When you first start drawing, or painting, or doing anything that involves creative thought and creation of something entirely yours and original, the hardest part of your artistic journey is finding your voice and your style. You might look at others that inspire you and try something similar. Or you might experiment and try a bit of everything hoping something will stand out as ‘your thing’. Or you hope that something will feel comfortable and familiar.
The agony of every artist lies in the challenges of finding their own artistic voice. That special something that makes your work identifiable, sellable, and gives you the edge you need to develop your skills. It’s terribly difficult to get truly good at something if your practice is too broad, or if you’re not honed in on the things that will take your work forward.
FINDING MY VISION & STYLE
It took me a long time to find my style. I tried so many different things in the beginning because there were artists that I admired working in so many styles and mediums! Even in my calligraphy-only days (pre-watercolour) I was admiring other calligraphers work on Instagram and trying to teach myself how to write my ‘r’s the way Robin does and my ‘D’s the way Sam does. Even though I work in ink and watercolour exclusively, I still look at oil paintings and drool a bit… and I look at talented (and formally trained) graphic designers and start to wish I’d chosen a different path.
There are a few differences between now and then though, despite still admiring the work of others. I never question my approach to a new project. I know what style suits my taste and feels right, and is most rewarding when I look at a finished piece. And most of all, I’ve worked out how to draw from my past: my passions, my imagination, and some of the themes that have popped up throughout my life to create personal iterations of a concept that are unique.
DISCOVERING YOUR STAINED GLASS WINDOW
Much of my style comes from my personality – and just plain ‘who I am’. I’m VERY detailed with just about everything. I like complexity. I like pattern, and symmetry. I gravitate toward visually beautiful things. I like spacial balance. I like balance in general. Messy drives me mental. So does chaos. I don’t like surprises. I’m a planner, and I overanalyze. I don’t like Sci-Fi (gasp!) or the supernatural. I’d take a documentary over a Lord of the Rings movie any day. So there you go: detailed, precise, tidy, relatively realistic, and to some, pretty boring!!
The more interesting piece of this puzzle is the more unknown pieces that live inside your psyche that few people really know about. Imagine your life is a journey, and with each significant part of that journey you start to fill in another pane of a stained glass window. Each piece of the window represents an experience, a theme, something you discover about yourself, or a story that changed you in some way. Many of those pieces are your passions, and sometimes, they are a person. THOSE are the bits that have the ability to make every piece of art you create unique. Nobody’s stained glass window is like another. The colours, the shapes, everything about them is different. Drawing from that window is the key.
USING YOUR WINDOW TO CREATE
A lot of what I do as a creative are custom commissions. Many of these are directed by other individuals that want the art to be representative of them and their life, so not every piece of work I create pulls from my stained glass window. But my general style is established, therefore I can provide a consistency to my work when a project brief is all about someone else. It’s the pieces that an artist pulls out of their brain with no one else’s influence that really show who they are and gives them the opportunity to discover their own voice.
Earlier in 2022, I created a pattern titled ‘The Charlatans’. It’s a bunch of large fowl wearing silly hats, posing inside gilded picture frames and looking dapper. How in the world did I come up with such a ridiculously quirky concept? My past. I have a history as a performing artist – ballet, more specifically. And not the casual ballet class as a kid, but a professional ballet career (back when I was more limber and less creaky). One of the things that I have learned about my incredibly introverted self: I am a very private person. I struggle to make eye contact with people I don’t know. I don’t want strangers to know me. Yet I can get up on stage in character in front of thousands of people and do crazy things, and not bat an eyelash. There is something thrilling, a complete and total adrenaline rush, in playing a character and performing in front of people. Nobody knows YOU – you are the character, so it’s safe. You can be silly, sadistic, sensual, a lush, cruel and spiteful, sassy and feisty, and everything in between that you, as you know yourself, are not. It’s so liberating! This quality that I’ve come to know so well about myself continues to light a fire in my chest at times. A firey passion! The Charlatans, are the posers. The theatrical drama queens! The histrionic, showy and overdone dames that are happy to be something they’re not in the eyes of the beholder, because it’s safe. And fabulous. Totally fabulous.
Animals are a deep passion of mine. Particularly the species that have an elegance to them. Birds, giraffes, horses, cats (big and small). Many of my paintings and patterns feature animals doing human-like things, or elegantly posing. Or they are painted in a shape that insinuates how they would be moving if they were real and dancing in front of you. ‘Midnight Dance’ is a flock of cranes swooping in elegant arches in the night sky carrying lanterns. They are dancing! Elegantly dancing, that is, with their big white wings and the arches they are making in the dark sky. I don’t have to make conversation or explain anything about myself to Cranes, or any other animal for that matter. They accept me as the person standing in front of them. And they dance. They light up the sky and make patterns of white with a graceful and enchanting waltz!
Everything in my patterns are a dance. An elegant dance, creating pattern and beauty and a sense of movement. I lost ballet a long time ago: a very large piece of my stained glass window. It was my identity for a very long time. It formed my opinion of myself, my view of the world, my strengths and weaknesses, it was all I knew. My journey since that loss has been about finding something new to fill that space. My patterns are slowly building that piece of the broken pane. I’m finding the passion, the dramatic flair, the rhythm, elegance, and beauty that I love through my artwork, and it’s ever-so-slowly filling the gap.
YOUR ART AS AN EXTENSION OF YOU
So what makes you tick? What are you passions? Your loves? Your pains? Your struggles? These are the things you can draw from to find your style and your vision. Do you have any missing pieces in your window? How can you begin to repair it with your artwork? Looking at your art and feeling a sense of completion is a sign that you are heading in the right direction. That feeling that the art is an extension of emotion, your passion, and the piece of yourself that you can put out there for all to see, even when you don’t have the words.