No matter where people found themselves within the spectrum of art, one question remained: Is it ok to sell my art if I consider my inspiration comes from the Lord? To be more specific, the question was often “Is it ok to sell something that God gave to you freely?” As you can imagine, I definitely have an opinion on the matter and I hope this article can help clarify this for many of you out there who are struggling with this question.
In short, the answer is a resounding “Yes”! However, not every artist is meant to sell their art and herein lies the issue. It really depends on a few things, namely how an artist approaches their creative expression. For the purposes of this article (Yes, I know that there is a lot of crossover between these and yes, I understand that I’m going to have to speak in generalities since every situation is different) I’m going to focus on artists who approach their work in 3 different ways: their own personal spiritual experience, hobby, ministry to others and vocationally.
Art as Spiritual Experience
For most artists, the practice of art making is something that is innate. They can’t imagine life without it. It’s an extension of who they are and when they are creating, there’s nothing else like it! There’s an emotional release, a rush of pleasure and feelings of overwhelming joy that are rarely found in any other experience. Many times, artists also make a deeper spiritual connection with God during this process. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the artist may feel a real sense that they are not creating by themselves but are rather receiving inspiration from the Holy Spirit and creating with Him. Although this is not an experience unique to Christians, I believe the Father is releasing more of Himself, more of His Kingdom and more of His nature to creatives who are taking the time to invite the Holy Spirit into the creative process.
When artists of all creative mediums enter in to this process, it’s an intimate place. Art making becomes a responsive act of worship where their ideas, tools, skills and processes become yielded to the movement of the Holy Spirit within them. There’s no faking it because an artist knows when it’s real. For many, there’s no greater place of connection with the Father than when they are creating; writing a song, painting, singing, dancing, weaving or just dreaming. To downplay this experience would be a huge mistake because it’s this process of connecting and creating that is so visceral and transforming for each artist. It’s foundational to our experience and essential for our ongoing growth and connection with God.
In this place of art as spiritual experience, there are don’t have to be any rules or expectations. The experience of creating with God with no boundaries is all that matters. Whatever comes out comes out. It’s all worship. It’s all valid. It’s all important to the artist’s spiritual journey. The artist probably has a vocation that provides income for them and spends their ‘free time’ pursuing their creative outlet. There’s never any pressure to sell or please anyone but themselves and the Lord. For these artists, growth happens as a result of a nurtured relationship with God and the art making process. There’s no timetable or requirements on how or when that growth happens. It’s art as worship, for the pleasure of creating and that’s enough.
For more information on creating with the Holy Spirit (or what some call "Prophetic Art") check out my Definitive Guide to Prophetic Art.
Art as Hobby
The good news is that all artists start here, creating from a place of passion, connection, and expression. There are usually no rules at this point, only a love for creating, experimenting and having fun!
You can probably relate, am I right?
The focus for most hobbyists is creating for their own personal enjoyment. You may find yourself pursuing your art at your leisure… when you have extra time or a few times a month. Many hobbyists don't necessarily have a dedicated studio space to create in and end up creating in the dining room or spare bedroom of their home (or if you’re like me, the back porch, garage, kitchen and the shed out back!)
Most hobbyists enjoy the freedom of creating when inspiration strikes, once a week, a couple of times a month, or even a few times a year. They often continue to create because of the spiritual connection they feel when creating.
Overall, being a hobbyist is an awesome place to be!
When you approach your art as a hobby, you're doing it just for fun. Again, no strings are required - just an enjoyment of the process. The time spent in the creative process is just for you. Sometimes you give art away to friends and family, other times you may sell a piece or two every now and again. However, art hobbyists rarely count on the income from their art sales to live. Usually it's about enjoyment and making enough to pay for materials.
Art as Ministry
It’s rare that an artist creates in a vacuum without anyone knowing about their creative expression. For most creatives, we enjoy sharing our creativity with others – friends, family, our faith community – and that only heightens the experience of creating. Nowadays because of the rise of acceptance of art as spiritual expression within the Church, many artists are finding they have the opportunity to share their art with others through doing things like art shows, painting on stage, performing on their worship team and many other wonderful expressions of creativity. This is an incredible opportunity for all creatives to take what’s been happening in their private studio time with God and welcome others into that process. Instead of their art simply being a place of personal connection with God, now it also has the potential to become a vehicle for others to experience the transformative Light and Light of God through their art.
As with most things that involve other people, sometimes this can get a bit hairy. What do you do when someone doesn’t understand or respond to your work in a way that’s life-giving for you? How do you receive compliments? What if someone has a major encounter with the Lord through your work? It’s never simple for an artist to put their creative expression out for the public to interact with because it’s not just about the work. It’s bearing your soul and allowing others to come into your special place of connection, judge it and many times judge you. Depending on how you’re wired, that can be exhilarating or a real emotional challenge.
