Category: Reading

Can you teach someone to find their (artistic) style?

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.

Imaginary Fruit by Luisa

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.

*Affiliate Link

Conundrums of Art: which are yours?

Lamy Drawings

I’m currently reading a fantastic book: 33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton It’s a book that presents us with some of the world’s leading professional artists. This means, people who don’t even need to physically create their works but just imagine them and get their staff to make it for them. Strange when just one look at Instagram and we see so many artists working their ass off every single day. However, this book is fantastic for one reason: it has shown me that creating things is important, but most important is why we create these things.

I’ve seen many challenges go by the 30 day challenge of this or that, the 100 day project, the index card challenge, the pattern challenge.. etc. I see the value of those efforts, it makes you sit down and create no matter what, the prize is that at the end of the process you have somewhat a body of work. I’ve attempted two of those challenges. Last year I tried the 100 day project drawing strange animals but I fell off the wagon on day 27. This year I attempted a pattern challenge but I couldn’t finish it either.

Some people say quantity over quality. In Sarah Thornton’s book it seems the opposite is true. What if you create fewer works of art but with better quality? As usual, I’m like a pendulum between the two. On one hand, I want to fill up my Etsy shop with unique clipart sets. and on the other hand, I want to draw what comes naturally, in this case, those intriguing ladies I love so much. 

Some artists really want to make a statement, political, social, etc. but some of us don’t. Some of us just follow our own sensibilities and tastes. Sometimes we will never know why we create the things we do.

Personally, I started drawing portraits from the beginning. The first watercolor attempt was my Vivienne Westwood portrait. Then my bee-complex kicked in and I started drawing all sorts of things. I took several classes and I tried the challenges mentioned before. But I realized that I don’t particularly like to doodle, so drawing birds, cups, trees and everyday objects does not motivate me at all. I do admire those incredible sketchbooks, like Liz Steele’s teacup sketches, but when I sit down to draw and I look around my house, nothing ignites the spark.

Faces, portraits, characters… that’s what drives me. And watercolor…

Getting Better

That Vivienne Westwood portrait should have discouraged me from attempting to create portraits, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m stubborn. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to loosen up when drawing.

In the image below, the first girl (top left) was done with very controlled movement.

Lamy Drawings

She’s small, you can tell I was looking at the paper, carefully considering where each feature went. In the second drawing of the same girl, I looked more at my reference image than at the paper, I held my Lamy a little looser and I drew her bigger. On the right, I picked a reference image and jumped right in, I started with the left eye and mostly tried to do a contour drawing but looking at my sketchbook a little more often. She fell off my very loosely held pen. This was a revelation.

This fondness for precision that I have is stupid. Precision has ruled most of my life. I like it when people use the precise terms to define something, when there is no deviation from the plan, or route. Even my clipart is very precise.

As I look at my intriguing lady on the right, I feel almost love for her and for my own hand. It’s like they went to play without me. This has happened also with my watercolor textures:

Texture example

After years of banging my head against the wall with color theory, I have found a way to make colors work no matter what. The clue: loosen up!

This year, I’ve been attempting to shift towards illustration work more and more, but I wonder, should I be less inclined to work for clients and more to work from my artistic self? These are the conundrums of art I constantly find myself in.

Darn, I don’t know.


We’re all reading the same book: Big Magic

Galaxy Featured
My project from the Skillshare Class Modern Watercolor Techniques

I’ve always enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s talks. She is a great public speaker and storyteller. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who didn’t like Eat, Pray, Love. I couldn’t finish it and I couldn’t finish the movie either.

Why? It just wasn’t my taste. In fact, I’m not a big fan of memoirs. I love reading diaries though. Right after finishing Big Magic and just a few hours after I read the chapter about the tormented artist I began reading the Spanish version of Kafka’s diaries.

Before Big Magic, I read the graphic novel by Ellen Forney Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir

She addresses one of my biggest fears: “does taking medication come in detriment of my creativity? “

I’ve always wondered. And I’ve stopped medication many times for my anxiety disorder because, as my old shrink once asked me: what do you get out of your panic? I couldn’t answer her then. But I suspect it’s a lot and at the same time nothing.

I started my medication again two weeks ago and reading Elizabeth’s Gilbert lighthearted rejection of the myth of the suffering artist, fed my trust in my taking those little pills.

And you know what? No tummy ache for two weeks. It’s beautiful. I’ve always known that my anxiety lodges either in my gut or in my throat and every time I stop I get months of insane, unmetionable, tummy revolution.

So we are all looking for creativity. The highest-valued skill right now. To call yourself an artist, a creative, a maker, an etrepreneur it seems, at least on social media, the best way to present yourself.

