How I found my voice as an Artist | The Big WHY

Creating artwork is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I did it so much that I thought it was what everyone did–it became a large part of my daily life.

If I became bored, I’d draw. When I went through my teenaged angst/emo- melancholic phase, I’d write a sad poem, and then I would draw. When I was happy or feeling love, I would draw. I thought little about it; it’s just what I did, and I loved every bit.

It wasn’t until highschool; I took an art class with my first African American art teacher. Now, to some, that may not be a big deal, but for me, it was the first time I experienced someone who looked like me who was into the things that I was into. It offered me a glimpse of new possibilities I hadn’t even dreamt were available to me. Representation does in fact matter big time. Until taking her class, I thought that being a doctor, attorney, teacher, going into the military or getting a “good job” were my only options because that’s all I knew. That’s what success looked like to me. Once I began taking this class, it quickly became apparent that I was to be an artist; specifically, I was to become a graphic designer. Now I knew nothing of graphic design. I didn’t even know what the term meant, but it was implied that to be financially successful in the arts, one must become a graphic designer–so that’s what I did.

Graphic design became my major in college and later my career path as I worked for many years in corporate America until I eventually became a freelancer. Though I enjoyed the work itself, and I became very good at it, it didn’t satisfy me nor did it feed my creative ambitions. I would paint here and there and slowly but surely, the paintings and painting commissions replaced the freelance design work. In my spare time, I would create work based around pop culture intending to make things I thought would sell. I was developing a pattern of doing things to satisfy others and by doing so; lost my voice as a creator. I no longer felt as free as I did as a kid drawing whatever suited me, not being concerned about how others felt. Instead, I was ALL consumed with the thoughts and opinions of the masses and lost myself along the way.

BLewisArts-QueenofSwords

I remember doing a sci-fi show at an art gallery and having the pleasure to speak with the owner. She took a keen interest in my artwork and even offered a critique or two, pointing out which pieces she could tell I felt deeply about and which ones were more mechanical. I expressed to her the dilemma that I found myself in: I was making art to make money vs. making art that spoke to me and made me feel excited to create. It was the first time I could put words to the dissatisfaction I’d been feeling for my work at that point. Not to say the art wasn’t good, but I wasn’t as connected to it, as I would have liked to be.

Sometime later, I had an interview with Blaque Canvas Magazine the question came up: “When people see your work, what will they get from it?” I remember thinking–OH MY GOODNESS. I have no idea. This question completely stomped me; what an excellent question it was. That interview sparked within me a desire to create pieces that were purposefully introspective. I set aside time to determine what I wanted to express in my artwork; what message did I want to send? I did a few more pieces of fan art–mostly out of fear of losing my audience and perhaps having my art rejected by them (there again, doing things to please others) but eventually, I began easing in original imagery until I took the leap to do my dream project: The Cosmic Gateways Tarot deck.

Cosmic Gateways Tarot

It took me a very long time to create the images that I wanted to see vs. creating what I thought would others would accept. The thing I had to realize is that if there’s something I want to see, then it’s likely that there are other people who want to see the same imagery and will connect with the art. As long as I am true to myself, the rest will fall into place. That became my WHY: to create the work that I want to see.

Fast-forward to fairly recently, I read a comment that suggested that the images that I am creating for my tarot deck are wrong–and how dare this deck only feature the African Diaspora (*clinches imaginary pearls*). Can you imagine? First off-the audacity. Second, if I weren’t clear on my WHY, I’d probably have taken it to heart. Despite the overwhelmingly positive response to the tarot deck, that one comment would have made younger me feel inadequate in some way. HA! Silly goose! That person didn’t know that I’d already established my purpose and it’s been a long, tough road to reach this level of confidence and creative freedom.

Knowing my why made the situation pretty comical if I’m being honest, and it certainly made it easier to dismiss. My WHY keeps me going when I’m unsure of how I can come up with 78 individual images. It keeps me motivated when I’m having small bouts of imposter syndrome. Knowing my WHY is the foundation of success for me because no matter what happens, I am using my artwork to give a voice to the voiceless–even if I’m the voiceless person.

When you set out to do anything, get clear on why you’re doing it. What significance will it have for you? How will it improve or change your wellbeing? Does it feel aligned with your highest good? Establishing your why makes whatever hurdle or obstacle you encounter seem like child’s play. It’ll serve as fuel to power your journey. It has helped me find my voice as an artist and for that I am eternally grateful.

“Efforts and Courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy