Refining My Voice: 7 Things I Learned from the Rebranding of Taylor Lee Paints
Four months ago I received an email.
“You’re a fraud. You’re just a rip off of two other artists I know. Make your own art.”
It stung, but it wasn’t the first time I had heard such a thing. Actually, until that moment I had been hearing a tiny voice inside myself whispering those same words. When I received that email, the voice roared forth.
Most artists are aware of this thing called “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s mostly used to describe the fear that one will be exposed as a “fraud,” but in this scenario I really was actually being called an imposter. Shit.
Instagram is the easiest (sometimes) and most useful marketing tool that a modern artist has in her toolbox. For me, Instagram started as a way to get inspired. I follow a ton of great artists whose work introduces me to a lot of ideas that I would never come up with by myself. I also see artists using really cool business strategies, and lots of groups exist where accounts confer on different techniques and ideas in order to grow their businesses. This is really great, and only possible because of the internet and a visual-based app like Instagram.
However, it has it’s drawbacks.
I got to the point where this all just became NOISE. I was paying a lot of attention to what OTHER people were doing and saying. I saw people succeeding, and I admired them. But we can lose ourselves in the success of other people. I was mystified by the creations some of my favorite artists were cranking out, and when I looked down at my own palette and canvas...I saw those artists staring back at me.
I saw other artists in my artwork. I saw them in my website design. I saw them in my logo. I saw them in my captions. I saw them in my photo styling. All of this was unintentional - it must have been happening subconsciously. But that didn’t make it any less real.
That email sucked, don’t get me wrong. But it was a much needed wake up call. Everything changed. I ran through possible responses to said email in my head: “You’re wrong because I...No, that artist does this and I do...Wait, do you really think so because I think I…”
Or I could respond and say, “You’re right.”
I couldn’t define what about me was different from these other artists. I couldn’t identify a signature technique or mark that only I was using. I could barely write my Instagram bio (ammirite?!)!
That’s when I turned 180 degrees and RAN in the opposite direction of everything that I previously knew.
And I mean RAN.
Within a week I had hired a business coach for the next 3 months who helped me gain clarity over who I was. I then hired a designer who audited my social media (I went through an archiving spree), guided me through the process of some exercises that I could do to refine my artistic style, and helped me create a mood board of all of the things that I was inspired by (that didn’t include other artists). I hired a web developer who built me a new logo based on my mood board and worked really hard to bring my new website to life. I hired a photographer who was also a friend - someone who could help capture moments that were truly me in order to curate a new Instagram feed and to fuel the new website design.
My “dream team” was indispensable during this rough patch. They picked me up from that first knock-out email. They listened to my poor attempts to articulate what made me different, and cheered me on when I was able to confidently and clearly declare my identity. I sent them photos of my new works in progress, ran examples of copy (including this blog) by them, and honestly they helped me turn a massive failure into a brilliant awakening.
And they were there for me during a very hard step...I had to force myself to unfollow the artists on Instagram who influenced me too much. This wasn’t out of hate, or cattiness, or anything negative. It was out of the utmost respect and admiration for these artists and my refusal to rip them off ever again.
Finally, I started producing beautiful work that my team and I were both excited about. And it was different! It looked unlike anyone except me. I actually created a 26 piece collection out of the ashes of my old self, and in that collection I really saw my work beginning to elevate. I took that momentum with me to Mexico and continued to drastically change during my artist residency. For more on that, check out my other blog posts (a story still in progress).
Instead of looking to other artists for inspiration, I looked to another source that has been with me my whole life - music. I started thinking like a musician - painting live, including lyrics with my work, creating playlists to direct my process, even styling my photoshoots (and my website!) after some of my favorite music videos. I started being myself in my Instagram stories instead of the girl that I thought people wanted. I booked a shit ton of exhibitions and met everyone that I possibly could to practice articulating who I am and what I do.
I also cried, let’s be real.
This rebranding process was NOT easy. This blog is like my Rocky montage, but believe me - there were some really uncinematic moments along the way, too. I had some professionals who told me that my process was “wanting,” a few posts that only got around 40 likes (my lowest since August), and I felt like I was flailing around aimlessly without my mentors (the people I had unknowingly ripped off). I felt my heartbeat speed up whenever I opened Instagram. I became SO SO exhausted. Spending every minute of the day soul-searching and furiously creating new art takes a mental and physical toll, and there were some days where I really had to kick my own ass out of bed and believe that I could be someone without using others as a creative crutch.
Here’s what I learned:
Hire professionals. They really are worth their weight in gold.
Fire those professionals if they don’t believe in you. Professionals are an investment, so only keep the ones who invest in you, too.
Unfollow the people who influence you TOO much. This is an act of great respect. They don’t really want you copying them either, trust me.
Don’t respond to haters’ emails. You’ve got a lot of work to do and you don’t have time to entertain an asshole, even if they happen to be right.
DO respond to the situation. The easier thing would’ve been to have kept going down the same path, but instead I decided to burn it all down and start a completely new one. It doesn’t go away on it’s own.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Throughout this whole situation I learned how strong I really was. I saw what I can do under intense pressure and self doubt, so imagine what I can do when I’m free from that!
Believe in you. At the end of the day, dream team or not, you are the one who has to do the work. You are the one who will always be there. You are the one who can move mountains all by your damn self. You don’t need anyone else but you, so don’t lose sight of yourself - and if you do, make it your top priority to find yourself again.
What are you doing currently to make your own voice unique in a sea of similarity? Let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to check out my friend Emma Howell and what she has to say about this topic in her blog post "Being An Artist: Artist Block and the Blank Canvas."
"I am my own muse, the subject I know best." - Frida Kahlo
I’m still on this journey, but I’ve come a long way. To keep up with what happens next, subscribe to my newsletter. Also, enjoy the playlist here! It features powerful songs by powerful women!