Personal iconography is an important element in finding a direction for artwork.
This past weekend I was displaying and selling work at a local art show. Lots of people were there and many stopped to talk about the art being shown. One gentleman was admiring my work and mentioned he was an ‘art dabbler’. I was curious about what he did and he showed me some very beautiful leather carving and painting that he created. His work was meticulously executed, but he mentioned that it was not his own design. Then he asked, “How do you come up with your designs?”
I’ve been an artist and teacher for a long time and even experienced artists and students ask this question. It’s common to feel intimated by a blank page or lack of a concrete design idea.
Finding a personal iconography is an important step in creating work that has meaning for you. And it separates the copier from a truly creative artist.
In learning a craft, most people copy designs to learn technical skills and gain mastery of their chosen media. This practice should be just for practice — only to learn skills and never to be sold or viewed as your own design. That leads to the question of how do you create work that is your own?
I always start with what I am comfortable with. I am an avid gardener. Much of my jewelry work is focused on floral motifs. When I am creating jewelry, I almost always begin there. It might be the colors from my garden. Or the shape of a petal. Perhaps the form of a twig. All of the influences from nature are directives in my work.
The influences are played out in many shapes, colors and styles. I’ve created several lines of jewelry based on the same elements. While the underlying inspiration is the same, the visual iconography is different for each. And groupings of visual icons used together help create a visual language that is distinctly mine.
Creating original art from your hand and your mind is what sets artists apart. While many artists use flowers in their work, there’s no mistaking the difference of a Monet flower from a Van Gogh or O’Keeffe or Mapplethorpe. Or a Holly Thomas Stein flower.