7 Ways to Own Your Own Voice | Mixed-Media Art Inspiration

Want an easy way to find your artistic voice? I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret concept: create, experiment, and play, and then look for clues. For example, look for certain materials, techniques, or styles that you embrace often. Seth Apter is here to help you discover this evidence, whether it’s a style of painting or collaging papers, incorporating words, or specific color palettes. Once you’re able to recognize your artistic voice, you can use that information like a megaphone and shout your style from the rooftops.

Below is Seth’s advice (from the Cloth Paper Scissors; 2015 Annual CD; get it here) for discovering your artistic style so that you’re even more empowered to create amazing mixed-media art that’s all you. Make sure you read all the way through–there’s an announcement about how you can win some supplies for your stash.

Mixed-media art inspiration by Seth Apter | ClothPaperScissors.com
“Dreams” (mixed-media art) by Seth Apter (Pin this!)

Own Your Own Voice by Seth Apter

We all know artists who have signature styles. When we see their work, we can immediately identify it as theirs and theirs alone. This is true for the great Masters, many well-known contemporary artists, and a host of people in our mixed-media art community as well. But this is not the case for everyone.

I’ve heard many artists say that they’ve had difficulty finding their own distinctive style or identifying a label that accurately describes the work they create. More and more people simply don’t want to imitate the look of others. They’re no longer satisfied with making cookie-cutter projects or are tired of struggling to identify their niche as artists. They want their own voice.

If these scenarios sound familiar, take a moment to recognize that this is a good problem to have. It means you’re stepping out of the shadows and into your own light. It means that you have enough confidence in your abilities to begin to rely on your talent and instincts. Rather than approach the issue with frustration, think of this as an exciting, creative opportunity.

Many times an artist’s style emerges organically over time. As such, sometimes the best way to find your voice is to simply create. And create again. And then create even more. Play. Experiment. Do the work. Regardless of the media you’re working in, you might observe certain characteristics that are common in much of what you create. These might be color, texture, subject, composition, or a variety of other elements. Use them as clues to recognize your artistic voice.

However, developing your own signature style can be challenging, even for artists who have been working for years. It just doesn’t seem to happen. But don’t give up. The following seven suggestions may help.

Mixed-media art inspiration by Seth Apter | ClothPaperScissors.com
“Enter” (mixed-media art) by Seth Apter, a regular contributor to Cloth Paper Scissors

Play: Give yourself permission to play, without any preconceived plan. Clear the area, spread out the supplies, and just go for it. Grab whatever catches your eye. Mix materials that you usually don’t combine. Choose a supply that you’ve never opened. Work with no sense of where you’re going. When recess is over, see what you’ve created. Ask yourself, where did I end up? Sometimes our voices are clearest when we just let ourselves go.

Step Out: Choose a favorite mixed-media art how-to book or head to an online site with tutorials. Pick a project or technique that appeals to you. Instead of following it step-by-step, challenge yourself to change it up. Add a new step. Bring in a new material or technique. Do this a few times over the course of several months. In the end, identify your influences and see what you’ve brought to the table. It may be a key to your personal style.

Play Favorites: We all have artwork we’ve made that has special meaning—the pieces that we really love. The ones we pick to show other people. Gather and study them. What is it about those particular pieces that resonates with you? Make a list of the characteristics that you love. See if a theme emerges across all of your favorite work.

Obsess Less: As artists, we often hoard special objects or supplies, but can’t seem to use them in our work. Grab a bunch of these items and look at them as a group. Choose and use several of these treasured items to make a number of different creations. Because these materials speak to you so loudly, these new pieces of art just might provide a hint to your artistic voice.

Keep a Style File: We’ve all had the experience of seeing something that really grabs us. Keep a file of images that call your name. Don’t limit yourself to artwork. Clip a magazine ad that has just the right color or cool font. Don’t use these images in your art. Instead, as your file grows, try to see what themes are repeated. People are often attracted to styles that are very different from theirs, and for some this may be a clue to discovering their own voice.

Journal It: A visual journal is the perfect spot to find your style. Write down artful thoughts, words, and events. Doodle, draw, or paint anything that inspires you. Keep track of the results of these exercises in your journal. Do this without any concern about how good it is, and create with the idea that it’s for your eyes only. As your journal fills up, look for any recurring patterns among the entries.

Four Score: Choose four pieces of your art that either best represent you or are simply your personal favorites. Show all four pieces to four different people whose judgment you trust. Ask each person to write down four words that best describe your work. See what themes are repeated. Often we already have our own style but simply find it difficult to see. It may actually be very clear to others.

