I think finding your own artistic style the topic I see talked about the MOST among Self Taught Artists. I have been collecting my thoughts for a while and thinking about three big questions: Do you need to have a distinct artistic style? If so, how do you find your artistic style? Does it make you a better artist if you have your own style? Let’s discuss…
Here’s what we cover in today’s episode:
1. We talk about where this expectation of having your own unique artistic style comes from.
2. We talk about what happened when I tried to force my style and how I’ve started thinking about this concept of artistic style ever since.
3. How did famous painters of the past approach style? What about current contemporary artists?
4. Next, we take a ride in the social media time machine. My favorite part of this episode.
5. I give you my formula for finding your own unique artistic style. It’s not a shortcut, but it’s the one I use and 100% believe in.
6. I talk about how painting in collections can be a great “hack” to making it look like you have a style or common thread in all your work.
I hope you enjoyed this episode – please share it with a friend who needs to hear this message, too.
Hello, I’m Lauren. Kristine, welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I am so glad you’re here. I hope your week is off to a great start. I just took a painting that I sold to the post office and did a little happy dance. Seriously, I just love the thought that my art is getting out in the world. And it’s making people smile. The painting sold late last night, and it just made my whole weekend, I spent time in my little home studio, trying new things. On Saturday and Sunday, I tried out some new Golden High Flow paints that I had been dying to try. They were really cool and fun to play with. I also tried some new abstract techniques. I’d say nothing that I did this weekend turned out spectacular, but I think it was really good to push myself in new directions, even if I didn’t end the weekend with a bunch of new pieces that I can point to.
Ever since I started this podcast last year, I have been looking forward to making this episode. I have a really big list of topics that I want to one day talk about on the Self Taught Artist Podcast. And this one on artistic style has been at the top of my list since day one. I think it’s the number one topic that I see talked about the most among self taught artists. In fact, it took me a while to do this episode, because this topic of finding your artistic style is such a big one. And I wanted to do it right.
I have been collecting my thoughts for a while and thinking about three big questions: First, do you need to have a distinct artistic style? If so, how do you find your artistic style? And third, does it make you a better artist if you have your own style? Well, I am really excited to finally have this episode completed and ready to share. I actually recorded it last night but then thought of more things to add today. So I actually am now re-recording this episode. And I’m just thrilled to share it with you. So buckle up my friends.
First we are going to talk about where this expectation of having your own artistic style comes from. Second, we’re going to talk about what happened when I tried to force a style and how I then started thinking about this concept of artistic style ever since. Third, let’s talk about the old masters and also some about contemporary artists, and what their take on style is. Fourth, we’ll take a ride in this social media time machine. And then fifth, I will give you my top secret formula for finding your artistic style. It’s not really super secret, obviously. But it’s this very simple one that I use and that I 100% believe in. Sound good?
Well, let’s go back in time to when I had just started painting seriously again at the beginning of last year. Yes, I had painted before. But I really recommitted to art at the beginning of 2020. A few weeks after I had been painting and practicing consistently, I caught onto this narrative that in order to be a good artist, you need to have your own unique style. I’m not sure where this came from. But it just seems like there’s a lot of pressure to have a signature style, or at least a recognizable thread in all of your work. And sadly, I really bought into it for a long time. I thought if I did not have some signature style in my art, then my art was somehow less good or less valid.
When I think about where this might have come from, I think about social media. Because now I feel like every time I’m on Instagram, I’m getting an ad from someone saying that they have the secret to discovering your style, or they have a special process to follow for discovering your artistic style. When I see all those ads out there, I know one thing, I know that people like me must be clicking on them a lot. When you see an ad pop up over and over again, or similar type of ad, you know that it must be successful, and people must be clicking on it. But really, what they’re doing is just capitalizing on this fear and our insecurities of self taught artists. Ads cost money, and so they have to capture attention. The easiest way to capture attention is to stoke your emotions, telling a beginner or intermediate artists that they need to find their style now, or that if they don’t yet have a style, it’s going to hold them back. Well, that’s a surefire way to get emotional buttons pushed. Don’t fall for it! I’m here to tell you this pressure to find your style is so totally and completely overblown. Stop worrying about finding your style. I think this fear based narrative is just another way to keep newer artists feeling like outsiders.