Many artists now days are finding real acceptance within their faith communities as they create in the context of worship. People are inspired by their work, it heightens their own spiritual experience and allows them to create with others. It’s from these artists with whom we work most at The Worship Studio. They mostly create as worship and for the joy of the experience, have probably sold a few pieces here and there over the years but mostly enjoy giving their work away to others as a way to encourage them in their own spiritual journey. Artists in this place often struggle with the concept of selling their work because they don’t understand how they can or should sell something that’s such a natural expression of their own heart and given to them by the Holy Spirit in the context of worship.
For artists who are are creating for their own personal enjoyment and spiritual expression, I say “Don’t worry about selling you work.” Allow it to be what it is – a joyful, creative, spiritual experience that you’re sharing with others. Why put the pressure on yourself to sell or not sell when there’s no specific calling to move into vocational art making? For many artists who are, for lack of a better word, hobbyists, they tension of feeling like they should sell their work causes more frustration than anything which only impedes the creative process. I always encourage these folks to enjoy the process, freely give as you have freely received and don’t put undue pressure on yourself or your art making practice.
Art as Vocation
For most artists – especially Christians – who have moved into creating as their vocation, they still create from a place of spiritual experience and desire to connect with God through their own creative process. In fact, most, if not all began in a place of creating simply as a response to their own inner need to create. I call it the compulsion to make, always searching for something to do with their hands. These artists still value the joy, spontaneity and exhilaration of the creative process but at some point began to feel the desire to create as their vocation. It may have been the result of a prophetic word, a longstanding dream of theirs, the recognition that if they were going to keep doing this and getting better they needed to give more attention than just what they could do as a hobby or just because their work started selling and they followed God’s favor on their work. However it happened, did this decision to create for money diminish their spiritual experience? Was God somehow displeased with them because they were no longer just creating for the joy of creating? I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “No”!
Growth in the Kingdom is always based on stewardship of the gifts that a person has been given, regardless of where they find themselves in culture. For the artist, this most definitely includes their artistic gifting and their ability to hear, sense, feel and receive from the Lord. Let me pause and say, however, that I don’t believe becoming a full-time vocational artist means you’ve somehow achieved the ultimate maturity as an artist or as a Christian artist. Many of the best artists around choose to create as a hobby, for their personal enjoyment and have other vocations that they pursue to make their living. Many enjoy this because it allows them to come to their art making with no boundaries, requirements or pressure. It’s simply art for their personal enjoyment, sharing with others and even worship.
Other Considerations when Selling Art
Artists who have chosen to move into art making as their vocation however, don’t have the luxury of simply creating for personal enjoyment, although there is always joy that comes from the process. They have to consider the salability of their work, how it’s marketed, priced and presented to the public in a way that represents their values. Vocational artists can’t give most of their work away because for them, this is the primary way God has given them to make harvest their financial provision. They have to think about things like dedicated studio space, gallery representation or direct retail sales, inventory, shows and marketing their work. These artists have to pay attention to who’s buying their work, why, for what price and to be used in what context in order to continue to grow and thrive. To be successful, a vocational artist has to be both artist and entrepreneur. There is no either or if an artist is to be successful in the marketplace.
This is where a lot of Christians who are artists somehow jump ship. They have this notion that artists who have chosen the vocational art path have somehow sold their soul to the art devil and have lost the essence of creating from a place of spiritual connection. How ridiculous! In my opinion, that’s just a load of religious poppycock and emotional gobbledygook! No one would think of making this accusation to someone who gets a million-dollar business idea from the Lord yet somehow, because we’re creative our motives and intentions are called into question. Should a pastor not be paid because they receive inspiration from the Lord for their sermons and daily ministry?
Vocational but Still Spiritual
Yes, being a vocational artist requires a different skill set and thought process, but it’s no less spiritual for the artist who approaches their life and work as a Kingdom creative. Being a vocational Kingdom artist is a beautiful collaboration with God in which the artist has the joyful opportunity to see and agree with Heaven, co-create their experience with the Holy Spirit and enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom in their life while expecting transformation to be the result of their life and work. All along the way, they get to trust God completely for their provision, opportunities to sell their work and new creative ideas.
I’m one of these vocational artists who did what I do creatively now as a hobby for 15 years before it became my primary income source. For me, this journey of becoming a full-time working artist has required so much more faith and connectedness with the Father than anything I’ve ever done. I have opportunities each and every day to listen, trust and cooperate with the voice of the Holy Spirit not only as I create art but as I create a life and a business that God is using to bring finances into my family’s life. I love the adventure of being a vocational artist and can’t imagine doing anything else.
If you're interested in making a transition from hobbyist into art as your vocation, read this article about what I call "The Bridge" to seeing your dream come true.