Go about the search for your voice with hope, excitement, and enthusiasm. Keep on creating and try some or all of these exercises. You just might find your voice, echoing loud and clear. ~Seth

After reading Seth’s advice, I hope you’re able to start forming an idea of what your artistic style may be, and that you’ll continue exploring it through these helpful exercises. Does one speak to you the most? Tell us which one by commenting on this blog post for your chance to WIN* some exciting mixed-media art supplies.

And, add a year’s worth of mixed-media art inspiration, techniques, and tips with the 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors Annual CD. It’s the perfect resource for when you’re ready to hone your artistic voice.

Live inspired,


*We’ll choose a random winner on March 28, 2016. Winner must be a U.S. resident due to international contest rules and regulations.

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Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

70 thoughts on “7 Ways to Own Your Own Voice | Mixed-Media Art Inspiration

  1. Play favorites. I tend to stick with same colors often. Teal, magenta, gold. Not always but are my “go to colors”. Stencils and gelli plates are often if my work as well as lots of lexture.

  2. I appreciate your suggestions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “priming the pump” that gets me into my more authentic expression. I also use non-dominant hand-writing to communicate with my art so that I can access that deeper part of me that wishes to express.

  3. This post is one of several recent pieces that have convinced me of the need to keep a visual journal. I think I’m also going to start a style file. It’s a great idea, not only for finding my own style, but also as a way of having a constant source for reference and inspiration.

  4. A few years ago, I learned how to make collage papers using pages from National Geographic Magazine and Citrasolv cleaning fluid. I use this material for collage, hand made books, cards, to illustrate my poetry and in many other ways. Sometimes I make laser print copies so I can tear, sand or other wise alter the papers. I have shown and sold many pieces of 2 and 3 dimensional art incorporating citrasolv paper.

  5. I love the idea of using your favorite stash of things that you love. I thought I was the only one that did that. It is silly to keep these special pieces to add to your art, but then never use them because you like them too much! I must learn to use those things!!

  6. I enjoy laying down paint using a credit card. By varying the angle and pressure on the card, I can create varying thicknesses of color. It’s a fun way to add layers of complexity to backgrounds. I also use this technique to add a final layer of translucent shimmer to a finished art journal page.

    1. Tricia, congratulations! You’ve been chosen as our winner! I’ll send you an email shortly. 🙂 Thanks to EVERYONE who has been inspired, and shared their answers!

  7. I need to OBSESS less! I am a novice so I just want to save special pieces until I am better, but I chase perfection which I know I will never find. This leaves my special pieces tucked away forever. I also love the idea of having a style file. I actually do have a file where I place interesting magazine articles and such. I just need to use it more!

  8. I like the idea of play. Play says freedom, laughter, joy, and I love to put myself in an artbox and have color and tools within reach. This article offered other approaches, and I hope to grow into more of them.

  9. It’s obvious from the looks of my art space, that I need to Obsess Less! Oft times I hesitate to use those ‘special’ items I’ve collected, but I’m finding that when I do, those are the pieces that bring me the most joy. I also like the idea of a visual journal but have difficulty getting started. Perhaps I’ll work on that too.

  10. This is good advice. For me, Obsessing Less resonates because I buy supplies or discover a found item I love and then I save it .. and save it! Taking those items and moving them into Play is my new goal!

  11. Great article with lots of helpful suggestions! I was really drawn to the idea of following the instructions for a project or technique and then adding a step or changing it up. That’s how I cook, but never thought about doing that with my art…thanks!

  12. Obsess less. I tend to not do the work because I want my art to turn out perfectly. I just need to take the first step, use my supplies, and have fun!

  13. WOW, Seth! I love all your suggestions. I’ve been stamping and creating cards for a couple of years. I am just starting to try some new techniques, as well as occasional mixed media designs. It’s nice to hear I’m not alone is saving things that I especially love. I’ll heed your advice, and start using them!

  14. I keep a file of inspirational ideas and suggestions to use and then I play, play and play!
    Love the ideas presented in this article. I’m always open for new ideas to create.

  15. I no longer obsess about finding a “voice”. I have an ever-changing voice, and if people can’t figure it out, I don’t feel the need to conform to their expectations. That said, I do like “Playing Favorites” here. It is something I don’t do enough – looking over my body of work, analyzing what is successful and what is not, and building from there.

    1. Why does an artist always have to have ONE style? I like to experiment continuously and a lot of my paintings are very different one from the other. I think this is the height of creativity – always finding new things without the often boring consistency one sees in a lot of artists.

  16. Play and Four Square intrigue me. When I taught Surface Design for fabrics at our local college I found the most amazing work was often samples that the students had made as a experiments. Without a preconceived notion of what they were going to make they were free to truly explore.
    I need to practice that myself..

