How do you develop your own style of art, whether it be painting, drawing, writing or in any other creative discipline? Over the years I have asked that question many times, searching for clues on how to make a cohesive and recognisable body of work. I wondered if maybe there was a specific method to follow or practices to adopt that would lead me to the production of my own, unique style. Alas, there seems to be no one answer to this question. However I have come to some conclusions of my own through the development of my own creative process.
I have become convinced that the best way to develop your own artistic style is to stop trying. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work at the development of our craft – I believe that it’s vital that we never stop working to develop our skills and honing our talents to be the best artists we can be. To practice, study and learn and, hopefully, never stop growing.
However, the essence of what makes our art unique to us cannot be forged in such self-conscious ways. The more self-conscious we are the more cerebral the process becomes. The creation of art is an outworking of the soul, and the more we can bypass the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of the critical mind the more authentic and unique to us our art will be.
If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.
It is in this process of finding our particular ‘tune’ that a discernible style emerges, something that represents who we are, rather than an idea of what we should be. And so there is no need to be concerned about developing this style. Rather, be more concerned about listening, really listening, to what moves you, what draws you and causes you to ask questions. What makes you angry or makes you weep? What brings joy and meaning to your days? What resonates with you for reasons that you cannot explain? What are the deepest and most secret longings of your soul?
Have you ever truly asked yourself these questions? Pay attention in the days, weeks and months to come and you may find that in the unpeeling of yourself many untruths will fall away. And that you will no longer be so easily swept along by the symphony of the crowd but learn to sing your own true note.
My own art is fuelled by a love of animals and a longing for others to see the inherent value of each creature. Before being a professional artist was even a consideration it was creatures that populated my sketchbooks and formed doodles on every available surface. I let my deepest, wordless thoughts guide my brushes and pencils, for I wasn’t ‘trying’ to be or do anything. Add to that my love of stories in all forms and a sense of narrative also emerged (In truth, most of my favourite artists are illustrators for this combination of art and storytelling).
As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.
Vincent van Gogh
I used to look back at some of the artwork I had made over the years and a part of me would cringe because so much of it wasn’t particularly good. The potential was certainly there if you looked (sometimes you had to look really hard!) but more importantly all these workings, good and bad, were the expression of where I was at that point. They were each a vital part of the process of forging the path to where I am now and along the way the sound of my own note has grown stronger and more distinct.
There is perhaps also danger in having too particular a style. For there should always be the freedom to explore new methods, concepts, ideas and interests without being confined by previous work or a fear of straying too far from what’s familiar. Some artists have found success with a distinct and recognisable style of art only to find themselves unable to break away from it, whether through fear, insecurity or the criticism of others. Whole new creative works and artistic paths have been aborted before being given a chance to develop because the style that brought success becomes a cage. Consequently the expanse of thier creativity is starved of the freedom it needs to flourish and gradually withers. Yet you only have to look at an artist such as Picasso and the wide range of styles he developed over his career to see that there is no need to be confined to one particular way of creating yet still be able to create work that is distinctly yours.
As such, I no longer see the defining of my style of art as a destination but rather as a journey of discovery. And it is through this process that a unique style of art emerges of its own volition over time if the artist creates out of his or her own being. It is something to be coaxed out of hiding without looking directly at it, like a shy wild creature, not a thing to be forced or its movement will be crippled. And as an artist’s growth, both at their craft and as a person, extends to what they create, each style of art is perhaps fluid not fixed. Rather it is a living thing; always developing, always moving forward, yet always rooted in the individual artist.
Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
Henry Ward Beecher