There’s no such thing as originality

I started working on my first independent project, The Paper Fox, around eight months ago. If I had listened to others, I would have folded under my own doubt.

The Paper Fox will be an interactive storybook for the iPad and Android devices. The art style is digitally created to look like origami and papercraft, and while I was well aware that other 3D artists had created various ‘hand-crafted’ pieces before, I thought that my take on the style was daring and new.

When I’m working on an art piece, I’m convinced that it’s the most innovative, cutting-edge and insightful artwork ever created. It’s a steadfast (and insulated) feeling that stays with me through the creation of any work. Of course, when looking back on the piece with the benefit of hindsight, my opinions can vary wildly. However, in the case of The Paper Fox, I look back on it with a sense that it could become something more than a single piece.

After publicising The Paper Fox and my intentions for the project, the comparisons started rolling in. People were overwhelmingly positive about the art style, but many of the comments came with examples of similar works. “This looks great; it reminds me of this,” was the overall resounding tone.

With every web link I clicked, my confidence was shaken. Clearly, my style wasn’t the unique and special snowflake I first thought it was. At a glance, many of the artworks I was directed to were exactly the same as my project. I remember thinking that I shouldn’t bother continuing with a style that had already been done a hundred times. I was close to shelving the project and relegating it to a folio piece.

The problem was, I was putting far too much stock into the concept of originality. I thought the artwork was only successful due to its unique and distinctive look. As soon as I saw that not only had it been done before, but it had been done many times over, I wondered whether there was any point in continuing.

But of course, that was a very naive and somewhat arrogant perspective. Originality plays a part in creating any artwork, but if the success of my entire work hinged on the fact that it had never been done before, then it would be doomed from the start. The same can be said for most creative projects.

The reason I’ve had some critical interest in The Paper Fox is not because of its uniqueness, although that is a part of it. I believe its appeal lies in the fact that I spent a very long time polishing the artwork to create something of quality. I wanted to give the project a sense of tactility: the feeling of rough paper; the impression of imperfect shapes bathed in warm, buttery lighting. I spent many hours simplifying the characters just enough so that they could still emote, at the same time ensuring that their silhouettes were strong.

All of these aesthetic choices, combined with the thematic ones, are what makes my – and any other project – unique. I could have easily given up on the project before it became what it is today, which is something much more than a sum of its parts. But then I never would have come to understand that there are no new jigsaw puzzles: it’s how you arrange the pieces that matter.

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