As an artist and a mentor to Christian artists all over the world, I love to answer questions! Recently on social media, Karen asked me “Matt, as an artist, how do I transition from basically copying the work of artists I admire into a place where I’m actually developing my own voice as an artist?”
This is such a great question and one that I hear often. Over the years I’ve come to understand that if you want to thrive as an artist, then you have to embrace and develop the uniqueness that God has planted on the inside of you.
Three Stages of Development for Christian Artists
All thriving artists grow and develop their talent, skill, and voice over time. It’s rarely, if ever, an instant process. Most often this artistic journey progresses through three distinct stages: Awareness, Awakening and Autonomy.
Awareness is the first stage of this journey. It is in the Awareness stage that you’re starting to understand and embrace the things that inspire you artistically. It’s a journey of discovery, where you discover for yourself the new and uncharted shores of creativity, style, and technique that are just begging to be explored.
Awareness is where you begin to wake up to all the possibilities that are out there for you creatively. And over time, as you begin to process through all of the artistic options, a transformation begins to take place as your artistic voice begins to awaken.
It’s in this Awakening phase of your journey that you begin to gravitate towards a style, an aesthetic, and a creative medium that starts to define who you are artistically. And with that kernel of creative focus, mastery begins to develop.
As you narrow your creative focus, your skill begins to mature, and you start expressing your talent in ways beyond the mere emulation of artists you admire. It's during this Awakening phase that the words of your unique creative language begin to form, and your artistic voice begins to emerge.
As you move from Awareness through Awakening, you eventually arrive in an artistic place I call Autonomy. This is where all the inspiration you’ve absorbed combined with your creative faithfulness and dedication coalesce into a fully formed artistic voice that is uniquely your own.
Now I know some of you are thinking, ‘this place doesn’t exist for me,’ or “I’ll run out of steam long before reaching this creative promised land.’ If this is you, I want to give you four steps that will help you today no matter where you are in your journey as an artist who loves Jesus.
Step One: Cultivate Inspiration
“I don't have any inspiration. I get to the studio and I don't know what to do.” Every time I hear this, it’s a telltale sign that they are not cultivating inspiration in their life.
“So Matt, how do I cultivate inspiration?” Immerse yourself in all things beautiful and creative. Read books, go to the movies, go hiking in the woods, visit a museum or an art studio. Worship, immerse yourself in God’s presence and turn your heart toward His. Surround yourself with images, songs, experiences and people that move your heart.
And when you’re there in that space, feeling the inspiration starting to flow, learn to be a faithful steward of those experiences. Write it down in your journal, flip open to a fresh page in your sketchbook, do something that's going to preserve the moment and allow that inspiration to start marinating on the inside of you.
Step Two: Develop a Studio Practice
“But Matt, if I don’t have a studio, how can I develop a studio practice?” A studio practice is primarily a state of mind and an alignment of your priorities.
The location where you create art, at home, in the shed, or in an art studio, is much less important than the conscious decision to regularly invest your time in the process and practice of creating, and that leads us to our next step.
Step Three: Create A Lot of Work
So many artists never find their unique voice because they don’t consistently create on a daily basis. I’m not talking about jumping into striving but I am encouraging consistency. Never underestimate the power of a doodle to cultivate inspiration and foster your talent.
Nothing replaces experience when it comes to cultivating your talents as an artist. Experience is born from the intentional and consistent application of your artistic skills over time. There is no quick fix or shortcut to skill mastery.
Step Four: Review, Refine, and Repeat
“Review, refine, and repeat, what does that mean exactly?” That means when you create a piece of work, you need to look at it critically and ask yourself a few questions like:
• What did I do in this piece that I loved?
• What did I do in this piece that I don't love?
• What could I have done better?
• What could take this piece to the next level?
You get the picture. This isn’t about beating yourself up or comparing yourself to other artists, this about raising the artistic bar for yourself.
Then with the “Review” done, it’s time to “Refine”. Intentionally make note of what you’ll keep, what you’ll change, and what you’ll try in your next piece. Then create that piece and “Repeat” the process.
Eventually you may consider inviting others into this process, people whose artistic opinions you trust. Ask them to speak into your creative process. Now I know that sounds scary, but this process, overtime, will cultivate and strengthen your skills and talents while at the same time giving you the time to develop and express your artistic uniqueness to the world.
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.