So you want to be different? As an artist and miniature painter, I find myself driven to find out how I can differentiate myself from the crowd. With digital media’s escape velocity connecting us globally, embracing individuality becomes increasingly important to me. And, as such, I’ve continually searched for ways to change how I do things in the hobby and art.
In this article, I share the bumpy road toward understanding how I’ve become different in my approach toward painting miniatures, photography, and other creative pursuits. Despite challenges and setbacks, each experience has led to more wisdom to make good choices, and simply feeling more comfortable in my own skin.
- Learn whether that instinct to create is also a pursuit to find and express your identity
- If you’re wrestling against yourself to “find your voice” or questioning its importance, I hope my experiences inspires your personal adventure
- Finally, I will share 10 useful ways to develop your distinctive approach to your miniature painting and artistic pursuits
What Drives Me to “Be Different”?
I never fit in. I mean, it’s possible that I fit within certain groups of people and communities. But, I knew from a young age that I don’t enjoy thinking along with the crowd.
Common sense never made sense to me.
Well, it does, but I have to learn why such “sense” was important. And, I got in trouble a lot for going in the other directions. For example, I used to mow the lawn in circular patterns instead of straight cuts.
The grass appeared haphazard from a distance. But, the process of mowing the lawn was much more enjoyable! I drove that push mower in all sorts of directions.
At the end of the day, the grass was cut. All was good under the Sun.
The same goes for my painting. I want to push the boundaries and add visual flair that stands out from all the rest. And even if someone told me to paint using these step-by-step instructions to get so-and-so results, I would disobey. I had to try to go my own way first. Screw up. Then go the “common route”: Prime, basecoat, then layer and detail, all that.
Ultimately, I think the reason I feel the impulse to be different is embodied in these famous words, “I was born this way”.
Does my instinct “to go against the grain” hurt me?
I’ve always been rebellious. Don’t step on the grass, they say… I’d probably tap a green blade with my toe.
As could you imagine, I got into a lot of trouble. My grades suffered. My elders could not understand my behavior (and I found it hard to explain). I had no trouble making friends or socializing, despite this all.
But, where it did probably make my life harder was in the career choices I made. How does one get a job, earn a living, and all those good things, when they think and act differently?
I had to learn the hard way. I still have a lot of learning to do. But, one thing that I am confident in is this ability to find different angles and approaches to everyday things.
And, here I discovered that I am Artist.
This is my natural state: One foot planted in the real World, and the other limbs dangling in the Ether, and going wherever the wind takes them.
Created to Be Different
I don’t believe a person can simply “be different”. Yes, you can make specific choices to go in a certain direction that may appear different. But if you have studied history, then you’ll realize that almost everything you’ve experience, learned, or thought about isn’t actually new.
It’s just old stuff happening to new people (you).
And yet, let’s not get cynical. Look at life this way: Inside you there is an instinct–A soundless voice that you can’t name. It drives you; it talks to you and tells you that you’re different. This “thing” isn’t you per say.
Some may call this a habit, your conscience, or a spirit. This spirit, as many would describe it as such, belies a secret in our individuality. It is discovered or revealed through our choices.
These choices, this process, is yours. This is what you makes you different.
READ MORE: WHAT IS YOUR “MINIATURE PAINTING STYLE”?
The ENTIRE PROCESS for how you discover who you are as individual is what MAKES YOU DIFFERENT.
The Process of Discovery is What Sets You Apart as an Individual
I find a lot of the anxiety of creatives these days arises from that human need to feel accepted. The drive to find community, fellowship, with other like minded people is powerful.
So powerful that I think it often leads to all those bad relationships we sometimes entrap ourselves in.
Working a soul-sucking job? Bad relationship with money, perhaps. Abusive partner? Bad relationship. Over eating? Bad relationship with food.
While I don’t have all the answers–obviously not, I think a lot about why bad things happen to good people. And, no, in the next few lines of text, I’m not blaming victims of uncontrollable factors or tragic acts.
Rather, I’m looking at the root issue of how we end up in so many bad relationships with things, people, and our World at large.
How you view yourself as an individual yesterday, now, and the future directly determines how you think and act today and in the future. In other words, your self-perception shapes present and future thoughts and actions.
Although, I’m sure there’s no way to write my entire thesis of this idea in this single article, I think it’s important to note that every individual has the capacity to go beyond the status quo.
Whether it’s in painting or simply just living, nurture your instinctive need to find out who you are.
How Do You Find Out What Makes You Different?
You live. You live and ask questions. Deep questions.
Where did I come from? What am I doing here? How will the space I occupy look like when I depart?
These are very personal and intimate questions. They take time and self-reflection. If these things don’t come natural to you, it’s ok. Start small.
Take time to observe your surroundings, from the birds in the sky to a stranger you passed on the street. Notice how everything is connected–how there’s an underlying beat that ties us all together.
