Finding Voice: 3 Insider Tips on Finding and Developing Voice

The following post is contributed by Carrie Brummer, featured artist for the December Speaker Series program.

Tip One: Connect with Your Childhood

I was surrounded by sequins, furiously stitching away to meet my class deadline in the 5th grade. Mrs. Codner assigned us a project to create a paper or fabric carp. Mom showed me how I could use sequins to make beautiful, sparkly fish scales. It excited me so much I jumped right in.

Fabric carp with sequins.

There was, however, a problem. There was NO way I could finish the assignment by the deadline. The technique was too time consuming. I’d never been late for a homework assignment, let alone for a project. I was terrified. 

Today I can call myself a recovering perfectionist. As a child, perfectionism was already in full bloom. I attended school that day, despite my best attempts to convince Mom otherwise, eyes filled to the brim with tears. And when I told my teacher it would be late because the technique I was using was so time consuming, all I could see (and still acutely remember) was her disappointment.

I went home that day determined to bring my finished carp to school the next day. I knew it was something special.

And when Mrs. Codner saw my project, her eyes popped out of her head. I felt redeemed. It affirmed that the work I put in was worth it. And she hung my carp at the front of the class.

Today I embroider and find other ways to embellish my art.

The flowers here are embroidered onto the painted canvas.
Ruth, acrylic on canvas embellished with gold leaf and embroidery.

Childhood is a powerful part of our lives. For better and for worse. Connecting to the child we once were, either through material or giving ourselves permission to play, can be a wonderful way to access and channel the creative voice we seek.

Tip Two:  Stop Forcing Success

Picasso is often quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” 

We start to develop ideas in our head about what we should be doing with our art, what are the correct ways to make, share, sell, display art… 

And internalized rules dealing with definitions of success can easily drive our artistic decisions.

And yet, for me, it was returning to a place where there was nothing to give and no more rules to care about that helped me receive the very accolade or recognition I’d sought. 

I was teaching high school art when I got these headaches that wouldn’t quit. The CT scans and MRIs had some bad news, too: it was a mass on my pituitary gland. They didn’t know what it was, or if it was cancerous. We’d know more after they went in.

Carrie Brummer, artist & teacher

I was in my mid to early twenties and here I was signing a waiver that told me I could go blind, be on lifelong hormone replacement therapy, or die.

In the days that led up to my surgery all I wanted to do was paint. So paint I did (and perhaps for the first time without a plan or a goal). I painted because I wanted to and knew it could be the last time I painted.

It was the first time in my life, since early childhood, that I had painted purely because I could.

Thankfully the surgery was a success and my health returned quickly. Shortly thereafter I found a group call for young artists facing health issues and disability. The work I had painted before the surgery was a good fit for the exhibition so I entered the work.

Those two pieces purchased my first laptop and went on a two year tour of the US which included stops at the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Before that I’d been accepted to, backed out of, then completely rejected from probably half a dozen masters programs.

As soon as I let go, as soon as I stopped trying so hard, I won. 

Tip Three: Reflect Regularly

Finding a way to let go and return to creative flow honors the voice already within us. And yet, there are also systems and behaviors we can use to build our skill and develop our unique artist voice.

“I’m bad at math.”

“Artists are disorganized.”

There are A LOT of definitions and cultural assumptions about what it means to be a creative person. We are labeled with chronic mental health problems, as unreliable or inconsistent professionally, bad with money, and I’m sure we could add to this list.

How could these notions NOT impact us?

We internalize beliefs like these and take them on as personal definitions of artistic value and success without even knowing it. Which is why it’s so important to take time periodically to check in with ourselves to ask:

  • How do I define “artist?”
  • What does being a successful creative mean to me?
  • And, how do I get there?

Being strategic with how we use our time, and ensuring it’s aligned with our values and personal definitions will help us get there (wherever there is) faster.

Taking the time to address our limiting beliefs (H/T to Gay Hendricks The Big Leap) can ensure the artistic choices we make come from a place of curiosity and play. And when we make from a place of true flow, honoring the path before us rather than forcing it, we can confidently develop and refine our unique artist voice.

This guest blog post is a segment of Carries larger talk called Finding Voice: The Journey to Unique, Individual Expression where she shares 10 Insider Tips on Finding and Developing Voice. She will be a guest speaker for Huron River Art Collective Dec 20, 2021 at 7 pm

Carrie Brummer is an artist and professional educator who taught for years around the world before creating Artist Strong, an online artists’ community and school.
Her personal artist practice is about elevating women, highlighting and addressing gender norms, and perfectionism. Her work has been exhibited across the United States, in Canada, United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
You can learn how she supports self-taught artists at www.ArtistStrong.com and view her original art at www.CarrieBrummer.com.

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