Finding Your Artist’s Voice

Grabbing. Hand Self-Portraits in black and white. ©Alina Oswald.

How and Why to Find Your Artist’s Voice

“You take all your emotions! All your anger, all your love, all your hate! And push its way down here into the pit of your stomach! And then let it explode, like a reactor! Pow!” says the Subway Ghost character, played by Vincent Schiavelli (1948 – 2005) in the movie Ghost, while explaining to Sam Wheat’s ghost (played by the late Patrick Swayze) how to move a coin.

The above quote came to mind the other day when I was asked, yet again, about how to find one’s voice as an artist. I think of it as a good starting point, or thought, in one’s journey to find his or her voice, as an artist, or activist, and perhaps in defining one’s identity.

Truth is that no matter what art form we use to create our work–either painting with words, light, or actual paint and brush–I believe that one important goal is to find our voice as artists.

So, what does “artist’s voice” mean?

The Photographer. A self-portrait in black and white. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Photographer. A self-portrait in black and white. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

I think of the artist’s voice as an invisible, yet very much present artist’s signature defined by a certain mood, feel and/or look, by the artist’s personal touch embedded in the work and the story we tell or try to tell through our work.

Another way to look at the artist’s voice is to consider it as a “presence” or an invisible watermark, proof that the work is ours and ours alone. Sure, some people without shame or pride can claim our work as theirs. Others might want to use it as a source of inspiration, only, in turn, to end up adding their own touch to their own work. But I’m getting off track….

There are plenty of articles and workshops on finding our voice, as writers, photographers, and artists. The process of actually working on finding our voice is a long and adventurous one. It takes time, patience, and also determination.

How to find your artist’s voice?

That’s the million-dollar question that many of us are still trying to answer or at least to refine the answer. So, here’s my two cents:

I really believe that one can use the example set by the Subway Ghost quote to start finding his or her artistic voice.

More precisely, I believe that, in order to find that voice, you need to reach inside your soul and figure out what it is that makes you want to create in the first place, what is that one thing or person or idea you’re most passionate about. And once you find it, allow it to guide your work.

Personal projects are vital to finding your artistic voice. That’s because they allow you to create freely, and also fearlessly. They allow you to make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. They allow you to experiment and test your ideas, as well as your boundaries. In the process, you will find your voice, or at least you’ll find the sources of inspiration that will help you find your voice as an artist.

Ill Cover You. self-portrait in black and white
“I’llCover You” – a Self-Portrait in black and white.

Learn from well-established artists–writers, photographers, and the like. You will find your mentors. You’ll also find that the work of some of the renowned artists does not really speak to you in the way you would have expected. That is okay. Don’t think you have to like or say that you like a piece of artwork or book only because it was created by a renowned or known famous person. That being said, do try to study the work. Learn from it, and from what that famous artist or author has to say. And then continue on your way.

If you work for various clients, first of all, consider yourself lucky. You’re usually hired because clients like your style, your voice, and that certain “look” that only you can create. But oftentimes clients want you to adjust your style, and to adapt it to better fit their needs. That is not unusual. Sometimes, this kind of experience can help you adapt and improve your style and voice. Other times, it could force you to distance yourself from your artist’s voice. And then there are times when you’re lucky enough to find just the perfect client whose style matches yours to a t. Whatever the case, do not forget: most of the time clients hire you, the artist, because of your artist’s voice.

And one more thing. Do not worry if your voice is different from others’. It should be. After all, you are a unique individual. If your subjects of interest, those that help you create your best work, are found off that beaten path, do not worry. That is perfectly fine, too.

Keep on working on finding your voice. And when you find it, let it roar.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

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