Voice vs. Branding for Artists

A wall of Warhol-style Polaroids - What's voice and what's branding? - Pyragraph

I live in the San Francisco Bay area. This means that start-up buzzwords are flying around like seagulls at a dump.

So I hear about branding a lot. Also: Identity.

I’m like, oh I need to have a “brand identity”; I should “brand” myself. But then I shudder. I’m not ready to commit to a scar burned into my haunches.

But you’ve got to!” say my future-thinking pals. “If you don’t think about yourself and your work in this way, you can’t be easily identified in the sea of other artists. Branding for artists is essential! You need to be able to offer a specific type of product or people will get confused. How will you ever make any money if people don’t know what you DO!?”

And so I say: “But I do so many different things! I can’t possibly fit all those artistic expressions into a single visual strategy…that would be crazy! And worst of all, BORING.”

“Well then you need to stratify your platforms—you know, separate your paintings from your technical stuff, and keep your crafty shit over on Etsy. That way people won’t get confused when they see all this mumbo-jumbo in one place.”


First of all: People aren’t that dumb. Hopefully. People can understand and accept that artists have many skills. It’s all me: The crafty shit, the technical stuff, the tacky sketchbook bits, the glow-in-the-dark silly-string sculptures. It may not be what people want to buy for their living room, but these different media, they inform one another.

The colors of the gemstones I use in my jewelry appear in my abstract watercolors, and the scientific illustration proves my technical skill is up to snuff and I’m not just some chick who draws circles for fun, that accidentally look kind of neat. It’s true, not everything fits together individually, but on a whole, things don’t look so weird, right? Or if they do, can that be okay for now?

Ideally, as I find and refine my voice as an artist, my brand will appear.

Did Picasso actively make work with a “branding strategy” in mind? What about Eames? Or Andy Warhol? Okay Warhol definitely did, but that WAS his art—the concept of creating a series of multiple, marketable, highly consumable art products—that was new and exciting at the time, and that was the joke, you guys!

I mean, I have a color scheme for my website, and I have, you know, a “tagline” that appears on social media. Business cards, right, sure, I get it: my online “self” needs to be easy to identify so nobody is pondering “Wait, which Kato Pop?”

Except it feels like something important is being forgotten: all this branding and identity design—that’s not the art. The art is what happens in my garage at three in the morning and in my sketchbook on the bus. It shouldn’t be confined to a color scheme, or a typeface choice, or even a specific medium, because for real y’all: I’m not a start-up, I’m an artist.

It’s one thing to work to create a cohesive collection of work, and truly another to try to fit your creative instincts into a style rubric that you’ve decided upon beforehand. If you think of your art as a product instead of a process, there is no room left for an innovative approach.

If I decide tomorrow that I’m a cardboard sculptor, and throw my watercolors out the window, that’s great. That’s ART. It takes a long time to develop one’s personal style. So don’t force it, just let it happen.

I’m just gonna keep doing what I do. So there.

Photo by Sskerchief.

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About Kato Pop

Kato graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked for Steppenwolf Theater, Craigslist.com, and fine artist Elizabeth Jameson. She makes drawing of cells, glues music together and plays with rocks. Kato Pop lives and works in West Oakland, California.

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