Whether creativity is part of your profession—you’re an artist, an author—or your passion—you love to paint, take photos, sculpt, write—it helps to develop your artistic voice.
After all, your artistic voice is your one-of-a-kind perspective. And cultivating that isn’t only invaluable for nurturing and refining your craft; it also can be a fun, fulfilling process.
According to artist and author Lisa Congdon in her new book Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic, your artistic voice is ultimately “what makes your work yours, what sets your work apart, and what makes it different from everyone else’s—even from artists whose work is similar.”
Your artistic voice is your style, skill, subject matter, and medium, Congdon writes.
Your artistic voice, she adds, reflects your unique point of view, life experiences, identity, values, and what matters to you.
It’s also simply part of you.
As artist Andy J. Miller told Congdon in an interview in the book, “Your voice is part of your DNA recipe, which is in your blood and the code that makes you who you are. The combinations of little proteins in your blood are so infinite that scientists say there could never possibly be another combination like you. Even as humans evolve, the DNA sequences will change, and there will never be another one like you.”
Even though your artistic voice stems from who you are, a highly unique human being, you still need to develop it, to coax it out, to explore its various intonations. Here are three ways to do just that from Congdon’s inspiring book.
Make art every day. The more you create, the closer you get to developing your distinctive style. Because your perspective inevitably starts peeking through. Plus, when you create something every day, your desire for perfection, fear of making mistakes, and fear of failure quiet down, and you can actually play and experiment. Which is typically when the magic happens.
As Congdon writes, “your voice is formed over time through continuous experimentation and intentional practice, and from following spurts of inspiration and intuition down long paths of development” (more on the latter below).
For example, early in his career, Miller drew a new character every weekday for an entire year. According to Congdon, “He knew that if he made a giant volume of new drawings, he was bound to break away from his influences and make stuff that ended up becoming ‘habit and interesting and different and mine.’”
What can you make every single day? What sounds fun or fascinating?
If you’re pressed for time, give yourself just 5 minutes. This limit will likely spark even more creativity (as limits often do).
Create a challenge for yourself. Congdon notes that personal challenges are the backbone of artistic voice development because they help you to hone in your skills and style. A personal challenge could be creating a body of work around a similar theme. It could be a daily or weekly project. It could be trying a new medium, or creating something in 10 minutes or less. Having constraints is a great way to sharpen your problem-solving skills and innovate, she writes.
For example, in 2016, Congdon worked with the color blue. For an entire year. She created over 75 works of art, including paintings and collages.
Here are a few other challenges to try: Come up with one word, and use that same word to pen a poem every morning for a month. Participate in National Novel Writing Month in November. Write a 50-word story every evening. If you take the bus or train to work, jot down silly snippets of overheard conversation, or draw something that catches your eye: a bright-colored purse, a kind gesture, a delicious breakfast sandwich. (The mundane counts, and can absolutely be extraordinary.) Take photos of the same tree outside your window for 6 months—or 2 years.
Develop your vocabulary. Artist Sean Qualls told Congdon that our voice gets stronger when we “develop our vocabulary.” This refers to our “interests, knowledge, and ideas,” Congdon writes.
What does this look like? It’s about learning and exploring. It’s about reading books, listening to podcasts, watching movies, traveling, and meeting new people. Then it’s about finding what resonates with you and digging deeper.
For example, artist Martha Rich, who likes to research “weird” stuff, became interested in church snake handlers in the Appalachian Mountains. This inspired her to create an entire series of art based on the topic. She told Congdon, “I’ll find some weird little thing that I think is cool, and then from there, something else comes out of it.”
Congdon suggests becoming “an expert by consuming knowledge, then expand your imagination and channel what you learn into your work as an artist.”
Discovering and developing your artistic voice takes time and, like anything, is a process. The key is to keep going, even when it feels annoying or confusing or overwhelming or like you’ll never finish or be “good enough.”
As Congdon writes, “the process of creating almost anything (and not just paintings) has a messy period where things feel like they are falling apart and we want to rip up the piece and throw it in the trash. But if you can work through that period, you are more likely to make a more refined, more complex piece of art in the end.”
And, as Congdon adds, frustration is simply part of the process. It’s simply part of being an artist, and the more you practice moving through it, the more you’ll learn and grow. And the more distinct and powerful your voice becomes.