For too many years, I wanted to be Jim Lee.
I fell passionately in love with Lee’s amazingly detailed and dynamic artwork and design sense while he was the artist on Uncanny X-Men in the late 80’s and early 90’s, right before he and five other Ã¼ber-popular artists left Marvel to found Image Comics. I’d been drawing comics-style artwork for most of my life, but Lee quickly became my number-one influence : I used Lee’s artwork as reference material, as inspiration â€” and ultimately as the yardstick I measured my own work against.
And I’m wondering just how much damage I might have done to my artistic sensibilities over the last fifteen years by doing so.
Somewhere over the years I lost much of my desire to draw, and I think that a lot of that was because I was unfairly judging the quality of my work against unrealistic standards. My expectations for myself were so high that I couldn’t possibly achieve them â€” if I couldn’t draw something that was somewhere at least approaching the the ballpark of Jim Lee quality, then the drawing was shit.
Thing is, there’s only a handful of artists out there that I think are in that ballpark, so expecting myself to be able to pull that off and berating my skills when I couldn’t… well, that wasn’t being very generous to myself. I think I judged myself so harshly that I found myself not wanting to draw at all. It’s not fair, of course â€” I’m not Jim Lee, and I never will be.
But when I say “I’m not Jim Lee,” I mean more than just that he’s a better artist than I am, though I think that fact goes without saying (not knocking myself there, just being honest). I also mean that my natural art style, the style that tends to come through when I’m not forcing a particular look on it, doesn’t resemeble his work at all â€” my “voice” differs from his considerably. I tend toward more open shapes, toward thicker and more angular lines, toward less rendering and cross-hatching. For years, though, I defined “professional” in my head as “Jim Lee-like” and tried to make my stuff look more like his. It’s like I was trying on a series of suits, each of which might have looked fantastic on someone else but none of which were flattering on me â€” but if I just kept trying them, dammit, I’d find one that fit perfectly.
Problem is, I never found that perfect suit and quit looking altogether.
Now, though, I want to get back into drawing again. I miss it. Not drawing has never felt right, but every time I’ve tried getting back into it, I’ve run face-first into that same wall of anxiety over and over again â€” I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t know how to draw in any style other than this one that doesn’t feel natural to me, and I hate it.
But no more. I’m reclaiming my “visual voice,” I’m no longer looking to Jim Lee as an influence, or at least not as a major one. I’m rejecting that overly-rendered style as Just Not Me; there are plenty of artists I can learn from and gain inspiration from whose work more closely mirrors my natural style. I want to try to separate myself from the frustration and self-flagellation of the last ten years and try something all-new, all-different. I want to enjoy drawing again, both the process and the results.
I don’t need to be Jim Lee. What I need to be is the best me I can be. ______________  Funny thing: Even as I took him on as my primary influence, it seemed obvious to me that we were both influenced by the same artists when we were starting out (mainly George Perez, John Byrne and Arthur Adams). He just has way, way, way more talent than I do and was able to synthesize those influences into something new and exciting while I… didn’t.