Friday, March 25, 2016

7 Ways to Own Your Own Voice


We all know artists that have signature styles. When we see their work, we can immediately identify it as theirs and theirs alone. This is true for the great Masters, many well-known contemporary artists, and a host of people in our mixed media community as well. But this is not the case for everyone.

I've heard many artists say that they've had difficulty finding their own distinctive style or identifying a label that accurately describes the work they create. More and more people simply don't want to imitate the look of others. They're no longer satisfied with making cookie-cutter projects or are tired of struggling to identify their niche as artists. They want their own voice.

If these scenarios sound familiar, take a moment to recognize that this is a good problem to have. It means you are stepping out of the shadows and into your own light. It means that you have enough confidence in your abilities to begin to rely on your talent and instincts. Rather than approach the issue with frustration, think of it as an exciting, creative opportunity.

Many times an artist's style emerges organically over time. As such, sometimes the best way to find your voice is to simply create. And create again. And then create even more, Play. Experiment. Do the work. Regardless of the media you are working in, you might observe certain characteristics that are common in much of what you create. These might be color, texture, subject, composition, or a variety of other elements. Use them as clues to recognize your artistic voice.

However, developing your own signature style can be challenging, even for artists who have been working for years. It just doesn't seem to happen. But don't give up. The following seven suggestions may help.

Play: Give yourself permission to play, without any preconceived plan. Clear the area, spread out the supplies and just go for it. Grab whatever catches your eye. Mike materials that you usually don't combine. Choose a supply that you've never opened. Work with no sense of where you are going. When recess is over, see what you've created. Ask yourself, where did I end up? Sometimes our voices are clearest when we just let ourselves go.

Step Out: Choose a favorite mixed-media art how-to book or head to an online site with tutorials. Pick a project or technique that appeals to you. Instead of following step-by-step, challenge yourself to change it up. Add a new step. Bring in a new material to technique. Do this a few times over the course of several months. In the end, identify your influences and see what you've brought to the table. It may be a key to your personal style.

Play Favorites: We all have artwork that we've made that has special meaning -- the pieces that we really love. The ones we pick to show other people. Gather and study them. What is it about those particular pieces that resonates with you? Make a list of the characteristic that you love. See if a theme emerges across all your favorite work.

Obsess Less: As artists, we often hoard special objects or supplies, but can' t seem to use them in our work. Grab a bunch of these items and look at them as a group. Chose and use several of these treasured items to make a number of different creations. Because these materials speak to you so loudly, these new pieces of art just might provide a hint to your artistic voice.

Keep a Style File: We've all had the experience of seeing something that really grabs us. Keep a file of images that call your name. Don't limit yourself to artwork. Clip a magazine ad that has just the right color or cool font. Don't use these images in your art. Instead, as your file grows, try to see what themes are repeated. People are often attracted to styles that are very different from theirs, and for some this may be a clue to discovering your own voice.

Journal It: A visual journal is the perfect spot to find your style. Write down artful thoughts, words, and events. Doodle, draw, or paint anything that inspires you. Keep track of the results of these exercises in your journal. Do this without any concern about how good it is, and create with the idea that it's for your eyes only. As you journal fills up, look for any recurring patterns among the entries.

Four Score: Choose four pieces of your art that you have made that either best represent you or are simply your personal favorites. Show all four  pieces to four different people whose judgment you trust. Ask each person to write down four words that in their minds best describe your work. See what themes are repeated. Often we already have our own style but find it hard to see. It may actually be very clear to others.

Go about the search for your voice with hope, excitement, and enthusiasm. Keep on creating and try some or all of these exercises. You might just find your voice, echoing loud and clear.

GIVEAWAY
The giveaway has ended. Thanks to all who left a comment at CPS

This article was originally published in Cloth Paper Scissors in my column The Creative Pulse. To celebrate the release of the 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors Annual CD, the peeps at CPS are giving away a stash of mixed-media art supplies. To be eligible for the giveaway, click here and leave a comment on their post telling them which of these seven exercises speaks to you the most. A random winner will be chosen on March 28. 

Feel free to leave a comment on this post in my blog, but be aware that this doesn't automatically enter you into the giveaway. 

26 comments:

Redanne said...

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article with us Seth, it has certainly got me thinking!

Mary said...

Seth, thanks so much for these reminders of HOW to develop our own style. Since Taos, I have been cooking breakfasts and creating small plates of tastes. My cooking has been very inventive and I have our workshop to thank.
Interesting...

Peg Seliga said...

Continuing to develop my style. Newest thing is to put a small stamp of a rowboat somewhere on the design. 'Tis my signature!

Susan said...

Really great ideas...using them all gives you a true sense of your artistic path. Thanks Seth!

Teasel said...

Perfect timing! This subject has been on my mind a lot lately and I'm going to put several of these steps into practice immediately. Thanks for the inspiration.

Bødker said...

Uh.. found 2 ideas I MUST try out, so thanks for that ;-)
sad the contest is not for everyone..... (worldwide)
But thank you for the inspiration ;-)

Karenliz Henderson said...

