Finding my voice...again

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I’ve been back from Nicaragua for a month now. I think I’ve been in some kind of deep shock having had the luxury of a month in 85° weather to come back to four Nor’easters and freezing temperatures. I can’t say that I have been tremendously prolific creating new artwork either while I was in Nicaragua or since my return. I completed one small painting while I was down there and one kiln full of new items since my return. What can I say? It was just too warm and sunny and inviting outside to worry too much about doing a lot of work.  I learned a lot and I have a new plan but that’s for another post. This is about where I am right now.

As you might know if you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have been working on a new children’s book using a cool program that I bought for my iPad. I’ve had both a lot of fun and a lot of frustration working with it. One of the pluses and minuses of being an artist sometimes is that you continually want to try new things. You want to try new ideas and new techniques and new materials just because it’s the nature of being creative

I visited my daughter in Massachusetts last weekend and went to a gallery that had a large section featuring a lot of famous children’s book illustrator’s. Looking at their work made me realize a couple of things about what I was working on. The first is that I don’t know the first thing about illustration. I’m a self-taught artist. I’ve not been trained as an illustrator, but my painting style worked for me putting together my first children’s book because it was familiar territory. I had painted over 100 cow paintings! But with this new book, I realized that the road that I was going down with these colored pencil computer generated drawings did not speak in the same voice for which I have been known. In fact, I realized that they are very foreign to anything that I have produced in the past


As I looked around at all the illustrators in the gallery- Dr. Seuss, Tommy de Palo, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, and many others, one thing stood out. I knew immediately who they were by looking at their artwork. I didn’t need to check the name on the wall. They had a recognizable voice or style. They stayed true to that style throughout their publishing careers. I’m sure (I hope) they had experiments along the way just to challenge themselves and grow as I like to do, but I realized that what I was doing with my iPad would never be recognized as my work without identification. If I was going to continue painting or doing children’s books, my body of work should remain consistent so I think I will use the drawings for reference and switch to painitng them.

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I do really kind of hate the idea of being limited to one way of creating and put in a box though. That’s the way it is I guess, if you want to be recognized.  Artists get known for their certain style. You know a Modigliani, you know a Mary Cassatt, you know a Picasso. I think all of these artist probably experimented and made different kinds of art over their lifetime but I always kind of wondered, after they were “discovered” how could they stand being so pigeonholed? Or did they just find what they liked to do the most and live blissfully forever after in their creative nutshell?  I can’t help wondering if they didn’t they get bored to death.

This feeling I have of being afraid of getting boxed in was one of the things that led me to start creating pottery. I’ve had five years now of experimenting and learning and playing around with clay, I’ve made all kinds of different things with all kinds of different glazes using all kinds of different techniques. On my same trip to Massachusetts, when I looked at all of the handmade pottery in different stores I saw the same thing. Large collections of pottery that spoke distinctly of one style by a certain artist. Their work was  instantly recognizable by the glazes, the technics, the designs and the patterns. I really admire the skill and cohesiveness of the work, but for me If having a “voice” in art means being married to one aesthetic forever and henceforth, I just haven’t found it yet and I’m not sure I want to. 

But wait! I do. I want people to recognize my work!  But at the same time I don’t want to be put in some kind of artistic straightjacket. Aghhh! What a conundrum! Are you an artist struggling with the same issues? I’d love to hear if you are and how you’re solving this for yourself.