Enjoy Your Art
No matter where you are as an artist – creating for the love of the spiritual experience, doing it as a part of your ministry or as a vocation – realize that God’s joy over you is the simple fact that you’re doing what He created you to do. As you grow and dream with Him, the ways you express and present your art will change. That’s ok! Enjoy where you are and enjoy the growth process without putting undue pressure on yourself to be someone you’re not. God has an incredible plan for your life and art whether you sell it for thousands of dollars around the world or offer it to Him as worship in the secret place. Just enjoy the Father, create with Him and follow His lead. You never know where things might lead!
People reach out and ask me all the time how to make money as an artist. Yep. Many well-meaning artists have asked this question and most believe that it's a single answer, like there's some shortcut or secret ad you can run to make everyone buy your art and make a million dollars.
SPOILER ALERT: There's no silver bullet for learning how to become a successful artist. However, after working as a creative now for over 25 years, speaking to thousands and personally mentoring thousands of artists via my books, podcasts, and online artist mentoring program, I've come to understand some of what it takes to really thrive. I'm going to share some of those insights with you right here.
Since I also believe no one person has the corner on success, I reached out to several of my thriving artists friends who are creating beautiful work and selling the heck out of it all while living an incredible life.
Based on their input and my experience, here's my top 29 tips for taking your artistic calling to the next level so that you can really start thriving in 2021.
As you probably know by now, information doesn't create change. Real change only happens when valuable information meets action and interaction; action on your part and interaction with others on your journey and an experienced mentor. Why, you ask? Most of the time, there are things in your life you just can't see by yourself. For those who are willing, God uses mastermind and mentoring relationships to bring you to the next level of growth.
If you'd like to make this year your breakthrough year and really start thriving as an artist spiritually, artistically and in business, check out my Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program and read some of their stories! Thousands of artists just like you have made the decision to be a part and it's changing lives.
Thanks again to all my artist friends who contributed to this list. Each one is creating great work, thriving as a professional artist and a joy to call friend!
Have you ever wanted to unleash yourself artistically and create free from the confines of always using reference materials when you embark upon an artistic adventure? Are you looking for a key to unlock and tap into a limitless supply of imagination and creativity that informs and inspires your creative process?
Lots of artists are looking for this, and recently one of my podcast listeners reached out for some strategies on how he could begin doing this. Nigel wants to break free from relying on photographs as his source materials into creating paintings birthed out of his imagination, but he's finding it challenging to make the transition.
If this feels familiar, I get it, and I want you to know you're not alone. I spent many years using reference materials, photographs, other works of art, and even general inspiration, to inform, inspire, and shape my woven sculptures. But as I began to understand the nature of creativity in the Kingdom of God and the role that divine inspiration plays in the artistic process, my whole world began to change.
As I pressed into my calling as an artist in the Kingdom of God, I began to discover the keys, Biblical truths, to unlocking the inner creative well* of inspiration that the Father has placed inside each of us. But before I dive into the "how-to," let's back up and take a look at how a healthy Holy Spirit-led imagination is supposed to function.
Creative Imagination is a Beautiful Engine
I believe that creative imagination is a beautiful creative engine that God has given us. It's full of emotion and fully capable of sensing both the natural world we see and spiritual realities we can only perceive. In a sense, it's a kind of divine alternate reality we can explore with the guidance of the Holy Spirit where we see, hear, feel, touch, and even taste things that are not YET tangible. And it's not just what I believe; it's an idea birth in scripture:
It is by faith we understand that the whole world was made by God's command. This means that what we see was made by something that cannot be seen. Hebrews 11:3
Or this classic verse talking about Abraham's faith:
God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. Romans 4:17
Your God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired imagination is how you get to see those things that are not as though they were. And as you begin to embrace the reality of what the Holy Spirit reveals, you have an opportunity to co-labor with the Father to bring those things to life through your creative expression.
Intentionally Jumpstarts Your Creative Imagination
Pulling inspiration from your imagination isn't something that's going to happen on its own. Just as you've gathered reference materials specifically and intentionally over the years, you're going to have to start cultivating and using your imagination intentionally as well. But believe it or not, you're already off to a good start.
Your divinely inspired creative well won't spring forth from a vacuum. As a Kingdom artist, you are called to create from not only Holy Spirit inspiration but also from the fruit of everything you've cultivated in your heart and mind over the years. That means that all of the inspiration you've gathered, the music you've listened to, books and poems you've read, and beautiful things you've been a part of are already in your well.
With this already in place, the next step is to partner with the Creator of the universe. Start by asking the Holy Spirit, "Holy Spirit, would You blow over me and awaken inspiration that is in my heart from years past? From things that I don't even realize? Would You begin to activate those things in me so that I can begin to pull on those in my creative process under Your inspiration?"
