I don’t have a unique artistic style!!
How many times have you thought that before! How many times have you bemoaned the lack of your own recognizable style in your art work?
I hear you! I’ve been there!
For years I searched for my style! Convinced that my art looked not only like everyone else, but that I was so all over the map that “my” style didn’t even qualify as a good imitation of someone else’s.
In retrospect, I realize that really I was trying to force some semblance of uniqueness, just so I didn’t have to feel so adrift style wise any more. I wanted to feel like I had “arrived” as an artist, and somehow having my own unique art style would give me that. Turns out, it ran a lot deeper than that.
I made the style thing too important.
Once I dove a little deeper, I found that for me personally, it covered up a major fear:
That I was a fake.
And because I was a fake, I would never have my own style. Because I would never have my own unique style, I would be condemned to forever imitate someone else, hence confirming that I was a fake.
See what the brain did there? The inescapable but crazy making logic that had me constantly chasing my own tail.
So, how did I get over it? Well, it was a bit of a process. It involved letting go of some deep seated limiting believes. And some rethinking about what a personal artistic style really is.
Through the process I also came to some realizations, which I want to share with you today.
I can’t give you a tutorial on “how-to” your unique style as the journey to your own style is as unique as the style itself. What I CAN give you though are some steps you can take to more consciously progress towards your own artistic style.
A.) Be your authentic self. Ha, yes, I think I just heard you groan. Don’t you just hate it when people throw that phrase around as the answer to everything and you just want to scream “If I knew what that was and how to do that, I wouldn’t have to be here!” Joking aside though, I will come back to it. It is a valid step.
Just not in the beginning.
In the beginning, or even half way through your journey toward your own artistic style, you don’t know what your authentic self is (in your art work) and even if you did have an inkling, you may not have the skills to express it, yet. So, for now, “Be your authentic self.” is of absolutely no use to you.
1. “Copy as much as you can!”
Hang on a minute! You’re telling me to copy others? How’s that going to help me find my own style and feel like less of a fake?
Well, you see, part of why you can’t yet be your authentic self, is because you don’t know how to. You really don’t know what you are doing yet. And in the beginning we all copy. In every area of our lives, when we first start out in something new, we imitate. We use other people’s recipes, other people’s methods and other people’s inspirations. It’s the only way we start learning.
Give credit where credit is due, don’t claim that it’s yours, and copy away. You are learning. Let yourself be inspired by other people’s works and techniques and imitate the heck out of it. This will lead you to discover the things YOU like doing. You can’t make a choice if you have no options. Give yourself options by imitating others.
Copying doesn’t always mean you are exactly imitating what another is doing. You can copy and still produce a unique work of art.
Here is a little exercise for you:
- Choose 3 artists who’s work you really like. It works best if you choose artists who’s style isn’t too similar to each other.
- Choose one art work for each artist that really speaks to you.
- Now, examine those paintings. What is it that speaks to you? The way they work with lights and shadows? Their use of vibrant color? Or how they use blended and muted colors? How journaling and mark making is an integral part of the painting?
- Write down whatever it is that draws you in. It really helps if you write it down, not just note in your head. If the information is available, check out the favorite art supplies this artist uses, too. Mine are here, if you are interested.
- Next time you do a painting, start as you usually would with your own sketching.
- Then, refer to your notes and integrate (as much as you are able) the main feature of what you liked from each artist. For example, you really like the color combo Artist 1 used, the mark making of Artist 2 and the soft, smudged appearance of Artist 3’s work. Play with combining those in your own artwork.
The exercise isn’t an instant recipe for your artistic style, but it shortcuts it tremendously by producing a unique-to-you work of art!
You can do the above as often as you like, with as many artists as you like.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Yes, I know, I do go on about practice a lot. It is very important. For one you will hone your skill. That alone is the biggest part. You can’t develop a style in something you don’t know how to do. Because if you don’t make art, if you don’t practice, nothing much will happen!
Style is very much you becoming you in your art. It’s what makes it recognizably yours.
