Themes are elusive. There’s no guaranteed 10 Step Method to discovering your creative theme.
But it's not mission impossible! I’m going to share 4 powerful techniques to help you find the theme of your work regardless of medium.
These techniques can help you find not just the theme of your current piece, but eventually understand the theme that ties together your entire body of work.
In the previous post on Themes we looked at why understanding the theme of your creative work can be the impetus for making work that resonates with your audience and differentiates you as an artist.
But, of course, this begs the question, how do you find out what your theme is?
Kick off your shoes, grab a cup of tea and I’ll begin with a little story about how I first discovered themes in my work...
How I discovered themes in my art
Some years back I made seven collage-paintings based on the seven chapters of the Handless Maiden story as it appears in the book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves.
For those of you not familiar with the story, it’s a folk tale about a girl whose father unwittingly sells her to the devil. The underlying theme of the story is about healing our relationship with our creativity.
The ‘handlessness’ of the maiden represents what happens when we lose touch with our creative self.
At that time in my life, my relationship with my creativity was rocky at best so the story seemed heaven-sent to help me.
Each painting took about a month and as I completed each one, I was rewarded with a dream revealing the meaning of its imagery and how it related to my creative life.
The more the themes revealed themselves, the more the series gained coherence.
By the end of the story I had not only completed a body of work that changed forever the way I engage with my creative practice but one that spoke to my audience.
It’s perhaps the only time in my life as an artist where people came up to me with tears in their eyes and thanked me for the work I’d made.
They got the themes in those paintings at a visceral level.
They saw their own creative lives mirrored there.
And they understood the lessons that it had taken seven months of painting for me to grasp.
That is the power of theme at its best.
It was a profound and moving experience. Not only did it help me understand and heal the destructive relationship with my own creativity, but it made me realise the importance of understanding theme within the context of creative work.
(The technique I used to interpret my dreams, is the last in the list of four techniques below.)
One of my favourites of my Handless Maiden series: No. 5: Unfinished Revolution
60 x 90 cm, mixed media on MDF. © Cherry Jeffs, 2011
So without more ado, it’s time to begin digging for your themes.
Below I’ve outlined all the techniques I use to mine for themes with great results. Pick, choose and combine as you see fit.
For full instructions for each technique, download your free eBook