Visualization Fuels Your Creative Engine
Now, the other thing is that I am a big believer in visualization, allowing the Holy Spirit to take your imagination on a journey that fills your creative well with inspiration. I believe that when you visualize in your creative imagination with the Holy Spirit, that your faith is activated as you come into agreement with:
It's how you begin to see those things that are not as though they are. It's also how you begin to co-create your artwork with the Lord. If this is feeling a bit new to you, don't worry. Let me walk you through your first adventure with the Holy Spirit. To begin, you'll need a few things:
Your sketchbook or art journal & a pen (Need tips on journaling? Read This)
So, begin by putting on the music, sitting down in your chair, and closing your eyes. Take time to connect with the Father and to let the cares of the world and the day wash off. Then once you feel ready, just say, "Holy Spirit, take me on a journey and open up my imagination."
Now don't be surprised if you find yourself drawn to some of the source photos or reference materials you've collected over the years. This is normal. But as the Holy Spirit begins to focus you on one idea or location, maybe an old Cathedral you've visited or a landscape you photographed years ago, invite Him into that place and into your imagination. Then begin to watch, look, and listen with the eyes of your heart.
Stay in that place, exploring with the Holy Spirit, until you feel a release. It may take 5 or 10 minutes, maybe longer. Then once you're ready, open your eyes, pull out your journal and begin to capture in words or sketches what you just saw, sensed, and felt. But it doesn't have to end there.
Over the next few days, go back and revisit this with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to highlight and reveal more details, insights, and nuances. Again, finish by capturing what you saw in your journal, sketching in additional details to better capture the essence of what you're seeing. The goal is to use your God-given creative skills to capture the beautiful things you're seeing and experiencing with your Holy-Spirit-inspired imagination.
Another Creative Tool for Your Belt
Over the years, these Holy-Spirit-led journeys have become vital to the ongoing practice of filling my creative well. I still use reference materials, gather inspiration from my walks in the woods, music I listen to, books I read, the art I admire. But now I allow the Holy Spirit to fuse these together in my creative imagination.
One time, I had a basket that I wanted to create. I'd never woven a basket like this before. I was stuck on how to connect the inside to the outside. That night before going to sleep, I simply asked, "Lord, would you show me how to do that?"
That night I had a dream, now this doesn't happen every time, but that night it did. I woke up the next morning, jotted some notes in my journal to capture what the Lord had shown me, and then I went to the studio and did what I saw in my dream. WOW! And why not? If you could ask the Holy Spirit to lead your spiritual life, why can't you ask Him for the same in your art life? That is the normal way that the Kingdom works.
I hope you'll give this a try. Start going on some Holy-Spirit-led journeys in your imagination. As you do, you'll begin to create unique works of art from your creative imagination that reveal the Glory of God.
Got Questions? I'd Love to Answer Them
If you have a question for me, I'd love to answer it here in my blog and on a future episode of 5-Minute Mentoring. Just stop by my podcast page and leave me a voicemail. Thanks for reading.
* I was first introduced to this concept by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way, where she says "In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish – an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem..." As I have explored it more over the years, the Holy Spirit began to bring me more revelation about how inspiration works - how it's discovered, held and nurtured within us. Central to my understanding is that the Holy Spirit moves over all the inspiration we sow into our heart and mind, allowing us to co-labor with Him in the creative process.
I talk a lot about journaling. It’s true. Journaling has been a big part of my spiritual life and my artistic life for years. Many people have asked me about journaling over the years, but most recently, Myra, one of my podcast listeners, reached out to me, looking for some guidance as she embarks on her own journaling journey.
What is a Journal, and why should I have one?
Unlike a mere diary, which is usually a record of events that have happened, a journal is a powerful tool for exploring new ideas that are still taking shape. It’s the physical manifestation of your creative headspace. It’s where your next big idea will be born, grow, and played with before it makes the leap off the page and onto your workbench or canvas.
It’s also a safe place. A judgment-free zone where you can push the boundaries of your creative process before committing your time and resources to flesh it out. For visual artists, this may be sketches, for poets, prose lines, for songwriters, lyrics. Not all of the ideas and notions committed to your journal will see the light of day, but that’s not the point.
Finally, for so many creatives, an art journal is a vault for stewarding creative ideas. The concepts you’re exploring in your journal today are the seeds of inspiration that will bear fruit in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come.
What do I put in my journal?
The easy answer is “Whatever you want.” After all, it’s your journal, your tool for doodling with intent. I started journaling as a part of my spiritual processing with the Lord. It started with me writing and recording my prayers, and the dreams I felt came from God. That quickly evolved to include inspiring ideas, scripture verses, prophetic words, and quotes that meant a lot to me.
I realized pretty quickly that the only rule of journaling is that there are no rules. Today, my journal lets me capture the creative interactions that take place between my spirit and the Holy Spirit during my quiet time with the Lord in the mornings and sometimes before I go to bed.
Over the years, I got into the habit of dating every entry to track how these ideas, inspirations, and promises from God played out over time. Just this past month, I reached a major membership milestone inside my Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program. We were in the middle of our latest membership launch when I realized that one of these God-given dreams had just come to pass.
