So you want to know how to find your art style. I imagine when you have asked people how to do this they say either “you already have an art style” or “your art style will emerge over time”. While both answers are true, I also believe that you can speed up the process of finding an art style that works for you.
There is a slight caveat here and that is that your art style will constantly evolve. So it’s unlikely you will still create in “exactly” the same way now, as you will in 5 years. Some artists may enjoy sticking rigidly to one way of working and that’s great, if it works for them. Others, like myself, feel the need to be constantly playing and experimenting while trying to maintain a common thread/style through our work.
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What is an art style?
So first, what exactly is an art style and why would you want one? If you are just making art for the fun of it, it’s really not something you need to worry about. Where an art style does become more important is if you want to sell your work now or in the future. Why? Because you want people to be able to recognise a piece of art is yours. Sure, someone might scroll through an online gallery with multiple artists and choose your piece of art, just because it catches their eye. But what we want is for them to come back for more, because they know and like your work.
So my definition of an art style is to be able to create a piece of art that is instantly recognisable as yours. This could be from a combination of factors including the colours you use, the way you put down your art medium, your linework and the subject you paint. Do you ever scroll through your Instagram feed and immediately know a piece of art is by a certain artist? That’s because they have a strong art style.
Years ago when I first started working as a graphic designer, I would sometimes be asked to do some illustration work. The illustrations I did would have to fit the style of whatever client we happened to be working with at the time. That meant the illustrations were very different and so I didn’t really have an art style. I had to be a jack of all styles. Occasionally the agencies would commission an illustrator, which was a very different process. That illustrator would be chosen specifically for a style/look that they could produce. So while I was a generalist, their work was very specific. Neither was wrong or right, but I would have had difficulty selling myself as an illustrator with a diverse range of art styles.
Art Movements and Styles
The thing to realise about an art style is that no one produces work in isolation. Every artist is influenced by other artists, whether deliberately or subconsciously. It’s how art movements were formed in the past. Artists were all painting in a certain way and suddenly some artists would start creating different ways. So if you can imagine artists all painting in a very realistic style and then a group of artists started painting much more loosely with daubs of paints, and so came the Impressionist movement. As more artists see that style and they like elements of it, they then absorb it in the way they work too.
My find your art style experiment
A few years ago I decided I wanted to find my art style and so I set myself a 60 day Find your Art Style Experiment. Each day I did something that would hopefully move me towards my goal. So why did I want an art style? Several reasons but the predominant one was to take some of the decision making out of making art. What I mean by that is that every time I sat down to draw/paint, I would have no idea what it was going to look like, what medium I would use or what subject I was going to create. That’s a lot of decisions before you even start creating. I am going to take you through the process that I used.
How to find your art style
Narrow down your art to a theme or subject
Try narrowing your art down to a theme or subject. This doesn’t have to be forever, if you aren’t quite sure what you like. But if you stick with something for a period of time, you are more likely to work out if it’s for you. I had already discovered that I enjoyed drawing faces by taking part in one of our face drawing challenges, ‘February Faces’. So I chose that topic, though I do also enjoy creating characters/cartoons. If after 30 days or 60 days you decide you have chosen the wrong subject just switch and work through the process again. The time won’t have been wasted as you will still have learned a lot about how you like to create art.
Collect together work by artists you like
One of the first things I did was to collect together work by artists I like. Originally I had a huge Pinterest Board with work I liked and then I narrowed it down to about 10 pieces by different artists. I made sure when I chose this work that it was also within the realms of the type of thing I would enjoy creating. So for example I love very loose abstract landscapes/urban landscapes that are painted in oils and acrylics. We have an amazing loose New York Street scene on our living room wall. But I don’t like painting landscapes, so that’s not going to help me. That said, if there is work on a different subject or theme that you like that you feel you might like to bring into your niche, post it on your board.
I mentioned above that my subject was going to be faces, so my Pinterest Board was filled with faces and figurative art.
Once you have collected together the art, write down the elements of each piece that you like. For instance, you like the scribbly line, you like the colour, the composition, the way the artist draws features etc etc. Keep this list to use later
Look at work you have done that you like
As well as looking at other people’s work, take a look at your own. Are there certain pieces you like? Why do you like them, what are their characteristics? Write them down.
What mediums do you like
Are there certain mediums you like using? I knew that I wasn’t a big fan of messy mediums or those that take a long time to dry. However, I had decided to try and keep an open mind.
Take a look at what you have written about your own work and the artists on your Pinterest Board. Try taking a couple of those ideas or techniques and applying them to something new you create. For instance you might like the sweeping lines one artist produces and the backgrounds another creates. Try combining that with a medium or two that you like and see what happens.
Consistent art creation, without worrying about the results
Keep combining different aspects of art you like. Also, try using different mediums you enjoy to get different effects. Think about the material you are working on. What if you started with a background you had pre prepared, what if you started on a coloured or toned paper, what if you worked over collage? The key here is experimentation. if you find something you like, develop it and see how far you can take it.
Be prepared to make bad art. During my “find your art style experiment” I made a lot of bad art. This is all part of being prepared to push yourself in different ways. You are probably going to dislike a lot of it, but there will be elements that you love.
Don’t dismiss other ideas
As you are experimenting and keeping within the niche you have set yourself, you will probably have other ideas. When I was doing my challenge I was “supposed” to be sticking with drawing faces, but I kept getting an urge to create characters. I allowed myself to draw a few, especially in my sketchbook, but kept on asking myself “how can I relate these back to my original challenge topic of faces. If more ideas pop up write them down, they might come in useful later. Try not to let yourself get distracted by ‘shiny object syndrome.’ What I mean by this is, say you have chosen animals as your theme but then you are inspired to paint a building, don’t then keep on getting distracted and have paintings of all different subjects in multiple styles.
When you want to give up
‘Aha’ moments, strike when you want to give up, or at least that’s what I’ve found. I think I was on about day 30-something in my challenge, and I had had enough. I didn’t particularly like any of the art I had been creating and started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was actually getting a bit bored, and I think that’s when the magic happens. I am not sure if that’s because your brain searches for a way to make things more interesting or, because you’re bored your subconscious takes over. Whatever it is, it’s when inspiration strikes. My ‘aha’ moment was realising that I could combine characters with faces in interesting ways.
How long does it take to find your art style?
I don’t think anyone can give a definitive answer to how long it takes to find your art style. But I do think you can speed the process up by giving it concentrated effort. If you go through the process I mentioned above and still don’t find your aha moment, go back to the beginning and start again.
Remember that even when you do find a style you like, your style will constantly evolve. That could be in small ways, or if you’re like me and enjoy experimenting it could evolve a lot.
Try our Art Style Challenge
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