How to Learn From Creative Heroes

As I mentioned the other day, the common intersection of summer and projects is really on my mind right now. We’ve talked in the past about finding your own projects and being mindful of your inspirations. But how about engaging in the age-old, never tired practice of learning from those creators you look up to?

So many people, when asked what made them take up a craft, can often point to a veteran in that field as an inspiration. But those same people who inspire you to start learning a craft are the same people who can serve as your first learning resource.

Learning from someone who inspires you can be fun and motivating. There are a few things you can do that will help you sharpen your own skills.

  • Start by becoming an expert in that person’s body of work. Get so familiar with it that people come to you when they have a question about that person’s work. (Remember to keep focused on their work. Going beyond that can be a bit creepy.)
  • As you develop this overfamiliarity, look carefully at their creative process. What do they do differently than everybody else? How do they do what they do? What is it in their work that really catches your attention?
  • When you’ve identified what makes that person’s work so special to you, use that to help yourself learn their creative patterns and actions. Across their body of work, what conclusions can be drawn that you can apply to your own work?
  • Once you’ve gotten through all of that, just imitate them for a while in your own work. Only a hundred years ago, it was very common for apprentices to learn from master craftsmen by copying their work over and over again, learning the foundational skills through this repetition until they had them solidly ingrained. They could then branch out and do their own work, building from that strong foundation as they worked on finding their own voice in the medium.

Your turn. Who inspired you to take up your craft? What can you learn from them to help build and strengthen your own skills? Take the time to figure that out, to explore, to experiment, to try on those shoes. And then see how your own work improves.

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