For most of my artistic career I have struggled to find my voice, visually speaking. Growing up, I always thought it was a good thing to be able to adapt, to change styles and approaches, to be an artistic chameleon, if you will. To be sure, that skill has allowed me the opportunity to gain experience in wildly different areas of design, but it has made having a refined aesthetic very difficult. This has also led to frustration as I have tried to build a freelance career and attract an audience.
I’m creating good stuff! Why doesn’t anyone like it? Why isn’t anyone seeing it!?
The past six months have been pretty rough, but I have spent a great deal of time trying to find that voice after seeking out feedback from artists I respect, across multiple fields and disciplines. They all complimented my work, and they all commented that my portfolio lacked focus. The encouragement was the same: Keep working. Keep producing. I’ve heard that so much and so often if felt like a pat answer, a throwaway given out to dismiss someone who has pestered you via DM a little too long. Thanks folks, keep creating, got it…
One day, while arguing with myself over what I wanted my work to look like, I started looking through Dribbble at the many forms and styles of art out there. As I sat there, critiquing the work of others and looking for inspiration in some while glancing past others, I had a realization. The critical eye that I could turn so easily on others was one I had not used on my own work. Sure, I was able to look at my body of work and determine what looked professional and worth sharing, and what did not, but I had not taken the meta view and stepped back to see what the work actually showed me.
So, I spent a few days and I began to find my voice through the common trends and tendencies I noticed in my art. Turns out, I love vibrant colors and color blocking. Silhouettes and minimalism over cluttered frames full of detail. Geometric angles in soft faces and design elements that tie illustrations together and provide balance. A general love for positive space and creating images that seem to have no borders. A fondness for imagery related to people, particularly people engaged in outdoor activities. The funny thing is, all of these realizations corresponded directly with any compliment I have ever received on my work. I can’t count how many times I have been told about how I use color, or my ability to capture an emotion through the figure.
Sounds silly, like Robbie, that’s a pretty basic thing you should have been able to figure out a long time ago. That’s probably true, but I have spent so much time trying to create work that I never really stepped back to look at what I had created. After noticing these things, I made a small change: I came up with a concept for a series of pieces that directly acknowledged and incorporated all of those loves rather than just throwing a Hail Mary based off whatever artistic mood I found myself in on that day. I used my graphic design and marketing knowledge to target my audience.
The change has been substantial. I have seen greater engagement and follower growth in the past week than I have in the past six months. I found my voice, and in finding it, I found my audience. I spoke to them, and they heard me.
I’m going to keep pushing, I still have a long way to go to reach my goal of being my own boss. Being able to feed my family off my freelance career right now would be financial suicide, but for the first time in a long time I feel like there is a goal. I’m no longer shooting in the dark. I have a target and that has made all the difference. I have immediate and long-term goals in place and am actively working towards them. It’s amazing what a change it has made for my outlook and all I had to do was actually see. That’s ironic, given my first blog entry, but we learn in steps I suppose.
If you don’t follow me on social media, you will be behind the curve with seeing these changes in action. Be sure to follow me on Instagram, Dribble or Twitter to keep up to date and see these changes in action. Thanks for reading, and if you find yourself in my position, step back from your work and put on your critiquing glasses.
You will be surprised at what you see.