Finding Your Voice

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LisaCongdonEarly last year, I interviewed San Francisco illustrator and super-cool human, Lisa Congdon. I loved her work and her energy and we became friends. It’s one of the great benefits of that living breathing engine of connection called Good Life Project.

One of the things we geeked out on was the business of art. Yes, business and art in the same sentence. Who knew? Well, Lisa has since penned a wonderful book on this very topic called Art, Inc. and it’s out from Chronicle Books today!

It’s great, but then I have to confess to being a bit biased. Not only is Lisa my friend, I also wrote the Foreword to it (where I tell a story about my artist past I’ve never shared publicly before #tease).

The book is wall-to-wall with highly-specific tactical and strategic tips and resources to build a real, livable career as an artist (provided you’re also willing to put in the work needed to get good enough to have something people value enough to pay for. Craft still counts. A lot).

Art, Inc. is out today and I’ve wrangled an excerpt to share with you all. I thought it would be cool to share Lisa’s lens on some of the bigger picture ideas here, the ones that set up your ability to make all the tactical stuff work. Enjoy!

+++ Excerpted from ART, INC.  +++

Finding Your Voice 

As an artist you have the opportunity to create your own unique stamp on the world. This is the artist’s voice and it’s a mixture of message, style, and technique. Everyone has a different process for finding his voice. It’s not something you can simply learn through books or study. It requires you to pull from deep inside yourself to find what moves you and to express that through what you create. 

Developing your voice can be a lifetime journey, a continual process of discovery and reinvention. As you get older, your values and drives may change and you may learn new techniques—and all this affects your voice and the work you create. Everyone’s progress will be different, and there is always a bit of trial and error involved. If you create work that doesn’t feel authentic, that’s also an important realization—and helps eliminate what you shouldn’t be doing. 

Create Art for Yourself
Often when you start creating art, there’s a common misunderstanding that there is one correct way to paint a picture or throw a pot—that the process you learned is the method everyone is supposed to use. Your initial technique will likely be a great foundation, but make sure it doesn’t become so fixed that it locks you into just one style or even subject matter. It’s an incredibly liberating moment to start making work that reflects your identity and core aesthetic—not that of your teachers or your classmates.

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Take Risks
When making art, it can feel scary to change your work even slightly, especially if you are used to doing things in a particular way. But doing something differently, however small, automatically pushes your work to a new place. You can take small risks by using different colors than you normally use or adding or subtracting a medium. It might mean trying a new subject matter or narrative. In the process, you may discover that you need to take even larger risks. The results of these risks are what will set your work apart.

Push Through Difficulty
My painting teacher used to talk about the “painting curve,” a line that looks like the letter U. He said that when you begin a painting (or other form of art), you are at the top of the U. Things look clean and wonderful in the beginning. But as you develop a piece of work, it often gets messier; that is the bottom of the painting curve. He insisted that working through the bottom of the painting curve—the point at which we think our work looks horrible or awkward—is critical to making good work. Working through the complexities of a piece to the point where it looks and feels wonderful again—rising back up to the top of the U—helps develop your technique as well as your unique voice.

Find What Inspires You
Inspiration does not always come to us in a flash. We often have to go in search of it, especially when we feel stuck. Finding inspiration means discovering the things that make you excited—even when they have nothing to do with your art practice. If you go on a trip, you might find inspiration in architecture, landscapes, or traditional patterns found in old cultures. Whatever speaks to you, infuse these visual stimuli from your life into your work.

To work through anxieties or find out what ignites your interest, it helps to carry a journal to do daily entries. Maintaining a journal with both written and visual thoughts is a long-standing tradition among artists that helps you ignite creativity and work through blocks. There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. You can use a book with lined or unlined pages; it can be a written diary with stream-of-consciousness thoughts or a purely visual notebook with pages of drawings. One thing that is helpful, though, is to choose a journal size that is portable, so that you can carry it around with you. Make a habit of writing or drawing in your journal every day. Some days you’ll have only a quick five minutes and other days a whole hour to devote to it. Don’t worry about whether your writing makes sense or your ideas or drawings are any good. Eventually a pattern will emerge that will help unlock your mission as an artist and even identify new avenues for exploration. 

