Finding Your Own Style
I suggest having pen and paper handy for this article.
How do you develop your own artistic style that will set you apart from others? And how will this help you as an artist? And why should you care? Crafting a unique style will benefit you in many ways:
- You will enjoy painting more as you focus on your individual style
- Your paintings will improve.
- Whatever ways you market or present your art will benefit from a recognizable style. If you enter shows, you will better your odds at being accepted into the show. You will win more awards and sell more paintings. If this is not important to you, maybe you would like to have your artwork recognized in other ways. Developing a unique style will help you with this, too.
When we talk about an artist’s style we’re not only considering the technical aspects of the artwork, but the personal and emotional side of you as an artist. Being a technical maestro will only take you so far – it’s the personal side of you as an artist that will bring out your individual style the most.
Think about what makes you unique as a person. These qualities will also make you shine as an artist.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of following what other artist do. This may mean copying their work (which obviously won’t help you develop your own style). But you should also look out for being so influenced by them that you no longer do your own thing. The best way to create and nurture your own art is to begin to only look at your own work. At least temporarily stop gazing and analyzing other artists’ work and just concentrate on your own.
Let’s talk about you – your strengths, not your weaknesses. In Marcus Buckingham’s new book “The Truth About You” he says, “You grow most in your areas of greatest strength”. This is where you should concentrate as an artist, too. Begin to list the greatest strengths in your artwork.
This could be many things . . . it could be some of the elements of design, like value or color. It could be your ability to catch the mood of a scene, or the likeness of a portrait. Your strength might be in marketing or selling your art. Or catching the light. Maybe composition or picking out a strong subject. Choose several strengths and write them down. Or, if you feel you don’t have any that are real strong, write down some that you would like to have.
Now let’s narrow down that list. Please circle the one or two that are your top strengths. Sometimes they will jump out at you. Or maybe you have to think about it. Pick one or two right now. Then narrow that down to your biggest artistic strength and write that down in big letters. That’s what you will concentrate on in your best art – the pieces that will set you apart!
Next you will take out all of your artwork – not just your best pieces but ALL of them. Set them up where you can see most of them at once, and ask yourself – what pieces most capture this strength that you identified? Set these paintings apart and then separate the one, two or three paintings that this strength is most evident in.
If you still haven’t identified this strength, then this is the time – look at your entire body of work and ask yourself – what are my best paintings and why? Answer this question and you will be on your way to developing a strong style.
I hope you have now identified and written down your biggest strength as an artist. The key to developing your style is to take this strength and use it to the maximum in your work. It’s that simple, and that difficult, because it can take time to define your biggest strength. Let’s talk about some other ways to do that.
What’s your favorite subject? Write them down.
If you need a nudge, go back to your art and let it suggest your favorite subject. Now begin a new body of work – all devoted to your favorite subject using your biggest artistic strength. I’m not saying your style has to only encompass one subject, but concentrating on one subject is a great way to bring out that style. I use the style I’m known for in a number of different subjects now, but when I started developing it I primarily concentrated on landscapes and trees, and then florals. This allowed me to finely tune my style (negative painting) while using my biggest strength (dynamic value patterns).
What about your weaknesses? The best approach is to manage your weaknesses while concentrating on your strengths. There are so many things to paint out there – why spend time on something you dislike painting? I know – we are supposed to be “well rounded” artists, with the ability to paint anything well. Rubbish! That will produce meaningless art with no emotion. What gets you most excited? That’s what you should paint! If that means learning something new or developing a different strength – that’s one thing, but don’t paint a bunch of mediocre paintings just because you can.
Marcus Buckingham also says, “Working on your weaknesses will drag you down and, at best, will lead to small improvements. Instead, you should call your weaknesses what they really are, “things that weaken you”, and then you should figure out ways to manage around them”.
So don’t worry about the subjects or passages that you don’t excel in – just do the best you can there and pay most of your attention to your area of strength. Ask the following questions about your strength as a painter:
- Have I defined my greatest strength? If not, what can I do to learn what it is? Ask a friend?
- Am I concentrating on that strength in my paintings?
- Am I obsessing on my weaknesses in my art (wrong approach) or managing them (right approach)?
- What subjects use my biggest strength? (This will really help you concentrate where you should be painting).
So forget about other artists’ work for awhile, focus on the best parts of your paintings, and before you know it your style will emerge.
A style that will set you apart from others! Then continue to build on that style in your area of strength. Keep defining that area, as it can change over time.
Just remember that your paintings will be more successful and more fully capture your personality the more you follow your own style.