May 30, 2012

On finding your voice, or niche, or strength, or something.

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s it in a nutshell.”
–Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

My brain has been a jumble lately. Blame it on my all-or-nothing way of living (super unhealthy, working on that) or the fact that I’m so in love with art and the work of others that I’m constantly trying new projects or reading new books, never letting anything truly settle or resonate before I move on to the next thing…but this isn’t about a lack of productivity. It’s more a lack of focus and inability (so it seems lately) to distinguish where my true creative strengths lie and forging that path, full speed ahead.

If only I could, you know, GET there.

And yet, though all of this, I’ve come across some Really Great News that’s makin’ my heart smile. Things that you probably already know (because you’re that awesome) and I’m just a little behind the curve. Or maybe you’re like me, struggling to find that sense of “Where do I fit in this super-saturated creative world?” or trying to unearth the root of your passion, the core of it, from tangled layers of the debris of everyday living and stress. And maybe, just maybe, that excavation has exhausted you to the point of self-doubt.

Hello, My Name Is Jessica Simmons, And Sometimes I Have No Idea What The Heck I’m Doing Most Of The Time.

But the Really Great News starts here: A few weeks ago, writer Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts; maybe you’ve seen it. I’ve probably watched it about ten times now, and I’ll probably watch it ten times more. It’s that good, and in typical commencement speech form, inspiring. One of the biggest things I struggle with when it comes to my art is *insert dramatic drumroll* originality. What artist doesn’t? (PS if you’re superhuman and don’t have this problem, email me ASAP with your divine wisdom, kthanks).

Everything I do comes from the heart, comes from my head, but may also have stemmed from some thing I saw on Pinterest (cringing at just ADMITTING that) or on another creative blog, etc. As much as we want to believe in originality, it doesn’t exist. Obviously there are ways to tweak and alter and do things a little bit differently, but everything in the art world is an amalgamation of an individual’s own life experiences and exposure to other artists/works of art. This stresses me out more than anything else, because I want to believe that I’m doing something different, and I want to be ABSOLUTELY SURE I’m not copying someone else’s hard work. Gaiman has a few things to say about that (this is one of my favorite bits from his speech):

“When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make. Good. Art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician, make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor, make good art. IRS on your trail, make good art. Cat exploded, make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before, make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and it doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best.

Make. Good. Art.

Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days too. And fifthly, while you’re at it, make YOUR art; the stuff that only you can do. The urge starting out is to copy and that’s not a bad thing, most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”


Validation, much? If you’ve followed the ol’ blog for a bit now, you’ve seen the clear discrepancy between projects I’ve posted “inspired by” someone else, vs. the things I share of my “own” creation. It bothers me. It does. But you know what? I’m realizing that it’s ok to draw inspiration from others and the end result be similar, so long as I don’t pass it off as my own. My ideas will come. And they DO come. Some work, many don’t; which is why they haven’t made it to the blog just yet.

It’s ok for me to “sound like a lot of other people” right now. The content is still running through the filter that is ME, and that in of itself is an alteration. In the same vein of this problem of originality, I want to cite the lovely words of Mark Twain from a letter he wrote to Helen Keller in 1902:

“As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify…It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.”

If that doesn’t bring peace of mind, I don't know what will! Now I'm off to, you know, make some good art of my own (: 

Ok, now I’m handing you the mic (keyboard?). What’re your thoughts on originality? What parts of the creative process do you struggle with most? How absolutely gorgeous is Neil Gaiman?! Haha.
Just so you know: This post stems a lot from my frustration with starting my own creative business, but having trouble with pinning down the cohesive nature of the product line. I’ve done so much research, asked so many questions of other independent business owners…now I just have to buckle down and DO it. But any bits of advice are greatly appreciated, as always!
I hope your Wednesday has been kind (: PS lots of exciting things happening around here that I can't WAIT to share with you...also, today is my BROTHER'S BIRTHDAY! He's seriously my favorite.


  1. you are inspiring and one of the most beautiful people i know.

    thank you for sharing this, you know this is my struggle too.

    love you much.

    1. I know hun, I know. Love you too sister.

  2. This is actually kind of creepy. I barely know you (I am an old roommate of Kendall's), but I love following your beautiful blog. When I listened to NG's commencement speech that a friend posted, I completely thought about this blog and how you are making art and documenting it so beautifully. Keep goin girl; you may not feel like you know what you're doing all the time, but you are definitely climbing that mountain.

    1. Haha, not creepy at all, any friend of K.Crawf's is a friend of mine! I'm so flattered that you follow the blog! And thank you so much for your sweet words of encouragement; they're much appreciated. Right now I feel kind of tangled in my mountain-climbin' gear! But not for long (:

  3. Beautifully real post! I can totally relate to it. I started out the same way, and sometimes still feel the same way, but the important thing to do is to just keep finding things that inspire will most definitely find your own style within the mix. I would find illustrations that really inspired me and just draw them out in my little sketchbook, until eventually all my own ideas just started popping up out of nowhere! Haha! It really just hits you when you least expect it. Keep at it Jessica...I know you're on the right track. You are a very talented lady :)

    1. Ohhhh my dear Rhianna (it's like shell-shock, even though I met you at Renegade, you're still like indie biz celeb status, haha). LADYFRIEND thank you SO MUCH for your words of wisdom. I know that I'm not alone in my struggle, but it's good to HEAR that others can relate. It's really encouraging to see other people succeed in their creative ventures...which indicates that there IS another side to this, if I keep pushing forward. Thank you so much again, your words are giving me some peace about all this, haha (:

  4. I love this post. I always love other people's art and I'm like meh. Mine sucks. I'm feeling so uninspired lately. But that's how life is I suppose. I kind of love his speech. "cat exploded? Make good art." Hahahahahaha

    1. Girl, being uninspired is what it is. Comes and goes for me, and sometimes I let it linger longer than I should. But you're right, that's life, and it's just going to ebb and flow however it does.

      I feel like that made no sense, but whatever.
      And YES that part in his speech, he had to repeat the "cat exploded" one twice because people were laughing so hard and so was he. SO GREAT.

    2. We just have to, you know, carry on and like he said; make. good. art.


You're so sweet (: Thanks friend!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...