Do you know what separates many top artists from the rest of the pack? Originality. A unique, signature look that is immediately recognizable. The same can be said in other creative venues. Certain writers have a particular cadence to their work. Singers who possess a one of a kind tone and quality. Sculptors who shape works in new and unusual ways.
Most artists aspire for originality in their craft. But the influence of artistic heroes gets in the way. We try so hard to emulate the giants in our field that we lose ourselves in the process. We might attain a degree of facility and accomplishment, but others still see the influences.
If you want to break through the barriers and conjure that original voice within, you'll need to enlist the power of your imagination. It's something we were able to call upon easily in childhood. But adolescence brings distractions and the rhythms of adulthood stifle our innocent dreams and visions.
One artist who listened to his imagination was fantasy illustrator Jeffrey Jones. Born in 1944, Jones admired classic painters like Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt. But he gravitated to the world of comics and fantasy art.
Jones drew for DC comics. From 1972-75 he inked his original "Idyl" comic strip for National Lampoon magazine. In the 1980's he crafted his "I'm Age" comic for Heavy Metal magazine. But over time, he grew disillusioned with commercial art. Clients pushed him to emulate the successful fantasy painter, Frank Frazetta. Jones rebelled and began painting his own vision.
Increasingly, Jones gained a reputation for being "difficult" to work with. In reality, he was listening to that internal voice. His childhood imagination. It probably cost him some work, but he also began creating his most original art.
If you want to create unique art, you need to embrace your imagination. Plein air work is fine. Workshops are fine. Seeking mentors is fine. But at some point you have to turn in-ward. Allow that creative, individual voice deep within to spread its wings.
Landscape artist Brent Cotton once commented that his art really started to take off when he began experimenting in his studio. He had done plenty of outdoor work and studied the art of others. He reached a certain level of accomplishment. But then he tapped his imagination. He turned to palette knives and soon his unique style and vision emerged.
So, do yourself a favor. Learn all you can in your craft. Study from the best. Get inspired. But then, turn in-ward. Revisit that childhood imagination. Just like Jeffrey Jones and Brent Cotton did. I'll bet you'll be happy with the results!