A lot of artists struggle with finding/recognizing/developing their style. Style is all well and good. It may help others differentiate one person’s work from another. But, in my humble opinion, style only goes so far. What transcends style is voice.
This has become clear to me as I’ve been working in clay of late. It’s still all relatively new to me, so I’m trying out lots of shaping techniques and surface treatments…and REALLY trying to concentrate on craftsman ship. It’s been really fun and interesting to find a good fit here and there. Like Cinderella’s slipper, when something fits, things get a bit magical.
I’ve found one stoneware clay that meets all my needs, so for now I’m not looking further. Working with this clay is not a constant battle, but rather a letting go to the medium—knowing what I can expect, naturally making my kinds of marks, and all with happy hands (that part is REALLY important…I hate greasy clays). To my own surprise, I’m not much interested in surface decorations that involve painterly techniques or lots of layering and sgraffitto. You’d think that as a painter I’d be all over that, but I just find it tedious and boring, even when the piece turns out nicely. What I prefer are finishes that enhance shape and surface. I have a really long way to go till I’m happy with what’s coming out, but I can check off a number of techniques as not-a-good-fit for having tried them. That’s progress in its own right.
Choosing materials and palettes, and making certain types of marks that come organically from preferences applied to work over time creates style. Voice is more about how such choices support the story behind the work (this might be narrative, symbolic, or simply an expression of form).
What makes an artist get up and go to the studio over and over? It could be meditative, or escapism, or it might be to change the world. Whatever it is, when that motivation starts to drive the work itself, there’s voice. That’s the magic…when the materials, techniques, and story all resonate together.
Looking for that magic is a life-long quest. I’ll think I have it figured out, then might lose it again. This week I had a hint of it when I remembered to come back to trusting my hands and the clay to know what’s best for me. Suddenly the work changed. Now, please, let me hang on to that for at least a little while (dare I ask for longer?), not get sidetracked, and take it further, one piece at a time.