Back in January of 2017, while spending time with the Lord, dreaming His dreams, and receiving His vision for the Mentoring Program, I wrote down the following divinely inspired goal…
Now while it took a few years longer for that original vision to come to pass, the point is it did! We’ve linked arms with over 2000 Kingdom-minded artists from all around the world, and we’ve been blessed with the tools and the team that made this dream a reality. And having the ability to pull an old journal off the shelf and see the faithfulness of God in action was an affirming faith-building moment I’ll always remember.
Do I need separate journals for my creative and spiritual journeys?
This is a great question, and in the end, the answer is just a matter of personal preference. I actually keep two journals at any given time. I have a journal that stays with me in the studio. This volume is more of a traditional artist’s sketchbook where I work through ideas, concepts, colors, sizes, and connections for my current and future projects.
At home, I keep what I would call a prayer journal. I continue the regular practice of recording the prayers, dreams, ideas, and visions I feel come from the Lord in this book. I’ve even developed my own set of marker codes to help me quickly find the goals I’ve set for myself and remember the inspired gems the Lord speaks to me in those early morning hours. It’s not anything fancy, just some rudimentary lines, scratches, and dots that help the important things stand out to me.
Now without fail, I’m sitting at home in the morning with my prayer journal when artistic inspiration strikes. Instead of regretting that my sketchbook is at the studio, I simply record that initial Holy Spirit inspired stream of consciousness there at home and transfer it later when I’m back in the studio. That seems to be the most natural process for me and allows me to get the thought out and record it when the inspiration strikes.
I’m ready to begin my journaling journey. How do I start?
Listen, if there is one practice in my life that has made the biggest difference in my relationship with the Lord and my ability to stay moving forward, it has been journaling. And now that you are ready to embark upon your own journaling odyssey, I encourage you to go out and get a great one.
A journal can be as simple as a $1 composition book from an office supply store or as fancy as a leather-bound journal from your local art store. I have a local artist fashion me a few hand-made journals each year. I love them because they are beautiful and they all match. At $60 to $70 a piece, these journals may seem like an indulgent splurge to some. But in reality, I see them as an annual investment in something that yields immense returns in my creative and spiritual life.
I sure hope this has been helpful. So if you are a long-time journaler or just starting on this journey, I’d love to see what your journal looks like. Post a picture of your journal, or journals, on Instagram, and tag me @TheThrivingChristianArtist.
Thanks for reading.
One of the things that makes art sales a lot of fun and a lot easier is having a unique, creative voice. It’s that recognizable style and aesthetic that makes people go, “Wow!” when they see a piece of your art. It’s the thing that lets them instantly recognize that work as yours when they see it at a store, in a gallery, or online.
My unique artistic voice helped me develop my reputation as a fine artist and become known in the marketplace. It has allowed me to stand out in a unique, profitable, and very fulfilling way.
So, how do you do this? How do you find your unique creative voice?
I don’t believe that your unique voice is something you find as much as I think that it emerges over time. It comes out as you’re in the studio, as you are doing the work, filling your creative well, and cultivating and nurturing your creative talents.
Over the years, I’ve found that artists journey through four phases on their path towards uncovering their unique creative style.
Emulation - We All Start Here
All of us start our artistic journeys in a place of emulation. We look at Pinterest, take classes, and find art and artists that inspire us. This process is as true for painters and potters as it is for sculptors and basket makers.
In this phase of your quest, you learn some initial techniques and start creating works inspired by what you’ve learned from a specific artist, class, book, or online video. And you stay here a while honing your skills, but then something begins to itch inside creatively speaking and you begin to take things a little further.
Exploration – Having a Look Around
Standing on the foundation of confidence and experience you’ve built up emulating others, you, like so many other creatives, begin to yearn for more. It begins with a single step out of your artistic comfort zone as you start exploring different artists, techniques, tools, and materials.
You move from the relative safety of copying others into an era of fearlessly exploring and pushing past your creative bounds. And as you do, you begin to discover and develop a cohesive expression of who you are as an artist that expresses itself through your creations. Your art’s tone and nature start to mature as you create beautiful, unique works that resonate with who you are as an artist.
Once I mastered several different basketry skills, I got bored. That began a quest to find that something more, that missing piece that would take my art to the next level. I explored different materials, treatments, surface designs, positioning, and shapes to incorporate into my baskets.
Even if I didn’t know it at the time, this creative quest’s goal was a unique creative aesthetic that told the world who I was as an artist and resonated with buyers out in the marketplace.
Maturing – It's Gonna Take Some Time
Now I’d like to tell you that the exploration phase of my journey was a safe, quick, and uneventful trip. It wasn’t. It took several years of working, testing, and pushing the boundaries of all that I had known artistically. Sure, I was turning out some beautiful pieces, but I made a lot of ugly ones along the way. The key was that I was always pushing, always exploring, always honing my skills, and cultivating the talents God gave me.
