One of the most asked questions in the illustration and visual arts world is “how to find your style”.
When you’re starting out, that becomes huge once you realize that copying photos is not what being an artist is about.
I’ve written about originality so much and it’s constantly in the back of my head. It’s a bit pathological in fact, so much, that when I discover an artist on Instagram or Pinterest that makes me flip out in admiration, I DO NOT FOLLOW them because I’m afraid I will become influenced.
I saw a new class on How to find your artistic style and I got a little upset. You see, some people truly make art for the sake of it, others have gone to art school and it’s the natural path but some of us, who started later in life or fell into it by a happy accident (and it doesn’t matter what field you tackle) we feel we have to make up for the lost time, so we become a little anxious and we wish for shortcuts. These classes sort of feed a little on that anxiety.
I certainly feel this way, like I have been on some race against time trying to learn everything so I can be “a good artist”. Well, maybe it’s a rite of passage, but one thing I’ve started to reject is any effort of monetizing on something that is so deeply personal and such a place of vulnerability. I will definitely pay for classes to better my technique, but not for classes that offer me promised lands.
I don’t believe you can teach someone to find their style. I really don’t.
The book Art and Fear* would be a better investment. That book, which is very short, lists the fears I’ve had almost in the right order. I bought the book a while ago but I re-read it recently and it made much more sense. Here is where everything stopped:
Style is the natural consquence of habit.
Those seven words, floored me. Here I was obsessing over one artist and then another trying to find the magic key. I would go over my inspiration boards and spend hours trying to make lists of “elements” that could make up their style.
No. You won’t find their style there. And you certainly can’t checklist your way into finding your own style.
If you look at any artist at their height of their creative production, from Picasso to Egon Shiele, from Carmen Herrera to Sonia Delaunay, they drew almost the same thing over and over but somehow every work seemed new.
Nowadays, you can prove it again and again on Instagram. Those artists who are most admired, most easily recognized, they produce almost the same kind of work and once they’ve got there, once they’re comfortable, they can experiment with variations.
Yes, but how do you find it?
Again, the book Art and Fear answers: quantity over quality. It has to come naturally, you will sit at your table, at your easel, with your guitar, with your camera, etc.. and you will produce as much work as you can. Then, you take your work and you lay it out on piles (or you make playlists) and you observe. What do you do over and over?
For example, I realized that my most enjoyable work continues to be with watercolor but I also found that I love two seemingly opposite ways of painting with watercolors: the traditional layering and then the more flowy abstract.
Is there a way to combine these? So the resulting combination something that makes me feel like I’m communicating something?
At this point I believe there are two extremes to the art continuum: you’re a beginner or you’re not. Either way, you must produce.
I also learned this lesson thanks to my sister who has been a painter for more than twenty years. She is prolific, she’s a mom and yet she manages to churn out painting after painting, drawing after drawing. When I look at her instagram, I find her work cohesive, she has a style. Oh yeah… that’s twenty years.
There is a reason for the expression: honing your art.
In my case, I’m still searching, I’m still producing, I know that eventually after enough repetition I will stop thinking and questioning “my style”, I’ll be able to move on to the more complex issues: what am I communicating?
So finding your own style is actually very simple: make, make, make, examine, make some more, examine… until you feel you are at that comfortable place. Then continue to do that and then… be deliberate.