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  • Writer's picturewhatpennymade

Alter Egos, Artistic Style, and Finding Voice

I may be the least qualified person to give any advice on developing individual artistic style.

I'm lost in the muck of trying to find an artistic style, myself.

But being grossly unqualified hasn't stopped me before.

So here we go...

"How do I find my individual style?"

Whether you're a writer, a painter, or a musician, you're individual style is your signature. It's what makes the work you produce uniquely yours.

The Big Company will find someone to develop their logo, regardless of who they are.

But the Patron who loves your style, will ask you to make a work because of who you are.

And that's beautiful.

So. Who are you as an artist? Big question, I know.

And don't freak out, because you don't have to have a go-to answer.

I don't have an answer.

And if we're honest, the pursuit of an artistic style and voice is something we continue throughout our lives. I don't think it's something we ever really "arrive" at.

"But we do need to start, right? How do we start?"

So glad you asked.

1. Be a Copycat

I think the best way to begin to find your own style, is to start copying others' styles.

A paradox? Maybe. But it works.

Finding a style is a lot like finding a good pair of jeans. It's all about what fits, what you like, what feels right when you try it on.

And what you don't like.

And what you'd never go out in public wearing.

I don't know if you've ever shopped for women's jeans, but It's not an easy task. You've got to try on a dozen pairs until you find something serviceable. And even then, you may have to have it tailored to actually fit you just right. It's frustrating. But that's the way creating your artistic voice is supposed to be. You're unique, and your voice is as unique as you are. It's not going to be off-the-rack.

2. Find what you like. Find what you don't like. Do both.

We're searching for something comfortable. But we also want to try the uncomfortable.

As you "try on" the styles of other artists, you may find that you gravitate toward certain topics or subjects. Certain tones or mediums. That's cool. You're finding your comfort zone.

And once you've identified your comfort zone, its good practice to step out of it. Try out things that scare you. Things that intimidate you. Things that make you feel like you're pretending to be someone else when you do them.

We learn as much about our creative selves when we make complete disasters, as when we make things that are great successes.

Personal Growth is messy and gross. Necessary. But gross.

You're growing. There will be awkward phases.

3. Make time to play.

It's not all about the metaphorical shopping. Eventually (and hopefully) we will find things that feel truly authentic. We will want to say things in our work that are truly personal. This is where we stop copying. And it's exciting! It's like taking the training wheels off!

But, how do we reach this point? How do we know when we're there?

Sometimes we get lucky, and we're hit with the lightning bolt from the sky, giving us an idea we just have to execute. But other times- most of the time- inspiration is far less straightforward. We may find ourselves standing around with our piles of "try-ons" and unsure of what to do next.

"What if I'm just completely unoriginal? What if I just don't have anything to say?"

That's a scary thought.

Luckily, I've never known it to be true.

Sometimes, when the lightening bolts are lacking, we need to give our creative selves opportunities to come out and play. It's through this undirected, unstructured, un-serious playtime, that our thoughts, and feelings, and artistic tendencies will come out. It's through play that our artistic style will begin to emerge and assert itself.

When we make time to play, we'll be able to see what pops up again and again in your work. Do certain subjects always find a way into your work? A certain color palette? A distinct use of line or space? Your habits and foibles and nuances will start to come out, if you make time to play.

4. Be patient. And be open to change.

Like I said in the beginning, developing our unique style will be an ongoing process. it's a journey that will be filled with scenic routes, pit stops, traffic jams and detours.

We will need to give it time.

We will also need to let it change.

Maybe you think you've found a style that suits you. It expresses who you are. It sets you apart. Awesome! But don't let your attachment to it keep you from growing.

Our artistic voices change over time- and they should! We change over time. Take a look at artists with long careers and see how their work has changed over time. The best, most compelling artists constantly transform and reinvent themselves over their careers. You will naturally be drawn toward different things as you grow as an artist.

Don't let an arbitrary attachment to a certain style keep you from growing.

The Creative Process is a creative process.

And lastly...

5. Don't force it

Copying doesn't make you a poser. Forcing it makes you a poser.

Forcing a style onto yourself only makes your work look contrived & dishonest.

It's okay to "try it on." It's okay to have an alter ego. But forcing a style upon your work is the quickest way to create art that is inauthentic.

It can be tough out there. The world is judge-y. There's a lot of pressure to have that certain, je ne sais quoi that sets your work apart from the pack.

Be patient with yourself. You'll get there.*

*Well, you won't "arrive" there -see above- but you know what I mean.

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