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.
Matt Tommey is an artist, author and mentor who is passionate about empowering artists to thrive spiritually, artistically and in business.