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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52 thoughts on “How Do You Find Your Artistic Voice?”

  1. Well Ginger, thanks for this…as I can see there’s a lot of ‘stalled’ people out there!
    I am not alone!
    I see ideas, I have ideas, I go to do them and get snagged into doing still yet another type of idea!
    I think it’s creative overload,
    so I stop everything!
    I’ve found that my new plan is to make things just for me and if I make something good enough to give away…I do.
    It’s helpfull to know there are others out there that think the same.
    Thanks, B

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article! It resonates deeply for me, as this is something my mother has been saying to me however subtly at times, and at others not so sublty… You see, lately I have been so h*%$-bent on trying to make what I think is popular, or, wanted trend-wise by others in order to “be able to sell more by being, well, relevant…

    Having read (seen in print what my mom has been telling me – stop looking at what others are making or designing or selling – you have your own talent, passion, skill and genius, and joy, and people will love whatever you do – no, not everyone, but some, and once they embrace it, talk about it, share what they’ve acquired from you, others like them, and like you will want to acquire it too…

    The realization? Be me, be true to MY passion, my ideas, my viewpoint, my dreams for this is where I will (and have in the past before I sought money before pleasure) find my true joy and realize my God-given ability to see things as no other being can, MY WAY, not the way others see things, that is their passion and their vision. I can’t utilize what God gave them, he gave that to them, and he gave me my very own. For that I am grateful, now, let me begin showing that gratitude by NOT mimicking what I THINK people want!

    thank you again,

    Warmest regards

    Judith

  3. What a timely, thought provoking article, Thank you Ginger. I am recently retired, from the financial sector. I previously created jewelry pieces, which were sold is boutiques. It was a hobby, and I had pieces that customers bought falling apart. (Limited crimping skills) and also boutique owners saying they wanted this and that to be made bigger, or smaller, to add one tiny crystal to pieces and on and on. I was discouraged, disappointed, and handed in the towel. Now that I have retired, I have honed my technical skills, I love working with jewelry, and recently fell in love with PMC. What a fabulous medium! I am enjoying your articles, tips, and philosophy. I am back in boutiques, and turn down those who want to re-create my creations. I still have moments of self-doubt, look at pieces the morning after and think, “What Garbage!” Everyone has artistry within, from wherever, I would like to encourage everyone to HAVE FUN with it, relax, laugh at yourself, and do what you LOVE!

  4. Thank you Ginger for this excellent article! I think we undress totally when (re)creating something. I share your love for Monet, and really I think your painting shows you more than you think. No Claude there (even if it’s a copy and an excellent one). Art is like a mirror – because when making it, we are lost in thoughts, dreams. We are in some kind of trance, so it shows us all naked. And when someone else looks at it, they don’t see us; they see themselves in a mirror, all naked. Liking or loving art doesn’t depend on it, or the creator, it only depends on us, or so I think 🙂 x

  5. Regarding Gemma’s comment above: I think that women who have worked in structured environments and carried responsibility have their own personal (usually rather high) standards of professionalism. When you have ‘job is job’ and ‘hobby is hobby’, artistic endeavor can often be a very free-flowing activity. But if the situation comes about that the job is no longer there, and you have all time in the world for your hobby, and you also have no financial need to market your art, still something funny seems to happen. Simply by changing the major focus of life to art work in some form, I believe that the standards from ‘job’ somehow secretly sneak into the brain by the back door, so to speak – after all, they’ve served us well for years on end – and that’s one reason for creativity drying up.

  6. Pingback: Explorations in Voice - The Blue Bottle Tree

  7. “You already have your favorite colors, textures..”

    A light bulb went off in my head after reading this, and into the studio I went. Thank you so much for writing it!!