And, when you feel discouraged or lost remember this: You are different and special in your own way! When you can’t see those ten feet in front of you, when the fog of life is so deep and foreboding, or even full of noise, bright or dark; this is when you have one of two choices:
You can look up or down for help.
“Looking at your feet might show you where you are, but raising your eyes above the horizon reveals where you can go.”
Clues to self-discovery lie in the actions and choices we make in life. While not the tangible solution, there is value in engaging in creative activities, such as art, miniature painting, or model building, as they can help us uncover our identities, a sense of belonging, and perhaps our future direction.
Of course, remember that your identity doesn’t rest on what you do. What you do is only a symptom of who you are.
While I can’t exactly show you what I mean; I can share how the art of miniature painting or whatever creative thing we do–the decisions we make through the creative process can provide us with a sense of purpose.
And, this brings us to…
Embracing Your Unique Artistic Voice
Art is a reflection of ourselves, our experiences, and a glimpse into the future.
We often think that to create something truly unique, we have to go against the grain or find some hidden knowledge.
In truth, it’s not about being rebellious or uncovering secrets (though I’m sure there are plenty of those out there). It’s about tapping into your individual perspective and expressing it through art.
The scary part is that this also means understanding that you’re made of dark and light sides. Your identity has contrast and it gives you a volume you live within (and with) in the World.
Making art exemplifies this, and the process is draining. Yet, the process also fills you back up, too, at the same time.
In the miniature painting hobby, as I go through the process of applying color, contrast, and whatnot, there’s an effort that physically and mentally drains me. I’m working through a jigsaw of problems; how thin should my glaze be for this blend, or working to make two colors harmonize with a careful blend.
And, through this effort, I feel a sense of connection to what I’m doing. I’m not merely applying paint color to something. I’m making something new. As cliche as it sounds, I’m making an idea into a reality.
I’m discovering a little about me in there, and that feeds me, too.
So, through this creative process I’m learning more about my identity. In this exploration over the years, I’ve learned ways to show others how I approach the way I do things. And, those lessons I share often come from my sheer rebellious (not so common-sensical) nature to avoid going along the beaten path.
Here are tips I’ve gathered to help you develop your distinctive approach when it comes to painting miniatures and any other artistic pursuit you may have.
10 Tips to Develop a Distinctive Approach to Your Miniature Painting
You’ll find a lot of tips and guides on finding your individual artistic approach or style to things.
1. Be yourself
Staying authentic to your wants, likes, and needs is hard. Much harder than you may think at first glance. When I first started painting miniatures, for example, I went to social media to find images for inspiration.
And, I found some cool stuff! But, there were two problems: I was looking at other peoples’ stuff, and it only led to confusion because I loved all of it. Where was I in this process? A copy cat?
Ultimately, to discover what I wanted to do with my work I had to do it. I had to engage my hands, mind, and eyes with the creative process. So, to be yourself, you gotta go out there and take risks through hard work and doing the heavy lifting.
2. Embrace other interests
The most amazing thing happened when I started painting miniatures…I ended up exploring so many other related hobbies. For example, when I finish a project, I will take a photograph. Making images with my camera is another artistic act!
Long story short, I had a burgeoning stable of creative hobbies that fed into my process, and that gave me a head start on developing my artistic voice.
Importantly, I know what I love to do, and what I don’t. I’m good at certain things, and horrible at other things. And, I also now understand that I don’t have to “do it all.”
3. Forget style
I’ve heard this over and over again: “Find your style”. It’s crap. Style is that thing you do AFTER you’ve done your thing for a while. It’s a by-product of consistent effort, and nothing more.
So, forget the style talk and get to work!
If you’re enticed by something that looks like “style” in someone else’s work, take it as a starting point for your own work. Don’t be afraid to use it as a starting point, then let your experimentation and exploration lead the way. I’ve written more about style in this article.
4. Challenge the normal
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t go with the flow. I’m always looking for that other direction, even if it doesn’t make sense right away.
Here, I’m encouraging you to look at what everyone else is doing and question it. What makes this approach to a paint job the standard practice? Try the non-standard and see what happens.
Of course, this means taking on risk. You’ll fail.
A lot. Failure will be your modus operandi and it’ll suck. But what you get in return is knowledge that you’ll gain no other way. You’ll discover nuanced tricks (some of which I share on this site) that have priceless value to you (and even to others!).
There, I said it: Go challenge the normal, by not following it.
5. Pursue unconventional interests
You’ll notice that a lot of what I write is about gaming, miniature painting, the art of such things. But did you know I have totally unrelated hobbies I indulge in? Check this uncanny sport-hobby interest I dove into.
Sure, I’ll smoke a cigar or pipe here and there. And, that’s me. I’ll try anything and commit to it until I’m sure I’ve understood whether or not it’s for me. I experiment with interests that I’m able to experience in the opportunities I’ve been given.
