From writing to digital art, your artistic voice is what sets you apart and draws followers to you.

“I feel like all I do is copy other artists,” my friend told me the other morning.

My friend is a talented painter who clearly has a passion for improving her skills. (I should clarify, she’s never once claimed a copied piece of art as her own.) But she‘s too afraid to drop the training wheels and create wholly original art.

Should she stop copying?

Despite her fear that she’ll forever be a copycat, imitating other artists is key to building her own artistic style.

I used my painter friend as an example here, but developing style, or voice, is important for all types of artists. This quality is what attracts (or repels) followers. And most, if not all, artists spend their entire careers chasing a voice they can call their own.

You already have a style

If you think your writing, art, photography, or anything you create has no style, you’ve underestimated yourself.

When interviewed by Lisa Congdon for her book “Find Your Artistic Voice,” illustrator and founder of Creative Pep Talk Andy J. Miller noted that your artistic voice is part of your DNA.

“Your voice is part of your DNA recipe, which is in your blood and the code that makes you who you are… Even as humans evolve, the DNA sequence will change, and there will never be another one like you.”

World-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp agrees. In her book “The Creative Habit,” she also compared artistic voice to DNA, saying:

“I believe that we all have strands of creative code hard-wired into our imaginations. These strands are as solidly imprinted in us as the genetic code that determines our weight and eye color, except they govern our creative impulses. They determine the forms we work in, the stories we tell, and how we tell them.”

So yes, every single one of us has a unique style and voice that’s ours and ours alone. Even without trying. It’s as certain as the DNA that makes us who we are.

How to develop your voice and style

Video by Sam Does Arts

First off, sorry. I kind of lied to you in the title of this article. You already have a voice, a style of your own.

But developing your voice, that’s another story.

If it was easy, there wouldn’t be so much commentary about it. Books like Congdon’s wouldn’t exist, and YouTube videos like the one above by Sam Does Arts wouldn’t exist either.

So if you feel like you haven’t found your true voice and style yet, you’re not alone.

Let me take you aside for a quick heart-to-heart: Pinpointing that one thing that makes your voice yours and nurturing it is going to take a lifetime, simply because your voice grows with you as a creator. Cultivating your voice takes discipline and an openness to discovery, experimentation, and failure.

That said, here’s how to start tracking down your artistic voice.

1. Practice by copying others

Take others’ influence and layer it into your own style. Just know you cannot claim any direct copies as your own. So be sure you evolve your style from a copy into something that’s your own.

And be wary of just copying styles because they’re popular. Only incorporate those things that spark something inside you.

2. Shine a light on those who are overlooked

Create a voice that lifts up overlooked experiences and voices, as author, designer, and illustrator Andrea Pippins told Congdon. “I tend to focus on Black women and girls — it’s really important for me to highlight them and to highlight their experiences, because a lot of times these stories or experiences are overlooked.”

Andrea added that, even though others may focus on Black women and girls too, her art is unique because through her voice “it comes out in a very special and unique way.”

“So shining a light, shining a voice, having a voice is super important as an artist because you’re living in your truth.” — Andrea Pippins

3. Add bits of you to your creations

A black and white photo by Ansel Adams showing a winding river flanked by pine trees and leading toward the Teton mountains.
Tetons by Ansel Adams, 1942 / Source: Flickr

Season your creations with aspects of your culture, tales from your childhood, one-offs about your personal likes and dislikes, tributes to those you admire, and glimpses into your hopes, dreams, failures, and wins. These experiences and characteristics become your stylistic lens.

“An artist’s voice is how you see and interpret the world. It’s your own unique spin on a given subject, a way of seeing and describing the world filtered through your own lens.” — Sean Qualls

An excellent example of voice as the lens through which you view the world is Ansel Adams. His black-and-white photographs are instantly identifiable as his. His unique photography style made him stand out — and still makes him stand out because it’s an expression of how he viewed the world, as Twyla Tharp described:

“Earth and heaven in their most expansive form was how Adams saw the world. It was his signature, an expression of his creative temperature. It was his DNA.”

4. Practice

My last tip might make you roll your eyes and go, “Duh!,” but it’s true. Practicing creativity is essential to nurturing your voice and style.

Mindful practice will benefit you and your style more than simply scribbling away without a goal. James Clear describes the difference between what he calls “deliberate practice” and practicing without a goal.

“While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”

When you practice, pick out a specific skill you want to improve, some aspect of your voice you want to enhance. Be deliberate about it and you’ll see better results.

How can voice and style affect your success?

Think of your artistic style as your differentiator. It’s why your followers choose you over similar copywriters, photographers, painters, musicians — you name it.

Your voice sets you apart and, if you truly embrace it, can help you find and grow your niche audience.

Using your voice to stand out from the crowd is more important every day. According to Domo, massive amounts of content are created every minute: 65,000 photos are shared on Instagram, 167 million TikToks are created, and 240,000 photos are posted on Facebook.

An infographic showing how much data is created on dozens of social media platforms and online apps like Zoom and Instacart each minute.
Infographic courtesy of Domo

That amount of content is the equivalent of a crowded room full of chattering people. Your artistic style helps people hear you and find you. It sets you apart from other content creators. That means developing your voice and style brings huge value in the increasingly noisy online space.

Your voice and style are as much a part of your creative personality as your DNA is part of your body. Voice and style set you apart and allow you to “niche down” by giving your creations a unique spin.

If you’re still finding your voice and style, you’re not alone.

Honestly, it’s a journey that’s never done. We’re continuously growing as creators, and we also constantly discover new influences. And that’s natural, since art in all its forms surrounds us.

If you’re still searching for your style and voice, you’re still creative.

You can still be successful. A voice and style you can call your own is simply the reward for all the deliberate practice and hard work you put in.