Finding your artistic voice

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How does one find their individuality as an artist?  Artist, David Gluck, suggests wearing a hat!!!

I began my professional art career as a freelance commercial illustrator in the early 70’s. I shared office space with an already well established artist who had excellent credentials, was confident in what he was doing, and had a very tight, realistic style.

Being new to the field and not as well trained as he, I lacked confidence and individuality of style. As a result I adopted many of his methods, including the projection of photo reference. All this influence led to a very tight, realistic style. Upon entering the fine art field 10 years later and seriously evaluating my abilities, I realized I had become dependent on the photograph and projector while having little confidence in my drawing ability. In fact, now looking back, I understood very little about creating a quality painting.

As an illustrator I was told that in order to be successful one needed to develop a unique, recognizable style. The emphasis was focused on “style” rather than what was being communicated through the work. Now, as a fine artist that just seems so phony and artificial because the whole motivation for creating art is different. Yet, the reality is, galleries and collectors alike generally don’t like surprises. Collectors expect something similar to what we have done before. Galleries want a product they can sell, and they expect consistency in quality and subject matter. So, what is a wanna-be artist to do?

How does one find their niche in the marketplace and uniqueness of creative expression?

Dan Gerhartz often speaks of honesty in painting…honesty in depiction of the subject and honesty to one’s self. It is said of Glenn Miller that he spent most of his musical life searching for his particular musical sound. My long-time friend and mentor, Ed Pointer, believes experimentation, trying many different things from design to media, is key to finding one’s individuality.

I have had the great honor of speaking with many wonderful artists over the years and have shared their comments with you in this blog; many of them have weighed in on this topic. Let’s hear from them again, plus a few others.


Roger Dale Brown - "Glistening Sunset" - 24"x 48" - Oil

Roger Dale Brown – “Glistening Sunset” – 24″x 48″ – Oil

Roger Dale Brown:  I think your individuality finds you. I often hear a student ask..How do I develop a style or how did you get your  style?…My answer is “don’t worry about it!” just paint..painting is a process  and you should not get caught up in developing a style. You will restrict your ability to explore if you try to force or copy a style. It will lead to formulating your work, which you don’t want to do. Your unique voice will develop naturally. Your spirit and individual personality will show through in your work if you just paint. That is obvious if you have ever been with a group of artist painting the same scene?  None of the paintings look the same…….


John Cook - "Kaleidoscopic" - 9"x 12" - Oil

John Cook – “Kaleidoscopic” – 12″x 9″ – Oil

John Cook:  I’m going to answer this question with a question. How could anyone produce a truthfully personal and original body of work and not distinguish themselves from any other artist’s work, past or present?

We are wonderfully made by God, infinitely unique and unsearchably distinct in design…whether it be physical build, looks, emotional demeanor, voice, personal drive, energy, strength, or gift of talent…just to touch on a few differences. We make a few choices on our own, whether to be doers or procrastinators, slothful or productive, etc. Some are energized and able to produce much and some little; some work small, and some monumental. As for what presents itself on canvas from my own hands, I find I have no choice, but to surrender and accept what I present as finished art. I do it to the best level I can muster on each given day. I work very hard to do my best. I know my limitations. I have to pray to God, and no small amount, to complete certain tasks. My prayer life is my secret, and I’m not afraid to share, for any success I may have achieved. Unfortunately, I do have a range of variations of consistency of “doing what I do”,  that presents no little struggle, and on too many occasions.

I see constantly the works of others and marvel and wish I could achieve some of the excellence of value separation, or purity of palette, or  simplicity of design, or evident masterful draftsmanship, or extreme detail, or extreme lack of the same. I even attempt to incorporate the most impressionable facets in my next work, but then there comes up in front of me once again-just, John Cook…like it or not! In the midst of all this, I am honored and humbled when others say some of these things about my work.


Dianne Massey Dunbar - "Cement and Tree Shadows" - 30"x 24" - Oil

Dianne Massey Dunbar – “Cement and Tree Shadows” – 30″x 24″ – Oil

Dianne Massey Dunbar:  First off, I would say finding individuality is a process.  Where you begin will likely be very different from where your journey of art ultimately leads you.  And, I also believe that individuality is a result of passion, excitement, exploration, risk taking, failing, succeeding, practicing, and, as I said earlier, honesty.   Paint the subject matter that excites or interests you.  Play with paint, splash it, brush it, knife it, make puddles, and smear it.  Try different surfaces, because I am learning that they too make a difference. Be creative because after all we are artists.  Some paintings won’t succeed but will boost you to the next painting.  Eventually you will have enough paintings behind you that instead of you finding your individuality I imagine your individuality will find you.


Douglas Fryer - "Edge of Town" - 30"x 30" - Oil

Douglas Fryer – “Edge of Town” – 30″x 30″ – Oil

Douglas Fryer:  Underneath all of the layers of pretense and affectation lies the real individual that we can’t get rid of if we tried; it remains always, and surfaces occasionally or perhaps frequently, depending on our frame of mind.  In spite of what we do our art cannot lie, and easily reveals itself to the discerning viewer, as either original or a fraud.  Of course emulation is almost inevitable in today’s world of easily accessible images from which we may study and gain inspiration.  We all do it to some degree.  However, one finds individuality simply by working prolifically – making a lot of art; by making personal and deliberate aesthetic judgments, as well as judgments about content; by being concerned more about basic principles of design rather than about style; by responding to the needs of the composition and the materials; by trying to be more aware of the beauty and meaning of ones surroundings and experiences.  There are a lot of strong voices out there: the avant-garde, the universities, the academicians, and the fundamentalists.  All have something important to contribute to an artist’s growth.  The individual must take and use those things that will help him get to the place he deep down knows he wants to be.


