Your artistic identity, and where to find it

By Jasmine Maddren

What is art style?

Art style is one of those things people obsess about. The information out there is often confusing and contradictory when it comes to developing your own style. In the past, as I’ve struggled with art-block and feeling frustrated while trying to find my artistic identity I’ve had people throwing advice left and right. A good chunk told me to just “draw what makes you happy!”, while others seemed to understand my plight a little more and suggested I simply take my time and it’ll come.

If you combine both perspectives in a neat little stew, you’ll end up with a much more satisfying meal. But it’s not exactly life-changing advice, is it? I needed something more, I needed advice to placate the frustration of inconsistency.

So, I came up with my own methods, which seemed to work really well. Almost too well because now all I want to do is draw!

But before we look at the ins and outs of art style and how to find your own style, we need to understand what it actually means.

What do you think when someone mentions “art style”? Maybe you think it means drawing, illustrating, or painting a certain subject matter over and over again. Or maybe you think it’s the way someone draws crooked lines in all their pieces. Or that someone always uses the same colour palette or hue. In truth you would be right about all of that, and sometimes… none of it.

Art style is subjective, just like our unique signatures that we use to identify ourselves. It’s something that should be different, if nothing else is. And if it’s not? Then art exists without an identity and becomes lost amongst the millions that exist just like it.

You might find ten different illustrations of the same subject, but because they all encompass their own “signature” they are all different.

From left: teredelcreates | corcor_chocolate_art | alyiabubbles | j.p.misslecrow | Honor C. Appleton, 1911

The top left example is simple and cute: Cinderella is centred and surrounded by empty space that embodies the iconic “Cinderella Blue”, which we see in many of the other illustrations. Colour in some of these examples works as an “identifier”. However, it’s not essential. Take for example the fourth illustration: we can’t see Cinderella at all, yet we still know what we’re observing because the artist has translated a popular icon (the pumpkin carriage) into their own style.

Style is versatile though. There are probably endless sub-groups of pre-established styles that artists have developed and built from. A lot of these have evolved from pop culture (Disney, Adventure Time, Hello Kitty, manga etc…)

With the help of popular social media platforms some styles have become universally trendy. Take for example, the “faceless” style which inhabits the internet right now. It belongs to no one and everyone simultaneously.

What’s the appeal of trendy styles?

Faceless portraits seemed to emerge with the recent minimalism craze. They’re clean, uncomplicated, easily personalised and generally just friggen’ easy to make. Most people use a photo and trace over it with blocks of colour and different levels of shading, meanwhile leaving out the most complex details: the face. To be fair, have you ever tried to draw an eye with minimal knowledge of anatomy and perception? It’s hard! And as a whole, adding a face is actually removing style from the artwork.

Okay, but how do I find my style?

The first thing you need to do before you even consider developing your own style is to accept the fact that no style is ever truly unique or original. Even abstract art that resembles nothing but colours, shapes and the whimsy of the artist’s creative process, stems from something that the artist saw or witnessed that invoked inspiration.

Style is: witnessing a subject that makes you feel something, and the great urge to replicate it. You might do just that, over and over again, until you start to learn what about the original style pleased your senses so much, and how you can make it even more pleasurable to look at it for yourself.

Art should theoretically be about pleasing yourself before you even consider sharing it with others. If you’re creating something merely because there’s a market for it, or because it’s quick and easy but lacking the emotional appeal, then it’s probably not your style, even if you make it your own. Although there’s nothing wrong with following trends to make some easy income!

Sometimes finding your style means experimenting with all the styles

Your art style is similar to a relationship: it takes great investment, time, and communication with yourself for it to develop into something that is quintessentially your own. Something which you develop muscle memory for, something that only you have learned. Most importantly you should enjoy creating it.

Consider how a writer learns to find their own voice: they must spend much of their time reading. It grows their vocabulary, they learn about sentence structure, metaphors and witty dialogue. But more importantly the more they read, the more they find content that keeps them up at night, turning the pages, fully engrossed in the story and emotionally invested in its characters.

Somewhere deep within that excitement is a seed of inspiration to recreate what has pleased them so much, a seed that is growing as they read and becoming motivation. That’s when they stop what they’re doing and experiment with their own ideas while discovering their identity as a writer–their style–along the way.

The same is true for an artist. You should spend time observing art created by others, scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest, walking through art galleries or just stopping in a coffee shop to dissect the art they see on the walls and asking yourself questions like “Do I want to see more of this?”.

There’s no guide out there on how to be inspired, because it’s a personal experience that is unique to everyone. The only thing you really need to take from this blog is that you shouldn’t walk through the streets with your head down. Open your eyes and observe the world because it’s filled with pieces of the puzzle that is your style.

In (near) future blogs I will be going into much more depth about what you can do as an artist to develop your style, but I hope this overview gives you a little more perspective in the meantime.

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