  8. Hello Ginger 🙂

    Your so right I have been struggling with finding my own voice in the blurred vision off all that I have been learning in the past 12 months 🙂

    Funny I started the before I even read your article, I did as you said I stripped away all the voices and the rest, but for the past few months I have been stumbling around. I use to do very cool minutures and now suddenly I am all thumbs :-/ I have found I have lost my drive not even sure what happened :-/

    Right now I am trying to find myself normally it’s never been this hard to do. With quilting I fell into my designs and style right away same with my embroidery and cross stitch as for painting that has always been my own since I was painting from the age of 4-5 won my first art contest at the age of 7 🙂 so why is it now I have started with polymer clay and beading I have lost that certain something that has always been there.

    Every time I get stuck I boot up and go into,the yard and mow the lawn or pull out weeds I have even pulled apart an old butchers block my Dad found at the tip and have been busy stripping it all back to the bare wood again so I can restore it back to its full glory 🙂

    But put me in front of my work station for my polymer clay and I go numb and blank :-/ and so I then switch to my iPad and play games :-/ i know not helpful at all 🙂

    Now I have turned to my emails which are 34 weeks behind on reading as you can tell 🙂 but still I look at my workstation and I can not get what is in my head out into the clay or even onto paper and then to clay I have never been soo blocked as I am right now :-/

    I have my clay conditioned to perfection I have ever learnt how to make my clay so that I can shape it and not lose my designs to breakages like I use to get :-/ and still I am not able to take that lump of clay and manipulate it into something sigh I think it’s time to go back out and mow the lawn again the rains have stopped for now and the day is sunny and the grass is way to long for my liking 🙂

    Maybe tonight when I get back in and sit at my workstation I might come up with something of my own 🙂 if not its back to mimicking someone else’s work and twisting it so that it looks different to theirs… Maybe that is my voice taking something and twisting it all out of shape and into a new shape….. I don’t know I only have a few things that are my own design for real…. But since making them I have gone blank…. A bit like writes block just never had this with art before :-/ but then maybe there has to always be that first time and now it’s my turn for that block 🙂

    Thank you for write up it did help me to find that I am lost so now that I know I am lost I might be able to find my way back to what I do best and that’s play and create 🙂

    1. Angela….have you ever read ” A whack on the side of the head” or ” A kick in the seat of your pants” both are really good books for jump starting the creative juices flowing….they make you think outside the box..how to relax and make art again when you are stuck….there is also “creative Whack Pack” which works with the books….may help a bit….good luck, Kelly Russell

  9. Thanks for the great insights, Ginger!

    Another resource that addresses our creativity is the little book “Art and Fear.” I hadn’t realized how much fear I had until I read it, and now that I recognize that fear I can deal with it. A very important thing, as I see from many of the comments above.

  10. Pingback: Letting Your Voice Take Over | what are you working on this week

  11. Like I always say to my grandchildren when we’re playing with polymer clay…..you cannot make a mistake, this is YOUR artwork and as long as YOU like it, it’s beautiful. And of course Grandma thinks everything you guys make is absolutely gorgeous!

  12. This was a most timely article for me to read. I resonate right now with creating with the voice of others, but after an item is completed, it just does not bring me true satisfaction and joy. I did create something last night that I had been thinking of for some time, but, like many, it’s very hard not to criticize my work. I kept going back in to look at it last night and even this morning before I went to work. It will be better once some finishing touches are on it… but I still have this feeling that this just isnt’ “it”. I have such a strong creative desire in me right now and have had for several months now, but I haven’t found the “aha” moment yet, the right medium, or whatever your want to call it, that gives me that “I found it!” feeling. I just began reading “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron and maybe will be able to let whatever it is inside me flow. 🙂

    1. So many people have had really great results with that book. I do try to do “morning pages”, I have for years, and it really does help. I think the idea of authenticity comes into play here. It’s hard to feel “right” about something that isn’t from our heart. It might be helpful to ponder a while on what aspects of the piece don’t feel “right” and see if that sends you down any paths of inquiry. I find this whole art thing to be an incredible journey into self, and that’s one of the best things about that book…it helps you work that out.

