I’m not sure when I lost my confidence in my art; I think it was somewhere between high school where I was told by a ‘friend’ that my acrylic paintings were not as good my watercolor paintings.
And they were right- my watercolor paintings were much better. Acrylic didn’t come as naturally to me, but I preferred painting with acrylic.
Instead of honing my painting skills, I figured it was best just ignore it all together, stop painting, and then no one could tell me otherwise. My identity was an artist, and it needed to be preserved. If I didn’t paint, no one could tell me my paintings sucked.
In college, my art classes focused on things that were REAL. We almost exclusively drew from still life set ups, nude models, photos, and anything we could find around the campus or our dorms rooms.
One time when I made a painting without using a reference, my teacher told me my painting wasn’t believable. Again, she was right: the painting I did from a real life subject was better. So I gave up on using my imagination.
After four years of only drawing from real life, I started to doubt I could draw well if I didn’t have anything to reference.
Recapturing My Imagination
As a kid, I loved Sailor Moon. I still love Sailor Moon. I love all the ribbons, all the gems, all the pink, and how everything has wings or a heart on it. I love her magical cats. I love her adorable outfit. I love that she wears a crown. I LOVE ALL OF IT.
As a kid, I would spend entire weekends drawing my own staffs, my own wands, and my own Sailor Moon characters. I never worried about reference photos. Obviously, there are no reference photos for Sailor Moon, because it isn’t real.
To truly be on a quest for cuteness, I have to give up on my beloved reference photos, and trust that I can still create without them. Wizard cats don’t exist, nor do magical pink sloths. And that’s okay, because my goal isn’t to create the most realistic magical pink sloths.
Let me explain with a story from my marketing class: Cola technically is not the best tasting cola.
Pepsi is. Pepsi did a blind taste testing campaign, and it was clear from the results that Pepsi was the better tasting cola.
In order to compete with Pepsi on taste, Coca Cola created New Coke. And guess what? People HATED IT. They demanded the old Coke, and voila, old Coke is the one that is still available today.
Coca Cola briefly allowed Pepsi to define the conversation on taste. Coke quickly realized their mistake: the best taste wasn’t the point. Coca Cola’s fans loved it for what it was, not because it was the best.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the best. Don’t let someone else define the conversation. There are plenty of successful people who are NOT THE BEST. They are great, but they are not 100% #1 THE BEST. Is Calvin and Hobbes a realistic drawing of a kid? No, because it doesn’t have to be. That is not its goal or purpose.
So, it doesn’t matter that my imaginative drawings are not as good as the ones that are drawn from real life references, because I can’t create what I want to create if I only rely on real life. Realism is not the conversation, and I will not let my skill or lack of skill define the conversation of my art.