By Lisa Congdon

By Lisa Congdon

Take a Break from the Internet
To home in on your voice, you must first abandon the messages in your mind that tell you how you should be doing something, so that you can free yourself to create art that is authentic to you. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of comparing ourselves to other artists. The Internet is a great place for artists to sell and promote their work, but it can also be a distraction. At any time, you can open your computer and have immediate access to the work of thousands upon thousands of artists. Looking at the work of other artists can be motivating, but it can also be intimidating. You might question whether your work is original enough or, conversely, whether you fit into any particular trend. Turning off the computer, finding your own inspiration, and exploring your own creative process may get you much further than studying the work of other visual artists.

Detach from Other Artists’ Work
Art Inc coverMany artists go through a period where they feel a need to make their work look like what they consider “good art,” like creating work in a vein similar to their favorite contemporary artist or the work of an old master. Consciously or unconsciously, artists may initially hold ideas about what is acceptable and good and what is not. To carve out your artistic voice, you’ll need to detach yourself from images of what you think constitutes successful work. This might mean a period where you avoid looking at the work of other artists on the Internet or books with images of your favorite work. “Pay attention to your inner compass,” advises artist Josh Keyes. “It’s easy to get caught up in the speed and blur of social media and exterior influences and expectations. Get to know your center and what propels and ignites your creativity.”

Excerpt from Art Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist by Lisa Congdon. All illustrations in this post were created by Lisa, too.

+++END OF EXCERPT+++

Hope you enjoyed those juicy bits of wisdom!

With gratitude,

Jonathan

P.S. – Camp GLP Update – $100 discount ends on Friday! Come play with our amazing family of Good Life Project leaders, learn a ton, have more fun than you’ve had in years and make friends and stories for life. Check it all out here.

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11 responses

11 responses to “Finding Your Voice”

  1. Bunny says:

    This is so perfectly timed for me. I am in the middle of trying to figure out how to make a living with my upcycled fashions. It is something I truely love to do each and every day and know there is a market for it. But just haven’t found a way to really get the exposure ( or sales). I just purchased her book and look forward to reading and learning. Thank you so much for all these wonderful people you introduce us to.

  2. Tim Eavey says:

    As a photgrapher it’s easy to compare my work to everyone elses. Camera envy is the ugly name we call it. We forget that we each have our own voice and that our work, regardless of the medium, will seperate us from one another if we would only stop trying to sound like everyone else.

    Sounds like a good book.

  3. Geoff says:

    Great excerpt!
    Voice-finding is a crucial process to the life artists that we all are!
    Thanks for sharing Lisa and Jonathan!
    Namasté

  4. Bodhi says:

    I love the idea of pushing through and the “U”. I have learned this in my own painting. Inevitably I reach a point where the painting takes me somewhere I didn’t intend to go…I don’t like it…I made a “mistake”. I have finally reached a point where I appreciate the error as an opportunity to grow. When I do push through I am rarely disappointed…frustrated; yes, but it always seems to work out better if I keep pushing through. I never thought of the “U” though, and I will use that mental image from now on. Thanks!

  5. Judi says:

    Great stuff … love it! It really resonates with me … especially the part about detaching from other artists work. I am an artist myself … and I find myself always looking at others and comparing my work to theirs, my website to theirs, my message to theirs, my look to theirs. When really non of it matters … I’m a true original and I need to trust myself enough to pave my own way.

    Love that other artists go thru this and that it’s normal. We will all rise together. I hope we all make it!

    Love your work.

    Cheers!
    Judi

  6. “Everyone has a different process for finding his voice. It’s not something you can simply learn through books or study. It requires you to pull from deep inside yourself to find what moves you and to express that through what you create. ” –> Totally in love with this!

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  7. Sam says:

    This is really wonderful! Thanks.

  8. […] Book Exerpt from Art Inc.: 6 Ways to Find Your Voice […]

  9. Thanks for sharing this excerpt, it looks very promising! Beautiful artworks too!
    I don’t want to be overly confident but believe I have the part of finding my voice and inspiration figured out. So I’m really looking forward to reading Lisa’s advice on the actual business-making. How to reach the first customer. And then the second. And so on… This has been a huge challenge.

  10. I loved this piece. There is so much truth to it. These tips apply to the art of living and to the art of creating because creating is living and living is creating.

    I did watch the GLP video showcasing this video and this remarkable way of bringing “newness” to art. Thank you for sharing Lisa’s excerpt. I’ll always relate to the “U” process that we have to go through to give it the best we have and to find our unique identity in the process. As long as we give it what we consider our best, that’s all that we can do and should do to make ourselves proud.