  13. I find that when I sit down to play with my clay, that is truly what I’m doing. Allowing myself to return to the wonderment and open-hearted place where the child in me resides is what informs my “work” (a big-girl term for playtime!). I sometimes, intentionally sit down with NOTHING TO DO and allow the flow of what moves through me. I think it is why I don’t do pieces that resemble some THING, you know–figurative work that requires a meticulous and focused approach to mimicry, or recreating–rendering. I admire those who choose this method, as a great deal of patience and continued focus is required for mastering the skill over time. I prefer to approach the experience as a child approaches white paper with various colors of cold, wet finger paints smeared all over her hands…freely with excitement and a wide open heart. It is also the reason for my studio madness that has no end. When was the last time you watched a child tidy up her area as she was fully in the swing of creating her masterpiece? Where are the children when the teacher is picking up the array of crayons scattered all over the worktable that is littered with colorfully scribbled pages? Outside on the monkey bars, probably! There is time for detail but for me, that is usually, at the end after I have made what rests in front of me. It is when it is time to call forth the “big girl” to “revise the rough draft”. Criticizing my work causes me to suffer. Now why would I do that intentionally. Lately, I’m trying the approach of rather than judge and berate the creations I simply say the words, “Next time.” Sometimes though, there are no revisions and that creation is an A+ paper the first time around. ” Wow,” I think to myself, “*I* made that!” But then I am humbled and bow to the muse that flowed through me and created the pieces THROUGH my eyes and my hands, not BY them. She is ALWAYS there, the muse. But like a powerful river behind the dam, she is either allowed to flow or held back by the giant wall that detains her. Become childlike. Revel in the wonderment.

    1. Your comment caused an entire line of thought that I’ll likely flesh out in a future post about the difference between criticism and critique and the purpose for each. Thank you for sharing. I love one idea will spark another. Conversation at its best!

  14. I’m so glad you wrote this Ginger! When I’m working with art students I tell them there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities. It’s hard to have someone critique our work. I’m a house painter by trade. We do high end homes. I watch contractors in my circle get really offended when someone questions their work. We take great pride in it. We feel like we are under attack. Sometimes others have legitimate reasons for questioning us on it. Other times they have more money than brains. We simply need to do our best. And as time goes by our best gets better. Thanks again.

    1. True. Especially when you’re doing something that nobody else is doing. You have to be willing to try things and take risks. I love that you do that with your work, Jon.

  15. I can relate to so much that you have shared here. My creativity has dried up at the moment. Instead of just accepting that this too shall pass, I realised that fear of expressing myself is a large part of that block. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh, that’s a big one. And I know that at certain times in my life I’ve been more afraid of it than others. The first step is becoming aware of it so you can face it head on. But be patient with yourself. It will come back. 🙂

  16. As someone that had been in structured work positions most of my career (prisons, work-release, police officer), during my off time, I had no problem expressing my creative side. However, now that I left these jobs, I am still stuck in this regimented work mentality that seems to block my creativity. Even the work I currently do, making handbags and recently starting a jewelry line, seem stiff in my eyes. Where I was once free-flowing with ideas and results during the work years, is suddenly stunted now that I’m not working. I read your article with interest because it really struck a cord with me in trying to find that crack in my rigidity so I can finally let out what has been in my mind that just hasn’t been able to make it out into my work. It was truly a wonderful article.

    1. That’s an interesting point to bring up. Our creativity, freedom, and fear are part of the dynamic whole of our lives, not just one segment. And if something else in our life changes, the balance has to change, too. It sounds like you have a strong need for order. Maybe there’s a way of creating order in your work that will meet that need, allowing the artist side to loosen up and flow. That’s really got my mind working. Thank you.

  17. Yep… Still trying to find my voice. sometimes I fear its impossible to be new and different with twist and flair. In the advent of resources and mass of visual inspiration available via the internet I know I get extremely overwhelmed and I end up staring at my desk… Or worse… Organizing. Lol which leads me back to creating. Lol. Yeah I love polymer clay, but have always wanted to explore watercolors. So I am. No reason I can’t try both. Maybe exploring a different medium will bring some much needed change.

