Finding Your Own Unique Style As An Artist
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If you are an artist, you may have had the thought or asked yourself,
"What is my art style?"
When you first start out on your artistic journey, you may feel this pressure to have your own recognizable look and voice as an artist. The kind of unique style that others can instantly recognize when they see your work.
Unfortunately, there is no simple, cut and dry formula for finding your art style. Rather, it is something that constantly evolves and changes as you follow your creative journey. It does not just magically come to you one day (though, there are "aha!" moments).
I remember thinking I could never be a great artist if I didn't find my art style. Little did I know, I was still too young an artist to see that my style was slowly emerging and growing the more I practiced and explored new types of medium.
If you haven't found your style yet, THAT'S OKAY!
This blog post breaks down what art styles are, how each artist develops their own, and asks questions to help you discover and establish your own style.
The Action Item sections in this blog are meant to get your brain thinking and your heart feeling about what style of creating you like the best. There are no wrong answers!
Feel free to do or skip them.
What is an Art Style?
There are many kinds of way to make art. Art styles are defined as what these different kinds of art look like. It is a window into an artist's mind and their vision.
We might come across some paintings and recognize the art style right away - Van Gogh's impressionism style paintings, Andy Warhol's recognizable pop art style, or Frida Kahlo's colourful self-portraits.
Your art style should reflect the voice you feel as an artist. Do you prefer delicate, muted tones or bright, bold splashes of colour? Do you feel passionate about bringing awareness to the environment or another worthy cause? How do you want to portray your ideas onto canvas or paper?
1. Baroque style: Portrait of a Woman, 1638-39 by Guido Reni 2. Post-impressionist: Self-Portrait, 1889, Van Gogh 3. Modern Art - EYE SEE YOU, 2018 "Super Labyrinth“ by Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan 4. Abstract - Serene Nebula, Geordanna Field. Images found on Unsplash.
I am a self-taught artist and do not claim to be an expert by any means (or even remotely knowledgable) on art styles. The ones I know about now are the ones that initially drew my interest, and ones I've looked into on my own time. And luckily, you do not need to know every single art style out there in order to develop your own.
Have you ever considered what already established art style you are most enticed by, or try to imitate in your paintings?
Having a few styles that you like will help ground you in the search for your style. Think of it as the foundations of your inspiration while you build your style and artistic voice.
ACTION ITEM I: Search for and write down at least 3 of your favourite art styles. If you aren't sure where to start, you can simply type in "painting art styles" or "types of art styles" into your browser's search bar and look at some of the articles that come up.
Then, write down 3 characteristics of each style that you admire/love/pique your interest. Again, no wrong answers here, this exercise is meant to help bring awareness to what you are drawn to (pun intended).
Some things that you may love about a certain style include shapes, colours/lack of colours, bold paint strokes, minimalism, complexity, the subjects, how real/abstract it looks, a mix of different mediums etc.
For example: In my urban sketching paintings (above) there is a recognizable pop art feel to them thanks to the bright colours and black lines. However, I still want to keep the essence, look and feel of a location or building, so I can also say that my art is figurative as well (art that is derived from real world subjects/objects). I like that both of these art styles are fun, colourful, and still recognizable.
If you don't feel like homework right now, or you already know which art styles you love, feel free to skip this Action Item and keep reading.
How do Artists Develop a Unique Style?
So how do other artists finally find their style? How can you set yourself up for success as an artist and creator?
1. THEY ARE PATIENT.
You cannot force yourself to develop something unique. I know it's frustrating - I vividly remember as a young artist wanting desperately to have my own unique style right that second so I could make great art all the time, whenever I wanted to.
It doesn't quite work like that. Finding your style is a life long process, so try to enjoy the process. It will make your artistic journey so much more rewarding, with less chances of burnout and frustration.
2. THEY PRACTICE. A LOT.
I know. The most boring answer, to a creative wanting to be able to create great things, right now. But, there is no way around it. Just like with any skill, you need to invest your time and energy into your art in order to become better at it.
Each time you practice, you learn. With this learning comes growth, and understanding. And finally, style.
