When I close my eyes, I see landscapes. Long, turbulent roads with bumps and turns rivaling San Francisco; stacked houses scraping the sky and bruising it into bleeding pastel colors.
For me, remembering dreams when I wake up is easy. Now, taking those images and transferring them onto thick paper via pen and brush and marker and ink-that’s the hard part. While you may not be a visual artist with this specific struggle, trust me-you have the same problem. Your metaphorical dreams, goals, and ambitions are all instant and beautiful in your mind, and difficult to achieve in real life.
What holds you back? Why aren’t you as successful as that person in your field? What is the true roadblock keeping you from making the success in your mind, reality?
Take note of have that last sentence makes you feel. Pressured? Anxious? The pressure of wanting to succeed, wanting to be in so-and-so’s position, measuring your success against other’s. Ick. But what if I told you that you shouldn’t stop comparing yourself to others:
What if I told you that you should actually increase the number of people you compare yourself to?
Let me explain.
I’ve wanted to be an artist since 7th grade. I wasn’t obsessed with crayons at 1 year, I didn’t go to specialized art classes, I didn’t even want to be the next Picasso. No, in 7th grade I started drawing manga.
And that was bad! In the mandatory art classes we had in middle school, where I sat with boys I hoped were impressed with me, I drew manga, and my art teacher told me to stop. Instead, she told be to draw by observation, and so I learned classical studies-how to draw realistic portraits and still-lives, et cetera et cetera.
In high school, I met and studied under the most kind, talented and overall wonderful artist and woman, Ms. Eskell. Under her, I studied life drawing, human anatomy (purely for artistic purposes), and countless mediums. I also revisited (and kept!) my love for the manga style, incorporating the classic eyes and action lines of Japanese comics.
I revisited masters in the online manga art community, those with digital strokes of light and gold, flowing poses, bright colors, deep character lines and arcs, and was inspired. I kept taking classes, took the AP 2D Drawing exam (and received credit) and even spent a summer at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Then I graduated high school, and my art career was put on hold in favor of the pursuance of a Chemistry degree.
When I did get the urge to draw in college, my art was inadequate in my own eyes. I didn’t have the time to foster my skills to the perfected levels of the masters online, and I didn’t want to see the ugly middleman pieces I would have to create to get to that point.
For a while, I ran my Deviantart profile on and off; but mostly off with the exceptions of during holiday breaks. Even then, my focus was divided and continued to dwindle as I would run out of concrete scenes to create. Meanwhile, my favorite artists produced piece after piece of perfection.
My largest roadblock, to this day, has been my willingness to entertain tunnel vision. My favorite artists were making one type of art: manga-stylized characters with perfect hair and faces, on digital mediums. I was purposefully and continuously consuming one type of art-and the worst part? I was only consuming digital art as a traditional-medium trained artist.
My largest roadblock, to this day, has been my willingness to entertain tunnel vision.
It was like trying to learn how to play the piano by taking violin lessons. You can’t rely on piano lessons to learn how to play violin-you need violin lessons, music theory, conducting studies, and yes, even piano lessons to deepen your understanding of music ensembles.
The same goes for visual art. I was consuming only digital manga pieces while creating traditional pieces of realism with a touch of manga style. Looking back, its unsurprising that this habit failed to create any semblance of a path to technical improvement in my art-worse, it served only to demotivate me.
What should I have done? If I was truly appreciating the digital art, and not simply envying it, I should have been pursuing digital tutorials, learning how to use my tablet. I should have been consuming traditional manga art, any and all body studies, reference anatomy photos, and even photos and any illustration in general that filled a heart with wonder. Above all, I should have been creating, and not measuring my art’s quality against one sector of style.
But then, comparing yourself to others is inefficient, right? Wrong.
Comparison gets its bad rep from one’s tendency to conform to a single, strict ideal of perfection.
Comparing myself to digital manga artists all with 5+ years of experience under their belts was undoubtedly harmful to my own growth. But comparing my art to many art forms-truly consuming different mediums, styles, levels of skill and experience-this has opened my eyes to the wide variety of artists and art in general. And the best part? I began consuming art in an overwhelmingly positive manner. Pieces that intimidated and demotivated me before, were now simply happily swimming in a sea along with all types of wonderful art in my subscription box.
Yes, I still compare my art to other’s: but my thoughts have shifted from “Damn, why doesn’t my art look like that?” to “Wow, this is different from this! Who else does something similar? Can I try it?” My tunnel vision has opened into a free flow of creativity and information: now I truly see on a daily basis that all artists and art are innately different and unique and therefore valuable.
So, I understand your hesitation in using the word “comparison” to describe your consumption of other’s creations in your industry-whether that be visual art, blog posts, PR campaigns, or research studies. Comparison has an ugly connotation. But trust in the opportunities being able to consume these pieces gives you. You just may find new information and techniques, become more kind towards other creators, stay modest about yourself, and most importantly, get inspired.