Dear students: Don’t do seconds.

Bumblebee is my favorite Autobot!

Here’s a little conversation I had with a student a few weeks back:


*A student was showing me his sketchbook for the assignment*

Me: Why do your robots look like the ones in Transformers?

Student: No it doesn’t.

Me: Yes it does. Are you telling me that your robots look better than Transformers – right now?

Student: Yes.

Me: Right. You think your robots are better looking than Transformers, when it’s not done nearly as well, but it has the same elements as their robots?

Student: Yes.

(At this point I almost wanted to gnaw at my fist which was hovering near my mouth)

Me: Why don’t you try drawing them in a different way? Why must your robot be the same as everyone else’s? Look at things differently. Why not offer your own opinion of what it should look like instead of following them to a T? Where’s your take in all this? What are you trying to say?

Student: Hmmm.


I have more of these sort of hilarious exchanges (kids these days…) but, my point is this:

The challenge isn’t to be the second best at something. Why copy other people’s style and drawings – like manga? (I know some of you are going to shake your head at this, but it’s the easiest example I can muster!) Why should you try your darndest to produce a drawing that’s as close as realistically possible to what you see?

You’ll never be as good as a camera, that’s for sure.

You’re not going to be better than the best replicator out there, that’s for sure.

So why should you continue on a path that will set you to be the second best?

Why not be the best that YOU can offer? A different view. An interesting angle. A story. Something that’s uniquely yours – that no one can take away.

Get into the habit of creating so that others can only be second best when they’re up against you.

Now that’s something to shout about.

[ Bumblebee wallpaper via Wallsave ]

[box icon=”heart”]  Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here. [/box]

10 Replies to “Dear students: Don’t do seconds.”

  1. Erika says:

    While I’m far from my student days at this point, thank you for this post. Sometimes it feels lonely going down my own path so it’s nice to read this reminder.

  2. Rachel Vater says:

    Thanks for this, I definitely think more students need to hear this. I graduated last year, could have done with this advice before i started my major exhibition! Ha! Excellent post and thanks again. X

  3. seelvana says:

    GENIO! super inspirador éste relato =)

  4. Alexandra says:

    “Get into the habit of creating so that others can only be second best when they’re up against you.” This last line says what being creative is or should be about…thank you, Alexandra

  5. Ella Goodwin says:

    Great post!

    And don’t get me started on wonderful student anecdotes. Here’s my latest –

    Me to student – “Have you tried mind mapping to broaden your ideas”

    Student – “I don’t need to, my ideas are in my mind already, I am working directly from there”


  6. Lorrie says:

    Great post Amy, and I couldn’t agree more. When I was at art school, all the boys on my course were copying the drawings from 2000 AD (I think that’s what it was). I always wondered why they did this rather than doing their own stuff. I sort of get it though, if you want to make a career in comic book art then this is as good a way as any to learn. But, I still agree with you.

    By the way, my husband was away and I got to watch the first Transformers film on TV and it was AWWEEESOMMMMEE! I really, really loved it. Luke has not got me the DVD, I am hooked!


  7. Lorrie says:

    p.s. Thanks for the Bumblebee wallpaper, now on my laptop. 🙂

  8. Bethany Hissong says:

    I think every teacher in art can relate! Now I see it in my own kids. I think students idolize other artists, and the act of making an exact copy is their measure of achievement. But I also think a lot has to do with immaturity. I know when I was in school, I didn’t have a lot to say (yet). There is not yet a greater purpose to the work that they do– no big idea, no wisdom, no reverence to something of importance that is greater than themselves (like Michelangelo). They aren’t really sure who they are and even if they like themselves. Some people never get there, some just take longer to do so, and some are lucky enough to be introspective at a young age and also in touch with their world and how they fit into that. Their work usually expresses their unique point of view, accompanied by some skill in communicating that.

  9. Kathy says:

    I understand your sentiments. When your “highest peak,” is to imitate another person’s style, you aren’t really being creative. However, I think copying is incredibly useful for learning and helps artists learn techniques easily because they are passionate about they thing they are copying. I am an animator and I copy directly walk cycles directly from animation books (tracing paper, hehe) until I feel more confident to create my own cycles.

    I think the world we live in is very beautiful and realistic art has a place in my heart. I watch epic Hollywood films, not for the story, but for the visual effects. It amazes me how real we can create from “unreal” things aka technology. I love explosions and watching physics recreated. That’s art to me. I also enjoy thoughtful films with a great creative story. Ideally, I’d like those two to be merged, but everyone has different taste. I want to venture and say that perhaps your student should be a realistic artist?

    1. amy says:

      Hi Kathy, thanks so much for sharing!
      There’s most definitely room for all sorts of art – realistic ones, and abstract. And I do believe that copying others as practice can help one hone in on their technical skills, and train their eye. And while it’s something that I would recommend everyone should do at some point (without posting the final artwork online!) I’m also stressing on being open to exploring other ideas, one that is unique to the student and deals with their point of view; just to open up their minds a little and to show that yes, they do have what it takes – they just need to dig deeper and not be afraid of what they’ll find.
      The students I’ve met aren’t really sure of what their style is, and that’s perfectly alright with me. But because they’re used to working and doing the same sort of things (i.e the stuff they think they’re good at), I’m there to play devils advocate and push them beyond their comfort zone to think, view and try to do things differently.

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