Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Style guide - how do I get one???

A little while ago, a fellow artist, Becca Cox, commented to me about feeling as though she sometimes lacked a 'style'. I'm not talking about dressing in hip clothing, or being able to sing all the current pop songs, I'm talking about having *something* that classifies your art as being made by you. That undefinable quality that says 'I'm by Artist X'.

There is so much emphasis placed on this idea that we all must have a style of art that is innately recognisable. But why is that? What defines a style? Is style really so important? And how do we know when we have it?

What is style?
Style is about being 'classifiable' and 'recognisable' - hopefully in a good way! It's a trademark, a 'brand', it's your artistic avatar. It's developmental, it's unique. It can not be learned, so don't even bother to try looking for quick solutions. If you want a 'style by numbers' then you are going to be the Elvis impersonator of the art world!

Is style really important?
It depends... Where are you in your career? What type of work are you intending to do? What do you need your style to do?

To be honest, the more you worry about your 'style', the less energy you have for creating art. I think an artist needs to focus on skills and techniques before worrying about 'style'. The style will come... but if you don't have the technique to back it up, your artwork will never be as good as it can be.

That being said, you need to stand out from the pack when you're in a room of equally talented artists. You want to be known as the 'artist who does those paintings'. The more art you do, the more involved you become in art communities and getting your stuff out there, the greater chance of being recognisable there is.

How do I get style?
Just draw and paint! That's it. The more you do, the easier it is to pick up similarities and dissimilarities in your work. Each artist (unless you are a master forger) is different. The way you choose your colours, subject matter, paint skies, draw hands, whatever... each of those things is unique to you.

Also, lighten up, have fun! Having your own style shouldn't be a hard slog! It can be hard work from a technical point of view, but you need to love what you are doing! If you don't like your style, then change it. You're in control. You have the paintbrush.

Some things to think about...

1. Having a cohesive style can be boring

Some artists do beautiful work and you could look at their work all day without getting bored. You know exactly what to expect, what the subject matter will probably be, and how it will be executed. And you don't care, because no matter what they do, their art is great! Other artists, if you've seen one piece, you've seen them all. There's no inflection, no interest, their style has drowned any creativity they may have possibly. You have to constantly reassess your own work and be willing to try new things.

2. Style's change
When you were 5, you probably liked the music from Sesame street. When you were 14, it was probably some boy-band/ heavy metal rocker/ Emo music - something that annoyed the crap out of your parents with its angst/ cheesy lyrics/ anger. By the time you were 21, you'd settled into something equally different (though you still secretly kept those bad CD's/ records/ tapes in a box somewhere). Beyond 35 no doubt you'll change again. It's the same with artworks. What you do now, will be different from what you do in five years time (or you're seriously in an artistic rut/ or raking in the millions!) As our techniques improve, or influences shift, and our tastes change, so do our paintings. If you don't believe me, look at the kinds of things you did as a younger person. There may be similarities, but they're not going to be exactly the same.

3. You can have many styles, and still be recognised!
I work differently with different media. My cartoony sketches are different to my watercolours are different to my digital paintings. There is still something that seems to travel through the different media, but I don't push it. I'm having much too much fun pushing the boundaries of the media I use. I treat each media as a different entity - there are certain paintings that just work better in the traditional media.

4. Just because you have a style, doesn't mean you are going to be allowed to paint that way!
If you are a freelance artist, you paint what the client wants... and sometimes in the style they want. When you're being paid to do art, you get hired based on your skills/ something the client likes/ and artist availability. Sometimes you are being hired to fill in for another artist, or to continue a series of work, in the style already defined by another artist.

For example, I did a book cover recently in a style that I'd developed for character commission work. It wasn't something that I was sure I could pull off for a full illustration (I normally do fairly realistic work in a straight painterly manner), however in the end, it worked out fine. Had I been given the choice I probably wouldn't have gone with this style... and I would have missed out on creating a truly unique painting.

I know this probably all sounds wishy-washy, but I figure far too much emphasis is placed on style, and not enough emphasis on technique & enjoyment. At this point in time, I'm happy if I can paint something better than the last time I did it! And I've been out of art college for 10 years!


April said...

Great article, Nicole! :)