Beware the social media

After finally deciding to kick off a project I have been mulling over for literally years (well over ten!) – and then taking another few months of flapping around, starting then stopping, until really sorting it out, I am happy, or is that relieved, to say that it’s going – it’s an itch Ive had that’s needed scratching, probably since leaving college!

Naturally, having taken so long to get up and going, the skills needed to do it have become more than a little rusty, especially since they have not been pulled out of the box for a very long time. Drawing (which is driving 70% of this project) is not only a mechanical skill but a mental one and like riding a bike, you may get rusty but never forget. The headspace needed to ‘get into it’ though is a whole different story. Usually a good starting point for firing up the headspace is good old inspiration.

Play Forest - Beware the social media

The easiest way to get started with the inspiration was to organise my books – cull, keep, relocate. I love, and always have loved, books but in doing so ended up with a lot of noise on the shelf. Dumping half, what was left was the cream of my collection, which interestingly enough were many of the books I have humped around the world with me – I seemed to have good taste early on! These books, the core of the collection, were then relocated to the shelf next to my desk so they would be a constant reminder that they exist, unlike previously where they were stuck on the back wall shelf… out of sight and out of mind.

That simple trick worked. Without having to pull them down and look through them, simply being in my line of sight reminded me all this great stuff was there, which was almost enough – ‘yes, we are examples of things you have always admired’ (though being in plain sight, I now pull them down to flip through them). But books are static, and while I like to think that the books I have represent some of the best of what they are, they are of a time and the word’s moved forward since. Enter Instagram.


Back whenever, there was a time instant visual gratification did not exist. Wild to think eh? But yes, there was none. Depending how far you go back there were books, then websites, and that was it; when I was in college studying design, there were books and that was it. I remember the internet coming alive but it was a pretty sparse thing. Today we have all manner of ways to keep up with the latest whatever it is others are doing and when it comes to drawing, illustration and the like, it’s a smorgasbord of delight. I literally can pick up my phone and see the latest piece of work someone on the other side of the planet has just thrown out there to be ‘consumed’ by hungry followers. And in a quest to be inspired, boy did I consume.

But as they say, truthfully in this case, ‘all that glitters is not gold’ and instead of becoming ever more inspired as my eyeballs hoovered up all this great stuff being doled out, I became less. In fact, I started to become put off the whole idea.


I was loving the work I was seeing. The wealth of talent out there is not only overwhelming but the ability on display to create with pencil and pixels is truly daunting. The more I looked, the more I began to question my own ability, or it may seem, lack thereof. More interestingly though, is the more I looked, the more convinced I became about the techniques I *should* be using, as opposed to techniques that work for me.

The rabbit hole one falls into using a medium like Instagram is that many of the people that you follow, because you love their work, are full time professionals, or students working towards a design/creative degree. They do what they do every day, most of the day, because that’s what they do. Time is a constraint, techniques are ingrained or being developed as they are taught. For someone not doing this full time, or for a job, the scenario is very different. For me, I don’t need to speed paint, or fill up pages of concept sketches, or create concept art on the go. My work does not need to fit into an accepted production pipeline or environment… I’ve done that in years past and I know there is a very different mindset involved.


[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The more I looked, the more flumoxed I became. Yes, I had all the tools and some very rusty ability, but what I do, and the way I prefer to do it, is ‘different’ to what I was seeing everyday…. several times a day. And that was the struggle, – my ‘style’ was not ‘their’ style and the more exposed I became, the less sure I was.

After months of limbo, I stepped back, took a deep breath and started again. After a comment I made on an recent Instagram post pointed out (ultimately to me), trying to emulate someone else’s style, or technique, because you like it or think that’s what you should be doing, is not ‘your’ style or technique, it’s their’s and by following this path, you will forever be searching for your own ‘thing’. Just because you see a million images of a similar style (which you do these days), it does not mean it’s right; it just means there are a million people out there trying to be the same person.


Jeff Goins in his book ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve’ talks about the idea of being a copycat at the start, copying those who’ve mastered before you; and anyone who’s been through design school knows this is very true. The trick is while that’s the way to start, to learn, you need to end up a master yourself. Having learnt from those you’ve ‘copied’, you need to evolve the mixing pot to become something of your own. The most interesting, inspiring and ultimately ‘liked’ / ‘commented’  art on Instagram is that which is uniquely personal to the creator. It’s this art that attracts comments that say ‘I love your style, I wish I could draw/paint like that’.


So I stepped off the wagon of ‘trying to be’. I switched tools to something that fits the way I work and think, and in turn I am developing a style that’s all mine. There’s a lot to learn, and re-learn, but now I do it without the pressure of thinking I should be doing something that’s not ‘me’ and if some people don’t like it, because it’s not ‘on trend’, that’s not my problem. These days when I look images on Instagram, I don’t do it thinking I want to do or be like that, but instead admire it for what it is and maybe pick up an idea or practical concept along the way. Instagram has now become my flowing bookshelf, rather than a source of insecurity.

Artist uncredited



A note about the images: I follow all the folks represented in the above Instagram images. I love their work for all sorts of different reasons and to me, they are what one might call the ‘influencers’ – their accounts have thousands of followers and far more than once I have seen work posted that tries to ‘be’ their style. There’s a lot to learn from each and every one of these artists, and the many others that I follow, their accounts act like silent mentors in my own endevours.

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