Saturday, September 3, 2011


"Anyone seen my voice?"
My big unexpected takeaway from the LA conference was clarification of what voice is in illustration. Exploration began in a conversation with another illustrator on the hotel shuttle and it continued with every single speaker at the conference. I observed examples of voice over and over from every angle imaginable and it finally began to sink in. Although no one came out and said these exact words, I came away with the idea that voice transcends style. Style can be emulated, but voice is the soul of the illustrator's work that is totally unique.

In my portfolio critique Marla Frazee singled out my four best pieces and the departure she saw from generic character development to a deeper love and knowledge of the characters and their environment. This distinction made it clear that the way I use my materials defines my style, but my voice is just beginning to develop.

In so many ways I heard, "voice involves doing what you love and loving what you do". Especially important are the things we persist in doing, beyond reason, because they nurture us. I saw a wonderful example of this at the illustrator intensives when Marla Frazee applied color to an illustration background with a tiny tiny brush. Murmurs went up around me. "Why is she using such a tiny brush?" Her answer - "because". She said it's a bit like "emptying a swimming pool with a spoon". There are tools which would get the job done faster, but they wouldn't feel right and none would create the feeling of meditation that accompanies her tiny brush.

No amount of technique, palette or composition can take the place of the elusive voice that bubbles up from deep inside the illustrator. Can I illustrate without it? Absolutely, but I was craving to understand what my work was missing and this conference supplied that knowledge. My quest for voice has just begun.


  1. Voice is so important with any creative outlet. We often can't recognize it in ourselves because it's like listening to yourself talk - we don't hear our voices the way others hear it. We often can't see our voice in our own work. At least that is what I've been told. I continue to try and work on letting my voice out - to trust that it will emerge if I allow it to and to trust it knows what it is saying.

  2. Voice feels like a cruel conundrum at times. Very difficult to put into words and recognize in your own work. Publishers can't even explain it, but they know it when they see it. You're so right about trust!

  3. Wow, that was a beautiful post. I never really thought about having a voice in illustration, but it makes sense.

  4. Thanks Cat! There is definitely a lot to explore...