The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice: Q&A

The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice: Q&A

Every week in our fun 8-part series, I throw out the invitation to ask questions, make comments and share thoughts. THANK YOU one and all for doing so! As part of the awesome shares, a question was raised I thought warranted its own post. Thanks to Elizabeth for posing it! 

And to everyone… remember that this series is only the beginning of the whole “artistic voice” conversation. This is the stage where we lay the foundation for it to go further and deeper than you ever imagined.  Everything about your own creativity, photography – even living your life as your art – will look different through these eyes that we’re developing along the way.

For now… on with my A to Elizabeth’s Q!


Signature and Genre

Hi I’m Karen Hutton – and welcome to my blog cast, where we are talking about “The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice.”

Today: Q&A. I got a really great question this week that I know alot of people have. I may not have the definitive answer, but it’s something I’ve thought alot about, so I wanted to share some of those notions.

Elizabeth asks: “Do you think that to have a signature in photography you have to stick with one genre? I love street, landscape, travel and wildlife photography, and probably a few more! Do I need a different signature for each one? Several people have told me that to be “successful”, whatever that means, that I should stick with one type of photography. I’m not sure I can do that though! Would love to know your feelings.”

There is a reason why people say you should stick to one type of photography – and it has to do with the business side of things.
But my feeling is that there are two parts to this. One is the artist part, two is the business part. They’re not mutually exclusive, but each has its own thing.

There are so many layers to this conversation!

Art & Business

Let’s start with the artist part, since that what this series is focusing upon. First of all, the art comes from YOU. Not 5 different people. So in that sense, your signature is you. Your voice. You world view. You don’t have a different YOU in each genre you photograph. There’s just you. The thing about loving a lot of different genres as an omnigenre photographer is that there’s usually a thread, a through line. A point of view that weaves them all altogether. That’s your signature. As an artist it behooves you to investigate that. You could call the result of this investigation an artist or vision statement, but it’s the one thing it all boils down to.

It always helps to have an example, so here’s me. It begins with the notion that the Earth has a soul. I record the moments when it expresses itself in ways that move me. That’s my 30,000 foot view.

But I take it further, because like I’ve said before, God is in the specifics. So, going deeper (ie. more specifically)…

Tell The Truth About Who You Are

As an artist, I tell the truth about who I am. Really, that’s it. But being even MORE specific; every time I go out to photograph, I know what I need to see, I know what I want to see, I know what I love to see. And that is: the relationship between all of these soul expressions of the earth all around me – and how they’re interconnected. When those moments happens, I work with light and depth of field to evoke the sense of an event taking place that has meaning.

That’s the thread that pulls all the genres together for me, personally. It’s what I do every single time I go out to shoot, regardless of genre. That’s just to give you an idea. You have to investigate and define what the thread is for you; what it is that draws you in and what it is you love so much about each one. Like I say, you are the same person that photographs each of them; so in that sense your signature overlays them all. You don’t have multiple signatures – you ARE the signature voice of your work. So what do you love about each of these areas you photograph? What is it about them that makes your heart sing? Go deep. It can take some thinking, some sinking into where they each resonate with you to find the commonality – or the contrast. In so doing, you define yourself as an artist in a much more authentic way.

And THAT makes it easier to identify your platform, the “Who you are” behind your work. It also makes the work itself better. Because you’ve defined what it is exactly that you love. And that makes you more specific. Art must be specific.. because only then does your true artist voice, signature and genius shine through.


Then, on the business side. A really good friend of mine is a genius marketer and owns his own PR firm. Years ago, he told me that first, you take one thing and go deep. Once you establish your following and customers who love you – THEN they want to know what else of you got? I argued that I have MANY talents and interests and I couldn’t pick just one! He said… I’m not saying you only DO the one, you simply build the business around the one. Establish it, ground it – then you have a customer base that loves you and pretty much want whatever you’ve got. But NOT being specific in the beginning confuses people.

I think this notion still applies. If you think of the most successful photographers you know – they pretty much all got known for one type of photography. But that doesn’t mean that’s all they do, or love to photograph. They may do projects, or personal work involving the other genres – lots of options to pursue them. Once they got known and established, then they started bringing out their other facets. They basically find their audience, build around that – then expand.
But finding your artistic voice, your signature, and figuring out what your where your true genius lies is the difference between building a business you love, vs. one you dread.

Saying I want to make a living from Photography isn’t enough. It’s about building a world that people will want to hang out in. You know, stand for something. And you have to offer people something that they desire. Or that they will desire by the time you’re done talking to them. So maybe you want to inspire people that’s a start. How do you want to inspire them? What do you want to inspire them to do? How will you know when you’ve succeeded? These kinds of specifics can make things very clear.

Experiment, Text, Rinse, Repeat

Of course, you have to experiment, test the market, try things. We all do. You might start out thinking you’re headed in one direction, then discover there are desires for your work in another area. It’s not always linear. It’s evolutional. But by following the thing that you love and the stand that you want to make behind it, opportunities begin to define themselves. New avenues reveal themselves. You have to be like a ninja – relentless in this quest to always come back to what you love, what makes you laugh out loud and feel good all over.

You have to make decisions like what is success to you? How much money? How much free time? How much travel? How much post processing and time behind the computer? What is it that defines your ideal life. Those of the kind of questions you have to answer before you listen to anybody say anything about your business.

I am not a business coach, but I have worked with some truly excellent ones. In every case they have you start with what is it you want out of your life. Answered all the questions. Every element of every day what floats your boat.

That’s the 30,000 foot view. Then they work backwards OK so if I want to travel, enough money to be to not have to worry about money, enough time off, and doing work that I love, that defines a lot right there.

Be Specific

And then since God is in the specifics to be a drill it down from there what do you want every day to look like. What do you want to be doing in your day. How much time off do you want. Where in the world do you want to live. Or do you want to live in multiple places. Your grand vision for life, that your art and business reside in.

Then you investigate the market. Market research. You see what people are doing. You see what sells. Not to define yourself, but just to get a sense of the lay of the land, always using your gut to pick and choose what resonates.

Grand Vision & Genius Leads The Way

At some point you make a decision and jump in do your business within the scope of “how business is done now” – but never losing sight of your grand vision and doing (and being) what you love. Maybe a trillion people with cameras has altered prints sales, well maybe that’s not the sum total of your business. This IS the age of the multi-preneur! Maybe you teach, maybe you speak, maybe you write, maybe you have some other genius area that you can bring to bear that is unusual and seems unlikely but is you – thus unique.

I’m sure that was way more than you were expecting, Elizabeth – but those are some of things that occurred to me in thinking about your question. I hope it helps! And since it seems everyone has this question brewing under the surface somewhere, maybe this will shed some new light… and encourage more ideas on this hot topic.

Questions? And a Final Thought… 

As always, if you’ve got questions, thoughts, suggestions, or just something you’d love to share… please do so in the comments below! I read them all and always try to answer each and every one. I love hearing what you have to say!

Till next time… here is a presentation I love with all my heart. Peter Dinklage giving a commencement talk to a group of students who will undoubtedly remember that moment for the rest of their lives! It’s so awesome and inspiring, I just had to share…




Just getting started here or catching up? Here are the rest of the episodes in this series:

Episode 1: Introduction
Episode 2: Preparation
Episode 3: Appearance
Episode 4: Cameras & Gear

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