Finding My Artistic Voice

Journal page: sketch and to do list
Journal Page with To Do List and Sketches
Audio Recording of this blog post

Last month, I read the book Find Your Artistic Voice by Lisa Congdon. In the first few pages, Congdon clarifies that the title is a bit misleading. It sounds like your voice is something solid—fixed and final—and all you must do is find it. In reality, your voice is always changing.

“Your voice is formed over time through continuous experimentation and intentional practice, and from following spurts of inspiration and intuition down long paths of development… We make work that mirrors our own deeply held ideas about the world.”

~ Lisa Congdon, Find Your Artistic Voice, page 12

Lately, I’ve felt like I’m stuck in a rut–both with the art medium I use and the subjects of my drawings. Do I have a style or a voice? None that I can identify. I’m not a landscape artist, nor do I enjoy drawing architecture or objects, like fruit or a plate of food.

I like drawing portraits of people or dogs. And all was good in the beginning—when I was seeing my drawings get better. There were times when a drawing surprised me. It made me smile, similar to the way I laugh sometimes when I read something I wrote and think, that’s actually good. And then I wonder, Where the hell did that come from? Did I do that?

So I’m trying to find how to have more of those moments of surprise and wonder and amusement and being tickled with something I created. It seems to become more difficult the longer I’ve been at a creative endeavor. Something switches inside me, taking me from finding happiness in the practice to only feeling drudgery in the work. 

I know things can’t always be fun and games. You can’t wait to be inspired—for the muse to dance around your studio or desk. She’s too damn fickle. But that’s what people often think creativity is all about. Only those moments. But there is actual work and discipline involved. There are off days. And to keep going, well, I’ll speak for myself, I need those sparkly magic moments to show up once in a while. Is that asking for too much? I don’t think so. So what’s the answer?

One day, I wrote on my chalkboard Daily Novelty.  They were words that popped into my head, the way words sometimes do. But for a person who thrives on routines and rituals, Daily Novelty is like a cow jumping over the moon. Unless… I can weave it into my routine without making it un-novel.  

Journal Page: To Do List and Sketches
Another Journal To Do List, Sketches, and Sketch Notes

I began awkwardly, as I generally do. I went to the library to find portrait photography books. Hoping they would have interesting people to draw, rather than the selfied, overly photoshopped, expertly attired, and made-up faces you find online.

I wanted interesting faces that tell a story. I don’t know if I’ve found that exactly, but the photography collection in Patti Smith: American Artist, by Frank Stefanko, and Women, by Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz, have been fun to work with.

In addition, the Art Prof (Clara Lieu) has a Flickr account with loads of reference photos, including people with a wide variety of facial expressions, ages, and body types. I’ve only begun to explore Prof Clara Lieu’s website and YouTube channel. She’s very generous with free materials as well as paid classes and a Patreon page. It’s a lot of material and I’m trying to figure out where to start without overwhelming myself (in other words, trying to avoid my usual all-or-nothing, bull-in-a-china-shop approach to learning).

A recent Art Prof YouTube video was about drawing Fan Art, something I’ve never done because who or what am I a fan of? But then I thought of Xena the Warrior Princes. How fun would it be to draw a Xena sneer, a Xena warrior cry—she had such an expressive face. Better yet, what if I found a Xena photo, then took a selfie, trying to mimic her expression, and drew that? Okay. Now I’m getting excited. 

But I also fear that what is beautiful in my imagination will come out twisted, unbalanced, even hideous. I have the same fears in my writing. The thing is, I definitely won’t know what’s possible or find solutions to drawing or writing problems if I give up. So I work on being okay with feelings of frustration and with making mistakes and doing something badly. Each bad sketch or story carries me one step closer towards improvement—or so I tell myself. 

Besides, I do this for fun. Remember?

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  1. So good to read something from you again. Love your self-portrait. I completely relate to everything you said. I do the same thing with my writing and any art I try other than my music. For some reason, I am able to stick to it and work through the self-doubt when I’m getting paid for it or have a performance scheduled. That’s the key. When it’s a hard piece of music for me, I give up too easily. Thanks for the reminder to keep trudging and not give up. Sometimes I find it’s more difficult to pick up the pen and start than it is to keep going when we feel stuck. So, I guess the point is to not stop, no matter what. 🙂

    1. It’s nice to see you hear, Heidi! Yes, it’s so much easier to keep going when you are “in the flow” or something is coming easily to you. But I don’t have such moments frequently enough to count on them. I like to think that’s because I’m stretching and challenging myself more. I do think that if you have more than one creative outlet, it’s tricky (maybe unrealistic) to think you can focus on all of them equally. However, I greatly regret dropping my music altogether as it is not like riding a bike to get started again.

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