective solution to a problem is something that comes out of experience. When you have experience in any particular field, right out of the gate you will already know what not to do for a new project. And thus, you will be able to bypass more obvious solutions. This is not to say that a junior designer or beginner in any field cannot come up with a fantastic idea, I am just saying that having experience helps.
I understand that my struggle in acquiring a new skill-set for a job is not unique, but in addition to my struggle at work, I was adding insult to injury by comparing my lettering work (that I had just begun to practice in my freetime) to the work of artists who had been working professionally in the field for years.
Comparing my beginner lettering work to the work of already successful artists was one of the most anxiety inducing habits I have ever inflicted on myself. Whenever I had a couple minutes to kill at work, I would quickly log onto the Behance Network to scroll through all the newly featured creative projects. At the end of the day when I got home from work, I would continue to prowl through Behance projects “to get inspired” to practice my lettering. But often times, I would get lost for hours just looking at projects, and would never get around to practicing. I would then feel guilty and anxious for not advancing my skill-set in any way. While immersing oneself in a plethora of creative work might seem like something that would inspire, I eventually found it to be a soul crushing and distracting activity. It was at this point that I decided I needed to make a change.
From this point on, I decided that I would stop comparing my work to the work of other artists, because I found no satisfaction from constantly reminding myself that I wasn’t as good as the other artists I saw online. It’s not fair to compare your beginner skill-set to that of a professional.
You wouldn’t hold up your child’s preschool drawing next to a Rembrandt or Picasso for a critique, would you?
Once I had firmly committed to stop comparing my beginner lettering work to other artist’s work, I also committed to practicing and learning more deliberately. And the way I did this was by seeking education from online classes and weekend in-person workshops. We are all so fortunate to live in an age where an abundance of knowledge is accessible to anyone with a computer or other device with internet. One of my favorite online resources for learning is SkillShare.
I have enrolled and taken a bunch of classes and I have learned a great wealth of knowledge and technical skills that I would not have learned otherwise. For only $10/month, you gain access to every class on their website. And you know what’s awesome? The classes are taught by the professional artists whose work I was obsessing over on the Behance Network. So, I had a shift from feeling envious of these artists and their skills, to feeling humbled by how open they are about sharing their knowledge and not-so-secret skills!
There is great satisfaction that comes each step of the way while learning a new craft or skill. When you stop comparing your skill-set to other artists who are further down the road than you, and you start focusing on improving your own skill-set, it will be easier to appreciate other artists work instead of feeling envious of their skills.
On an ending note, I am by no means saying that you should never compare your work to other artists work. I think it is critical to educate yourself about what is possible in terms of style and technique, but it can be crippling if you over do it and become obsessed with the idea of not being at the same level as another artist.