Finding your personal style (or voice)
When I was in my twenties. I had a loud voice. I was an angry young woman with a lot to say, and led demonstrations and marches using a megaphone. I had a spiritual awakening in my thirties which changed me forever, softened my anger and replaced it with a deep-seated empathy for people and the planet. My voice changed too, no longer clear and self-assured, now it cracks and betrays me when I least expect it.
My painting style changed as well. My painting subjects went from political to preserving the landscape, and humanizing the figure. My "voice" was lost in the process, but my vision cleared and my artistic "hand" has become steady and clear.
Today my paintings are not as stark and political, but they carry a message in the subject and the mark-making. If you look closely, you see strokes made confidently and with a sure hand. That comes with age and practice. I didn't have that when I was younger. I have no doubt that I can capture what I see in front of me, the trick is, can I do it beautifully so that others will want to hear what I have to say?
Artists are vulnerable. Making art is a vulnerable act, you show your vulnerability. You allow others the chance to look on with awe, or look away without a second glance. Many artists tie their self worth to each painting in the process, and take it very personally.
Psychologist Brene Brown points out that vulnerability takes great courage. Its hard to put your thoughts/feelings/emotions into a painting that others can so easily dismiss and ignore. Brown also cautions that if you are vulnerable, and courageous, you will also suffer greatly as there will always be someone trying to take you down.
A mature artist is one who is wise enough to know that we paint for other people, but that our art or self-worth is not measured by what they think. This is an artist with a definite style, who's work you would recognize and may love, or may not be for you.
We all want to be THAT artist.
But how does a self-conscious perfectionist get from here to there?
When you are just starting out, it is important to try on a lot of different styles and techniques. Think of them as tools in your tool belt. Picasso painted representationally before adopting Cubism. It's important to know the techniques, then make them your own.
Being a pastelist, I often study what other artists who are THAT artist, are doing and how they think...
Desmond O'Hagan suggests posting images on social media with no prompting or agenda. Simply see what kind of feedback it provides. I do this quite often, but have found that most people will give me very positive feedback even if they don't really like the painting. O'Hagan also suggests seeking the advice of a fellow artist with a critical eye. This is better done in person and one-on-one so that its honest and not personal. In order to be that vulnerable with another artist, it should be someone you trust like a teacher or friend. This is a service I provide to many artist friends and students. It's something I consider a sacred honor and trust.
Nancie King Mertz said in a recent interview that "Many pieces reveal great skill in replicating photos in perfect detail, but I often feel they haven’t revealed the artist. If the artist works from a photo–which is fine–my suggestion is to use it as a window of interpretation rather than something that dictates direction." Mertz also talks about seeing the "hand of the artist" in the work she evaluates as a juror: "If the piece speaks to me through mark-making, energy, story-telling, it often gets high marks, as I feel it reveals the artist’s soul."
Have you let your soul show? It's hard to imagine being that vulnerable in a painting of a landscape but think about the paintings you feel most passionate about. This is a soul painting for me:
Its hard for me to verbalize just what makes this a soul painting. I could tell you it's because the painting literally painted itself as if I were channeling the creative flow of the universe, or perhaps its the light that defines the shapes in the grasses, and trees. The painting didn't take much time for me, but it did take a little piece of my soul to make. I can see "me" all over it. The values, the textures, the colors and the mark-making.
Another master pastelist Tony Allain who is known for his mark-making says; "I think it’s simply revealing to oneself through the act of painting and thereby revealing to others, the way you see your world. Finally your art should celebrate your surroundings, nature, and the human form etc. You want your art to raise your spirits and invite the viewer to feel elevated."
You are unique, and your interpretation of the world around you is uniquely yours. Look for ways to own that. Both in your art and your life.
I am still finding my voice. 30 years I've been painting and still I am learning and growing and I hope to remain teachable, and yet have a clear voice when it comes to my art and life.
What makes your heart sing?
If you can answer that, then paint it and paint it again until you can truly communicate that through your art, and there you will have it, your own unique style and voice.