When I first started painting, I completely bought into this notion that I too needed a signature artistic style. I tried forcing it, and it really didn’t turn out very well. What I did was I tried taking little bits of other people’s artistic styles that I had seen and liked. And I tried combining them and just seeing what happened. I tried to paint some mountain and ocean landscape scenes with these short, colorful strokes like I had seen another artists do. I then used an palette from another artists work that I’d really liked. Of course, I infused some of my own elements also. But the results were so jumbled and disjointed. Definitely not the kind of stylistic mastery that I was going for it all. I mean, it pretty much just looked like one of those terrible paint by number kits at the end, where things just didn’t seem to fit together. And you could see all have the pieces, but it didn’t make a pretty puzzle at the end. I still have some of those old pieces of art that I did in this weird, disjointed style just as a reminder of how far I’ve come.
These old paintings look really unnatural and forced. And when I compare it to what I make now, my current stuff is so much better. My current paintings feel more like me, even though I don’t even think that I have a strong sense of my own style yet. Yes, I do eventually want to have my own artistic style. And I am working toward that goal. Every painting or doodle or drawing that I make is helping me get to that point where I do have an artistic style that I feel is uniquely me.
I think about it like a bank account. And every time I make a painting, I’m putting in dollar into that bank account. Eventually, I’m gonna cash out and I’m gonna have my own signature style. But for now, I’m totally relaxed about this journey. I know that my style will emerge with time. And all I need to do is keep depositing regularly into that bank account.
I’d encourage you to ask yourself the question, “why do you think you need to have your own artistic style?” “What’s motivating this desire in the first place?” For me, I used to think that having my own artistic style was the one thing I was missing. It was some sort of magical key, and that it would all of a sudden lead to more recognition, more followers on social media, and more sales, my art. And I realized, no, that’s not true. There are no shortcuts for building an audience and that kind of success, commercial success. That’s a whole different challenge. And having a unique style is not going to give you traction overnight.
I’d encourage you to think about it like this: Your artistic style is like your personality. It’s not really something you ever intentionally chose, but rather something you become through your influences, your personal discovery, and essentially an ever evolving collection of a million little interests and inclinations, nature plus nurture, and imitation and culture too. Your artistic style is something similar. It’s just bits and pieces of what you’re naturally drawn to as an artist, the things that you’re good at instinctually, other things that you like enough to practice, and then also just things that you stumble upon. Your style is about how you perceive the world, your idiosyncrasies, and your unique artistic eye, and especially the way that you find solutions to artistic puzzles. That’s how I think about style. It’s this big amalgamation of all of these different things. As a result, style cannot be forced. Style is something that’s already inside of you. And it will develop over time.
Don’t put the pressure of having a style on yourself today. Instead, I’d encourage you to be open minded. Experimenting is the most important part of learning and growing as an artist. Remember, it is okay to fail along the way. Just keep failing forward. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, try something else and just keep moving forward. If you force yourself to sticking to one style of painting only, I think you’ll be limiting your growth and really narrowing your learning as an artist, I believe any limitations on your palette, your colors, your brushes, your subject matter in the beginning, or even the intermediate stages of your artistic journey is doing yourself a disservice. And it’s just holding you back from learning and making more progress as an artist. It’s important to remember on this artistic journey that even lifelong artists are always changing. You might see someone with what you think is a very clearly defined style, but most artists can draw or paint in various styles, and they change what they’re doing over time. A style is not some static thing. And people who do think of style as one thing tend to end up stuck, never adding new twists or elements to their work.
Let’s look back at the old masters and see how they thought about style. Let’s look at Pablo Picasso, for example. He was always changing and morphing his style. His works are separated into different periods; notably the blue period, the rose period, then the African inspired period. After that came analytic cubism, then synthetic cubism, also referred to as a crystal period. But guess what? his later work often combines elements of his earlier styles. Everything is connected. You may think of Picasso for one particular style, but really, he had so much breadth and depth as an artist. He would deeply explore one thing, but then completely mix things up in order to keep growing and push himself forward. Style is not static. Yes, Picasso is an extreme example, because he had such incredible range. But even if you take other painters and compare their early works to their middle career works to their later works, I promise you, you will see huge changes in their style, too.
When I was researching for this episode, I also looked at my favorite artist, Monet, and he actually began his career making charcoal caricature drawings. He later moved into oil painting. In his early oil works, he actually painted more realistic paintings like Camille, the Woman in the Green Dress, and the Woman in the Garden. Only later do you start to see his impressionistic style emerge. I gather, it’s from practice and just producing more work. That’s how he found his style.
