Like so many things in life, the path to developing a unique creative identity is not a one-size-fits-all process. To follow-on from the first part of this feature – where we spoke to Portland-based artist Lisa Congdon – here we talk to Artist N Virtual member Jay Fortune to find out about his own take on developing a creative identity.
Jay’s approach to visual arts is coloured by an 18-year career in magic. Since stepping over into the art world, he has quickly established himself as “one of the UK’s most exciting young artists”, receiving commissions from CEOs, business leaders and entrepreneurs in New York, Las Vegas, Milan, Paris and London. In addition to his work as a magician and artist, Jay has also worked with the BBC as a consultant, hosted his own radio show and published two books.
Jay says that he settled on his own graphic style “through isolating myself in the studio and focusing on content that allowed me to express my personality. By doing this, you can begin to create work that is personal, true to who you are, filled with your expressive self and has a route to market/potential buyers.”
As Jay continues, “Find out what subject matter you enjoy painting. I really enjoy portraits and don’t really enjoy landscapes. So out go the trees and skies and in are the faces and animals. Next, what is it about you that makes you who you are? My background was as a comedy performer, so a lot of my work is bright, quirky and some pieces have a comical/fun composition. I also enjoy writing and crafting words, so adding textual elements by hand to my work was a natural progression.
“All of us are continually evolving as creatives and there should be a healthy evolving of the artist’s style and skill as they progress. It’s also important though, I feel, to maintain a consistency of style so work is instantly recognisable as being yours. So, don’t settle on a finished-never-to-be-evolved-style as such, but do consider certain aesthetics that instantly signify a painting being one of yours.”
Jay defines creative language as “an artist trying to get to grips with what being creative means to them… and how that ultimately manifests itself in terms of their artistic output.”
“A friend of mine once said” Jay adds, “that being creative means understanding that we are acts of creation… If we are, in ourselves, created (putting all religious thinking aside and meaning you and I, as individuals, were once not here, now we are, and one day we’ll not be here again) then we are living works of ‘art’. Our art doesn’t exist until we think it and bring it into creation, from imagination to reality, through our skills as artists.
“So, to get a sense of your own creative language, allow yourself time to be alone, imagine, create and repeat. That time alone, isolated in your studio, is a time of creative growth without any outside influence. In that space, you’ll find how best to speak your truth as a creative.”
Jay believes that the first thing someone should do when they want to get a sense of their own creative language is to throw themselves into their creative practices, and recommends adding a dash of isolation to the mix. This is especially fortunate for students developing their identities in lockdown.
“As touched on above” Jay notes, “I believe the quickest way to establishing your own style and personality through your art is to work isolated. Hey, the good news here is that we’ve had a year of lockdowns to truly spend time isolated and being creative!”
“By all means study the history, study the market. But I would tend to shy away from studying other artists styles and techniques; why? Because it’s all too easy to lose time/years becoming a clone of someone else. It’s better to be the unique YOU and build your collector base than become a second-rate A.N.Other copying another successful artist’s style.
“Throughout history we learn about artists being long-term apprentices to their teachers, resulting in the student becoming a clone. The only commentary then becomes about whether the student surpasses the master. Why bother? Be the best you, then there’s no-one to compare you with.”
Art school is also the perfect time and place to begin fostering in yourself some of the key characteristics you’ll need to be successful as an artist. For Jay, these characteristics included perseverance, a willingness to fail over and over, and the ability to enjoy making mistakes. As he explains, “Just to go back to my earlier career as a stand-up comedy magician; ‘dying on stage’ happened regularly at the start of my career when I failed to connect with an audience. Performers fail in-front of a live audience. Ouch! Hence the association with dying. It’s not a nice feeling. As an artist, I can ‘die’ every day in the comfort of my studio, knowing that nobody needs ever see me fail! How cool is that?
“There’s a saying to ‘fail forward fast’; in other words, learn to accept failure as part of your growth, let it move you forward and don’t get hung up about it. Move on quickly with grace and enthusiasm.
“One final thought; define what ‘success’ means to you, by your standards, not anybody else’s. One of the quotes I have scribbled on my studio wall is ‘success isn’t who has the most toys’ (author unknown). For me, ‘success’ is getting paid to play doing what I love. For the last twenty years that was doing magic. Now, it’s painting.”
Jay adds that, “Personally, my creative identity has to be fully embodied in who I am. My art and I are the same… being an artist comes from within. It is not separate from me. Therefore, developing a creative identity has to start there; from within. Whilst it is healthy to have mentors to help shape and guide you in a professional way, they can’t discover who you are as an artist – only you can do that. I’m a big fan of letting things take their course, not forcing things.”
“Another quote from my studio wall (by another unknown author I’m afraid to say); ‘nature doesn’t rush a thing and look at the beauty she creates.’ Through action, we can begin to find style, allowing ourselves to make many mistakes. Through meditation (thinking about/reflecting on) our actions and day-dreaming about how we see our art, we can return to action and grow without needless repetition or imitation.”
Finally, if the time comes to move your creative identity online, Jay has some practical advice: “I’d suggest giving your online presence, whether website, social media etc, as uniform a look as you can. It’s almost another blank canvas and allows you to create and refine over and over. Is it necessary to incorporate your creative identity into your online identity? I’d say it’s impossible not to, if you understand it is all the same thing.
“In art, as in almost any creative discipline, we think we should be our own marketers, copy-writers, editors, advertisers, designers, SEO-ers and sellers. It’s refreshing and enlightening to realise that we don’t have to be; if our skill-set doesn’t naturally allow us to be web-designers, don’t do it. There’s plenty of creatives out there who thrive doing that, so work with them. Don’t be led by them, but let them use their creative skills to express who you are to the best of their ability. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. Collaboration is a wonderful, and creative, act!”