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How to Use Themes to Maximise Creative Ideas and Self-expression

This article on the creative process looks at how working in series can be used to increase innovation and develop an artist’s unique voice whilst at the same time building confidence.

The Benefits of Working With Themes

Finding their unique creative voice is something that worries many inexperienced artists and often causes them to lose confidence in their work. Jefra Starr Linn from Paislee Press says:

“Often the hardest part about voice is recognizing that you even have one. It’s the same thing as hearing yourself on a tape recorder – you say to yourself ‘is that what I sound like??!’ It’s something that’s such a part of you, something that you’ve lived with all your life, that you don’t know what it is that makes it unique to you and it’s so comfortable and common to you that you don’t know what it sounds or looks like.”

Finding this unique voice is not something that artists can contrive, but by the same token it does not mean it cannot be worked at. Although many artists discover theirs by what seems to be a happy accident, the truth is that it is by working repeatedly that the creative voice is born. In working in a sustained manner, artists get closer to hearing the voice of the subconscious. According to Barbara Bowen,

“With enough repetition, learning on the conscious level deepens to internalize on the unconscious level. Our capacity expands to include instinct and intuition that guide us into more efficient choices and more elegant outcomes.”

Single Subject Matter Exercise

One way that this can be accelerated is by working in series as in the following exercise.

  • This exercise involves choosing a single subject or theme on which to focus over a sustained period of time.
  • Artists are allowed to experiment unlimitedly with every possible interpretation of this subject matter and in any kind of media they feel drawn to as long as the core subject matter is adhered to.
  • Artists should produce at least twenty pieces of work on the same subject but the more the better.

Discovering Patterns and Relationships in the Creative Process

The use of this kind of creative exercise seems to result in a sort of healthy tension between freedom and restraint that helps artists to get their bearings. These ways of working in series also enable artists to get an overview of their own work quite quickly and begin to identify the patterns and relationships that are the marks of their own self-expression and individual creative style. This in turn helps them to begin to see coherence in their work as a whole and gives them confidence about making work in a similar vein in the future.

Although finding this unique voice does not preclude future changes of style or media by artists, it means that when shifts do occur, it is out of deep necessity rather than the superficial restlessness that can sometimes take hold when artists are not sure of their path and that even when artists embrace a completely new style, some thread ties it back to the work they produced before.

So the act of repetition involved in producing a sustained series of work focussing on the same subject or theme, enables artists to achieve an overview of their own work and this in turn causes a recognition of the strengths, preferences and patterns that are the foundation of their unique voice – allowing them to pursue their creative path with greater self-belief.