OK, so maybe it’s more than a little bit. Maybe you need a great big ol’ honkin’ dose of ego. Whatever. What I truly believe is that the key to moving beyond the urge to copy what you love is as simple as this: seeing something you love, looking at it with a critical eye, and thinking, “I could do better.”
I’ve talked many times about how my Milagro Pin Dolls:
were sparked by a display in a jewelry case on Royal Street in the French quarter of brooches made from vintage photographs glued into rusty bottle caps. This was long, long ago, when the idea was novel and I’d never seen anything like them. I loved them, but they weren’t perfect. And what ever is?
Perhaps it’s because I tend to be just the tiniest bit critical and never think anything is Good Enough, but this has always been easy for me. I see something I like and move in for a closer look. At first, it’s all admiration–maybe with a little squealing (usually sotto voce, thank goodness). Then the critical part of my brain fires up and begins whispering to me: “It’s kind of big, and that plastic stuff just looks cheap. It would be way better if it were 3-D, instead of flat, and those colors really don’t work together. And what if the text were in Italian and the surface were fabric instead of paper? And who uses slick paint any more? Really. We can do better.”
We can do better. That’s what will take you where you want to go, to the place where your creations are your own, rather than imitations of something created by someone else. You learn to trust what you like and what you want to make, and you come to believe–as strongly as you believe anything–that you can do it better than it’s already been done. This isn’t saying that whatever you saw wasn’t good. It was, or you wouldn’t have been drawn to it in the first place. And it’s not saying that it wasn’t well executed or that it’s not, in its own way, perfectly wonderful. It’s saying that it’s not perfectly wonderful for *you* because you didn’t make it, and if you didn’t make it, there’s bound to be something–even if it’s just one tiny little thing–that you would have done differently to make it uniquely your own. And once you start looking at things and thinking about them that way, you find you have all kind of ideas about what could have been done differently. And then, as you get in the studio and set out to create this perfectly-yours piece, maybe you’ll find yourself doing what I do: I make the first one, tweaking it to bring it closer to what I imagine, but it’s not quite there. The finished piece is OK, but I realize somewhere during the making of it that I should have used muslin instead of burlap or purple instead of green, or it should have been a different size. So I make another one, tweaking some more. And that’s closer, but it’s still not there. By the time I’ve made half a dozen, tweaking every step of the way, I’ve honed my vision of what I want. If I held up what I’ve made next to the piece that sparked the original idea, I would barely recognize the connection. And that’s how you make something your own: by looking at at something and thinking, with absolute certainty, “I love it, but I could make it better.”
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