Developing my art style was one of the most frustrating processes I have gone through as an artist.
Back in 2016, when I started really taking my art seriously, I was in several online classes and started following artists on Instagram and YouTube.
One thing that really bothered me was seeing each artist’s distinctive style. When you saw their art, you immediately knew who it was.
It’s like looking at an Andy Warhol, or a Jackson Pollock, or a Dali. As soon as you see the art, you know the artist. It’s their style. It’s their way of working. The materials they use plus the way they use them.
When I was first learning in 2016, I did not have a style. I desperately wanted one.
All great artists have a style, I thought. But what is mine?
Taking online art classes was very helpful for me. It pushed me to improve my skills and try new things. But I do remember getting discouraged because I was just copying the teacher’s style for each piece. Nothing felt like my own.
Even when I did my art project 50 Skulls in 50 Days, I wasn’t doing the paintings in my own particular style. In fact, I was having a lot of fun playing around with many different styles.
So, What Exactly is an Artist’s Style, Anyway?
According to Wikipedia, an artist’s style is defined as follows:
In the visual arts, style is a “…distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories” or “…any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made”. It refers to the visual appearance of a work of art that relates it to other works by the same artist or one from the same period, training, location, “school”, art movement or archaeological culture: “The notion of style has long been the art historian’s principal mode of classifying works of art. By style he selects and shapes the history of art”.
No pressure, really – just shaping the entire history of art!
Sometimes, style is really hard to define or describe and ends up being one of those “You know it when you see it” situations.
I knew if I was at all serious about becoming a professional artist, I needed to decide what my own style was. What would make people look at my painting and say, Yup, that’s definitely a Jaime?
It took me a while to figure this out. That’s why I said it was really frustrating at the beginning of this article. I started trying to figure it all out in 2016, after I finished my 50 Skulls project – but didn’t actually figure out my style for 2 more years!
I even took courses where a major portion of the course was “how to develop your artist’s style!”
The problem was that even though I was learning information on how to create my own style combined with painting almost every day, I still didn’t feel like I was working in a way that felt like mine.
And getting more and more discouraged that I would never figure this out.
It Really Was an A-Ha Moment!
In January of 2018, I had several days off before going back to work after New Year’s Day. It would be a great time to do art. I had started several different pieces, but honestly – on that day in 2018 I was feeling less than motivated even though I really wanted to create.
I admit I wallowed for a teensy bit, but then I really let myself think about why I was struggling so much.
Was it creative block? Was it overwhelm? What was it?
That’s when it hit me: it’s that damn style question again! I really didn’t want to spend any more time creating artwork that didn’t feel like me!
So for the first time, I asked myself well, what DOES feel like me?
Then, I gave myself a little assignment. What are my favorite things about painting – what part do I look forward to most – what subjects do I like painting? What’s most fun?
Do THOSE things!
It’s almost a “duh” moment it’s so simple, but it really was a breakthrough moment for me.
I decided I loved creating mixed media backgrounds using collage, ink, and 3D objects. I loved portraits, mostly of interesting looking girls or women. And I loved sharks. I had done three shark paintings already and wanted to do more.
After I “Found” My Style, I Refined It
I created a mixed media background that day in 2018, and then I began creating more paintings, following the style assignment I had given myself: mixed media backgrounds, portraits, sharks.
I did about 10 paintings this way, and then I met the artist who would become my mentor and he offered me an art show in his gallery. I displayed those shark paintings. Then, I went to his studio for a lesson and two years later, I am still going about 3 times a week.
Learning from an actual professional artist has allowed me to work more on my style and improve it. I don’t do as many sharks anymore, and I have become a MUCH better portrait painter. Studying other artists styles and techniques has also helped me. I have even copied 3 paintings from history.
All of this has helped me stick to my favorite things still, but to also improve and add to what I know about art and painting.
Also, in a great ironic twist, my mentor doesn’t have a particular style. He literally creates in all styles and in all mediums, from sculpture to woodworking to metal art, and in gouache, acrylic, and oil.
It’s allowed me to be a little more experimental with my own art, while still sticking to my main style rules: What are my favorite parts of painting? What is FUN?
Because honestly, if you’re not having fun, then why the hell are you doing it?
Style Constantly Changes
I do have to admit: back when I was struggling to “find my own style” I did have this backwards kind of idea that I would discover my style and rainbows and unicorns would appear, blah, blah, blah. In short, I wasn’t being very realistic in thinking about style.
It’s great to pick a niche, so to speak, and excel in it. This is basically what you do when you are picking a career or life path anyway. You go from saying you want to be a doctor to saying you want to be an orthopedic surgeon. A specific doctor. You co from saying you want to learn a trade to being a licensed electrician. A specific trade. You go from saying you want to be a writer to being a mystery author. A specific kind of writing.
But again, you don’t just stop once you define what you want. You get certifications, or take more classes, or advance up the ladder. It’s the same for art. You start in one place and then learn and improve, hopefully for the rest of your life if you’re lucky. It’s my opinion that the best artists are the ones who keep learning and doing new things. NOT the ones who find a particular thing that works and is lucrative and just keep doing that over and over. **cough Thomas Kincaide cough, cough**
I wrote this article because I remember how frustrating it was trying to figure out what my style was, and I know many artists and art teachers I follow say they are asked the “style question” a LOT. I hope this helped you in some way, even if it’s just to know that finding what feels right for you may be a process and it may take a while.
If you are interested in more about style, check out Different Styles of Mixed Media Art: How to Find Your Perfect Fit
Questions or comments? (Especially about style?) Please leave a comment!