Ghost Illustrator

scurvy

I’m currently doing a freelance illustration job that requires me to illustrate in the style of another artist. I’ve actually done this a lot throughout career. I like working in other styles. Dissecting another artist’s work gives me insight about that person most others don’t get to have.  It’s a unique way of “wearing someone else’s shoes.” I also gain a whole lot of new technical knowledge by doing this which for me is like fuel for the fire in my belly.

Artists are like cooks. They have recipes for their art. They use specific techniques, mediums and signature tricks that give them their results consistently. To draw like that person you have to think like that person. You have to understand their strengths and weaknesses, understand their tools and familiarize yourself with their influences. Lately I’ve found that knowing that person actually helps too. The benefits of studying the work of other artists is vast but I’ve been discovering some new caveats.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of being a successful ghost illustrator is the need to set aside one’s ego. There isn’t a good chance you’ll get credit for the work. Even if your name is on the art, it will be smaller than the other guy’s. You also have to be okay with the fact that your client isn’t interested in your art. Your client is interested in someone else’s. I find this especially challenging when the art you’re emulating is somehow substandard. As I get older, I find it more and more difficult to do battle with my ego in this way.

I think these are some of the reasons most artists hate working in other people’s style. I’ve always regarded this ability to be a basic necessity for a professional artist. I’ll never get a freelance gig illustrating a Golden Book of Mickey Mouse in my own style for example. Versatility may give someone opportunities but they soon find themselves hitting a ceiling. If an artist always works in the style of others, he/she will never become known for their own work. They’ll go down in history with a nameless legacy of art that is accredited to others. This is the true fate of a ghost illustrator.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve been and where I’m going in my career. I enjoy being stylistically versatile. It allows me to illustrate almost anything. I want to be able to work on any kind of project. Unfortunately, if I want to escape the fate of being a ghost artist, I’m going to have to start creating limits on the kinds of projects I work on. I’ve never set boundaries around my artwork willingly and the idea scares me. What if an exciting project comes up that lies outside of my self-imposed boundary?

Assigning boundaries and limitations to oneself sounds like self-mutilation. For some or perhaps even most, stylistic boundaries are established organically over time by the market an artist works in. A lot of that is dictated by the artist’s personal interests. But what if your interests are simply making art itself? Moving forward means answering a tough question: What is my art and what isn’t it? I don’t like the sound of that at all.

 

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