Sarah had no experience with illustration when she first started the publication. She only knew she wanted to share her opinions and funny perspective on office culture in some way. After seeing the creator of The Oatmeal speak at SXSW, she realized drawing was the right medium to express what she had to say.
Only thing she had to do was figure out how to draw.
“Of course I sat down and I tried to draw and I hated everything that I did, because I don’t know how to draw,” Sarah said. “I’m also very judgmental; every stroke is like, ‘oh that’s wrong,’ so I just get nowhere.”
She bought a tablet and continued practicing, but nothing she made felt right. Her attempts never matched the vision in her head. But then one day she had the idea to trace photos. She outlined stock photos that fit the message in her cartoon, and somehow, it seemed to work.
“I felt like a hack. I still feel like a hack. I still feel like a lazy hack.”
She continued tracing and published some cartoons with this new approach. Soon, readers started complimenting her on her artwork. People liked it.
“It’s so fascinating how you have your own perception of things because in my head I’m like, this is terrible, this is the hackiest thing ever. And yet so many people are like, ‘oh my gosh this is great, I’m going to try this, I never thought of this,’” Sarah says. “And eventually I kind of started to own it and I was like OK, this is what I’m doing. This is how my drawings are going to be for now.”
Browse The Cooper Review and you'll see dozens of comics created this way. It's become Sarah's distinct style, one you probably already recognize from viral comics of hers like “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.” Sarah was faced with a problem, and she solved it in the most simple way she knew how.
Fake it ‘til you make it. We hear this phrase all the time. Sarah couldn't draw so she faked it in the "hackiest" way possible, and in doing so tapped into a whole new style of drawing. It's not so much that she faked it until she made it. She’s still faking it. She continues to practice her traditional drawing skills on the side, but in the meantime this is what works. And it's working well. She's made it.
In essence, that’s what style is. When we decide to create something our own way, we are faking it. It’s how progress happens. It’s how movements begin. There are no rules that say there is only one way to do something. It’s up to us to decide.
Of course there are general standards or accepted guidelines for design or art or writing. There are things we naturally find pleasing or universally resonate with. It's the people who bend those accepted norms, who find their own solutions to problems, that create their own style. There will always be room to learn and grow and perfect, but their work now has a unique imprint — simply because they can't do it any other way, and that's a good thing.
This is different from pretending we are smarter or more talented than we really are for the sake of getting by. It’s owning the fact that we don't know what we are doing, then finding our own way of doing it.
To be honest, if you could see how most of my design work gets done you would probably think I'm crazy. Faking it does not make you a “hack” (copying someone else’s work and sharing it as your own might, but that's a different story). In fact, there’s nothing to fake if you're creating your own solution. There’s nothing to compare your work to. It's yours.
By owning your faults and finding a way to create around them, you are making something that's genuine and new. You're moving forward and finding your own way about the world. You've already made it.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!