Making It Your Own: A Little Bit of Ego

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:

Freeman-Zachery milagro pin doll

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.”


Creative Time and SpaceRicë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.





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2 Responses to Making It Your Own: A Little Bit of Ego

  1. CarolineA says:

    The number of “clones” posting work online thats almost indistinguishable from the person who started that particular art or craft trend is scary. A trip through any of the social networking sites demonstrates this very well. Another manifestation appears in the reviews on amazon. Some (very good) books receive very bad reviews because they do not “teach” anything or have specific projects to be copied and expect the person reading the book to make their own decisions. This is compounded by the craft supplies industry who sponsor various personalities to promote their products in courses so that students are led to believe they cannot achieve the “look” without a vast selection of “name” brand items that can be purchase for half the price if they stick with regular known manufacturers of art materials.
    Its as if there is a collective feeling of inadequacy if we cannot produce the same type of craft as someone else. The lollipop-headed cartoon women in journaling; the green and blue faces in tudor head-dresses, or the one eyed beauties can be drawn in other colours and styles, and be better than the mass-produced original! Its not being creative to copy, no matter what the magazines or books tell us; they are there to promote a product, not our natural talents.
    I don’t know what the answer is because the craft industry and its teachers rely on the manufacturers and the magazines to keep the industry going and moving and to boost sales. This website would not exist without its authors being supported by manufacturers. But there needs to be a happy medium between the How-to books and the do-it-this-way-only instructions of the teachers. Even fine art books offer tracings these days! How can anyone learn basic craft techniques common to all their work when the encouragement is for a particular project that comes neatly packaged as a kit and without any suggestion that this can be used as a jumping off point for original work? The commercial ideal is to sell another complete kit, not for the student to start thinking independently and buying their own supplies.
    I did a course last year with one of F & W’s authors, and the supplies list caused a great deal of angst, because most of it could not be purchased outside of the US and was expensive enough to purchase inside the US. When it was broken down into its component parts, most of us did not need to buy anything because we could substitute similar products from our stash, but I have to wonder how many hundreds of American women rushed out to buy things were used to make one mark, that was then painted over, because thats what was in the instructions.
    Its not creative, its the emperors new clothes all over again.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      What a thoughtful comment, Caroline–thank you so much! I agree–I see it, as well. One problem is that people have to make money. Teachers can’t teach without getting paid, this website couldn’t exist without generating income, manufacturers can’t make product that doesn’t sell. So everyone is trying to promote their stuff, of course. I don’t know the answer. If we don’t buy products, companies won’t make new ones. If we don’t buy books, publishers won’t publish. I have no clue about an answer to your concerns–only that they’re shared by a lot of other people.