Like many other artists, I like to talk about my process. I’m inspired to write about how I approach my work because I like it when others do the same. But some artists are afraid that if they share their technique someone is going to steal what is uniquely theirs. Someone is going to steal their style.
All artists have influences, and many share the same influences, but this isn’t the same as borrowing another artist’s style. There’s always the possibility that someone will be able to emulate your style whether they know your methods or not. And some illustrators and designers fear that if they share their technique, they’re making it that much easier, and if someone is able to make work that is too easily mistaken for theirs, they’re going to lose clients to their imitators.
Your process is, and will always be, uniquely yours.
And this does happen. Some clients are going to go with the cheaper imitation. And sometimes—because of opportunity, business savvy, or just plain luck—the imitator can overshadow the original. And there are even some occasions when the artist being imitated is mistaken for an imitator themselves. But this isn’t something you have any control over even if you do decide not to share your methods.
Artists are often educators, and the most important thing we can teach isn’t technique. It’s how to be a better artist, how to have a better eye, how to make better images. Sharing your personal process is part of this. Problems arise and you come up with solutions. That’s part of what being an artist is. And sharing your process is not only a benefit to your students and others, but it’s a benefit to you. Because that’s what teaching is. It’s learning by explanation. By explaining the steps that go into making a piece, you learn more about the solutions you found and challenges you overcame. You learn more about how your own process works.
So teaching can be a gift to both student and teacher. This isn’t a new insight. People in education talk about this all the time. And it’s true, if you teach your technique, many students will miss the point. They’ll miss the idea that technique is in aid of finding their own process, of finding their own way to solve problems, and borrowing your technique alone doesn’t have any value at all unless they learn the process of problem solving behind it.
Your process is, and will always be, uniquely yours. It’s nothing anyone can steal. And even if someone emulates the superficial aspects of your style, they’re still not you, and they don’t approach picture making like you do.
So when I share my process, I don’t worry about someone stealing what is uniquely mine. I do it to learn, and I do it to teach, and I do it to become a part of the ongoing dialogue that exists between a larger community of artists, a dialogue that benefits everyone. And if you don’t share your process, you’re excluding yourself from an important part of that dialogue.
I don’t think keeping your techniques and methods private carries any great consequence beyond this. It’s not going to make you less of an artist, or hurt you in the long run. Be part of that community, share what you know and learn from others. This ongoing and rich exchange of ideas is something I’d rather not miss out on for something as silly as worrying that somebody is going to take something from me that has nothing to do with what makes me good at what I do.