On Finding Your Own Voice

“How do you do that?” Artists hear that question a lot. But the answers are nearly always unsatisfying, aren’t they?

Here’s why: Because more often than not, the underlying question is “How can I do that?” The answer always involves life experiences, education, mentors, motivations, locations, successes, failures, tools and mysterious mental wranglings that are different from yours. Oh that we could simply buy John Lennon’s guitar or Picasso’s brushes and get on with it!

That last bit isn’t so far off the mark. Most artists start out copying things they see, including the work of artists who inspire them. Does that sound like you? As you gain confidence with your tools and technique — even if they were originally the tools and techniques of others — your own style will emerge. It’s only a matter of stepping up, getting involved and staying in the game. Step by step you will find your way through. Then, sooner than you think, you will be asked the inevitable question: How do you do that?

Image courtesy saintbob, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I, as well, have often found that the question really being asked is, “How can I do that?” In those cases, I try to encourage the person to experiment and allow themselves to discover their own style. For many years I sought to force myself to create the art I thought I wanted to create—how it was in my visions—whether it be literary, musical, or visual arts. Somewhere along the way I realized that even DaVinci had an image in his mind that was beyond his technical ability to produce. I then became more reconciled to and eventually came to revel in the “Experience” of creating art—the interplay between vision and creation, how the media responds, how my intuition and vision can shift after each segment of a piece of artwork is completed.

    With watercolor paining, I must wait for each layer to dry before applying the next coat. This forces an interval in the creative process in which I can stare at, look at, or take passing glances toward the drying work (depending on whether I am fixated on the piece & blowing on it to try to dry it faster! or going on about other business). This interval often allows new modifications to suggest themselves, and by following those impulses the piece can evolve to become very different from my original intention/vision.

    I often make rough pencil sketches at several different phases of a visual piece as my vision of what it is becoming evolves in my mind and under my hands. This is different, of course, from pieces where I have a specific goal in mind; in which case technical execution skills become paramount. Even these “technical execution” pieces, however, are often modified based on in-the-moment inspirations, which often lead to a much more refined and pleasing piece than I would have produced using technical skills alone.

    As far as copying the work of other artists, I think that is an important step that helps those open to it to learn from the experience of others. Why re-invent the wheel? I tried that too many times to want to bother with that anymore. I practice trying to reproduce what another artist did, learning overtly and subliminally about how that is done, what that MEANS artistically—an internal “getting it” thing—and gradually, for ANY person who has a streak of the creative impulse, they will naturally bring their creativity to bear on the task; as in, “what would happen if…” and “If I used a different color scheme, orientation, media, stylistic approach, etc, how would that look?’

    EXPERIMENTATION and ALLOWING YOURSELF TO “WASTE” MATERIALS furthers the creative process. Why skimp? You’ll just inhibit yourself. One of the “successful people” skills is to TRY. People who TRY have more failures, but they also have more successes. If you start out thinking, “this piece must be perfect,” good luck in achieving that, unless you have the technical skills to succeed. But for creative pieces, intuitive pieces, you must have the freedom within which to work, to experiment. I intentionally bought paint tubes twice the size I thought I needed them to be & squeeze out gobs of paint on the pallette so that I won’t feel so miserly about my materials while painting. Result: instead of focusing on frugality, I am focusing on what wants to happen next in the piece. Result: in the long run you may end up saving money, because each piece becomes part of your artistic development instead of an exercise in inhibition.

  2. Right you are, and thanks for another prolific comment. My first efforts at fine art were really no more than throwing/smearing paint on canvas — just for the shear joy of doing it. I wasn’t concerned with the end result, only with the process. It was great fun, and things began to take shape and tighten up in fairly short order.

    Just getting in there and swinging is 90% of the work. Inspiration, technique, art and all the rest flows out of the effort.


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