You have to understand that your journey of artistic exploration will, at times, be uncomfortable. You’ll spend as much time, energy, and resources discovering what you don’t like, don’t excel at, and are not called to do as you do finding what you do like, excel at, and are called to do. The secret is not to stop and not shortcut the process of growing, learning, and discovery on the way towards defining yourself and your artistic voice.
Autonomy – The Promised Land
But eventually, you move through emulation, complete your artistic exploration, mature creatively, and then you arrive at a place I call autonomy. Here is where your uniqueness begins to emerge. Everything starts to fall into place.
The techniques, materials, and inspiration you’ve worked with for so long just begin to click and work together. Suddenly, you start to recognize and embrace your unique creative voice, and so do your clients and potential clients in the marketplace. Your artistic individuality springs forth, and a maturity of skill and vision emerges in your work. That’s really how you find your unique artistic voice and style.
Trust the Process
I know this journey intimately. For me, it started back in the mid-90s when I started making baskets at 19 years old. I did that for 15 years just as a hobby, playing around with traditional patterns and materials until 2009 when I started exploring ways to create something unique and special.
Even though I started from a place of traditional basketry, my artistic autonomy began to emerge as I embraced unique materials, techniques, and shapes for my work. It took a couple of years, but all of that inspiration, exploration, and studio time began to pay off.
So to anyone ready to embark upon this epic quest, I would say this: Trust the Process.
But most of all, I think, just listen. Listen to your heart, listen to your materials, listen to the results of what you are creating, listen to the market and other artists that you respect. Give them all permission to speak into your work. Over time, as you do this, your unique voice will emerge.
One of the questions that I get all the time is, “Matt, how do I find my artistic uniqueness and express that in the marketplace?” It’s a great question and a real sign that the artist asking it is ready to take their art to the next level. Why, you ask? Because differentiation and uniqueness are what set you apart from other artists in the marketplace.
Art, after all, is a language. It is visual, auditory, and it speaks to the soul of all people. Like the spoken language you use every day, your artistic vocabulary doesn’t just appear overnight. Here are three essential things you need to know about developing and refining your creative voice.
You’ll Know It When You See It
One of the things that I really believe about finding your unique, artistic voice is that you don’t find it; you recognize it. You uncover it. You allow it to emerge over time. However, one of the things artists often neglect is being in the studio enough to ever see that emergence happen.
As you pursue this process, just start by doing the things that come naturally to you. Then, get in the studio and create tons and tons of work. Develop that masterful competency that only time and practice brings forth. And as you do, you’ll start to see themes and styles come out as your unique creative voice emerges.
Consistently Cultivate Inspiration
Creating lots of work over time forces you to cultivate continued inspiration in your life. As a creative, you must keep your artistic eyes and ears open all the time. As you receive that inspiration, you respond through your work. And then the inspiration/creation cycle starts all over again.
As you cultivate inspiration, you start to recognize what you are interested in and drawn to as an artist. You begin to gravitate towards a preferred medium and limited palette of materials and supplies you’re using. You begin to recognize the things in life that inspire you the most, and you start to purposefully pursue that source of inspiration.
One final thought on cultivating inspiration; be consistent, be intentional and be faithful. Get serious about cultivating inspiration in your life regularly. Then, faithfully steward those ideas by journaling them. (Need more tips on this, check out this podcast episode that is all about cultivating creative inspiration.)
Don’t Rush the Process
Creating tons of work and developing masterful competency while consistently cultivating inspiration takes time. One of the biggest roadblocks to artists developing their style happens when they pressure themselves to sell their work too quickly.
Investing time in your art is the key. There is no shortcut to gaining experience and building skills, both of which contribute to developing your creative voice. Allow your voice to emerge, over time, then refine it. As you do this authentically, people will recognize your uniqueness and respond to it, giving you an excellent opportunity to connect with those people when you make your move to the marketplace.
I hope this helps as you continue to pursue the development of your own unique artistic voice. If this article has helped, take a moment to share it with a friend, share it on social media, and comment below!
Thanks for reading.
You know, if you love making art as much as I do, it’s really easy to wonder, “Hey! Is my love of art and creating art crowding out my passion for Jesus and my desire to worship Him? Is it becoming an idol in my life? I don’t know if you have ever thought about that, but recently Tina, one of our Podcast listeners, asked me that very question.
Fear By Any Other Name Is Just Fear
Sometimes the enemy will disguise himself as wisdom when it’s just plain old fear. When I hear a question like this, I find that it’s often rooted in a place of fear: Fear of messing up, fear of not doing it right, fear of disappointing God, and others.
It’s born out of a wrong mindset that is all too prevalent in the church and the Christian art community. This false idea that “Unless you do it exactly like this, or get exact permission to do this much but not that much, then you are somehow going to do it wrong.”
