One of the most challenging aspects of being an artist (or really, any type of a creative), is “finding your voice”. Now I have found that most people use that term to refer to finding their unique style. In my own personal journey and evolution as an artist – “finding my voice” has had nothing to do with developing my style.
As I learn and grow and develop my skills as an artist, my style is continually changing and evolving – in fact even after spending the last 5 years delving into the world of mixed media, I am still not sure that I have totally settled on a style that I would consider to be uniquely mine. The way in which my “voice” has been expressing itself through my art on the other hand, has been growing in strength and in clarity.
So if not style, what exactly then is “voice”?
For me, “voice” is that small whisper of truth that speaks into your heart and into your spirit in moments of stillness. Some people think of this as our “inner voice” or originating from our intuition, others refer to it as the “universe” speaking – I think of it as God’s “still small voice” that whispers into our spirit – the voice that meets us where we are and gives us comfort, encouragement, strength, courage, hope, grace – whatever we happen to need at that point in time in the midst of that current circumstance.
So how do you learn to “hear” your voice?
I could be way off base here, but it seems to me that for naturally gifted artists, the process is innate – something they don’t have to think much about. These are the artists that speak of feeling and following their creative calling from a very young age.
For “emerging” artists – as I see myself – it has been anything but innate! Although I felt a creative yearning for many years, it took many more years before I allowed myself to recognize it, and then listen to it, and finally follow it.
I had grown up in an immigrant family where a strong academic background was considered essential to future success and happiness. Art, although appreciated, was considered to be frivolous – a hobby or pastime, not a career. When I finally reached the point in my life 5 years ago, where I felt free to really start exploring my creative yearnings (a long story for another day) – I felt very intimidated.
So I approached it very “academically” – the same way I would approach problems that needed to be solved in Calculus, Algebra, Chemistry, Physics or the myriad other science-based courses I had taken throughout University. Or some might say, very “clinically” as when I assessed patients at the cancer hospital I worked at as a Registered Dietician.
The process I followed to “learn about art” was very logical, very step by step. I became a “student of art” – learning from other artists through books, classes and online courses. A multitude of them! Every artist whose work spoke to me, I studied under – if they had written a book, I bought it, if they taught an online course, I took it. I learned about the materials, the techniques – I followed the processes I was taught and then I experimented on my own.
While these experiences and learnings became the cornerstone of my art, my voice was still missing from my art.
In order to allow my voice to express itself through my art I had to develop for myself a process or “system” of learning to shut out the “noise” around me, learning to shut down my inner critic, and allowing myself to be guided by my intuition. What I found was that the more I was able to create in the centre of internal stillness, the more powerfully my “voice” began emerging in my artwork.
In almost every piece of artwork I share with you on my blog, I share the story behind that artwork. That’s because most of my artwork has a story within it. In many cases however, that story revealed itself during the creative process. I sit down to my work reaching for a piece here and a piece there. Modelling paste, buttons, beads, tissue, ephemera, stencils, stamps, paint and other mediums. Like assembling a puzzle piece by piece, the final story comes together piece by piece – only unlike a puzzle, I am not following a picture on a box, I am letting the picture emerge from the pieces.
Like the fragments of a melody you hear in your subconscious – I may feel drawn to a particular color, a particular sentiment, to a particular pattern, to particular imagery. I allow them to flow together until eventually that melody becomes my symphony. It’s so hard to put words to the process – sometimes it feels almost magical.
At the same time, the interesting thing that I have found about this process is that it can be fickle as well. Sometimes my voice emerges and my artwork speaks powerfully to me, at other times it’s simply a pretty or interesting piece of art.
This piece that you see here is quite different from a lot of my work – not in color, or in style, but in story. A lot of my artwork tends to emerge from the “dark nights of my soul.”. I am a very introspective and reflective person by nature – I think deeply and I feel deeply – this often seems to result in a tendency towards melancholy. My art helps me work through that.
The story of this piece is one of celebration. A celebration of the healing and restorative power of art. A celebration of emerging and becoming.
I have finally reached a place in my art where I have been able to let go and allow myself to be guided intuitively – where my art speaks powerfully not only to me, but to others as well. Not always, but more and more. And for that I am grateful.
Below you can see a video tutorial of my process in creating this canvas:
You can find a full list of supplies on Donna Downey’s blog.
Here are a few more close-ups:
Thank you for visiting my blog, and sharing in my story. I would love to hear from you in the comments section below – where you are in your artistic journey, what art means to you, or what you would like art to mean to you.