Thursday, March 3, 2016

Finding Your Creative Voice

A body of work. A creative voice. How does one develop such a thing? One of my professors used to say that everyone already has a voice. That you can't change who you are. But what happens when you are not sure who you are?

The post-punk band Gang of Four writes in "Who Am I," their 2011 song: "Who am I when everything is me?" If we all like everything, thumbs up, how are we distinctive? How do we find out? I can't give a definitive answer, but I will attempt to present some possible strategies.

Give yourself a Time Out. You have to be willing to listen to your actual reactions, not the ones you think you should have. Your body will tell you if you honestly like something or if you really don't.

Let your hands move without thinking. Sit quietly in one place with a pen and paper. Draw lines, draw the outlines of something nearby, but don't try to make anything. Take notes on what you see on the page.

Notice your surroundings. Take a walk with your phone turned off. Bring a small notebook with you. What do you notice? What stands out to you? Begin by keeping a list of the images that appeal to you and make you linger.

In the three strategies mentioned, you are gathering subject matter. You need to work with subjects that are important to you, that move you, make you laugh, or spark your curiosity.  At the same time, you can develop your practice of the craft.

Draw from life or from your own imagination. Go to the source. Your line is your own personal handwriting. Accept it. Cultivate it. Draw every day. For writers, that means describing something in front of you: a scene on the street, or something you are feeling. Practice writing a paragraph every day. You may start hearing phrases in your head or envisioning objects. Keep track. One of these may be a catalyst for a project.

Think about words. Your word choices are part of your voice, part of your style. Your word choices should reflect you in this time period: the casualness or reticence or whatever message you are imparting. You live now, in the 21st century. Your sentence structures are your rhythm. Could be short and choppy. Or perhaps you like the long and winding roads that meander and peek in at windows here and there. The whole piece is your personal work and reflects your voice. 

Inspiration is important. Everyday life is packed with spontaneous subject matter. But it's also beneficial to look in curated places. Notice where things are placed and how they relate to one another. Why are they where they are? Inspiration and process are linked.

Read books. Go look at art. Notice the works that make you want to write or draw. Notice what kind of work you make afterwards. Choose a spot in your living space and curate a personal museum.

While you are seeking, remember that you will have to do hard work, but it should also be fun. Take it seriously. Don't take it too seriously. Be curious in the world, and look inside yourself as well. Your creative voice will likely emerge and evolve naturally from there.


Note: One of my favorite books on creative process that has interesting exercises and ways of seeing: Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge.

Addendum, more helpful instructional books for writing and drawing:
Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson
What It Is and Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book by Lynda Barry (wilder and crazier)


valorie grace hallinan said...

I looked up Poemcrazy and it sounds great. I can't wait to read it. If you happen to know of a beginner's how to draw book that you like I'd love to know about it. I'd like to begin drawing, decades after I got the message in elementary school that I wasn't very good at art.

Alisa said...

Thanks, Valorie. Your comment reminded me of a few more good resources, which I've added to the post. The Keys to Drawing book lays out all the technical basics, old-style. The Lynda Barry books are crazy, inspiring, lively, and can be a little overwhelming, but she has some amazing exercises that I like, particularly in the writing book What It Is.

eva a(r)t work said...

Linda Barry is wonderful - I bought "Syllabus - Notes From an Accidental Professor" lately. As good as the two you mentioned already.
I also like the books by Cat Bennett very much. She has an online class with Carla Sonheim. Carla is my favourite art-teacher! She made drawing fun again for me a few years ago. I can't stop since...