Daniel Gerhartz - "Holding Her Close" - 24"x 18" - Oil

Daniel Gerhartz – “Holding Her Close” – 24″x 18″ – Oil

Daniel Gerhartz:  In my experience, finding my artistic voice came most naturally when I thought least about it. When I began a career as a commercial artist 25 years ago, the only virtue was to “have a style”. While that stint was very short lived,  I had to divest myself of such thinking as that approach only led to hollow, superficial, works. While these commercial works were eye catching and trendy, they lacked soul and meaning. Rather, when I entered the fine art realm, I was very intentional to concern myself not with technique but simply recording the subject, it was then that my true voice emerged. The longer an artist works within this framework, the more authentic and original their artistic voice becomes.


Marc Hanson - "55th Street Rise" - 9"x 12" - Pastel

Marc Hanson – “55th Street Rise” – 8″x 10″ – Pastel

Marc Hanson:  Paint, paint, paint!  That sounds simple, but it’s the key.  Once one has the skills in hand to be able to self evaluate, with occasional help from your peers, diving deep into your own creative space and working hard is the best way to see who you are as an Artist.  Style, or individuality, will come out of you, it can’t be held back, if you’re really working hard at your art.


Four Jacks 7x5 Joel Carson Jones 72dpi

Joel Carson Jones – “Four Jacks” – 5″x 7″ – Oil

Joel Carson Jones:  One finds his individuality as an artist by learning the indispensable basics of technique, practicing them until they become second nature, then using them as the foundation to add what becomes that artist’s signature in skill.  An artist must also tap into and live in his own process.  In that process, he will find the images that will not leave him until they are rendered.   It is very difficult not to be influenced by the work of others in a society inundated by technology.  Images are found with the click of a button.  I made a conscious decision seven years ago to limit myself so as not to be influenced by the works of the masses.  As a result, my own voice began to surface.


Rusty Jones - "Runoff" - 18"x 24" - Oil

Rusty Jones – “Runoff” – 24″x 18″ – Oil

Rusty Jones:  In art, developing individuality means setting yourself apart from everybody else or developing a style that is so recognizable that people can look at your work and without looking at the signature know you created the piece. Think of Velasquez’s portraits, Monet’s hay stacks, Degas’ ballerinas, Sorolla’s nudes on the beach or any Norman Rockwell painting and you’ll know what I mean. To get there, to finally develop a unique look or approach to your work, all comes down to one thing…paint mileage. Paint mileage refers to the miles of canvas you have to paint before your own style develops. Developing individuality requires you first obtain technical excellence to the point where design and mixing color becomes second nature. Once technical excellence is achieved you can then get to the business of “finding your voice” by painting those things that inspire you…by painting those things you feel compelled to paint. Once you begin to express your desires in paint you will find individuality.

Here are some other valuable points:

* Don’t make uniqueness the object of your affection.

* First, learn to “speak”. Develop your painting vocabulary: composition, drawing, values, edges, color, etc., etc. What good is uniqueness if when you have something to say you have not the skill nor ability to communicate it convincingly?

* Be a serious student. Take your work seriously. A hobby artist attitude will not get the job done. Continually increase your understanding and apply what you’ve learned.

* Improve your taste through the study of the great masters.

* Paint what you understand, love, and are passionate about. Do not get into the rut of painting a particular subject just because it sells.

* Learn and apply the valuable stuff you have learned from others, but don’t mimic. Remember, it’s all about you gaining knowledge and understanding of how to create a great painting. It’s about seeing through your eyes, not the eyes of another. The artists represented here interpret through their eyes, intellect and emotions and their individuality is crystal clear. Everyone after them can only copy their “voice”, and that to me is artificial.

* Give yourself time. No one matures overnight.

* Subject matter alone cannot be the distinguishing feature of finding one’s “voice”. Several of the artists shown and spoken of here paint a variety of subjects and yet their work is still easily recognized. Why? I believe it goes to the emotional content, design, drawing, color choices, and paint application. All are very personal, and when developed, can lead to a very personal style.

Finally, painting is like learning to write. After learning the alphabet, being introduced to writing tools and how to use and hold them, one learns how to form each letter…and eventually how to write one’s name in cursive. Over time, having written one’s name hundreds, thousands of times, your signature is uniquely yours. There’s not one other like it in the world. How did it all begin…taking that pencil in hand and awkwardly forming those first letters.

You know, there are lots of great painters out there, artists that have found their very unique voice and have learned to express it in such a way that we all marvel at its beauty. I’m sure you have your particular favorites. I’d love for you to share with us names of contemporary artists that you believe have found their artistic voice.

Also, if you have further insight into this subject or would like to share with others how you discovered your artistic voice, please feel free to contribute.


Artist’s websites:

Roger Dale Brown

John Cook

Dianne Massey Dunbar

Douglas Fryer

Daniel Gerhartz

Marc Hanson

Joel Carson Jones

Rusty Jones

John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE




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