finding your own artistic style :: a practical guide

Finding your own artistic style - a practical guide, with free workbook! No one can teach you your unique style and approach as an artist, but there are ways to start uncovering and developing it! This post offers a few ways to help you make your art your own.

Finding your own artistic style, that way of painting that makes a piece recognisably and uniquely yours, is something a lot of us find challenging. And it’s not just an issue for newbies, I’m discovering; it can be a sticking point for those of us who have been painting for a while too.

Before even putting brush to canvas, you might already be battling doubts about your abilities, old stories from insensitive school teachers, or overwhelm regarding what’s available in terms of courses and inspiration. Or all of the above!

It’s no wonder that finding our own clarity of style underneath all that can feel bewildering!

Today I’m looking at a few simple ways to start uncovering and developing your own style; it’s already in there, it just might need some help making itself known. In my experience, it’s an ever evolving combination of a few specific elements, plus a totally unnameable and invisible part that we can’t control. {The Creative Source, or Spirit part that comes through you, rather than from you.}

I know it seems obvious in a way, but it’s the combination of these elements that’s going to start to build the unique style that is just yours. And getting a bit left brained about it can give you a much clearer place from which to begin to know your own art better. The following is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.

finding your style workbook

Have your past work handy and go through these questions, seeing what comes up. Make notes if you want to; a reference is very handy for moments when you’re ‘drawing a blank’. ;) You can use the free workbook! Even if you feel like you don’t love or really identify with anything you’ve done so far, there’ll be threads you can start to pull at.

We’re going on a treasure hunt. The treasure is the art that is yours. :)

think about what you most often paint or draw

Let’s start off by putting all that ‘out there’ stuff on hold for a moment, and really have a good look inside at what you love most. What subjects do you most often choose to paint or draw? Check your sketchbooks and paintings if you’ve gone blank right now!

I have a running list {mental, although I think I have written it down somewhere as I also go blank at times!} so that if I’m ever ready to go but stuck on the ‘what’, I can refer to it and remember. I love to draw boats! And fish, and figures, and trees.

It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, and you can absolutely expect it to change, but for now just have a couple of favourite subjects in mind so you have a starting point.

trees_plants_tara_leaver

Various explorations of trees and plants; you can see a general – although not exclusive – tendency towards sinuous lines and blind contour {surprise}

what colours do you love?

Think about the colour palette you most often seem to default to; what does your past work have to tell you about your repeated choices?

For me, that currently looks like aqua, blues, Naples yellow, fluorescent pink, and white {for which I use gesso}. That gives me a good range of dark, medium and light tones and I get a real kick out of playing with those colours; they feel like me right now. What feels like you in the colour department?

sands_inspiration_tara_leaver

This is one of my own photos, reinterpreted in a more ‘me’ colour palette, with experimental mark making

what’s your mark making style?

Ok, now let’s look at how you make marks on paper {or canvas}. Do you love line, or do you tend towards big areas of colour? Do you like to make unusual marks with your brush? Do you prefer not to use a brush? Do you like to make patterns, or do you prefer something more quirky and eclectic?

You probably know that my answer to this question is that I adore blind contour drawing, and like my lines to be wobbly and messy. Egon Schiele is a big inspiration for me on that front. I also love wonky circles, sometimes concentric, and adding in random marks, often in threes. Get to know what feels fun to you, and keep pushing it.

walnut_ink_fish_tara_leaver

Walnut ink drawing of a fish with experimental lines

what is your favourite medium?

You probably have more than one, but what’s the one you tend to favour most? I love using my Neocolors and oil pastels, but my favourite go to medium, especially for large areas, is acrylic paint, in particular fluid acrylics. I love that it’s easy to manipulate, dries quickly and is also easy to clean up.

Having a particular favourite means you’ll really explore its possibilities and become more confident and skilled in using it.

No reference image for this one; just my two favourites - acrylics and oil pastels

No reference image for this one; just my two favourite media – acrylics and oil pastels

what inspires you?

So now you have some clues about your personal preferences in key areas, we can go ‘out there’ and see what we can bring inside to support what’s ours.

I recommend doing this after the first four points, because you want to be standing on something solid before you start looking at other people’s work. If you’re feeling shaky about what’s yours, it makes you more liable to pick up someone else’s style and end up copying them. It muddies the waters, and we’re looking for clarity and purity here!

For this step I recommend Pinterest. It’s basically a search engine for images, and it’s easy to type in a few key words and pull up a wealth of visual information. Start a board for painting inspiration {you can see mine here}, and pin to it anything that gives you that little spark of excitement, be it a composition, a colour palette, a style or a subject.

You’ll see from my board that most of my inspiration is not other paintings. That doesn’t mean I’m not inspired by other artists’ work, it just means that I want my subject inspiration for my own paintings to be ‘neutral’, so I can more easily make it my own. Working with reference images can really help, so having a readily available source will stand you in good stead. Plus looking through your board will give you more clues about what you’re most drawn to.

Yes, Pinterest is a rabbit hole! Set a timer if you need.

The Diver_inspiration_tara_leaver

This photo is from Pinterest {link below}; I changed the shape and created it anew in my favourite colours

{The image of the boy diving is here. I haven’t been able to find the original credit.}

If you only ask yourself ONE question, let it be this:

What feels REALLY exciting to me right now?

That one question has stood me in good stead when I want to paint and am not sure where to start, or can’t remember how ‘I’ paint. And of course it invites me to carve out and follow my own path.

Think of the subject you most want to try in this moment, find a reference image if that will help, and pick a few colours you LOVE in the medium you most feel like using. You’re ready. What will you paint?

 

click here for free finding your style workbook

 


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