How to Turn a Photo to a Photo Painting

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How to Find Your Innate Visual Voice

October 15, 202210 min read

What makes some art have a deep connection with others?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why some art pieces leave us feeling inspired, in awe, or even changed. I am not talking about the type of art that is simply beautiful and technically perfect. I am thinking more about those pieces that cut through your soul and make you feel connected to something deeper than yourself. I am talking about the kind of art that makes you feel like you are part of something greater than yourself, and in some way, it is connected to you.

I think it comes down to two things: the ability to tap into something universal and the ability to create from an innate visual voice. Innate visual voice is a concept that I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of years, but I didn’t know how to articulate it or name it until recently. In a nutshell, it’s the ability to translate who you are, your thoughts, and your feelings into images. It is not about copying or mimicking other photographers but rather finding your own unique way of seeing things and expressing them through your images.

Innate Visual Voice

I have always believed that there is an innate visual voice within each of us—a unique way of seeing and interpreting the world that expresses itself through our photography. It is the idea that all artists have a personal visual narrative or a way of seeing and expressing things that are so deeply ingrained in who they are and that it becomes inseparable with their work. It doesn’t matter what subject matter they photograph; they can create an image that is uniquely theirs. 

Carly Sullens, Digital art, Digital Sketch, Photo Art

I believe that if we can tap into this innate visual voice, it can help us create work that is more authentic and impactful. It can be hard to find and even harder to nurture, but once you do, it will take your photography to a whole new level. It is vital to our work as photographers. It is this voice that allows us to connect with our audience and create a deeper experience for them. It’s what makes our work different from anyone else’s, and it gives something for the viewers of our work to hold onto.

I believe it is this innate visual voice that separates the good from the great. This is what makes an artist’s work stand out from others. It’s what makes you want to look at their art again and again, even if you don’t fully understand it.

How To Find Your Visual Narrative

When I first started photographing professionally, I didn’t know what my innate visual voice was or how to find it. The problem is that many of us don’t know how to tap into it but recognize when we do create from that place. When we tap into our innate visual voice, our work becomes more meaningful and resonates with people deeper. This is because it’s not about what we see through the lens but how we experience life and how that translates into images. When we don’t know how to access our innate visual voice, we default to solely techniques. 

This was the case for me: when I first learning photography, I was constantly thinking of the exposure triangle, light value, color harmony, and trying to keep the subject in focus. But I didn’t feel like myself in those images; they felt forced like they weren’t coming from my heart. Even though we are all born with it, I think often it can get lost under technique and mimicking others' work as we learn. 

It was only after I had been photographing for several years that I began to realize there was this “thing” inside of me, an innate visual voice, if you will. It felt like a light bulb went off in my head when I realized that photography wasn’t just about taking pictures—it was about being in the moment and creating art. And I realized that if I could access it, my images would feel more personal and natural. I began to feel like I could capture that voice in my images, and once I did, my photography took on a life of its own.

All of a sudden, rather than being an act of will or technique, it became this beautiful experience where I felt like the camera was an extension of me. It took a lot of self-reflection and practice to figure out how my personal visual voice worked in conjunction with the photographic techniques and concepts I had learned over the years. Now when I photograph, or create digital art, it feels like second nature; I feel myself flowing through each moment with ease and grace.

Your Art is a Reflection of Your Soul

Each photographer has their own unique innate visual voice. It’s how you see, feel and translate the world around you into a photograph. It is the essence of who you are as a photographer and what makes your art unique and special. It is an accumulation of the past, your dreams, your upbringing, and even down to your DNA. This innate visual voice is what makes people connect with your work on a deeper level. It’s beyond technical aspects of photography like lighting, composition, etc.; it’s more about how you see and experience the world around you and how that translates into images.

I think discovering your own innate visual voice is the most important thing you can do as a photographer—because it will give you something unique to offer the world that no one else can replicate or replace. It is as unique as your fingerprint, the way your voice sounds, and how you walk. Once you express yourself from this place, you will have a universal connection with others. This connection is almost like a conversation; it has layers of meaning and feeling, but also it can be quite simple. 

