‘Finding Your Artistic Voice’ by Miranda Meeks
Artists of all generations feel the need to communicate. Whether it be an idea, emotion, principal, or a general aesthetic, the artist creates in order to connect with others on a deep and fundamental level, even if the viewer is unaware of this phenomenon. Many artists struggle to find exactly what they want to communicate with their work. What seems important to them one day, may not be so significant to them the following year. The question is this: how do you, as an artist, find those personal themes you want your work to convey and ensure that they remain a timeless aspect to your career? Or, to put it simply, how do you find your voice?
Before delving into this particular process, it’s important to note that you don’t actually get to choose your voice. You don’t get to wake up one day and decide what you want to convey for the rest of your life, at least not on a superficial level. Your artistic voice is already inside you, waiting to be uncovered and to evolve further through process experimentation. Much like the sculptor who chips away at the unnecessary marble to uncover the sculpture hidden in the block of stone, it’s important to identify the unnecessary aspects in your process that are hindering you from finding those themes you need to convey. The following points are practices I’ve found helpful in my own life as I’ve narrowed down the core themes in my own work, and I hope they prove helpful to your journey as well.
The first thing in this process of finding one’s voice is to determine what your underlying motivations are for creating the work itself. Are you internally or externally motivated? Do you create work because you simply cannot imagine yourself doing anything else with your life? Do you create to feel fulfilled? Do you love the process of creating? Do you make work to hear positive feedback from peers? There are many reasons why artists paint, sculpt, and draw, but it’s important to identify why YOU paint, sculpt, or draw in the first place. Go a little deeper than “because I like to do it.” WHY do you like to do it? The further you can go with this, the better you’ll be able to understand the lengths you will go to be the artist you want to be.
The next step is to look both to the past and to the present to identify the subject matter to which you are drawn. I’ve made a simple list of 70 things or so that I both love to draw, and of things I want to draw over and over again. I believe some of this only came about from experience, i.e. I drew those things and discovered I enjoyed it, but I also believe that there are innate aspects to your personality that are naturally attracted to very specific subjects. For example, some of the things in my list include moths, hands, hair, feathers, girls, skulls, snakes, etc. These are things that I will never tire of from including in my work. One practice you can do to help identify your list is to look to the past when you would draw for pure enjoyment, before you started getting paid to draw. What themes did you explore when you were younger? Although you may not be inclined to draw those specific subjects as an adult, there may be clues there which will help reveal an underlying thread of connection between your past self and your current self. Another way is to start collecting work from other artists that you enjoy; create a folder on your desktop and put all the images you find in there. As that body of work grows, you’ll begin to see correlations and similarities running through the majority of the images, which you can then choose to apply to your own work in the future.
Another step in this process is learning how to create your work based on absolute honesty. This means being honest about yourself and about the ideas you’re trying to convey to your audience. One question that will help you determine whether you are being honest and authentic is this: when you go to share your finished work with others, do you feel like you are perhaps revealing a bit too much of yourself in the process? Do you feel like you are sharing something on a personal level? This doesn’t mean that every artist has to go out and create deeply personal works based on life experiences alone. What it means is the process to create these images requires some vulnerability. When you feel just a little vulnerable, you are going in the right direction. If your artwork isn’t coming from the heart, then you can’t expect others to feel something for the piece if you never felt it to begin with.
The most important of all these steps is the following: don’t stop creating work. Whether you’re planning personal projects or doing work for clients, don’t stop. Life happens, and it’s good to take breaks and not feel stressed if you aren’t able to create every single day. That being said, the only true way to find that voice inside you is to work, work, work. You have to work through all the pieces it takes to find out what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. It’s about adding mileage and putting it behind you as you move forward. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts on this path. Those who have progressed have simply put in the effort to be further down that road than others. This isn’t a race; it isn’t about who makes it to the destination first. It’s about enjoying the journey along the way (perhaps this is a clichéd phrase, but it’s also absolutely true). The more work you create, the more finality you’re able to place behind your decisions and the better you’re able to solidify those themes that run as the undercurrent in your career as an artist.
Using these methods I’ve shared with you, and after years of creating, I was able to discover what my voice is based on: the conjunction of depicting beauty as well as mystery, strangeness, and darkness. For me, it’s about visualizing that strange place of existence where something can be beautiful and dark simultaneously. My goal is to have the viewer question the enigmatic narrative behind the images. It was not an easy task for me to discover these things about myself; it took many years of dedication and effort. However, creating authentic and honest work is vital in order to share that fundamental connectivity with other people.
Once you find your voice as an artist, you’ll be able to feel and share those themes with people who are similarly seeking that connection, which helps to further ideas and progression in society for many years to come.