Your Own Creative Path

There’s a trap that artists fall into sometimes: that if they buy that one thing, they will be a vastly better artist. Buy some tool, program or book, and voilà! You have achieved a better status.

Sadly, this is something we all fall for. I’ll be honest, and admit that I do it all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because in human nature we want success to be easy or what. It’s not easy. It’s really freaking hard, in fact. It takes time, patience, and a crap ton of practice.

Let me tell you the story about second-year-college-art-student me. Second-year-college-art-student me was introduced to the amazing watercolor paintings Mike Mignola did for Hellboy. Already being inclined to work with watercolors, I was amazed by what I saw. I bought The Art of Hellboy book immediately, and stared at it for hours every day, trying to figure out his technique, because that’s how I wanted to paint. My only clue was that on the image notes, it said that the paintings were done using ink washes and watercolors. So I went to one of my professors and asked for him to explain how this magic happens. He taught me how to do an ink wash under-painting for watercolors. But after months and months of trying to replicate the look, I just could not figure out how Mignola did it in his art. Did he let the paper get super saturated? Did he let the ink pool? I spent hundreds of dollars on supplies (paper, paints, inks, brushes), trying to reach that same look, to no avail.

Now I’m not deriding buying supplies to improve your art. Buying new things can help you grow as an artist. I love buying new supplies to try new techniques, because I always try to learn something new. But that’s the key word there, isn’t it?


You learn something, and then incorporate it into what you do. If you are buying things for the sake of instantly upping your art game, it won’t work. Going back to my Mignola story, after all of those months, I thought I had failed to grasp the technique. But in that time of practicing? I had made my own ink wash technique. It wasn’t Mignola’s, it was my own.

Buying that figure book and flipping through it won’t make you a better figure artist. Working through the book and doing the exercises in the book will help you learn how to be better (and if you have a figure book that doesn’t have exercises in it, consider getting a better teaching book). Dropping $700 on Photoshop is not going to do anything if you don’t actually learn how to use it well.

People always remark about how quick I am with Photoshop. I’ve been using the program as my main art program since 1999– with only dabbles with playing with Sketchbook in the last two years. That’s fifteen years of practicing with Photoshop, twelve of them solely working in Photoshop! And I still seek out new things to learn about it, and I will readily admit I still don’t know everything you can do with it. Just today, I learned how to use the offset to make patterns. It blew my mind that the function had been staring me in the face and I hadn’t figured out how to incorporate it.

Finding out what an artist you like uses to create art you like is a good way to point you in that direction. But don’t get carried away. Remember, there’s no single thing that will up your game. Buying the same paint and paint brushes that Vermeer used is not going to make you automatically recreate Vermeer’s works.

Only practicing your butt off and continuing to learn will get you there.


2 Replies to “Your Own Creative Path”

  1. Wow great post Aja. I don’t draw professionally but I can totally relate with my writing. You always think wow I’ll read this and become a better writer, or if I write all in the past tense I’ll be as good as … but it’s never true. You have to find your own style, and not try and imitate others to take you to a new level.

    1. WORD, man. That’s the fun part about any art. It is also the worst! You can only get so far with mimicry… you have to set out on your own.

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