Maike Venhofen


How To Find Your Own Artistic Voice Rather Than Stealing It

At a Cocktail Party with Van Gogh


When I sat down the other night to draw a short comic strip, I struggled with drawing a field of flowers. I started looking for inspiration on the internet. Sure enough there were many gorgeous paintings and drawings of flowers. I got into a reference rush, collecting everything. But once I tried to copy flowers I liked into my panels, they just didn't integrate. They felt foreign.

It crossed my mind that it might have to do with style. The way I had drawn the characters did not line up with the way I drew the copied flowers. But the word “style” seems so elusive. What is style and where does it come from? Do I even have a style?  

Why Bother Finding My Own Style?

Imagine you were Vincent Van Gogh and have been invited to a dinner party. Cocktail in one hand you set out to tell the other guests about the amazing starry night you saw a couple days ago. Just at that moment another guest starts talking about the exact same night. You are flustered. Sure, everybody can see the night sky. But then he starts using the exact same words you wanted to use, describing the environment as if he had stood right beside you, as if he had telepathic skills and was reading your mind. He is lying! He wasn’t there! He is passing of your experience as his own. 

Blindly copying another artist is pretending to be someone else.

In a way you are pretending to be someone else, as you reiterate another person´s experience instead of expressing your own. You copy their experience without translating it into your own point of view- without translating it into your own (visual) vocabulary. This is not to say that we cannot learn from other artists or that we cannot have similarities in our art and worldview.

Whenever we look at another person´s art, we see the finished work, without fully knowing all aspects that played a role in arriving there. The artist’s whole life story up to the point of creation is part of the piece, which is why style is always relative- it depends on factors as personality, time and culture.

Who On Earth Would Want to Listen to Me?

We experience things every second- from a fly walking over your arm, to the anticipating hunger right before coming home for a family dinner or the joy of unexpectedly seeing a friend in a large crowd. Unfortunately we are stuck in our own heads. We never know what it feels like to be someone else. To see the world as they do. Except we can.

Art gives a glimpse into another person´s perception of the world.


Please remember that your perspective on life is just as valid as anyone else’s. It is inherently unique- no one has taken the exact same path as you did to get to where you are standing. And isn't that worth to be communicated and shared? 

I am curious to hear who your favorite artists are. What do you like about their style and their way of looking at things? Do you share sensibilities or do you like how they make you aware of things that are utterly invisible to you?

I´d love to read your responses in the comments below.

Stay tuned for The Art of Making Art Part 2!