finding your artistic style: part 2

This is my second post in my “finding your artistic style” mini blog series. If you haven’t read the first post here’s the link to it. We had quite a good discussion in the comments as well!

My first post touched on the fact that even if you have been creating art for a long time you may find yourself at a point where you need to grow or change your style.  These tips will also help someone who feels they don’t have a style and would really like to hone in on more of a “look” that is unique to them.

A couple things before we get started. 

From the comments in my last post, a few people seemed to be confused about medium vs style. You can work in many different mediums or surfaces, journals, canvas, ATCs sketchbook etc and still bring your style with you. It’s not the medium that determines your style, that’s just the surface you are working on

And it should be noted that there are many successful artists who simultaneously create in a few different styles and have thriving businesses because of their style diversity. So having one exclusive style that you work in morning, noon and night is not always a must. 

It’s up to you and the way you work and how you feel about needing a look that you can call your own. 

As far as style, I prefer to work in a way that was described in college by my professors as a “concentration”. They didn’t say your style is this or that. 

It was your “concentration”. I really like this. 

Concentration can be something that you are focused on, for a long time until you feel it has run it’s course. It’s not something that you marry until death do you part. It may help to try to look at your current work as “a concentration” —  it’s your focus, for now. You are creating and exploring it until you feel you have explored all aspects of it. Then one day when it’s no longer exciting for you — you will be growing into a new concentration. 

OK so how to get started finding your own style or “concentration”?

iHanna posted in the comments in my last post that the only way she sees forward to finding your style is to create a lot of art. And boy is she right!! 

The ONLY way to finding your own look is to make a lot of art. A LOT of art. Most of which you will want to throw away and never show anyone. 

But I have some guideposts to help you along the way, that I hope will help you. This is all of course easier said than done and finding your style takes a lot of work, and you will go through a messy experimental phase. But it’s an exciting adventure!!  

Here are some tips to the process of finding your artistic style that I hope will help you:

My first step is to make lists and notes. I begin by making lists of the types of artworks that I enjoy from magazines and galleries. I look for anything that gives me that real feeling of excitement when I see the work. At this point it’s really important to look outside the sources that you normally look to. If you usually read Somerset Studio Magazine. Go and grab a Raw Vision or Juxtapoz. Look in modern art galleries if you like classical and vice versa. Try to broaden your inspirational input.

When you see an artwork that you really like. Don’t just say “I like that artwork I’m going to make something like it”. Really look at the work to pinpoint what exactly you like about it. Is it the line quality that excites you? Is it the color palette? Is it the overall subject matter of the work? Is it the surface they are working on?

Distill it down to the heart of what about that work you love and write it all down. This part will require some thinking and practice if you are not used to doing it. But it’s important because you don’t want to be copying, you want to find the essence of what inspires you so you can make your own unique path.

Now an example! 

When we first moved to DC I kept seeing street artists’ work all around where we live. One artist, decoyink (watch her video on current tv here ) in particular really excited me.  

I loved her use of line and limited color. I would get so excited when I would see her work! The line quality! the spots of color. SWOON!!

So if I were creating a inspiration list, inspired by this work, my list would have “line quality” and “spot color” on it.

Let’s try another one this time with a less contemporary artist.: 

Even when I was in college I was inspired by the work of Edouard Vuillard. He would fill his paintings to the brim with pattern. Every surface is covered in pattern, none of which normally go together but somehow it all works.

I also love pattern! Polka dots and stripes, gingham and plaid. But maybe I never thought about combining them all together in once piece. So this might give me an idea. If I were studying this work for my inspiration list “lots of pattern” would go on my list.

Here’s a list of descriptive terms you might come up with when creating your inspiration list:
line quality
color palette
subject matter – figurative, still life, 

After you have made your lists of inspiration elements, now it’s time to start experimenting. Get ready to make a lot of art. It’s only through the doing and the creating of a lot of work that you will start to see your style evolve. Try to shoot for one small artwork a day. Create quick pieces that are complete experiments. Work small, use materials that are not intimidating. 

I like to go back to basics and start with using office paper, pens, cheap supplies and glue stick. Nothing that I will feel precious about. Create create create. Do not judge your work at this stage. Just work. Keep looking at your inspiration list and incorporating those elements that still speak to you, Do not feel you have to incorporate all of the elements from your list, those are just there to help you define what you like and what gets you visually excited. If you have “texture” and “collage” as items on your list  — start there, layer up the paint, collage in your work and see where it takes you. Work in the in the colors that you put on your inspiration list. keep working until it feels right. 

you may try one piece that has collage, then another that has collage + line work, then another that has collage + type. Mix and match the items from your inspiration list if you feel you need a place to start. This will be the hardest part. Try not to over think it. Even if you have to tell yourself you will throw everything away at the end (I do this!). Try to relax and experiment and not think at all about where this is all going right now.

Know that there will be an ugly phase before things start to feel like they are working.  I call this my ugly teenager phase. It’s just about to all come together but it’s going through some growing pains. This is the part where most people give up. Don’t edit or judge your work yet. Just keep making stuff!!

When I was going through a big style change with my work in early 2002, it took me over a year of experimenting and creating a ton of art until I started to feel like I was getting somewhere. I didn’t show this work to anyone except closest friends and family. It was a difficult year, I kept wondering where my work was going, I was leaving behind a style that I had become very well known for, and some people couldn’t understand why I needed to move on. It was a very, very rough year. I didn’t feel anything clicking. I was floundering around. It was very uncomfortable. This is part of the process. I wish we could skip over this phase but we can’t.

After a period of time, I would say at least 3 months of creating art just about every day or every few days. If you can only create one piece a week. Then wait 6 months — spread out all your work and review. Make notes about what you see. I bet you can really see a progression toward a look happening before your eyes. Make notes about what you like about the works in front of you and what you would like to see more of. For example: maybe some of your earlier works have more layering that you really like, but your later works have more typography and you think if you combine the two looks you might really be onto something.

After you have evaluated, get back to creating and review again in another month or two. Soon you will feel things clicking! You are well on your way to expanding your artistic voice!!

In my next “style post” I’ll show examples of my inspiration list and how I use it to make tweaks to my artwork to make sure things stay interesting! 

But for homework I’d love for you to listen to this interview with Lesley Riley and Katie Kendrick. Katie talks a lot about how her style is growing and changing and I think you’ll enjoy it! You can also listen on itunes here.

See full post here: claudine hellmuth2012-04-16.