Do or Do Not.

The Anxiety of Influence

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For too many years, I wanted to be Jim Lee.

I fell passionately in love with Lee’s amazingly detailed and dynamic artwork and design sense while he was the artist on Uncanny X-Men in the late 80′s and early 90′s, right before he and five other über-popular artists left Marvel to found Image Comics. I’d been drawing comics-style artwork for most of my life, but Lee quickly became my number-one influence [1]: I used Lee’s artwork as reference material, as inspiration — and ultimately as the yardstick I measured my own work against.

Batman by Jim Lee - © DC ComicsAnd I’m wondering just how much damage I might have done to my artistic sensibilities over the last fifteen years by doing so.

Somewhere over the years I lost much of my desire to draw, and I think that a lot of that was because I was unfairly judging the quality of my work against unrealistic standards. My expectations for myself were so high that I couldn’t possibly achieve them — if I couldn’t draw something that was somewhere at least approaching the the ballpark of Jim Lee quality, then the drawing was shit.

Thing is, there’s only a handful of artists out there that I think are in that ballpark, so expecting myself to be able to pull that off and berating my skills when I couldn’t… well, that wasn’t being very generous to myself. I think I judged myself so harshly that I found myself not wanting to draw at all. It’s not fair, of course — I’m not Jim Lee, and I never will be.

But when I say “I’m not Jim Lee,” I mean more than just that he’s a better artist than I am, though I think that fact goes without saying (not knocking myself there, just being honest). I also mean that my natural art style, the style that tends to come through when I’m not forcing a particular look on it, doesn’t resemeble his work at all — my “voice” differs from his considerably. I tend toward more open shapes, toward thicker and more angular lines, toward less rendering and cross-hatching. For years, though, I defined “professional” in my head as “Jim Lee-like” and tried to make my stuff look more like his. It’s like I was trying on a series of suits, each of which might have looked fantastic on someone else but none of which were flattering on me — but if I just kept trying them, dammit, I’d find one that fit perfectly.

Problem is, I never found that perfect suit and quit looking altogether.

Now, though, I want to get back into drawing again. I miss it. Not drawing has never felt right, but every time I’ve tried getting back into it, I’ve run face-first into that same wall of anxiety over and over again — I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t know how to draw in any style other than this one that doesn’t feel natural to me, and I hate it.

But no more. I’m reclaiming my “visual voice,” I’m no longer looking to Jim Lee as an influence, or at least not as a major one. I’m rejecting that overly-rendered style as Just Not Me; there are plenty of artists I can learn from and gain inspiration from whose work more closely mirrors my natural style. I want to try to separate myself from the frustration and self-flagellation of the last ten years and try something all-new, all-different. I want to enjoy drawing again, both the process and the results.

I don’t need to be Jim Lee. What I need to be is the best me I can be.


[1] Funny thing: Even as I took him on as my primary influence, it seemed obvious to me that we were both influenced by the same artists when we were starting out (mainly George Perez, John Byrne and Arthur Adams). He just has way, way, way more talent than I do and was able to synthesize those influences into something new and exciting while I… didn’t.

Written by Allen

June 20th, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Art,Comic Books

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9 Responses to 'The Anxiety of Influence'

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  1. I’ve been doing the same thing with my writing for years. “If it’s not Watchmen good, if it’s not as polished and as dead-on as Astonishing X-Men, then it must suck and I’ve got no talent and why did I think I could do this anyway and then I read Runaways and that was good too and…”

    How do we cure ourselves of that paralysis?

    With sweat and more creating on our own, and less time observing the experts from the sidelines.

    Timmy B

    21 Jun 06 at 9:27 am

  2. With sweat and more creating on our own, and less time observing the experts from the sidelines.

    I agree with you on the first part, but not the second part — the problem for is that the experts who are doing the criticizing are all in my own head. Most of the people who’ve seen my artwork are supportive. Not saying that they’re gushingly effusive in their unrestrained praise, but that they think I’ve got some ability and think I should try harder and do more. All of the “you’re not good enough so give up now” is from me.

    Allen

    21 Jun 06 at 9:32 am

  3. Will you read “Artist’s Way” already? It talks about all this stuff, and how to overcome it …

    Joanne

    21 Jun 06 at 10:00 am

  4. Jo: You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right. [1] Maybe I need to try it out. :)

    It’s funny, I seem to have totally different neuroses in regards to my different creative pursuits — for all of the issues I’ve got with writing, the “trying to be just like someone else and failing spectualarly” thing isn’t one of ‘em. Whole other set of issues there. :)


    [1] Identify the movie quote for a bonus prize! [2]

    [2] There really isn’t a bonus prize.

    Allen

    21 Jun 06 at 10:07 am

  5. Carrie Fisher’s character in When Harry Met Sally

    Amy

    21 Jun 06 at 10:21 am

  6. Amy: Congratulations! You win my admiration for your memory for pop-culture trivia. :)

    Allen

    21 Jun 06 at 10:28 am

  7. LOL, thanks. I lost most of my brain to having children, so it’s good to know I retained a few facts.

    BTW, remember that post of yours about messages from the universe? I was JUST telling a friend of mine Sat. night about how I had this other friend who could draw really well and how I wished he would do something with it because I thought he had the potential to create something wonderful. Take a message from THAT, if you want. :)

    And Tim has a point there, with his less-time-observinng-the-experts argument. Whenever I’m working on something, I have to limit what I read because of the intimidation factor.

    Amy

    21 Jun 06 at 10:35 am

  8. I was JUST telling a friend of mine Sat. night about how I had this other friend who could draw really well and how I wished he would do something with it because I thought he had the potential to create something wonderful.

    See, when I have support like that out there, why I would be so hard on myself all the time? sigh

    Thank you, Amy. :)

    Whenever I’m working on something, I have to limit what I read because of the intimidation factor.

    Yeah, I think that’s exactly part of the problem I’m running into. It doesn’t happen with my writing — reading awesome stuff while I’m writing only makes me want to try harder and apply some of the bits and trick I pick up — but when I’m drawing, I now feel like I can’t draw anything without some sort of reference around, and said reference always makes me feel like I suck. That’s the first big hurdle I’ve got to get past, I think.

    Allen

    21 Jun 06 at 10:46 am

  9. [...] or five books) in that box were moldy and stuck together and smelly and utterly ruined. 2 All of my Jim Lee X-Men (and other) comics, my X-Men and New Mutants annuals from the 80s that Art Adams drew, the run of John Byrne Superman [...]

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