Perhaps the Masters aren’t your thing. So let’s talk about more contemporary painters. I’d encourage you to do some research of your own. Pick a few of your favorite artists on social media that you follow and that you feel have their own unique artistic style. Now, scroll back in time. I’m talking go back years and years ago. See how their style has emerged. Yes, some artists may have deleted their early works just because they’re embarrassed or they don’t want to veer from their style. But others have it out there in plain view, you just have to be willing to spend a few minutes scrolling to get there on their profile. I find this to be a fascinating exercise. First, it shows you there was a lot of work that these artists put into getting where they are today. It’s so easy to play the comparison game. And when you look at their perfectly polished photos of art on social media, it’s easy to beat yourself up because you’re not there yet. You forget about all the work they put in to getting to the place where they are now. I promise you, if you work on your art every day for the next five years, or the next seven years, I know you could accomplish a lot too.
Anytime I start comparing myself to others, I take a spin in the social media time machine. I did it as I was planning this episode. And I looked on one of my favorite painters’ Instagram profiles. I picked her because she has a very distinct style that I love. And she does a lot of floral art. So I scrolled all the way back on her profile to six years ago. That was the time when she first started posting her art consistently. It is so reassuring to know where she started, I saw the beginning of her floral paintings. And when I look at this early work, to be honest, it’s not that special. I don’t want to knock it, it’s not bad, but it’s just not something that I would buy. And it’s not something that would stop my Instagram scroll. Her social media posts also didn’t use to get hundreds or even 1000s of likes. When I look back in time, it makes it so crystal clear: She has put so much work into her art, improving her technique, improving her color palettes, improving her social media, and improving her business in general. And wow, it’s come so far in just six years. Obviously, I can’t compare my work at this point to her current work, because that’s like comparing apples and oranges. She is six plus years in the making. At this point, she’s painted 1000s more paintings than I have. So obviously her style is going to be more distinct. I hope it encourages you even just a little bit.
As promised, I’m going to give you my formula for finding your unique artistic style. It won’t surprise you after listening to this whole episode. But the first step to finding your style is forgetting about your style. You can’t develop a style while thinking about it too consciously. You can’t force yourself into making something unique. You need to let your heart and your mind and your eye and your hands move together. The second step to finding your style is to make art, then make more art, and then make even more art. Just keep going and keep practicing. I know it’s not a shortcut, and it’s certainly not easy. However, I’m confident this formula is the only one that works.
I will repeat it again: Step one is to forget about your style. And step two is to practice a lot and make tons and tons of art. And remember, because it’s your personal artistic style that’s being developed inside of you, you may not even see it in yourself and in your own artwork as you grow. Because that’s just how you see the world and how your artistic eye looks at things. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see progress from one painting to the next, or even one month to the next.
I’ll add one more tip: If you want to make it look like you have a style, but still be able to explore and learn and experiment, then I recommend you work in collections. I think I’ll do a whole episode on working in collections. But essentially what I’d recommend is to do one set of paintings with a common thread before you move on to the next and share them in order. That common thread could be your subject matter, your color palette, your style, or any characteristic that all your pieces have in common. For instance, I did a collection that I called the folklore floral collection, that were all florals with outlines and clearly defined elements. I’m not bound to this style forever, though. It’s just a collection I did. I shared those pieces all together. And it looked very stylistically aligned on my website and on my social media when I presented it. However, after that, I then moved on to landscapes and painted a bunch of those, and shared those next on my social media. Putting your art out in collections or working in themes, adds some consistency to your work, which can be a way to make it look like you have your style more figured out than perhaps you do at the time.
I share that because some of the objections that I get about exploration and trying new things is that what if your audience can’t keep up? Or what if it then makes your social media or your website look really disjointed because you’re always trying new things? Well, I think working in collections is the perfect way around that. Try something, then move on to the next. Each chapter will have its own influences and its own common thread. And that then kind of moves your audience along with you.
This is such a big topic, I could just keep talking about it. But for now, I’m gonna go ahead and wrap up today’s episode. I am so happy to get this message out into the world. I think all self taught artists need to hear this message about artistic style. And just know that they should keep creating, keep learning and keep trying new things. That’s the winning formula.
Can you do me a favor and help me get this episode out to more people? Could you please share it in your story on Instagram or send it to a friend right now? It would mean so much to me. If you have a minute, you could also leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. It’d be really cool if you did. Alright, until next time, Happy Creating!
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