  17. I do use a visual journal and keep a style file for reference and inspiration, and I’m strong believer in that process; I have begun to notice common themes, elements, and colors in my artwork, but I think to challenge myself further, the Four Score exercise would really give me insight from an alternate perspective.

  18. Great ideas, all, Seth! For me, I’ve found that keeping a file (files!) for inspiration is very helpful. I began doing this about 6 months ago and I’m beginning to see some recurring themes, shapes and colors where I have yet to venture. I tend to get “precious” with my art and I can see by my file that I am longing to let go and really loosen it all up. Thanks again for the encouragement!!

  19. This was a really good prompt to get me thinking. Because only a fraction of my day can be devoted to those things creative, I feel like I have to start over often in my thought processes. Seth’s Step Out suggestion is good for me. It builds my confidence, which I think is one of my biggest obstacles, and keeps me going in a creative direction. This was a very helpful post for me! Thanks!

  20. I have been resisting keeping a visual journal, I am going to challenge myself to do this while incorporating the idea file into the journal. I am a full time RV traveler so space is a premium combining these makes sense to me.

  21. I love the idea to just play around. My style has changed over the years. And I’m not sure what it is right now. I may end up trying all the ideas before I find out. Thanks for the chance to win.

  22. Play would be what I most need! I am a mom of 3 little boys 2.5 and younger. My last boy is 5 weeks old! I was on bedrest for the last 3 1/2 months of my pregnancy and have found myself in a rut and needing new inspiration. I plan to take time soon to just experiment and create for fun and not for any specific reason!

  23. I’m new to all of this and I find myself holding on to my favorite “stuff” and spend way too much time considering how it looks… Even though I am doing this for me alone! Obsess Less is one of my major challenges.

  24. My favorite is the journal it. I keep a private journal to play with new supplies or experiment in. I love looking back through it and seeing the patterns that emerge.

  25. Seth gave so many good tips it’s hard to pick the one that speaks to me most. I think journaling is it for me; I get to explore techniques and materials without worrying about someone judging me.

  26. Four Score. Love this idea because people tell me they can see my style even though it’s not obvious to me! I agree it’s important to keep on creating. Your style emerges as you make art. Anyway, it’s more important to keep on creating than to worry about what your style is.

  27. Obsess less, definitely. I do find myself agonizing over using up an art supply hoping whatever I do with it won’t be a waste. That, and finally taking at hard look at amassed odd bits and pieces to use in assemblage. I saw what another artist did with her odds and ends on a canvas and it blew my mind wide open. I am now eager to try that technique myself. I can see how obsessing less can make mental space for new ideas. All Seth’s tips are good and helpful but the Obsess Less has been a recent experience for me personally so I am glad to see it on his list.

  28. I am often drawn to “play” because I love the experimental nature of mixed media. I think I should “play favorites” more so that I can develop that style that Seth describes. 🙂

  29. Several of these steps resonate with me. I am pretty new to the mixed media art form and don’t yet have a lot of supplies. I have recently tried to join in some online challenges to experiment with new techniques. So probably ‘step out’, but I have always been a ‘craft hoarder’, waiting for the perfect project, so probably ‘obsess less’ …great tips! Thank you!

  30. Step Out resonates with me. I feel I’m too rigid and work on being more spontaneous. Practicing this step will encourage me to expand my horizons even if at first just by taking baby steps. Secondarily, it fits in with Obsess Less which is another issue I have. My hoard of beloved items needs to be used!

  31. Quite a few of those suggestions resonate with me and some I already do- like play. My favorite though is the idea of keeping a style file. I will just go alter and make a pretty book to put it in!

  32. What speaks to me most is “Journal It.” Keeping a visual arts journal allows me to play and experiment with a variety of media and techniques. After filling an art journal, I can look back through it and find common threads, themes, even colors. Thanks for the wonderful article, Seth!

  33. This is a wonderful article, thanks so much! All the steps are helpful, the one that speaks loudest is Journal It and some of Style File, too. Seeing reminders usually helps me get some direction when I feel lost on starting a project.

  34. I like the idea of keeping a style file. I believe an artistic mind is activated when we are viewing things around us. Looking through a magazine I may be reading a phrase, looking at the color of something like, maybe a pair of shoes, see a building with sun light shining on one side and an idea will pop into my head for a journal page or a canvas.
    These ideas are fleeting and if not recorded as the day moves on they will be forgotten.
    If you were to get into a habit of a style file and make notations of what it was that held your imagination the creative thoughts and ideas would not be lost to you.
    Fantastic idea! Thank you for sharing it!