Here are a couple ways that you can stay inspired while continuing to practice what you love to draw/paint best:
- Keeping a sketchbook with you to use when inspiration strikes
- Finding some creators and artists on YouTube to follow who show their processes
- Joining an online course through sites like Coursera or Skillshare to have a structured class (some courses on Skillshare are free)
- Setting time aside everyday to practice, even if it's only 5 minutes a day
- Go outside and find an area to people watch, and sketch what you see around you
- Participate in online artistic challenges like #inktober or #monstermarch, where you have an art prompt for each day of the month and you draw the art prompt (here are my Inktober 2019 drawings on Instagram)
It's better to be consistent and practice multiple times a week than to do it in big chunks every so often. Choose a method of practicing that works for you, and stick to it!
3. THEY LEAVE THEIR COMORT ZONE AND EXPERIMENT
Great artists are not afraid of experimenting or trying new things. Experimenting is a powerful tool to explore the various artistic realms, and should be incorporated into your creative practice consistently.
Experimenting always pays off. Even if you try a new medium or art style and it fails miserably, that's a success! That's one less medium and style you need to experiment with while you figure out what you do love.
You may already have some side projects and experiments you're working on, but if you aren't sure where to start then coming up with a simple list of art styles or mediums you want to try could be very helpful.
Week 1: Small pointallism illustration
Week 2: Draw your favourite animal in graphite/charcoal
Week 3: Make a paper mâché sculpture
Week 4: Create a mixed media picture with nothing but what you find in your backyard/kitchen/recycling/etc
This is just an example, but have fun with it! You could experiment with a single medium but various art styles, or draw the same subject over again with different mediums (a great way to practice drawing your favourite subject, btw).
The important thing is to go into experimenting with an open mind, with no judgement for what you end up creating.
Side note: If you would love to try watercolour but don't know where to start, I have an easy to follow blog post on Watercolour for Beginners that you may find useful.
4. THEY COPY AND LEARN FROM OTHER ARTISTS
Here's the thing. Practicing and experimenting and being patient is great and all, but to really learn, you need to look to other artists.
Most artists would agree that it's not possible to be 100% original in your art anymore. Everyone is influenced by someone or something else that has already been created before them.
It is immensely important for artists to find others who they admire and try to emulate the aspects of that artist's work that they like. For me, Peter Sheeler's art is beautiful in its simplicity and linework. Maltz Creative really influenced me to keep up with drawing buildings from a 'straight-on' perspective. I absolutely love Noelle Curtis and her uncomplicated approach to seemingly complex paintings.
I know that in a year or even a few months, the artists I look to for inspiration and learn from may be different. That's okay; this signals that the way I approach and do my art has grown.
You need to copy and learn from artists to figure out how to improve your style.
But wait - isn't it bad to copy someone's art style?
Let me try to be as clear as possible:
❌ When you copy someone's work exactly and claim it as your own, that is stealing.
❌ When you try to profit from copying someone's work as close as you can, that is stealing.
This is not okay. You are stealing an artist's intellectual property. Never do this.
✅ When you take elements of several artists work and turn in into something thats your own, that is not stealing. It is learning.
✅ When you trace or copy another artists work for the sole intent of learning or practicing, that is not stealing. It is growth.
Just like copying others' written words is considered plagarism, taking another artist's work with the intent to sell it or claim it as your own is called stealing.
There are many wonderfully creative minds out there that are constantly taking what they see from one artist and creating it into something else.
You have access to thousands of other artists at your finger tips. Unlike the old days when artists had to rely on apprenticeships to learn from other artists, or study art styles from a book, you can come across many unique art styles that are on the internet to learn from.
One book that discusses this topic that I really enjoyed was "How to Steal Like An Artist" by Austin Kleon. He goes into depth about how important it is to give yourself permission to copy the artists you love in order to develop your own unique style, and that you are only as good of an artist as the ones you surround yourself with.
So, don't be afraid to admire and copy another artist's work. Just make sure it's for practice and developing your own style.
