How Do You Find Your Artistic Voice?

How do you find your artistic voice or style? You don’t have to find it. You already have it. You already have favorite colors, favorite textures, things you like. Your family knows your speaking voice anywhere, not just by how it sounds, but by what you choose to say and the way you say it. Your handwriting is instantly recognizable, right? Your style is already there, but for most of us it’s just such an integral part of our personhood that we don’t even see it. That’s why others can often see our style when we can’t.

It’s been said that the only way to find your personal voice in art is to make a lot of art and that eventually you’ll be able to develop it. I think that’s true, but not in the way you might expect. Yes, we do have to develop our voice. But it’s not something that we choose, like picking a movie genre, and deciding that “rustic” for instance, is going to be your “voice” and then working on that “thing” until you get it “right”.

In college I made this copy of a Monet painting of The Petite Creuse River by Claude Monet. I learned a lot.
When I was a freshman in college, I loved Claude Monet so much that I stayed up all night painting this. It’s a blatant copy of Monet’s “The Petite Creuse River“. I learned SO much about color and light and how to handle paint, and got to “Be Like Claude” for a few hours, and this painting has been on display in my home ever since.

Let me take a moment to talk about fear. Because it’s the real problem here. We are all so deathly afraid of being seen as foolish, as being talentless hacks whose work is only fit to be the laughingstock of the office party. (I think the horrors of our pre-teen years left indelible stains on most of our hearts, honestly.) But still, we long to create. It feels good, like blooming spring flowers in our souls. So we begin to create in the voice of others. We make what is safe. We copy an idea, we imitate a look, and essentially we wear the voices of artists that we enjoy. Just like a teenaged girl in a dressing room, we try on lots of styles, striking a pose and twirling our skirts until we find one that feels right. I think this is normal and a perfectly wonderful way of learning skills and techniques and frankly, having a really fabulous time. There is no shame in this!

Now, back to finding your own voice in art. As we stand there in our fabulous borrowed outfit, many of us begin to wonder what our own “outfit” actually is. What is my voice or style? Like I said above, your style is already there. But you’ll never see it if you’re “wearing” the style of another artist. In order to see your own voice, you’ll have to “undress” and drop the styles that you’ve been “wearing”. Of course, that feels naked and raw and bare and very exposed and scary. But the amazing thing is that you don’t actually need to cover up. To find your voice you merely need to uncover, allowing the styles and voices of others to fall to the floor, becoming just a part of your artistic past.

My father, who became a sculptor at age 68, says that at some point you have to lean into it and face the fear and begin to make what you want in the way that you want it. And once that happens, you stop relying on imitating the art, voice, and styles of others. You begin to make what your own SELF wants. In essence, you begin to get out of your own way, and your voice and style begins to be able to be seen and heard. It was always there, but you were covering it up by wrapping yourself in the warm, safe voices of others.

Once you start creating things without speaking with the voices of others, you can begin to see the authentic “weirdness” that is your very own. Your voice will be able to be heard, your style to be seen. And if you listen to it, you’ll be able to start to refine it, bringing the skills that you’ve learned along the way, and creating wonders that ring true and real and authentic. You will have found your style. Even though it was there all along.

Original cactus oil painting by Meg Newberg.
Meg Newberg (yes of Polymer Clay Workshop!) is one of my favorite painters. I’m lucky to have this small study she did of cactus in the desert sun. I would know her work anywhere, and if you think about it, you see her love of light in her polymer clay canework as well.
Robin Mead has a strong voice that uses her bright, clear colors in swirling, organic paths. This little bluebird sits on my studio wall. He makes me happy.
Robin Mead has a strong voice that uses her bright, clear colors in swirling, organic paths. This little bluebird sits on my studio wall. He makes me happy.

Thanks for reading my little commentary on helping you find your artistic voice or style. It’s been a bit of a departure for me as I usually write more about polymer clay topics. But I also think that the emotional side of our creativity is just as important as the tools and materials that we use. If you think this article would be helpful for other artists and crafters to read, I’d love it if you’d share this article with them or perhaps in your favorite artistic social media outlets. And I’d love if you’d join me on this artistic journey by signing up for emails. Thank you!

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