And if we all are creatives why do we suffer so much for it? When I read her list of fears in the first chapter I could only nod and nod…
I’ve written a lot on this blog about my fear and worries about originality, I know I’ve written somewhere about impostor syndrome, about finding my style etc.

This book was perfectly timed for many of us… and I’m pretty sure, since I’ve been reading so much about finding your niche and your target market, that the target market is definitely women between 35 and 65…

I’m nowhere in the orbit of Elizabeth Gilbert’s circle of influence. If I’ve listened to her TED talks it’s through someone sharing the link directly but I don’t usually seek self-help materials myself. I found out about her new book because I reunited, after 8 years, with a very special woman a few weeks back.

This woman is a career counsellor who I met when I moved to Canada. She had a program for ex-patriate spouses who arrived to Montreal.
Quebec is a difficult province to work in. If you have any of the following professions: doctor, lawyer, nurse, dentist, architect, psychologist, radiologist, teacher, engineer and a long etc. you will most likely NOT work in your field. There are too many gatekeepers. Some of these professions would require the person to go back to school and spend huge sums of money to get equivalencies. So many spouses, professionals themseves, are met with no job and without the possibility of ever working in their chosen field. It’s basically starting from zero.

My friend, the career counsellor, aware of this, put together the program. Shortly after I met her, she put me in touch with the woman who is now my best friend and helped us navigate the insanely difficult sea of job possibilities while trying to keep our sense of self-worth intact.

Believe me, if you are stripped from your professional self when you switch countries, your self-esteem plummets. And if you don’t speak the language and you don’t have any friends, it’s a very slippery road.

We stopped meeting in 2008. Then I lost touch with her.

My friend, ran into her a month ago and the three of us agreed to meet.

The first thing I noticed, after not seeing her for nearly 8 years, was how beautiful she is. She must be in her sixties. She looks like Blythe Danner, the actress. The second thing I noticed was the book in front of her and after saying hello, she said “you have to read this.”

She is currently doing her PhD, something she longed to do for many years. She is researching inspiration, or as I understand it, how artists in ancient Venice obtained and used it and how we can learn from those artists today.

She is in her sixties, I’m 42 and my best friend is 37.

When I was younger I didn’t struggle so much with creativity, I wrote short stories, I kept a blog, I had a music podcast, I made collages, wrote long letters, made recycled paper, learned to knit, learned to play the piano and the guitar. I even wrote some songs. But something happened in 2006 when I came to Canada:

  1. I had freedom to choose what to do
  2. The Internet exploded

…only then I started to suffer for my creativity.

Part II of this article coming soon!

Everything you learn serves a purpose

Comic books are a new to me. Despite the fact I live in the home town of Drawn and Quarterly, I was never particularly attracted to this art form… until now.

Bande Dessinée

If I look in my notebooks I will regularly find small “comic book style” drawings that depict certain situations I couldn’t really write about. Either because too many words would destroy the intention and humor or because it really can’t be communicated in any verbal way.

Of course, the movie American Splendor opened my eyes to the medium. I didn’t know who Harvey Pekar was or Robert Crumb. For me comic books were the classics: Zorro, Donald Duck, Archie, Charlie Brown, Garfield, Calving and Hobbes, but none of these comic strips made me actually purchase any books.

American Splendor changed that and I started to find many comic book artists who were publishing their strips online. I discovered many authors when visiting the Drawn and Quarterly bookshop and I started borrowing mountains at the library.

This year, after yet another camping trip in which I became a slightly less neurotic version of Harvey Pekar, I started to see every situation as a possible comic book strip. From washing the dishes to waking up with a spider on my face, to all the small things that make camping so hard to endure, humor started to take a bigger place. I started to scribble everything that popped into my head, however snarky, dark, silly or at times desperate and by the end of the trip I decided I was going to make my comic book.

So what do I really know about comics or graphic novels? Very little. But as the title of this post suggests, you got to use everything you know if you want to begin a new adventure.

I’m currently taking a workshop with Jimmy Beaulieu. After spending many months taking online classes, it was time do an in-person workshop. It’s insane how easily we choose to remain behind a screen.

This workshop is like secret door to realms of creativity I hadn’t even thought possible.

Isn’t that the best? To be introduced to a new universe and not only in one language but in three! I’ve never been happier than when I realized I could enjoy film, music, journalism and books in French and now I can go crazy with La Bande Desinée.

So everything I’ve learned, from Sabina’s Foundation Course, to Sketching People in Motion and countless Skillshare classes, will be quite useful in  for the comic I have to create for this workshop.

A character


This is a project of pure joy I don’t aspire to do anything beyond my own little universe. It’s almost an experiment in completing a project.

Montreal has the Expozine event every year. This year it will take place on the 14 and 15 of November.
If you take a look at last year’s participants you will know the weight of the indie publishing industry in Montreal. Click around, you’ll find real treasures here.