How I Discovered My Style As an Artist
For years, I was so frustrated and confused. I wanted to do art, but I didn’t have a style. Everything I read said I needed to develop my own distinctive style. When I looked at other artists’ work, I knew what it meant to be able to look at one piece of art and say, oh that’s a Picasso, or that’s a ?. Their artwork was distinctive and easy to attribute to them.
I spent from 2015-2018 taking courses and making art. The online courses I took featured many different artists, each with their own style of making art, each with their own way to make figures, using different mediums, and working with color. For a while, I copied the lessons and ended up with a bunch of different art pieces in each artists’ style.
But still, I had no style of my own, and despite reading the advice over and again 1,000 times, I was no closer to figuring out HOW to develop my own style.
It’s like trying to explain to someone who has never ridden a bike without training wheels how to ride a bike. You can take them to a nice, flat parking lot. You can show them how to pedal and how to steer the handlebars correctly and how to balance, but you can never give them the feeling they will get at just the right moment when they are pedaling and steering and balancing and it all works together and suddenly they get it. They understand. The light bulb goes on. You can’t explain the feeling of “you’re doing this right” because they have to experience that feeling.
I could never understand the feeling of “my personal style” of art, because I hadn’t experienced it yet. A million people could tell me to “follow these steps” to develop my personal style, or focus on this technique, or use these materials, but still . . . at the end of 2017 I was still frustrated because I wasn’t producing anything that looked like mine.
“Just Be Yourself” or “Just Do You” Is Harder Than It Sounds!
In early 2018, I was planning to start some new paintings. I had been given some new canvases for Christmas. I remember standing in my art room (actually our living room but I had taken it over completely by that point.) I had a whole day to myself and I wanted to spend it making this new painting. But I didn’t want to waste my canvas. I wanted to do something that was my own.
My own idea, my own style.
So, like I had millions of times before, I sat there thinking. Kind of paralyzed by indecision, actually.
What do I love to do most? I asked myself. What is it about making paintings that I could do every day and still love?
I loved gluing paper to a background. I loved dripping ink and paint. And I loved attaching glitter, trinkets and other things to my canvas.
Plus, I loved portraits.
There it was, the answer starting me in the face and somehow I had missed it. All this time I had been trying desperately to figure out who I was and how to pick a style. But if I was honest with myself, it wasn’t so much about the “style” but about what did I love to do more than anything when it came to art?
That day, I made a background with torn paper, dripped ink and paint, and objects glued to my canvas. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite backgrounds I’ve done. Since then, I’ve created many more paintings using that same technique. I even had enough paintings done in that way to show a local artist who offered my very first art show.
A Real Life Example: How I “Found” My Style:
Below are three videos I posted to Instagram in January 2018 of the process I used to create my first mixed media painting in my own style:
Below are 4 photos showing the progress of this painting. You can see that I largely left the background alone since I liked it so much, but I really struggled with the portrait. Originally, I wanted a girl holding a shark to go with my shark themed paintings. I wasn’t happy with it, so I used a photo of my daughter to try a more “real” portrait. Two versions of that and I realized the shadows weren’t working and I finally decided to choose a new photo all together and came up with the last version. That is the finished painting.
From January 2018 through today, I have discovered that the thing I needed to improve upon the most was my portrait painting technique, and have been working with the same artist who gave me my art show as a mentor for that process. I have been improving my technique and skill in painting people to look photo-realistic and not cartoon-y. You can see the progress of this in the photos above! It took me a year from the 1st attempt to the finished painting, so it is not a quick process (at least for me). But I am very happy with the finished painting and I am happy with the journey it took me to get there.
My Advice for “Finding Your Artist Style”
If you are struggling to define your own style, I offer this advice, from someone who struggled through it for many years:
Think about what you love to do most when it comes to art. Abstract? Landscapes? Pet portraits? People? Architecture? And then think about what mediums or objects you like to work with the most. Watercolors, acrylics, colored pencil? I discovered I love inks for my backgrounds and oil paints for my portraits, which surprised the heck out of me since I had always been scared of oils before 2018.
As a second important step, be honest with yourself about what skills/techniques you need to learn to do what you love better. There are books, online sites and courses, and real life artists to learn from. I knew my people didn’t look “real” and I personally wanted to get as close as possible to realism, so I spent countless hours learning and practicing that.
Looking back, part of me is frustrated at the years I wasted beating my head against the wall trying to come up with a style, but other parts of me understand that everything I was doing was helping me get closer to knowing what I loved (I discovered, for example, that I hate gouache and won’t be using it if I can help it), and taught me skills I was missing. So, none of it was wasted time, exactly. I just need to be clear with myself that I was learning what I “didn’t know” so I could get better.
What do you think about having a “style” as an artist? Do you like when you can pick out a particular artist’s work right away? Did you struggle to find your own style or was it something you naturally were already doing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!