ACTION ITEM II: Go hop on Pinterest, Instagram, Google, wherever - and find 3 artists who's style that you admire and would love to try and learn from.Use relevant hashtags or keywords to search for them. Example: searching for #urbansketching or #watercolourandink helped me find some wonderful artists who I follow and learn from. If you figured out what art styles you liked from Action Item 1, you can use these art styles as search terms too.Make a point to study these artist's work (2-5 minutes per artist) and find out what you love about their work - is it the subjects they paint, how they use brush strokes, or the colours they use? Is it their message or voice that brings meaning to their work? What exactly made you fall in love with their art?Taking time to figure out WHY you love these artists will help you determine which direction you should go in to nurture your own style and voice.
Other ways to help you find your creative style
Okay, so you know that you need to practice (a lot) and experiment and all that good stuff. But what are other, more tangible ways you can do right in this moment to get you closer to finding your art style?
Here are some other helpful ways to help you out:
Find Patterns in Previous Pieces You've Done
When I got this snippet of advice, I was really surprised that I hadn't considered it before. Looking through your previous work can show you patterns, particularly if you consistently paint certain subjects or use a specific medium.
It can be hard to look at your work objectively, especially since creators are their own worst critics. But try to look at it as if you were looking at a good friend's art.
For example, I had an "aha" moment (only a few years ago actually) when I had a look through my old paintings.
When I was younger, I had an art book that showed you how to use watercolour and ink. I instantly fell in love with the way the colour moved, the contrast to the black pen, and how delicate the paintings could look.
For some reason though, I thought that using watercolour and ink together was something everybody did. So I avoided using it because I believed everyone thought it was easy to do, and I wanted to stand out and be unique. It wasn't until I looked back years later and realized that was silly - not everyone knows how to paint with watercolour, and that using it was when I had the most fun and created some of my best work.
When you enter that flow state and enjoy what you're painting/drawing, and it seems to come effortlessly, it is worth pursuing!
I repeat - when you are painting something that you love and it feels good - you are on to something!
When looking back through your work, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the common theme of your paintings? (portraits, buildings, nature, etc)
- What artistic styles are you using?
- What artistic mediums are you using to achieve this? (watercolour, pastels, oil, etc)
- What paintings seem to come effortlessly? Which ones were difficult to create or finish?
If you do not have a large body of work yet to look back on, that's totally okay too! Continue to work on what makes you feel great, and what you want to paint/draw. Making art should always challenge you, but it should be fun, too.
Join an online class or community
There are many places online that have the opportunity to talk and share work with others, in a space that allows for constructive criticism and conversation.
You get the chance to speak with other artists, young and old, those just starting and those who are masters in their craft.
I have had some success on small, local Facebook groups, and on sites like Reddit, where communities like /r/NewArtists or /r/LearnArt have been valuable resources to post content and learn from others. Make sure to read the community rules before posting, 99% of subreddits do not allow you to promote your own work (if you are trying to sell on Etsy, for example).
YouTube has also been one of my favourite places to learn. It's free, easy to navigate, and has so much content when it comes to tutorials and tips for beginner artists.
Take the time to find a creator you love and subscribe, they'll be a great source of inspiration for you and will help you grow as an artist.
If you have a local community to work with, that is great too, but make sure to practice social distancing rules and your local health authorities restrictions (I can't wait to remove this sentence one day).
Lastly, ask friends/family what they love about your art
Friends and family know best, right?
Art is subjective and everyone will have a different opinion, but friends and family should have a pretty good idea of who you are and what you like to paint.
They may have insight into your work that you hadn't thought about before, or offer suggestions that you may not have considered.
I hope you feel inspired after reading this lengthy blog post. Remember, each painting you complete, each hour you practice, nourishes your style and voice as an artist.
Everyone starts at the beginning. Everyone goes at their own pace. Be patient with yourself, enjoy the process, and allow yourself to experiment while you continue on your creative journey. Your style WILL come.
Thanks for reading. Now go practice!
Bonus: Here is a fun quiz to see what your "Creative Type" is: https://mycreativetype.com/
I'm a "Maker". What type of creative are you?