Category: symbolism

Developing Personal Symbolism

So you’ve gotten pretty good at your medium of choice and have even collected a few good commissions under your belt. Confidence is slowly seeping in as a personal library of images begins to grow from a collection of sketches and half-formed thoughts into a gallery of images that one can truly be proud of.

And…what now?

I feel like I’m at this point lately with my artistic evolution. I’m proud of a select few of my pieces and gaining the confidence to start marketing myself as a ‘professional’ on art show forms, but I still feel like I’m not quite there yet. There’s a key ingredient missing and I’m still in the process of discovering what it is through trial and error. Lately I’ve been turning back to my roots, to the artists that made me want to draw in the past and the artists that keep me inspired to draw each and every day. They show me a glimpse of the worlds I could create and the emotions I could convey if I could just get myself there.

What is it about their art that I enjoy so much? Why am I drawn to them? Why do their pieces feel ‘finished’ to me and why do mine don’t? I turn to artists who are my contemporaries. Meeting them at shows and admiring their work is an extra kick in the butt for inspiration that makes each convention a joy. I see the work of folks like Matt Hughs, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, and Tom Fleming that strike a deeper chord with me because of the dreamlike, and oftentimes dark ethereal quality of their work. What do they all have in common, I wonder?

And it hits me. Their work has a deep core rooted in symbolism and heavy with emblems reflective of their own stylistic choices. The root that grows from mother to fetus suggesting a piercing tactile bond. Alighting swarms of butterflies indicative of the freed soul. The bleeding apple representative of Eve’s sin. Each artist spins a tapestry of symbols unique to their own choice of colors, emblems, and compositional style.

I won’t say this is key to success for all artists, but I do know that the presence of a system of symbolism really draws me to the work of most of the artists on my favorites list. I’ve seen the embryos of symbols creeping up in my own work. The climbing, barren vines blooming with white roses at the angel’s presence. Candles burning in the dark where forgotten ideas lay undiscovered or discarded. There are so many fragments of symbols I don’t quite understand and haven’t yet fully given birth to yet. If I keep drawing and painting and observing, I’ll find them waiting in nooks and crannies of my perception, some obvious and some not.

But I suppose finding one’s own system of personal symbolism is like finding Enlightment, a fleeting perfect thing that will never last as long as the mind keeps searching for meaning in everything.

And how boring would it be if our symbols never changed or evolved at all?