    1. That brings up a good point. Sometimes the sheer number of choices makes us feel like a deer in the headlights and we lose our steam. We get paralyzed. Switching gears is a really good idea. Lessons learned in one medium will apply to another.

        1. As I told you on FB, this comment had me sitting in a big blubbery pile of tears. Thank you. I do think there are important messages to share with the world and if my ideas are getting out there and making a difference, then mission accomplished. We all win.

  18. Thank you so much for your gift of sharing your knowledge & just not about polymer clay…you are one awesome lady, Ginger. I hope to meet you personally one day!

  19. thisisbeautiful1

    You know, I have been for a long time now. Not long ago I made two brooches, Storm at Sea, and Stone Rose, and I took them to a handmade market where I watched a woman pick them up, examine them, and then toss them back on the table as if they were garbage! With a broken heart I took them and sent them to my art major daughter in the US, whom In knew would cherish them, because I made them, but more to ask her what was wrong with them! She said nothing except a jerk had touched them. I had NEVER had this happen to me before with anything I’ve made in polymer, and I’ve had my work sell out in a fine craft gallery. So I related to the naked part. Every time we put our work out there we are vulnerable, even those like me that had no fear! And I have to tell you, I’m here because I haven’t touched the clay since. I have photos of them on my Facebook page, but even that took a long time to get up the nerve, just from one mean spirited person who probably doesn’t have an artistic cell in her whole body, yet her actions hurt me to the core. Thank you for sharing this, maybe I can make new brooches now. <3

    1. This hurts my heart to hear that you were so hurt by someone’s careless disregard. And the amazing thing is that woman likely had no idea that her actions were hurtful. They had to do with HER and not with you. Yes, please, make new brooches. Make whatever your heart desires. Those who are qualified to appreciate your work…WILL. And those who are not qualified, well, it will go right over their heads anyway, just like the way your work’s value was completely missed by that careless woman.

      1. thisisbeautiful1

        <3 Yes Ginger I am. Only this time they will be displayed in glass cases, protected and given the respect that all the hours, nay YEARS of work has earned them.

    2. I’m so sorry you went through this experience. And you are absolutely right that when we put our work out there, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. And Ginger hit the nail on the head in this piece by noting that everyone has different tastes and styles. I know that for my work, I just “do my thing” knowing full well that some will like it and some won’t. But, if I’m being true to myself in my art, it doesn’t matter if some won’t like it. I’m quite sure that there is no single style of art that absolutely everyone loves and to try to create things to please others would most likely not please me.

      Thank you, Ginger for raising this important topic in such an approachable way.

  20. Oh, Ginger….

    Yes, yes, and yes again to these words of yours: “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.”
    If one of your immense talent feels this, then…why, then it must be absolutely normal that I feel it. This is what consciousness-raising did for us in the old days…thank you.

    1. Oh gosh, I think all of us feel like this, no matter what our experience and level of expertise. If experienced stage actors still get stage fright after years of doing it, then that tells me that self-doubt and fear are just part of the human condition. I think it would be pathological to NOT feel doubt.

  21. An absolute gem of a thought provoking article and I, for one, am delighted that you penned this. So many of us do wonder what is “our” style or even if we have one. Thank you so very much, Ginger for voicing what many find difficult to express or even think through.

  22. Very thought provoking, Ginger. I see myself in what you said. The fear of failure or lack of talent so I see something that I like a bit and give it a try. It feels okay but I still haven’t found my own style. I think I will start “uncovering” as you suggested and give myself permission to step outside of my box and find me…Thanks for your post. I think I needed to hear those things today. :=)

    1. Ginger, I feel like you singled me out in your article, you describe me so aptly. I have always said I am a craftsman, I can make pretty things people will enjoy and buy, but that I am not a ‘designer’. I am not that person who will reach out of the box, who will reach out of the comfort zone. Whew!

      I am so happy to have found your site, and subscribed to your weekly posts! This is going to be fun
      Barb Wheaton

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