In search of personal style in art

A sure sign of a beginner artist is someone who the second a class starts asks the teacher that dreaded question: How do we find our personal style?

The teacher, who has been doing their thing for years and years, knows the answer but we, the beginners, don’t want to hear it. To find your style, you need to draw and paint a lot. A LOT. Investing time, money and tears.

You start by copying. There is no other way. As a child you copy everything around you, it’s natural that as an adult who wants to paint, draw or whatever, you copy others. It’s fine.

But also, I dare say, style comes from your personal taste and deep down you know that your taste is an accumulation of years of reading, writing, listening, consuming, etc. One day, mysteriously all that will pop-up in your work and it won’t be a copy but rather an interpretation of everything you’ve ever come in contact with.

Personally, I am at the point of exhaustion, like a marathon runner only my finish line is nowhere in sight and I feel I already ran my 42 kms. During April I did the Trends Workshop by Sabina (review coming soon) and if I surprised myself at the end of the Foundation course, I was astonished by the stuff I made during Trends. But, it was intense and for every set I made, I felt I was stepping away from the type of work I want to do.

I enjoy seeing my clipart sets coming to life, I know that they are unique and they will add life and prettiness to different projects of people who are more creative than I am, but there is this other part of my art practice, where I continue to experiment with different mediums and I experience lots of frustration because I don’t make progress with watercolors for example, or with simple ink and paper, where my values are never right, where I put shadows where there should be light and my hand shakes when outlining my pencil sketch.

Yet I order a new set of watercolors, better quality I tell myself, and I’ll pull out the good paper, I promise myself, and if this time I fail again, I’ll leave it to rest.

But while I wait for my watercolors to arrive, I go back to thinking about trusting the process, about being patient with myself and I look at my art supplies stash and choose something else.

I bought a set of gouache paints a few months ago. As usual, I uncapped them and tried them out without any plan, the result was disastrous. I hated the opacity, how little it flowed on the paper… my tantrum: I want watercolors!

But looking at my digital scrapbook, I marinated in the recurring themes of what I collect: I collect rooms, images of book shelves, lots of images of women in solitary situations, I love bright colors but when it comes to art I prefer more muted, more melancholic colors. I think a lot about insomnia, about space, about the planet, about gravity or lack of and I’ve spent many sleepless nights roaming around my house. I miss the pre-internet days in which an afternoon stretched out into what seemed eternity, when I would write long letters to a friend or make a collage without any thoughts about where it would end up. All this is packed into years of blogging, years of collecting and years of “wanting to make” something.

So I pulled out the gouache again, I drew a very common scene in my life and I pulled out some of my recurring inspirations. This is what came of it:


Surprisingly, I was able to mix gouache without so much grief, any color I wanted I could have and if I made a mistake, I could easily correct it. I used a small flat brush which was perfect for almost everything. This discovery was completely by chance. It was experimentation, it was doing it for the process, nothing else. I went back to my inspiration: Maira Kalman, I melt over her.

So I continued to experiment with gouache. The featured plant above was the result of doing an exercise suggested by Heather Ross in her Creativebug class.

So maybe there is something resembling a style, and I’m very pleased with this first gouache trial, the insomnia painting is in my sketchbook so it will be nice to see a few years from now if I made any progress.

How did you find your personal style? Have you found yet?