“How do I develop a unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?”
Recently, while I was setting up for a morning workshop demonstration, a student asked me the following question; “How do I develop my own unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?”
I responded to her while arranging my art materials for the morning with a handful of ideas. I want to share them with you now. Here are five ways to cultivate your creative voice.
1. Establish a Rhythm. When you are working toward the development of your own artistic voice, the first pillar to establish is regular working habits. Consistent work will bring you both confidence and momentum in the development of your artistic voice. Take out your calendar and schedule weekly studio time. This is a critical step in the process that should not be ignored. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like a phony and spending valuable energy second guessing yourself. Regular work cultivates the confidence and momentum you need to continue growing.
2. Gain Inspiration. Discovering your own creative voice requires an understanding of what inspires you. So be sure to fill up your inspiration tank! Who’s your favorite artist? What moves you about their work? Describe it, write it down. What is your favorite painting? Do you remember the way you felt when you first saw it? I remember viewing an exhibition by John Singer Sargeant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 25. It permanently altered my creative journey. Why not try copying a favorite painting, just to understand the artist’s mindset and methodology in the work. This is a process of sensitizing yourself to your own artistic tastes, and then moving toward the subjects, textures, colors, shapes, designs, and even finish quality that moves you. Describe how you want to make others feel when they view your work. It can also be helpful to articulate what kind of art you don’t like, and stay away from it in your work! Try creating a mood board of your favorite colors and paintings, textures and surfaces, subjects and designs, and then hang it in your studio to keep you motivated. Get really clear about what you love, so you are moving toward this in your own personal work.
3. Be An Explorer. Your artistic voice needs space and time to engage in creative play that allows you to explore new territory. This is when you paint just for yourself. Not for the client or the exhibition or the accolades, but for the pure joy of creating. These other motivations can nurture a performance mindset that obscures our true artistic voice. Basically, we are trying to impress people instead of painting what we love. I don’t know about you, but when I’m performing for approval, I put on a mask. I hope you don’t make this mistake the same way I have. Instead, put on your favorite music, turn off Facebook Live, take off the mask and allow yourself to explore your creative passion. Be an explorer for a while instead of a performer. In time, amazing things begin to happen as you cultivate this type of creativity. Honest work emerges. Authentic expression develops. You discover your voice.
4. Get Feedback (from people you trust) It is very difficult to both create and critique your own work toward the development of a unique personal style. As artists, we have a tendency of getting in our own heads. What we often need is the encouragement of others! A great way to do this is to connect with other artists that share your passion and get valuable feedback from them on your work. I joined the CT Pastel Society as a young artist and made wonderful lifelong friends who have encouraged my creative development in powerful ways. Early on, I connected with a few artists at my church. We shared our work with one another, spurring each other on to develop our potential. Not only was I greatly encouraged, but I was able to provide encouragement to others as well. You could be a fantastic source of inspiration to someone else in their own creative development! Here’s the truth, you’ll often be the last one to see the genius in your work. But others will point it out right away. You’ll discount that little painting you made during your personal studio time, thinking, “It’s not even finished, what a mess!” Then your friend will see it and say, “don’t touch it, I love it!” This feedback is invaluable, and creates a trail of breadcrumbs along the way to realizing your own unique style.
5. Be Patient. Your inner creative voice is more like a dove than a peacock early on. It’s not audacious and showy. It’s sensitive, avoids attention and can get scared away easily at first. You need to give yourself time and space to develop naturally, and trust that consistent, honest work will encourage the dove out of its cage. Forcing it is never a good idea. Give yourself permission to research, explore, create, copy, share, review, revise as well as rest and renew your senses. Before long, you’ll find yourself soaring with a unique creative voice of your own.
I hope these five points will encourage you in the development of your own personal style. Don’t give up, keep on painting, and keep pursuing your passion!