Find Your Voice Episode 3: Define Your Cicadas

Find Your Voice Episode 3: Define Your Cicadas

Taylor Lee Paints :: The Sound of Cicadas

Hello!! Happy May, everyone, and welcome to the new episode of the Find Your Voice series!

I am unable to make a video at this time while I'm away (family vacation), but I didn't want you to have to wait for the good knowledge I'm about to drop about the next part of the creative process!

So here we go, with a classic written blog post this week!

Episode 3: Define Your Cicadas

I'm going to ask you a loaded question: What is your experience?

I know that feels pretty impossible to answer concisely. We have so much experience, no matter how young you are, and it's hard to narrow it all down to answer that question.

I think we would all agree that our experiences shape us, but how often do we reflect on those experiences? I think when it comes to creating art, we don't reflect on them enough. I think that we find it easier to scroll through Instagram for inspiration rather than to look inside of ourselves for it.

I vividly remember May of 2017. One of the artists that I truly respected and was a little obsessed with blocked me. I was kind of lost because I had looked to her for SO much - for answers to my endless questions, for inspiration on what materials to try, for ideas of paintings to create. When she blocked me I felt like I had been kicked out onto the street in the middle of winter with no one to help me.

It sucked.

I floundered around, definitely not aware of what I'm about to say - I didn't know how to be an artist unless she told me how.

There was a huge problem with that. You see, being an artist isn't only about the actual creation of artwork. You have to pour so much more into your process, like making your own colors, thinking up your own compositions, figuring out your own answers when the going gets tough and you're forced to get a little creative. Yeah, that's right. Creativity extends beyond the canvas. 

The problem with looking to someone else for inspiration all of the time is that they are not YOU. You simply cannot make artwork that is genuine to you unless it comes from, well, YOU.

That's why we're not only examining our childhood artwork and our favorite things - we're also examining our experiences. My experience is different from everyone else's, and yours is too. One artist might use pink because they think it is pretty, while another may be challenging gender stereotypes. 

We have to look at our experiences and the way they shaped us in order to start asking ourselves what kind of art we are supposed to make. 


Here are some things you may not know about my experiences:

  • For the first five years of my life, until my mom got remarried, we lived paycheck to paycheck. Like, eating Spam regularly kind of poor.
  • I was sexually assaulted in college.
  • My sixteenth birthday party was luau-themed.
  • I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied English Literature.
  • I wrecked my first car.
  • When I was a child, I prayed to God to make me a boy.

These things range from simple to complicated, and they are all my experiences. However, I don't dwell on these things very much. I do, however, OBSESS over my mental illnesses. I have shelves of books on eating disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, OCD, anxiety, of the scientific variety as well as the memoir format, poetry and prose, fiction and workbook. I listen to podcasts about it, watch shows about it, write about it. 

I give ALL the fucks about mental illness. It is the experience of mine that I think about obsessively, and I want to talk about nonstop. That's why I realized it was so important for my art to be about it, too. 

Make a timeline of your life. You can begin with including as many details as you want. Then, start going through and circling the moments you find to be more important. Filter through those again. 

I used to paint for the sake of making pretty, but it wasn't satisfying to me, and it also was very boring. I didn't have any really good ideas. When I took a long, hard look at my experiences, I realized that I had been trapped by the pursuit of beauty in other areas of my life. My eating disorder lead me to become a shell of a person, starved, and my art was similarly "skinny." It needed nourishment, badly.

Most of these experiences are going to be abstract in nature. You could absolutely paint seascapes as a way to honor your childhood summers by the shore. That makes sense! But I do want to challenge you to push it beyond the literal.

Create a metaphor that describes the events you circled. Here we are giving our experiences a form.

That is how my painting, "The Sound of Cicadas" came to exist. I was thinking of my experiences during panic attacks, when I'm surrounded by the volume of my frenzied thoughts. It reminded me of the bugs called cicadas here in the Southern US. They're kind of like tree crickets who make lots of chirping noises and when you hear a lot of them at once it's both beautiful and overwhelming. It's also pretty constant here in the South, just like my thoughts are pretty constant and overwhelming in my head.

Try to paint that metaphor.

See what it looks like to paint that form. I find that with abstract paintings many of us don't even know where to begin, but if you are thinking of a particular form, like cicadas, it helps you decide where to begin.

Be sure to comment here on the post or to head over to the Facebook group in order to discuss your thoughts about this exercise with others who are also looking for their voice!

Next time we're talking about potlucks! I do love my metaphors.




Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Lysa Jordan, My New Favorite Artist

Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Lysa Jordan, My New Favorite Artist

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