Similarity – What Every Illustrator Should Know

Childrens Illustration, Design, General
I designed some new greetings cards this week. Thinking ‘These are so unique!’, I dutifully sent them off to my agent. Being the impatient soul that I am, I keep checking to see if they’ve been added to their site. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a dynamic banner at the top of the page. It’s showing someone else’s card designs. The style and subject matter look very similar to mine. I panic. Is this person going to think I copied them? Are mine now completely useless? A feeling of hopelessness replaces the excitement I had at creating something different

This isn’t the first time this has happened.

Granny's House In 2011, I created an ink and watercolour called ‘Granny’s House‘. It’s a limited palette work, using only prussian blue, red and black. It was just so original. I thought. A search on Little Red Riding Hood a few months later threw back lots of the same thing. On one, I even left a comment stating something along the lines of ‘Lovely…I did one like this…Earlier’, just in case the artist in question saw mine and thought I’d ripped him off.

It’s not even the second time this has happened.

pirat Early 2012, before Pi-Rat! was released (but after the final art was submitted),the fantastic Julia Donaldson released The Highway Rat…GAAHH! It looked like I’d jumped on the rat bandwagon. People all over the land would cry ‘Who does she think she is! Fancy trying to out-rat Julia…’ But it was fine. Those nightmares about my publisher calling me to say they’d had a change of heart didn’t come true. And Pi-Rat! has since been short-listed for “Read It Again!” The Cambridgeshire Children’s Picture Book Award 2014. Yay!

If you felt beforehand that the idea you came up with wasn’t as original as you thought, you’d be far less likely to start anything in the first place. You wouldn’t feel the motivation and exhilaration that comes with a new sketch or storyline.  You’d judge your work based on all the minutely similar designs and manuscripts that were already out there and end up throwing yours in the bin or a tantrum…Not helpful to the creative process.

tantrum-sequence800 If I’d seen those card designs on my agents’ site before submitting mine, then I wouldn’t have submitted mine at all. And they aren’t THAT similar. As a matter of fact, if they weren’t my designs, I wouldn’t have been so quick to compare.  But that’s the point. If you look too much, you’ll give yourself a whole host of reasons not to get your work out there. If you do anything other than scratch the surface with your research, you could give yourself a case of paranoiac-creative-block.

Nobody should design  in a vacuum, we all know what that breeds, but once you’re committed to a piece of work, go with it. Even if halfway through that work, a high-profile artist/illustrator/writer/photographer/singer/dancer/poet announces something similar. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s original.

The moral of the story is, this happens quite a bit. So don’t panic. Similar is not the same. Similar is how fashions and trends grow. [Copying shouldn’t be confused with ‘similar’. Artists who copy are not artists, they’re imitators. A completely different breed.] 

7 thoughts on “Similarity – What Every Illustrator Should Know

  1. Thank you. I try to be “me,” but I know my illustration is part of an artist family tree. There will be echoes, nuances. It is a little disappointing and reassuring, too.

    1. Thanks, Kate. It’s something that ‘blocks’ me every now and again. Have to keep reminding myself that I put myself at a disadvantage every time I over-think this stuff. I love the way you describe it.

  2. Thanks for this! This just happened to me recently! I was so excited about the new direction of my work, and then immediately saw several illustrators going that same direction. It cools my steam.

  3. I wonder sometimes if the conventional wisdom/advice to read and look at as many works in your genre is a good one, since we are bound to be influenced even without realizing this.

    1. It’s good to be influenced by the big world but you can cramp yourself by digging too deep and getting nit-picky…I do, anyway.

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