With practice, you will be able to be more relaxed and confident about how you do things.
You get to know the
⦁ tools, mediums, and substrates.
⦁ techniques you seem to go to repeatedly.
⦁ things only you notice.
⦁ leads only you follow.
⦁ topics that keep coming up for you.
⦁ color combos you reach for most frequently.
⦁ processes that light you up the most.
⦁ many ways you can “fix” a painting when you think you ruined it. And even how you fix a mistake can become part of your style!
Those little preferences are the emerging corner stones of your style.
Starting to be confident enough to fix things was a real milestone for me.
I remember a phase in my artist journey, where I pushed myself to do things to paintings that would potentially ruin them. And I would usually do them exactly when I started to like them. It’s a bit of a gut wrenching process at the time. And yes, sometimes I DID ruin the painting. Other times though, it led to gloriously happy accidents I would have never discovered otherwise.
Why is that important? It forces you out of your comfort zone!
It’s allows you to be less outcome oriented. And most of all, it allows you to be freer in your approach, it invites you to experiment a bit. And the freer you are, the more open you are for your style to come through!
Which leads me to …
3. Make mistakes.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Roll with them. It’s OK to make a mess – it can lead to beautiful things.
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” — Neil Gaiman
And remember, what he means by “good art” is NOT what your inner critic means by good art. The inner critic always talks in judgement and Perfectionism. Perfectionism is a mind game though. It has absolutely nothing to do with creativity. When perfectionism, the need to do something the “right” way, shows up, frustration is usually not far behind. Perfectionism is also the thief of joy and the number one obstacle to your own unique artistic style.
When you look around the artist community, you will likely not find many artists that wish for a more “uptight” way of painting. Most (all?) of us seem to be forever striving for the “looser” approach. Practice and making mistakes allows us to go there. Being less outcome oriented, more willing to go with the flow.
“If you find yourself spinning out into mental anxiety around creating the RIGHT way, simply breathe your way back into your heart and belly. Take a moment to drop in and find the place of greatest juice and energy and aliveness as you move your brush when you paint. Or dance and stretch if you’re writing.
Anything to get you out of your busy, overactive brain and back into the grounded experience of your embodied being. ” — Chris Zydel
4. Stop looking for your style.
Your artistic style is not lost like a quarter behind a sofa cushion. It’s not something you can “find” if you just look hard enough.
You already have it. It was there before you ever picked up a brush for the first time!
It is however something that you need to grow into – something that evolves with time, practice and a sizable volume of work. If anything, your style will find YOU, eventually.
Do you know when I finally discovered my artistic style?
- stopped looking for it!
- let go of some limiting belief systems and finally gave myself permission to never have a style at all.
- decided it was fine to be all over the map and that maybe No-Style was my style.
- stopped making my style, or lack thereof, this important thing in my artistic journey.
The funny thing is, all the looking got in the way of seeing it. And all the looking also kept me locked in my believes about being a fake.
It was already there. Not hugely developed yet, but clear enough for others to see. Only I never saw it.
I still remember when I first started my art store and listed a few of my paintings. Then I went to the store front where all the paintings were lined up in neat little thumbnails, and it struck me …. holy sh*t … I DID have my own artistic style.
The moment I didn’t place so much emphasis on style anymore, it was free to emerge!
Above all, though, have fun! Even the things that bring you joy in the creative process are part of your emerging style, so play and follow the joy!
Also remember – the progression to your style, or through your artist journey in general, will rarely be linear. There’ll be twists and turns, you’ll find yourself going forward and backward and often sideways. It’s all good! All of it is part of the journey and your authentic voice (and style) will keep on growing through all of it. Nothing is lost!
And last, but not least. Your artistic style grows and evolves as you do. There is never a “now I have my style, I have arrived” kind of thing in art. Only more and more opportunities to discover and grow.
Where are you on your artistic journey? Have you discovered your unique style yet? Can you see the beginnings of it or are you still feeling a bit adrift style wise? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!