What is your creative voice, exactly?
We hear it talked about it so often in creative spaces, but so rarely defined.
When you think of Frida Kahlo, for example, you have a taste of her voice. Or think of Alicia Keys. Or Shonda Rhimes. Or Annie Leibovitz. Or Anna Sui. Or Andy Goldsworthy.
Each of these names brings to mind a flash of their voice. A tone or a message, a type of expression we associate with each of these creators.
Whether you like their work or not, just thinking of them brings you a sense of who they were. What preoccupied them, what fascinated them, and what drove their work forward.
And just like all of them, you have a creative voice as well.
Your voice comes about as a combination of your influences, your loves, the techniques you're drawn to, the tone you gravitate towards, the media you choose to express yourself through, and more.
In her book, Find Your Artistic Voice, Lisa Congdon interviews artists from various backgrounds about their thoughts on voice and how to develop one's own.
As ceramic artist Ayumi Horie puts it in her interview, "Your voice is this mix of stuff that's happened to you, how you process things, what you love, what you aspire to be."
But how do we even get there? Are we born with a voice, or is it something we need to develop and craft?
Andy J. Miller of the Creative Pep Talk podcast, tells Lisa, "A lot of creative people think that they have to have their artistic voice sorted out before they start making art ... And that negates their ability to ever really find it, because you can't find something you already think you have ... Finding your voice takes years."
And even trying can be hard to do when we think we already need to have it all figured out! It can be overwhelming to think about something like branding or putting ourselves out there before we necessarily even know what we're doing.
But, as Miller says, this feeling that we should already know can get in the way of us creating, and clearly that's the opposite of what we want. Because creating is how we know who we are, and know what we think. It's through action that we discover ourselves, and through action that we know what matters.
And despite our society's relentlessly forward-moving timeline, it doesn't have to be quick. Creating takes time, and giving ourselves the opportunity to create volumes of work (even and especially work that sucks!), is what allows us, slowly but surely, to figure out who we are creatively and how we want to express it.
As Congdon herself points out, "When you consistently create a large volume of work over time, it becomes obvious very quickly that each of your works is actually an experiment, and not every one of them needs to be successful or ready to hang in a show. Yet, over time, as you look back over your project, I guarantee you will see your work (and your voice) sharpening and developing."
Is it always easy? Definitely not. But as a creative, you already know that. You know about how hard it can be sometimes just to keep going, even when creating is part of what makes you feel most alive.
When we want that feeling of vitality and joy that comes from being in the flow of our creative work, sometimes we have to face down obstacles to get there.
As Congdon puts it, "The stuff we take pains to avoid is just part of the experience of making art. The shift we need to make is to understand that those adverse experiences also help us learn and deepen our knowledge and strengthen our grit."
With sections like "Embrace the suck," "Go out into the world and pay attention," and "Stay open to all experiences," alongside the artist interviews, this book offers up a wealth of encouragement to help you find and hone your artistic voice.
And if you'd like some more help knowing exactly how to move past the inevitable obstacles to finding and using your creative voice, I'm offering a workshop on just this subject. In Hone Your Creative Voice on March 10th/11th (depending on your time zone), we'll learn practical skills and tools for how to get to know yourself creatively and build your voice from within.
Sign up here to join in!
And if you'd just like some opportunities to do your creative work alongside a friendly international group of likeminded creatives, Co-Creation Time might be for you! In these free weekly online sessions, we spend 60 minutes together quietly creating in our own space. Then at the end of the session, we come back together to update each other on what we've done. The creative momentum can be astonishing, and it's super fun to spend that time together.