I’m an opportunist. And, maybe, if you have interests and the privilege to go in that direction, I say give it a shot, too. You may never understand how it can help you in other areas of your life (or even your artistic endeavors).
Go learn it. Experience it even it may be outside the norm.
Go places. And you don’t have to go far. Explore your city, town, or village. Learn about the history of where you live. Why?
Well, to be different, traveling to new places will open your eyes to new experiences and create a fresh perspective on things. You might find inspiration in the strangest of places, or find yourself surrounded by a community of people who can help you grow.
Most importantly, travel will help you understand different cultures and perspectives. While this may not be directly related to art, it’s essential for your growth as a person and an artist.
I won’t go into detail here about the fancy, exotic places you can go (or where I’ve been). But I know that on every trip I’ve taken, I’ve tried to capture something unique. Literally, I’ll write down a bunch of interesting things along with the photographs I’ve captured.
Such note taking end up being informative at some point, serving as a retrospective beacon for me to look and how far I’ve come.
Pro tip: Bring a camera with you where ever you go. This should be easy enough with everyone having a smartphone. Just remember to use it!
Did you know that getting enough sleep can enhance your creativity? Getting good sleep gives you the clarity of mind for generating new and creative ideas, and improves your ability to solve problems (source).
In the pursuit of “Being Different”, be like almost every mammal on Earth. Get into the routine of sleeping on a regular schedule. Get in the habit of finding rest.
In this, you’ll discover the much-needed break from the hustle and bustle that distracts you, that draws you away from whatever mission you’ve set for yourself.
Sleep and rest gives you physical and mental capacity to come up with creative ideas and put them into action. I love to sleep. But just as important as that, I love to make cool things happen.
I often tell my students who are upset when something doesn’t work, even after they follow instructions to the “T”, that they should not only try again; but that they need to keep working that problem over and over until failure becomes something they expect.
Maybe it’s a tad cynical, but I want them to know that failure is a part of the process. It’s from failure and experimentation that you learn what works and what doesn’t, and it’s only through facing your fears and failures that you discover new possibilities.
The attitude of seeking out failure can be a great motivator for creating something different. By pushing yourself to do something and to keep trying until you succeed, even though you know it might result in failure, you can develop the confidence to continue creating different things.
It’s like playing a game: if you’re willing to risk losing, then there’s an even greater chance of winning. Yup. For real. Just fail as much as you can, but do it by trying to succeed as many times as possible,
9. Inject more emotion
One common denominator for all creative projects and endeavors is emotion. It’s the deeply personal connection that gives spark and life to whatever you create.
Leveraging your unique emotional responses to any project will further differentiate you.
When creating something different, whether it be a painting or a sculpture, think about how you can add more emotion into your project. Okay, I realize as I write this that this sounds a bit corny, even hard to interpret.
Let me give you an example: When you see a miniature sculpt that you think is “cool”, “awe-inspiring”—that sick Tau Warhammer model you saw on Pinterest—what is your next response?
Whatever you experience, THAT should be how you try and paint. Of course, taking your emotional response and converting it into action, into application as a miniature paint job or artistic piece is a different story.
But, here’s a secret of a being more creative: STOP THINKING. Yes, stop thinking so much. Your body, your mind already know the basics of how to use your paint brushes, your paints, and colors will emerge in your head.
Have you seen the Karate Kid, the 80’s version?
Just like Mr. Miyagi said: “Paint the fence. Wax on, wax off”. Just do it and see what happens—you might surprise yourself. You don’t have to be a genius or a prodigy to create something different; you just need to be brave and let your emotional response drive you forward in the creative process.
And, look, reading this article isn’t going to help you with this….
10. Don’t ask for feedback
You’ll read or hear elsewhere that to grow as an artist, a creative, you need to get feedback on your work. I would suggest for someone who is looking to differentiate themselves, to have a distinct approach from the crowd, stop asking for input on your work.
Don’t get feedback of any kind. Stop asking for it. Even constructive, critically placed feedback can rob you of an idea or concept that’s truly unique to you.
You don’t want to end up creating something just because someone told you it was a good idea—you want to create something you believe in and feel passionate about.
That requires courage—the kind of bravery that comes from trusting yourself and your instincts.
So, don’t ask for feedback. Don’t let anyone else dictate your creative process. You are the only person who can tell you if something is “good” or “bad”.
Now…after you’re done, and only AFTER you’ve finished your entire project, you may want to find someone you trust and ask them for specific input.
I tried to think of a cool way to conclude this article, but every idea fell flat. So instead, I’ll keep it simple.
So, my advice to you is this: be brave. Be courageous. Be relentless in your pursuit of something different and creative. There will be failures along the way—that’s life—but don’t give up. Keep going and keep pushing yourself until you make something no one has ever seen before.
And, while you’re at it, don’t forget to have fun! Without enjoyment in the creative process, your work will lack life, vibrancy, and emotion. So make sure to find joy in the act of creating, no matter where you are on your creative journey.
Happy making and creating!