  35. I actually have a file of things that “Catch My Eye”, I believe that would be my style file. I tend to hoard art supplies and I don’t take time out to play. Thank you Seth, you have inspired me to go through my aging supplies, lay them out on my empty work shop table and have a much needed play day!

  36. These are great suggestions. I keep a style file which often gets raided for collage in my art journal. I get a lot of inspiration from fashion magazine photography. While my work looks nothing like fashion, I often incorporate color palettes and quirky elements from editorial fashion spreads, or just get energized by the creativity of the photographer and stylist. Over the years, I’ve found that the style I enjoy creating the most involves lots of splashing, dripping, and fingerpainting and then adding quirky collage and some bling. Seth, your 52 Card Pick Up class was delirously fun for me. – Kathleen Harrington

  37. Seth’s first recommendation of ‘playing’ is quite often my art kickstart, and it usually highlights my style. I don’t intentionally decide to play before I work; I just can’t work before I play! Play finds new media combinations, adding dashes of garlic to my favored bright colors and subtle textures.

    I love to create new “recipes”. . . some get saved for later in my trusty (recipe box) sketchbook. I know I’ve landed within my style’s zone when I’ve made my eyes happy!

    Amongst all Seth’s super ideas on defining voice, “play” helps my juices get flowing. ‘Can’t do without it.

  38. Obsess Less is definitely something I need to practice! So many things have found their way into my studio over the past few months. Seth’s suggestion to combine some of these things in new creative ways is a good one. Will give it a try!!

  39. Seth’s advice really hit home, and “Obsess Less” really resonated with me. I see that this point also was shared by a large percentage of the readers. Glad I’m not alone with realizing that this is where I need the most improvement! I want to print the whole article and read it every day.

  40. Hi my name is Jeanette and I am a hoarder. I like to discover and keep those ‘perfect’ elements and supplies then hold onto them for a rainy day. But I find if I sign up for a swap or a art challenge I am more likely to “Step Out” of my comfort zone and use some of these favorite items to create in new and unusual ways. Amazingly often these turn out to be some of my favorite adventures or even if they fail they become a valuable lesson and lead to more thinking outside the box. Thank you for the great article and encouragement to stretch my artistic winds in some new directions.

  41. Personally I like “journal it”. I started art journaling and have almost given up on it because the idea of quoting someone else or just using a theme like ‘love’ or ‘create’ wasn’t resonating with me anymore. But the idea of using it more as a creating tool, to express more than just generic ideas appeals to me.

  42. Wonderful advice from Seth! I am a devotee of play–always trying new ways to use stuff, new supplies, etc; I have a style now, based on years of play. I call it eclectic, because I use so many ways to express it–the most usual being a mixed media collage.

  43. I really like the Foursquare idea as a new way to get input from friends. I’ve used input in the past for color and words to inspire a piece but having the variety of four people’s input on four pieces purs a great new twist on things!

  44. Somebody read my mind. I have all sorts of stuff I’ve hoarded and only use sparingly. Gold leaf, paint pens, AND an absolute ton of gorgeous papers. What on earth am I doing?…saving them for my old age? I’m off to the studio to make masterpieces (hmmmm?) with this stuff.

  45. I started. out playing with gelli plates and liked them so much that I saw them as complete. Now I see that I. have many pages of a journal ready to bind. I have very many inks that I don’t use. Time to try out yupo paper. It’s all play! I’ve gotten brave and shown my work to friends and on instagram and. I’m learning. It’s an adventure.

  46. Thanks for this wonderful article. For me two suggestions resonated with me one with the idea of keeping a style file and the other one I’ve been seriously thinking about is starting a visual journal.

  47. Obsess Less. I have been tucking away favorite little items and papers for a long time… Finding the confidence to actually use them in one of my projects is very empowering. I’ve already been stepping out a bit and playing but obsessing less has brought new strength and purpose to what I am doing. It has been the most helpful in identifying my own voice.

  48. For me it is Obsess Less! I’m always worried about using expensive supplies and then have the piece not work out. A friend gave me a great piece of advice which ties in to obsess less – your supplies have no value anyway just sitting on the shelf so you may as well use them.

  49. I struggle with this myself and I think these are all good ideas… I am going to give them all a try and see what my results will be. I especially like the idea of “four score” because I know I can often recognize other artists’ work and I’m sure others recognize mine but I’m just too close to it to see the things that make it uniquely mine.

  50. Wow! “Obsess Less” definitely hit home with me! I am guilty of collecting odd objects and have started learning to use them, where as before, they just sat looking sad that they weren’t invited to play. 🙂


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