Uncovering Your Artistic Voice
Artistic voice is more than just a style or a particular colour palette; it is a way of making something that is so unique to us and our lives that it could not have been made by any other person. It’s a process that turns mechanical mark-making into a deeply personal result. It’s a lifelong commitment to turning our senses inward to uncover the thing that makes us one of a kind, and then to capture it in our work. To find our voice, we must spend the lion’s share of our time twisting the dial back and forth to find the frequency that transmits the strongest vision.
Artistic voice is not something we develop, it’s something we uncover. It’s always been there, it just takes time to hear it properly, to separate it from the background noise of life. That is why we say we are finding our voice, not creating our voice.
The process of discovering my own voice is like a scavenger hunt: I’ve found bits of myself in a few marks on someone else’s painting, others in the snow piling up on mountain ash berries, still more in a lyric from a song heard over the sound system at a coffee shop. When I start paying attention to the things that resonate differently in my subconscious mind, almost anything can become a tool of discovery.
To illustrate what it feels like, let me borrow the term Constructive Interference from wave theory. When two waves (in phase) overlap, they produce a wave that’s double the strength. A walk along an ocean beach should give you real-life examples. Similarly, when that artistic sound is thrumming away inside you, and it overlaps with something outside that’s on the same wavelength, it grows a signal that is twice as strong. If your antennae are up you can feel it.
If you’ve ever been at an art gallery and seen a painting that excited you and terrified you at the same time, that’s constructive interference in action. It’s exciting because you’ve discovered a piece of yourself, and it’s terrifying because it’s telling you something about your own work that’s still missing. It’s the age-old dialectic between the thrill of discovery and the pain of growth. It makes me want to run home and paint.
Once we get enough of these constructive puzzle pieces together, a clearer picture of our voice starts to emerge and we can begin making use of these discoveries in our work. For me, I ask myself if this mark, or this colour, or this shape feels like me. Is it something I would do? It’s far too easy to make marks for someone else, or for some commercial reason. Your voice is a hidden codex that resonates at a frequency only you can hear.
When we are uncovering our voice, we can never capture it all, but we can always capture it more. In time, our voice gets stronger, and people start to recognize our work because it is distinct, personal, and true.
The biggest challenge is that you are the only one who can tell if you’re on the right path. This requires a good deal of self-inspection, quiet honesty, artistic courage, and time. Good god does it ever take a lot of time. There will be distractions, and detours, and things that pull you off your path. You need to find what brings you back. For me, it’s a walk along the river. Playing guitar. An evening with friends.
There is great freedom in finding your own way, and great responsibility, because the weight of that journey can feel very solitary. You will face criticism and uncertainty, feel professional jealousy alongside artistic accomplishment. In the end, the only true reward is that we get to uncover the primal personal sound of our authentic self.