What Happens After You Find Your Voice?

I’ve heard some art quilters express frustration about finding their voice.  By this I take it they feel they haven’t yet developed a style and approach that’s unique to them.  One woman I met had spent a lot of time taking workshops with well known art quilters, and each of her pieces was a reflection of the teachers’ styles. She was having a hard time extrapolating the components that would merge into her unique vision.

I can sympathize. Sometimes my work is very clean edged and angular; other times it’s curvy and blurred. I sew along merrily, making what appeals to me.  Then I’m pulled up short by someone else’s work that makes me feel like a great big fake, an art quilt poseur who’s been snatching a bit of this and that from a lot of “real” art quilters.

Each month I meet up with a small group of art quilters to talk about our work in progress and give each other candid feedback.  And I mean the “what were you thinking, you’ve run the viewer’s eye right off the edge” kind of feedback; not the “I like it” kind. This is exactly why I participate in the group. I want candidness.

Recently one group member asked me, “do you consider this piece finished?” Gulp, well yes. I felt like I had really missed a turn somewhere. Driving home, I decided that I had taken the piece in question as far as I wanted to.  It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever made, but it represented a departure and an experiment for me.  The lessons I learned making it should inform my future work.

This brings me to the step after finding your voice, and that’s trusting it. Only I know what I’m trying to do in my art and presumably I’ve spent at least some time figuring out just what that is.

Recently I bought Intentional Printing, Simple Techniques for Inspired Fabric Art by Lynn Krawczyk. I’ll probably be writing more about this book in the future, but one point Lynn makes at the beginning of the book is germane here.  She writes, “I’m convinced that having a strong voice in your art is as simple as knowing what you like. … The things that we choose to put in our art are direct reflections of our personalities, and that translates into your artistic voice.”

I’ve tried out enough different techniques to know which don’t seem to be good conduits for what I want to do – beading and applique are at the top of that list.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never use them if I feel a quilt warrants them, but they won’t be my starting point.

I find I’m drawn to changing fabric – dyeing, painting, printing, sewing little bits together to create new fabric.  My personal challenge is to make that changed fabric the foundation of a piece, not the final piece itself. And that will mean some mental discomfort as my childish side will be saying, what do you mean it’s not finished.


Filed under Commentary

5 responses to “What Happens After You Find Your Voice?

  1. I just got here and I’m glad I did. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, not so much about my “voice,” but about my aesthetic. Since i haven’t settled, ever, on one medium or craft fully enough to develop a voice, I’m trying to understand what appeals to me aesthetically, what themes run through my making and the way I dress, decorate my house, etc. Your points give me new ways to think about all this!

  2. Judy

    I have been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday. I came to quilting 14 years ago and began with traditional, pattern-driven quilts. One of the very first quilts I made was a hand applique calendar bunny quilt. Yes, I know, Joanna, you are gagging now. Well, it was not enough. I had to add a little something here and there until the whole thing was embellished.

    I was such a neophyte, I did not recognize what this design decision would mean as I grew. In fact, I did not think about ‘art’ or vision or voice until people at work kept saying that what I hung on my wall was not a quilt but art. One person referred to my office as her personal art gallery.

    Now [not counting family traditional quilts], my joy is taking an idea and running with it. I love the step by step decisions and have even planned what I wanted to do. The quilts that resonate with me are the ones with personal meaning.

    I like the word vision, because each individual quilt has its own vision, however cloudy, and its own style, which varies significantly as I explore different ways of bringing it to life.

  3. “Voice” implies a certain rigidity, too. We all admire actors who are chameleons, who can transform themselves, vanishing into a role. We do not worry about their artistic voice. For written work we insist on a “voice,” although we seem comfortable with a consistent narrator within a piece. One author is not expected to use the same voice in each work. Only with visual (non-performance) art, do we seem to insist on consistency of an artist’s voice. Now, of course there is tremendous value in having a *separate* voice, one that is not simply an echo of someone else. Those who take many classes can go the way mimicking their teachers, or of incorporating their vision or methods into a unique interpretation.

    Maybe “voice” doesn’t need to imply consistency. And maybe it should be “vision” instead. How YOU see the world and interpret it will surely be different from how *I* see the same. All of your background and experiences and preferences will ensure that is true, as they are different from mine.

    This: ‘She writes, “I’m convinced that having a strong voice in your art is as simple as knowing what you like. … The things that we choose to put in our art are direct reflections of our personalities, and that translates into your artistic voice.” ‘

    Trust. I don’t love everything I make, but I know it is unique to me. I learn from each piece. And by this time I’ve learned enough to trust the process.

    • I used the term “voice” because it seems to have an agreed on meaning in the art world. I guess I hadn’t thought of an artist necessarily having a single consistent voice, but having a unique expression that reflects different facets of his/her vision. Some artists are protean in their output, while others keep to a narrow range of themes/styles/colors/techniques throughout their careers. One way isn’t better than the other.

      If “vision” better captures an artist’s unique expression then I’m all for it.

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