SOS! Posts: Quick tips for getting through creative crisis.
If you look around at what artists are the most in demand you realize they have one thing in common: they all have a style or vision that they apply to their work that makes it uniquely theirs. Whether you work in illustration or gallery or concept art, the fact remains that you make a name for yourself by doing something better than anyone else can. Sure, there are artists that exist by being the “second best” at something or “the poor man’s version” of someone else, but it’s infinitely better to have a style all your own. By “style” I mean the combination of medium, technique, and voice that makes your artwork yours. When you have found that unique thing, and it is something no one else is doing, then clients and Art Directors can only come to you when they need that thing. Art schools often try to make you into more of a jack of all trades (and master at none), but a successful art career comes to those who are masters at one thing, one look, one voice, one style.
But what happens when you don’t know what your style is? It can feel like you’ll never come up with a unique look all your own, but don’t despair! We’re here to help:
- The first step to finding your style is forgetting about your style. You can’t develop a style while thinking about it too consciously. You can’t force yourself into something unique — you need to let your mind and your eye and your hand play together. Make art. More art. Keep going. Make even more art. Don’t even think about style, just trust that it will come together (it always does eventually). Immerse yourself in the process of making art. Try to embrace the joy it gives you to create, rather than worrying about what the final product will look like. Experiment.
- Embrace your influences. An important and unavoidable stage of an artist’s development is what I like to call the “formulaic stage” — when your art is so clearly showing your most important influences that it looks like either a copy of one artist, or at best a simple formula of This Artist + That Artist = You. This is natural! Don’t freak out, and don’t beat yourself up. This is part of the process. The way to get through is to go ahead and really try on your influences, one at a time. Make master studies. Make copies. Try to apply those techniques and styles to new subject matter. See how the style translates. Then do it again with a different influence. Then another. If you catch yourself only looking at influences that are very recent, then go back to Art History, and Museums, and get inspired by someone older. Get inspired by as wide a range of artists as possible. Try them all on. As you add more influences, and study them, you will start keeping some things and others will fall away, until you have a stew of influences.
- Once you are full of influences, put them aside. Once you’ve taken in all that art, and tried on all those styles and techniques, then forget about them consciously, and let what you’ve learned recede back into your subconscious. Make more art, but only from life or from photo reference, don’t look at your influences for a little while. Give your brain visual problems, and work yourself out of them — you’ll start to see the bits and pieces you absorbed coming to the fore, and other pieces falling away. Once the stew has simmered for a while, you don’t taste the individual flavors anymore, you just taste a delicious stew. Your art will also come together in style. Over time, as you make more works, your style works itself out.
- Make sure to show your work to others. Often a peer or mentor will see your style start to emerge before you do, so make sure you have some trusted artist friends that you can share your work with. It’s incredibly hard to get the distance needed to get proper perspective on your own work, so listen carefully to the feedback you’ll get as you show your work, and when a trusted peer or mentor gets excited and says “That! Do more of THAT!” then know you’re probably on the right path.
5 thoughts on “SOS! I Can’t Find My Style”
Great article. I remember Chuck Close in a documentary saying “I was DeKooning, I was a weak impersonation of him but I was DeKooning. Then the problem was to purge him from my work.”
Absolutely! All the masters went through a copying-their-influences phase…we just used to call it “apprenticeship” – Check out this great video on Da Vinvi & Verrocchio https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/beginners-guide-high-ren/v/verrocchio-with-leonardo-baptism-of-christ-1470-75
Wonderful advice! I think one’s style can sneak up on you too, and we have to be ready to recognize it, and then accept it. After a long time of working very hard, (weeks, months) when we least expect it buried in the dire struggle, we “suddenly SEE IT” in a fresh moment of reviewing, and realize that our work has taken on a VOICE!! It can be like meeting yourself for the first time. : )
Another excellent article.