Finding Your Artistic Style. 3 Things to Consider.
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
When I started creating art pieces, I was ravenous to try everything. I bought almost anything that sparked my interest, so I could test it out and experiment with my creations. But no single thing I produced looked like it matched or went with any of the other pieces I had made. Sound familiar? Maybe you're technically very skilled, but you look at the artwork you make, and there's so much variation. Or maybe you find yourself inspired by a wide range of other styles that you'd like to emulate. Either way, you have yet to find your artistic style, and you want to start honing one. I can understand this feeling, and I want to share with you three things to consider when trying to discover what your own unique style is.
Believe it or not, all that testing, trying, and emulating is not a wayward path - its actually really good for your stylistic growth. This is the first phase in discovering your artistic style. You need to experiment in order to learn about different mediums, how they behave, what their potentials and limitations are, and most importantly, how they make you feel. That's right, how your materials make you feel is an often overlooked but crucial aspect to how you will produce your artwork and consequently how your style will unfold. Many years ago when I switched from sketching to painting, I decided to take up acrylics on large-scale canvases and wooden art panels. I honestly can't tell you why I was drawn to those materials, but it's simply what I was motivated to paint with at that time of my life. I noticed two things I would do as I painted large-scale acrylic paintings. The first was that I almost always would remove the canvas or board off the easel and lay it on the floor so I could paint flat. I found that standing or sitting to paint tired my arms faster and didn't allow for as much stability. The second thing I noticed was that I always found the acrylic paint to be too thick. I wanted to spread it on thin and sheer, revealing previous layers. At first I'd thin it out a little bit with water, and then eventually I started buying mediums to help preserve the integrity of the paint. But I was still not happy with the applications. When I reflected on these aspects after I started painting with watercolour in more medium-scale sizes, I realized that I had a preference for the type of materials I enjoyed using (obvious now, I know). But I needed to try different things before I could know what I liked. And you need to do the same. I encourage you to go out, and experiment!
Listening to your body
Your body has a say in how you produce art (or do just about anything). Our physiologies and neurologies are central to our lived experiences, and that includes the way we make art. I teach a lot of beginners, and watch them paint something none of them have ever done but all under the exact same direction, and yet the results can vary quite a bit. There are many possibilities for why this happens, but one that I refuse to succumb to is that they aren't listening to direction. Instead, I am convinced that the variation comes from the way "directions" are interpreted (neurologically) and then produced (physiologically). As I watch people paint, I can see that some like to get in really close, while others sit up-right and fairly removed from their piece, some people paint slowly, while others seem to rush through, and so on. All of these types of differences, from how we position ourselves while we create, to how we pace ourselves through the process of creating, all impact the way our artwork will look, and ultimately impact our personal style. Try paying attention to the ways in which you paint. Do you like to sit, stand, lay-down, or be moving around? Do you like to stabilize your hand, work from your wrist, or work from your shoulder. Understanding the way your physical self interacts with the materials you're using can help you navigate toward processes that will make you feel closer to your personal process and unique artistic style.
The Where vs. the Why
Many of the guides I read when I first started thinking about developing my artistic style advised people to dig-deep and figure out the "why" of what motivated them, and their art by extension. I did the 7 Layers Deep test, trying to unearth my profound "why" and was left feeling wayward and vapid. Were my "whys" really so basic, shallow, and meaningless? I was perplexed, because I knew I cared about things, and had opinions, and a voice to share, and yet here I was with results that contradicted my self-image. I tried just picking a "why" because I wanted to have a starting point that made me feel inspired, motivated, honest, and happy. And it worked well in getting me started, and in bring a lot more cohesion to my body of work. But something inside continued to nag at me, I still felt like I didn't have a unique style. That's when I started asking myself "where" and instead of asking myself "why" - and it made all the difference. Where was my art going to go? In other words, who was going to buy it, and where would they put it up? This lead to me to really think about what I wanted my art to be doing. I could now think of it in terms of its home decor potential for example - what rooms might it appear in, and therefore what sizes and colours would be the most suitable. But I could also think about it more meaningfully - where did I want the revenue of my artwork going, I knew I wanted to help conservation efforts, and that has become a guiding force in my work.
My style is still unfolding, and I believe it always will be. I think that we hone styles, evolve them, recycle them, and reiterate them. And I think that's healthy for our artistic selves.