Why editing helps you find your unique voice

picasso bull image

The 11 illustrations which form Picasso’s work The Bull are a masterclass on the benefit of scrupulous cutting. They also reveal how creatives and writers can develop and find their unique voice through the process of editing.

In 1945, Picasso created a series of lithograph illustrations which together depict a bull in an increasingly simplified form.

Picasso starts his series with a conventional and somewhat clumsy drawing of a bull. Then, over the next ten drawings strips more and more elements of the bull away – reducing the bull to its essential essence.

Find the essence

Picasso wanted each drawing in the series to be a successive stage in an investigation to find the absolute ‘spirit’ of the beast. It’s a process that according to The New York Times Apple still uses to teach it’s budding designers to find the ‘essence’ of the product.

It’s almost as though the artist is challenging himself. Finding out how much of the ‘bullness’ of the bull he can take away before it stops being recognisable as a bull.

Writing about Picasso’s bull illustrations in his engaging book Think Like an Artist, arts journalist and author Will Gompertz talks about how interesting it is to watch how an artist arrives at a finished piece of work.

For Gompertz, what’s most interesting about the The Bull is that Picasso is exposing what normally remains hidden in the creative process. All those early drafts that go in the bin; the invisible creative iteration that lies behind every creative project.

Picasso has, he writes “made an image from each stage of a work in progress, demonstrating to us his thought process.”

A unique signature

But it’s more than just his thought process that Picasso reveals to us. By stripping away elements of his work, he’s revealing his unique voice too.

Whilst the first bull drawing is an accurate depiction of a bull, it’s not a very interesting or imaginative creation. And it could have been drawn by anyone.

It’s only when he starts stripping away the detail that he reveals his own unique style and signature.

With each iteration Picasso re-imagines the animal using his own creative style – accentuating some characteristics and simplifying others.

The final drawing is more conceptual art than illustration. It’s comprised of just a few lines but it’s still very clearly a bull and importantly, a bull drawn and created by Picasso.

Find your voice

It was only by deliberately editing his work, paring down the inessential marks, scrapping the unnecessary detail that he ended up with a drawing that only he could produce.

Out of his process of artistic elimination emerges a drawing that not only clearly communicates a complicated concept in a few simple pen strokes, but also one that is created in a style that is uniquely and iconically Picasso’s

And it’s this simple principle that any kind of any writer – and in fact any kind of creative – can learn from.

Ruthless editing, showing not telling and scrapping unnecessary fripperies not only makes your work clearer, cleaner and more concise; it can also make it unmistakably yours.

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.