Bottom line, God isn’t like that. I really believe that God cares so much more THAT we create than WHAT we create, or even how much we create. I believe that it brings God joy when we do the thing that He has called us to do.
It is like the quote that I included in “Unlocking The Heart of the Artist” from Saint Irenaeus that says, “The Glory of God is man Fully alive.” That is, as you do the thing that God has called and created you, nothing else could bring greater glory or greater joy to the Father. So instead of a fear-based approach that is borne out of a faulty mindset, I want you to embrace this confident heartfelt belief in your art that says, “Yeah! When I do this thing, it is what God designed me for,” and that brings Him glory.
Art Is A Vehicle for Grace
If you are struggling with this question, then I want you to embrace the fact that art is a means of grace. It’s one way we can experience the grace, love, and manifest presence of God in our life. This grace is not only for ourselves but also for others as God uses our art to reveal and release His nature in and through us.
Always keep in mind that it’s God who created and called you to be an artist. It’s His artistic expression that He desires to bring to life through the talent and skill He gave you. The Father desires to bring you into this Spirit-led creative process, one that impacts and changes not only you but others as well.
Again, nothing brings Him greater glory than for you to be able to do the thing that He has called you to do. That, my friend, sounds like the exact opposite of idolatry.
Keep Your Eyes on The Creator, Not the Creations
For all of us who are believers, art should never be the entire focus of our lives. Art for art’s sake isn’t why you were endowed with your unique set of creative gifts and talents. Rather, art is a vehicle through which we experience the love of God, hear His voice, and allow His beauty, life, and life to flow through us to others.
When anything in life becomes an idol, three things come to mind:
If the thing you create and the artistic passions you pursue begin taking on a life of its own and separating you from God, then yes, that could be a problem. Anything that supplants your relationship with Jesus and His Lordship in your life absolutely can become an idol.
The secret to staying on the right path is to want to make sure that you see these beautiful things, these gifts that God gives us not as an end in themselves. Art, as I shared earlier, is a vehicle God uses to draw us close to Him. He uses it to transform our lives while He moves through us and the works of our hands to transform others. Art that accomplishes this is not an idol.
I hope this helps as you continue to create with Him. If so, take a moment to share it with a friend, share it on social media, and comment below!
Thanks for reading
Choosing someone to walk with you on your own artistic journey is probably one of the most important choices you'll make as an artist.
Why? Because who you choose determines what seeds you're going to plant in your life and ultimately, what fruit is going to be produced.
As you consider choosing an art mentor to help you on your journey as an artist, let me offer a few questions you need to ask:
Do you ever wonder how to keep the inspiration going when you feel just a little creatively dry? A lot of people struggle with that, and I am going to dive into this subject and give you some real help on how to keep the inspiration flowing.
You know, we have all been in this situation, right? You get into the studio, and creatively you just hit a wall. Inside you are like, "I've got nothing! No inspiration! Nothing is flowing here! What's going on?" As artists, isn't being creative what we are supposed to do anywhere and at any time? Yet somehow, we all have found ourselves in this place, but the good news is none of us have to stay there.
Fill Your Well
As artists, we all create from the inspiration that we're continually collecting, cultivating, and curating in what I like to call our Creative Well. Think of your "Well" as an internal reservoir that frequently needs to be filled so that it is always ready to release a fresh flow of inspiration when you need it.
I was first introduced to the concept of an 'inner well' of creativity in Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. As I have explored this concept more deeply over the years, the Holy Spirit began to bring me more revelation about how inspiration works, how it's discovered, held and nurtured within is.
This well holds the inspiration we collect, cultivate, and curate throughout our lives. Think of your "well" as an internal reservoir that needs to be refilled frequently so it is always ready to release a fresh flow of inspiration when you need it. Central to my understanding is that the Holy Spirit moves over all the inspiration we so into our heart and mind, allowing us to co-labor with Him in the creative process. As we are continually filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) both personally and artistically, we create from a place of overflow.
A common mistake is to assume that your creative well is just going to fill itself. In reality, you have got to be as intentional about cultivating inspiration as you do about creating the expression of that inspiration. Find that thing that fills you up inspirationally and focus on it. Make it a daily priority in your life. Be intentional about this so that you can release that fresh flow of creativity when you do get in the studio. As I have explored it more over the years, the Holy Spirit began to bring me more revelation about how inspiration works - how it's discovered, held and nurtured within us. Central to my understanding is that the Holy Spirit moves over all the inspiration we sow into our heart and mind, allowing us to co-labor with Him in the creative process.
Focus On The Journey
The second thing I would say is that you have got to prioritize your own personal creative journey. True artistic growth requires so much more than merely mastering the tools and techniques of your chosen genre. Maturing as a creative involves integrating everything you learn along your journey into your unique creative expression, voice, and style.
