Dear Fellow Artists,
There will always be people who are, on some levels, whether technical or aesthetic or sheer artistic talent, may be considered “better” than you are. Maybe they’ve had more time to practice. Maybe they have the money for expensive supplies. Or maybe they’re one of those people who can seemingly just glance at their medium and make gold. Or maybe it’s some combination thereof.
First of all, practice makes better, if not perfect. Over time you may be able to see your work getting better; your best bet is to compare yourself to yourself, not other artists. I can look back through my archives here and in various hard drives and see where I’ve improved over the years, and no doubt I’ll continue getting better. While I consider myself a professional in some media, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have plenty of room for growth and improvement—I’d hate to think there was nothing more to do after any point other than death!
Second, in the words of Henry Van Dyke, “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Compliment them, appreciate their work, even learn from them, but don’t let perceived superiority make you throw in the towel. I can’t paint that well, and there are people whose basic sketches are better than any drawing I’ve ever done. But I still incorporate my painting and drawing as accents to my work in media I’m better at, because even if those paintings aren’t as good as so-and-so’s, I like how they complement my works, and other people like them well enough, too. While the painting on this pouch is far from a masterpiece, I’m damned proud of it because it’s one of the best freehand pieces I’ve ever done, and came fairly close to what I had pictured in my head. It looks nice on the pouch, too, which is also important in the grand scheme of things.
Which also means third, play to your strengths. I suck at traditional taxidermy, which is part of why you don’t see me messing with foam mounts and glass eyes and whatnot (along with other reasons, spiritual, environmental, and otherwise). I just never got the hang of it, but I don’t particularly regret it. My strength is in recovering hides and bones and other animal remains for spiritual purposes, particularly those that have been damaged and may still carry scars. Remember this poor, badly damaged wolf? The front of his nose was still wide open even after that reshaping because the hide was missing and the rest was too fragile to patch, but the person who he went home to loved him nonetheless, and appreciated the power of his spirit.
And THAT’S what I focus on. I do my best as an artist, but first and foremost I am a shaman who works with skin spirits through art and other means. Even with more novel things like the Necomimi wolf mask, I don’t stop doing my work with the spirits, making sure they’re ready to be made into art and that they like the project I suggest incorporating them into. The process is every bit as important as the result, and I have had many people tell me how powerful they feel my works are on a spiritual level in part because of the care I take with everything from the simplest tail all the way up to elaborate headdresses.
This is the niche I’ve carved for myself over the past fifteen years: Artist, author, (neo)shaman, totemist, ecopsychologist, and more. Author of books, creator of unique ways to talk to dead critters, stitcher of leathers (and occasionally poker of fingertips). In short, I’m Lupa. No one else can be me, no matter if we do the same general stuff. Lots of other people write pagan books. Lots of other people make stuff with dead stuff. But they aren’t me, and it’s futile for me to compare myself to someone who’s not me.
And no one else can be you, either. Not even if they copy your style or parrot your words and ideas, they don’t have the same spirit you do. You might not be the technically best artist in your medium; your writing may need some polishing. But you’re the best at being *you*. That’s the best starting point when improving your work, because if you’re tapped into who you are, then your work and your self can develop together in a complementary manner. That’s part of what makes great creativity so amazing—the soul and spirit of the person who made it has been so tightly bound into it that they’re one and the same, and they grow together, tree and vine.
Grow yourself as a tree, grounded in the solid earth; what kind of tree are you? Tend and encourage the vines of your art that wind around you and adorn you; how do your vines grow?
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