In finding your style as an artist, copying is a necessary part of the process. This is something that seems taboo, and I want to open up a conversation about this because it was holding me back from exploring a new direction in my own artwork. This is kind of a letter to other artists and creatives looking to find their style or explore a different artistic style, but for those who are here as observers, it might be an interesting glimpse behind-the-scenes of the struggles artist experience.
I was so afraid of feeling like I wasn't putting my years of skills in realism to use or that people would think I copied someone else's work. I struggle with wanting to be known for one, distinct style, yet needing creative freedom to experiment and grow.
This all came to me when, after one year of forbidding myself, I finally admitted that I wanted to try painting abstracts using a method that involves pouring fluid acrylics directly onto the canvas. Because I had seen other artists do this first, I feared people would think that I’m copying them. Yet, copying is a required part of learning in art and aids in uncovering one's own art style.
Also, copying is so much harder than it seems! I can hardly copy my own work, let alone someone else’s.
That an artist ought to be creating something totally new and never use others' work for inspiration is not only virtually impossible but also not how artists have historically worked. This begs the questions: How do artists choose what to paint or how they paint it? The simple answer is they have something to say and a way in which to say it. Art is an expression and is always inspired by something else that came first, be it a thought, music, a place, or another piece of art.
Art is built upon other art, and style--the what and the how-- comes from each individual's spin on or reaction to what already exists.
Sometimes an artist gets an idea from an existing piece because it brings questions with it like, "What if it were this way instead," or "What would happen if I did that but then did this?" or even, "I want to try that." For me, I simply found it harder and harder to resist trying the pouring method of working with paint. But even those who most recently inspired me to try it were not the first to paint this way. Jackson Pollock, an artist born in 1912, is famously known for pouring and splattering paint in his abstract expressionist paintings.
Learning from others in this way is nothing new. Historically, when artists would apprentice, they would learn a particular technique or style through study under another artist directly-- their master, and even today, students learn from studying and copying the great masters' works. In fact, practicing techniques from their own modern-day teachers pass past learnings on. Whenever we learn from another person, we are studying and mimicking what and how they do things. Each of us gathers our own skill sets and ways of doing things based on those who have shown us how.
What happens naturally with enough practice is that we grow more comfortable in the process, thus freeing ourselves from the rigidity of following our guides. The way we apply our skills and techniques-- the way we make art-- is then more easily influenced by our own ideas, physical limitations and strengths, our personal lens on life, and our level of risk-taking, curiosity, and exploration. This means that the beginning of our journeys may start out with strong influences from all of those we study under or imitate during our practice. With enough time, we do develop our own style simply by clocking in hours of painting, and we end up seeing a connection between even largely different forms of our work. I see that when looking at my abstracts from this year compared to my sheep painting from a few years ago.
Avoiding the stage of copying is what likely prevents some of us from getting started, from trying new things, or puts pressure on us to feel as though we should already know how to do the work. This makes the journey so much harder and less enjoyable, which leads to burnout or giving up. Let's let that go! It is okay to copy, and I would say it may even be necessary. Just respectfully give credit whenever credit is due, and of course never make works for sale that are copies of a direct, single source outside yourself. Wait until multiple sources of inspiration blend together or until you see your own influences coming to play. If sharing your learning process publicly causes too much fear, then keep it private. Remember that this is all normal and something many of us creatives experience! Just keep painting!
So how's it going for me in pushing past my fears? Good! In my new abstract works, I am still exploring, but from the very first pour of paint, I was surprised by the feeling like I was already doing it my own way. In the past, attempts at abstract work left me confused and unsatisfied. This time, everything is different! I am playing with written words that have special meaning to me, and I use old, glass jars that I have unearthed from my own backyard (more on that another day!) to mix favorite colors inspired by landscapes and the sea. I try to work from a place of practicing mindfulness and being open to the energy flow from within and around me.
The process itself with flowy paint and use of lines is my expression of quantum physics and energy flow during meditation (hippie nerd here 🤗). I am starting to see more clarity in this deeper meaning in my abstract paintings, and I am getting excited to share more about that with you soon! Meanwhile, I invite you to watch these paintings coming to life on my YouTube channel. I love making these short videos, and I'm working on some longer content to show you even more of my process. I've been told it's very relaxing watching my painting videos, so come and relax as you watch!