It is a truth universally acknowledged that an artist should have a singular “voice” or style.
People say this is important to be be recognizable, but I think a much better reason is that the only way to become really really good at something is to practice it over and over and over. If you’re practicing a lot of different things at once, you simple won’t get as much practice at one thing. And am I guilty of this !!! I should definitely heed my own advice once in a while!
Having a clear style is partly the result of much practice and experience, but also, I think, of knowing your own taste. In my workshop “Developing your Own Voice”, one of the things I ask people to do is to bring a dozen or so pictures of works they really love – no matter what the medium. And pictures of their own work that they really love. Two groups of pictures.
The next step is to develop a list of descriptors.
The list of descriptors could be based on many things; I began with a list that some friends and I developed after a long evening of discussion of our own and other’s art quilts! An evening of considerable libation I may add!!
Our list included the following: originality, technique, attention getting and holding, compositional success, communication, tension and the mark of the human hand.
To those factors, I would add: size, format, colour palette, edge treatment, abstract/impressionistic/realistic, subject matter, passive/active, use of negative space, mood, movement.
The way to develop the items is to look at the pictures one by one and write down the key things that attract you:
for example, one of my favorite quilts is Farne Islands:
The things I like about this quilt are:
the unity of subject matter and colour
the variety of textures
the overall size and shape
so I can begin my Definition of My Style with these items:
a) unified subject matter: taking one subject and portraying it with variety.
b) a controlled palette – not necessarily monochromatic but definitely not “cor blimey!”
c) textural variety
d) a lot of movement – interestingly this definitely fits me as a person – I remember a friend half my age complaining that I was the most restless person she had ever met!
e) a fairly large size, horizontal format.
Then I could take another artist’s work that I love: Red Landscape by Dominie Nash.
What do I like here?
a) the controlled palette – everything is related to red
b) the mystery
c) the strong diagonal movement
d) the dynamism
e) the fairly large size and horizontal format
If I repeat this exercise with a dozen piece, I will find a clear description of what I really like in my own and others’ work and if I focus on this type of work (well for a while at least, remember the restlessness!), and practice practice…not only will I be clearly delineating a style and a taste, but also should improve.
well, here’s hoping at least!….and, if you have been, thanks for reading!
Excellent excercise Elizabeth. One I am going to try.
This is a wonderful post too. Trying to find your own voice and your own medium. Sometimes it shows up way before you know you have it. I love your blog it is so instructional and you are very good at explaining the love of the stitch.
Thanks for writing so clearly about a process I've been working on the past year...I've been moving toward another medium and a bit away from one I've worked in for many years and it's like learning a new language.
Its funny how some of us don't realize we have a voice until its pointed out. Last summer, after a big show, I had several viewers tell me that they could spot my work right away. Funny - I felt my stuff was very ADD (all over the place). Now I can go back and see what were the unifying elements in those pieces.
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