It's the nuance of how God speaks to you, how you fill your Creative Well, and how you interpret those things through your life and art that grow you as an artist. The secret to keeping your creativity fresh is continually looking for and focusing upon those divine teaching opportunities God puts in your path. Intentionally making this a priority in your journey will keep your art and your creative outlook fresh.
Don't Forget The Fun
The last thing I would say is this: You have got to get back to the joy of just creating! I still love nothing better than to be out in my garden, pruning back plants, picking up dead leaves, and using those scraps to sit down and just start weaving. I'm not focused on any tools or techniques as I'm sitting there on my porch. I'm just having fun with the materials.
The funny thing is that after the countless pieces I've created and sold, this simple act of weaving yard clippings is still a huge rush to me. It's creative joy unleashed and unrestrained. It's a simple process that keeps me grounded creatively.
If you're not regularly experiencing this, then ask the Lord to take you back to that place where creativity was something you embraced with child-like joy. Let those times of prayerful and playful artistic meditation revive your sense of awe and wonder in the creative process.
I hope this has been a big encouragement to you. If this article has been a blessing to you, take a moment to share it with a friend, share it on social media, and comment below!
Thanks for reading.
You know, everybody wants a clear, focused, no drama kind of life, but very few people know how to actually get that done. In this article, I’m going to share with you a “lost art” that has supercharged the focus in my life, something I like to call the Art of Subtraction.
Having been an artist and a business owner for over 25 years, I have participated in and learned from one of the biggest misconceptions that keeps creatives from genuinely thriving in every area of life. That misconception, or lie, is the idea that if a few great things in life are beneficial, then adding a whole bunch more to your plate must be the way to grow and succeed in life and art. If this mindset sounds way too familiar, then let me dismantle this falsehood and give you some insights on how to move forward.
As I was starting this thriving journey, I really wanted to have a clear, focused life. I wanted to avoid the drama-filled life and live a life that was pleasing to the Lord. Not knowing how to do this on my own, I dug in and started to read good books, take good classes, and seek out good ideas to help me grow in business and in life. And it WAS all good, and I was learning and growing, but before you know it, all this stuff started to pile up in my life. You see, my life became full of what I would say was GOOD stuff, but it really wasn’t full of the BEST stuff.
I find that this happens a lot in the lives of people who are experiencing success in their life. Maybe you have been on the road to thriving for a while now. Perhaps you are starting to experience some success in your life as an artist, and you just think, “WOW! That works.” So you head off, and you do more of that. That course works, so you add three more. That show works, so you do one every month. You keep adding and adding and adding. Before long, though, what happens is you end up with a bunch of GOOD stuff, but not the BEST stuff in life.
Know What You Are Called to Do in This Season of Life
For me, it began back in Atlanta on the floor, crying out to God after I felt like I hit bottom in my professional life. It was from that time of being real and honest with God that He pointed me towards my life’s calling. If you know a bit of my story from then until now, the Lord has had me on a wild journey. From pulling up our roots in Georgia and settling in Asheville, to launching a world-wide Artist Mentoring Program.
But several times during this journey, I’ve had to pull over in order to take stock of where I am in the journey towards fulfilling God’s plan for my life, my family, my art, and my business. I had to go back to that place of being real with God and ask Him to show me where I was on the “map” at that time. His answers always provided me with the context I needed to do what had to be done next.
Evaluate and Eliminate
I’ve actually been in this process for the last few years in my life and in my business. It’s a process of determining what the BEST things God has for me are, and what are just simply GOOD things. I’ve learned to evaluate each opportunity and open door by how it will potentially impede or expedite the things I’m called to do in this current season of life.
The really crazy thing is that yesterday’s best often ends up being today’s good. Things that were life-giving and fruit-bearing in previous seasons of life are now just GOOD things keeping me from the BEST that God has for me today.
Recently for me, yesterday’s best was teaching basketry classes. I did this for years, and it was a great source of income for me when I was starting my art business in Asheville. But as the Lord began to move me more towards mentoring other artists, this formerly great thing, teaching classes, morphed into something that ultimately needed to be eliminated.
Say No to the Good and Yes to the Best
This concept is the heart of the Art of Subtraction. Begin by taking a look at all the things you are currently doing in your life, business, and art. Then ask yourself the following questions about each of these things:
So listen, I don’t know where you are right now in life, or if this is even resonating with you at all, but if it is, I want to encourage you to go for it. Take some time with the Lord. Take a hard look at everything that you are doing in your life, in your business, and your art. Ask yourself the hard question, “Is this producing the fruit that I want, or is it not?” If it is not, then ask yourself, “What is producing fruit?” Then take the bold step to double-down on the things in your life that are actually producing the fruit and momentum in your life, your art, and your business.
I hope this has been a big encouragement to you. If this article has been a blessing to you, take a moment to share it with a friend.
Thanks for reading.
Matt Tommey is an artist, author and mentor who is passionate about empowering artists to thrive spiritually, artistically and in business.