There’s that guy. You know the one. His work is okay. Well, better than okay, if we’re being completely honest and don’t have to say it out loud. A little commercial, maybe, but (sigh) that’s what seems to sell.
The thing about That Guy is he’s so damn successful. And not just that, he brags about it. It’s galling. You grit your teeth and wonder what he has that you don’t. How do you copy that success?
Short answer: you don’t.
No, you really don’t. You can try to adopt his personality, but that won’t work so well unless you like to talk about how much money you make, and if you were that kind of person, you’d probably be That Guy already.
Imitate his style? If you have any artistic integrity you can’t stomach the idea. Go more commercial? The thought lurks at the back of your mind, gnawing at the edges of your creativity.
But what if you could get close?
Imagine a photocopy of a photocopy. Then run that copy through the machine again. And again. Watch how it degrades with each pass. What you get looks less and less like the original, so the thing that worked so well no longer exists.
Funny how that goes.
It’s not about reproducing success. You can’t copy what someone else does. You might be able to make it look that way, but only if you don’t try.
That may seem counterintuitive, but being an independent artist means success happens between you and your customers. Not That Guy’s customers, or his artistic style, or his methods of promoting it.
We’re generally not trained to think that way. As consumers, we’re taught to follow. To want to be like other people, who are always portrayed as more successful, more attractive, younger, thinner, and with much better hair. We’re trained to want to copy instead of doing things our own way.
Here’s the trick: doing things your own way is just adapting the basics. That Guy takes his work and connects with his customers, and he sells it in a way that appeals to them. He doesn’t talk about the people who look at it, shrug and walk away. It might seem like everybody loves what that guy does, but there are plenty who don’t. That’s true for him, and for everyone else who makes art.
Looking at That Guy as a case study has merit. You can examine the elements of his marketing and see how they come together. You might get a couple of good ideas. But you won’t be duplicating what he does. Because like ideas for great art, the end result will be entirely your creation.