We all have an innate visual voice, but how can we tap into this part of ourselves? It is hard sometimes because as photographers and artists we are constantly being influenced by others around us. When we are born, we have an innate visual voice.  It is a reflection of our own soul and what it means to be human in this world.  As we grow up, this voice may get lost or buried under layers of socialization.

Discover your own personal symbolism through Drawing

Sometimes creating in different art mediums will help connect us to our innate visual voice and unique symbolism.

Here are Some Additional Ways to Nurture Your Innate Visual Voice

  • Look Within - I believe that the first place we should look is within ourselves. Our own memories, experiences, dreams and ideas are the perfect wells from which to draw inspiration. This could be places in our lives where we experienced pain, joy or even the mundane. To do this, we have to get away from distractions and find a way to tap into our memories and dreams. For me, it is finding time in my day to be quiet, with no computer, phone, or anyone around me. Sometimes it’s simply going for a walk. We need to listen to ourselves, really hear what we are saying inside and then put it in our work.

  • Notice - Symbols and images come to each of us and often. If we miss it, they will come again and again until we take notice. Our job is to be receptive and to listen carefully for the messages that are trying to get through. The more we listen, the more we learn about ourselves and how we can serve others with our art. Innate Visual Voice is a process of discovery. It’s about finding your own unique way of seeing the world and sharing it with others. Our job as photographers is to listen for these symbols and images. We must be willing to see why we gravitate towards certain imagery, and then we must use those symbols and images in our art. We don’t have to manufacture these symbols—they come from within. They are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how things work in our world. They speak to us in ways that words cannot. They are the language of our soul and we can use them to tell our story within our art. 

  • Good Visual Diet - We are bombarded with images and art every day and we have to be very selective about what we allow into our visual vocabulary. Limit yourself on social media and scrolling through images hour after hour. This can be pragmatic because it fills you with images that are not you own and doesn’t give you the space to develop your own esthetic. I let myself spend less then 10 minutes a day looking at images on Pinterst, or Instagram, etc. I want to spend enough time to be inspired but not be influenced to mimic. We often, see and hear things in our environment that we want to mimic. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be limiting if we don’t realize that there is more than one way to do something.

  • Be Inspired - When you do find images that inspire you really look at it and discern why you love it. When you look at something that you like, try to understand why it connects with you. Is it because of the subject matter? The composition? The storytelling? Or maybe even the color scheme used? This process is a great way to get to know yourself better, and it will help you start to see your own story more clearly. I’ve found that when I look at a painting or image and try to understand what about it attracts me, I can often pinpoint the source of inspiration. And then I can use that to inspire my own work.

  • Take Ownership - I think it is important for artists to take ownership of their own innate visual voice. Let it lead your art and trust it. The more you trust it, the more effective and powerful it will be. It is like learning how to ride a bike; at first it’s really hard but once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature. The same goes for your creative voice. Once you understand it, the more you will trust it. The more you trust it, the better your work will be.

  • Be Authentic - Innate Visual Voice is not about creating to a formula or following trends. It’s not about copying someone else’s style or trying to be something you’re not. It’s about tapping into your own inner voice and creating from that place of authenticity. The best way I know how is by allowing myself to be in the moment, just observing what is around me without judgment or preconceived ideas about what I should photograph.

Your innate visual voice is the essence of who you are as a photographer. Creating from your Innate Visual Voice is about going beyond the basics and making photography that has impact. It is about creating from a place of honesty, vulnerability and authenticity. It is about finding what you want to say in the world through your work. It’s how you see and experience life around you, and it expresses itself through your images in ways that are purely unique to you. It’s not something that can be learned; it has to be discovered. Listen, discover and trust it. It’s what makes you unique as an artist and it’s the first thing people will notice about your work.

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Carly Sullens

Multi Award-winning and renowned digital photo painter Carly Sullens, M. Artist, CPP, share’s her passion for digital art. Her photography pushes the boundaries to look like paintings in a museum. She teaches internationally how to achieve painterly effects from photos digitally. With her truly unique blend of creative skills, educational background, and technical expertise, she created courses, backgrounds, and overlays for students to excel in digital painting. Now, Carly’s techniques and methods can be easily accessible and applied to any photo.

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