I keep a style file now since I read this article in CPS. It's digital right now but I find I need to print the pics and put them in a journal or something. Still now sure on my style but the style file has helped me see a few things. Thanks Seth.

Karen said...

Great article!!! I resemble most of those remarks & I think the style file is a great idea. Working on figuring out how best to add one to my life!

Toula Makris said...

Thanks for the fantastic article. The 'step out' technique is one technique that I like to use often because I'm not yet confident to strike out on my own but like to watch videos and then add my own style to it. Never thought about it, but looking back, I do seem to add a similar element to my work:-)

kim TangledBlueRose said...

Thanks so much Seth, this is really helpful. I am going to follow some of these steps and really do what makes my heart jump with joy.
~kim

Linda Ledbetter said...

Seth, this is brilliant! Can I reblog an excerpt at Creative Carte Blanche (with a link to read the rest here)?

Celeste said...

Helpful ideas and reminders, thanks Seth

Dorothy said...

Thank you! This all makes sense!

Shelby Pizzarro said...

Excellent article. First...I believe to be true to your work. We all have a voice. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to find the right song to sing to. But if you follow your inner voice, your work will be truly yours. I also believe in keeping a Style File. Reference material keeps us learning and finding what is right for us. :-)

Annette Green said...

Thank you Seth! This is such great advice and so well said. I'm printing this out and posting it in my craft room. Thank you!

Cheryl Grigsby said...

Okay, four words when I think of Seth Apter: (1) kind-one of the most authentically kind people I've ever met, (2) artist-obviously a gifted and expressive artist, (3) teacher-I love teachers, true teachers, who teach from the heart, (4) encouraging-someone who stands out in this industry as encouraging, affirming, supporting and inspiring others. Thanks for this wonderful article, its one I'll go back to again and again!

Candy C said...

Seth, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your creative soul with everyone. You truly are such a REAL person. You genuinely care about people and their creative journey...not just selling product. Just one of the many things I adore about you. You are a fantastic, patient teacher who encourages his students to color outside the lines. You share your experiences and help open everyone's eyes on how to reinvent things you have and use them in an entirely new way. And of course, I love your products because they are different and multidimensional. This is a fabulous article. Easy to understand and really strikes a core with me...as if somehow you know my thoughts. So thank you for sharing this! It's encouraging to so many and makes me super excited to see what lies ahead on this creative adventure!

Jo Murray said...

Hoarding! Guilty as charged. I'll bring it all to your workshop in July.

Julie Short said...

I don't think having a label attached to me is important at all. If I am a "Will O the Wisp" and choose to play and explore every time so be it.

Your first point resonates with me Seth.

None of us live in a bubble and so influences and inspiration can come from anywhere and from anyone. Yes you are certainly in that mix Seth.

For me when I went to the studio this morning it was the memory of the most wondrous sunrise - a slash of crimson gold that was slicing through soft grey rain clouds. Right now I'm mixing and messing about to see whether I can replicate that colour.
Until today I would have said I don't create with grey!

I'm sure, however that over the next few days that awe inspiring combination will appear somewhere in my art.

Boxes and labels belong on the delicious mind expanding products that tempt us too often.

Getting those treasures out and using and exploring, often before I read any labels or instructions can get a whole new exploration going. The "oops" become opportunities.

I'd like to think I'm an Explorer!
Julie
PS I'm here reading your blog and responding because you are Real! I hope you never let that go.

Pawsitively Creative said...

You never cease to amaze me. When I am stuck in my head, I wander over to your blog and read your posts and this one is exactly what I needed today. Thank you for sharing and for broadening my horizons. Love this post! ~Niki

zandra said...

Thanks, Seth! I always struggle with this. I never can see my style.
Hugz, Z

Maria Avila said...

Thanks Seth. I really needed this advice. Came on time.

Kay Wallace said...

A wonderful article, Seth! I love reading (and then rereading) your column in my own copy of CPS!

Yvonne said...

Hi Seth!
Reading this hit home. I still struggle...I think sometimes it's a struggle that might not ever end in one sense...as we grow, change and evolve so does our art..I think the base will always be there but other things might change along the way. I just know I am still experimenting, playing and finding my own voice in the art world...it is such a freeing feeling. For me art is an expression of my feelings, my thoughts, my beliefs...sometimes light and fun, sometimes heavy and almost burdened.
I think anyone who is struggling should read your 7 points as you hit the nail on the head!
Thanks for sharing! You are a great guy and one that I would always say is the real deal!
Hugs.

Purvi Gadewar said...

Hello Seth,
Thanks so much for this wonderful article! There are so many great advises and ideas in it...
It is true that many people like me find it hard to find our own voice...our own style...so it is very helpful when established artists like you write articles like these...

Maura Hibbitts said...

Very meaningful words of wisdom here, Seth. Thank you for your insight. I like that you share concrete ways to work on/find our creative voice and style.