7 Steps to Finding Your Style

Struggling with figuring out who you are as an artist and where your work is going?

1) Set aside studio time.
This is the most important thing you can do to become a professional artist. If you can’t devote non-negotiable studio time, you aren’t going to get very far. You need to make art and more art!

Most artists who have “other jobs” will find this hard, but the commitment is critical. Everyone gives up something to pursue their dreams. If it is difficult to honor your commitment, block out time on your calendar (in ink!) for the week. Treat it as any other appointment and respect this promise to yourself. It’s the first step toward professionalism.

2) Draw. Doodle. Write.
Wherever you go, whatever you are doing, get into the habit. Sketch a scene, write down your responses to other artists. The goal is to keep your pencil on the paper and to capture your brilliance before it disappears.

These days, many artists are gaining insight into their art by blogging. I hear over and over again from artists that the most important reason to keep a blog is for self-discovery. If you’ve tried blogging and it hasn’t really been working for you, check out the Blog Triage class.

3) Look at art.
Look at lots of art! Some people are afraid of copying other artists. Don’t be. How do you think the Old Masters learned? If you do enough of it, you’ll work through the influences and find your own voice. If you missed out on art history classes, consider taking a few at your community college or higher education facility. You can also check out films about art and art history at your local library or through Netflix. Some of my favorites are:

  • Art of the Western World
  • art:21 / Art of the 21st Century (PBS series)
  • American Visions (5 Volumes)
  • Anything from the Sister Wendy series

And check out my popular post about art documentaries.

4) Experiment
You don’t have to make art to sell. You can make art to grow as an artist. Try a new medium, practice a new style, copy a favorite historical work, enlarge or decrease the size, or use a color outside of your normal palette range. You are making art just for you. No one else has to see it.

5) Take a break
It’s difficult to evaluate progress while you’re in the throes of production. Know when it’s time to take a step back, get away and return with fresh eyes.

6) Evaluate
After you have taken a break, look at your work critically to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. What do you like? Not like? Ask a variety of other people (friends, family, strangers, other artists, non-artists, etc.) the same questions. This conversational exercise what I have you do in The Relatively Pain-Free Artist Statement.

7) Repeat
Making good art is the result of being devoted to your craft. Just keep doing all of the above.

(updated March 22, 2010)

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15 comments to 7 Steps to Finding Your Style

  • Two of the best books I’ve read on this are: First, “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. One quote from the book is: “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of NOT working.” A second book is:”If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland. Although the book is “topically” about writing, I’ve found that any “discipline” requires discipline… The subtitle for the book is “A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit.” When I seem to be getting bogged down in “everyone else’s life and work but my own”, I often go back to these two books. Betty Newman

  • Developing our own style is indeed a difficult thing and can take a long time to achieve. A couple of years back, I had been taking a lot of workshops and I started to feel totally confused. There were so many things that I liked and so many techniques that I wanted to try, I didn’t know which way to turn. I decided to stop taking workshops completely for a while and to just work and do my own thing, until I could FIND my own thing. I think I am slowly getting there. I’ve had a few occasions when people have told me they ‘recognized’ my work immediately when they saw it. That’s a good thing.

  • I find that working in many different styles and many different mediums *is* actually a good way to find a personal style. It seems counterintuitive, but there are a few reasons that it works well for me: 1. Techniques and ideas that you learn in one style or medium will apply to others… The things that work most broadly for you are the things that come most naturally from within. 2. The more you know about what is available to you in terms of materials and technique, the more you will discover the ones that best express your vision. 3. When you work in a wide variety of styles or mediums, at first the work may not appear very cohesive. But as you develop a personal style, you’ll be able to see where you consistently show strengths. In a way, it’s easier to see what you should focus on because it will be the one or two things that are most common in otherwise disparate work.

  • It is hard to balance our work with our marketing needs sometimes. I have a shop to watch as well as a custom business and it is sometimes difficult to remember I do all this so I can paint. Jack Canfield has an exercise that is so powerful I highly recommend it–ask people around you a simple question–”How do I limit myself?” Then listen carefully, write down the answers and don’t try to defend yourself. I keep a little list on my drawing table where I can see it often, while I’m working, while I’m taking a phone call, etc. It has helped me immensely. No one told me anything I didn’t know but seeing it written down so simply has helped me recognize the limiting stuff right away. It has helped me focus in on my work and has improved not only my business but the quality of my work. I think with all the artist statements, all the marketing efforts, all the going to galleries and figuring out where our work belongs we sometimes forget we do the art because we have to, we want to…it is us and we are it. Do the work, the rest will follow….(to paraphrase the great “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow”) Mary Richmond

  • Olivera

    Art Style is within ourselves. No one can make it up. You can try but, eventually, your nature signature will arrise on your work. The only way to find your true signature is to work. After learning process about techniques, variety of themes and motifs every artist should figure out what is a true art for them; one should ask oneself and oneself alone – What is a good painting for me? When I finish my work I let it rest for a while, so that I can’t see it, in order to make a distance. After a few days, I give it a brief look – if it is good, it gets a signature – if it isn’t, the work continues. When you finish few pieces, put them together on a wall (you don’t have to hang them) and let them speak for you of your STYLE.

  • Finding time for the studio is one of the most difficult parts of painting. Thank you, Alyson for helping me stay on track! When I haven’t had time to paint, or wonder of wonders, there has been too much time in the studio, I take a break and read inspirational books such as “Awaken the Giant Within”, by Anthony Robbins, or The Sound of Paper, Starting From Scratch” by Julia Cameron or I may choose another artist’s book, for example “Dramatic Light” by Patrick Howe, if I’m having a problem getting the light just right in a painting. Just a few moments of inspiration seems to get my artistic thoughts back in order. Sometimes at shows, I see my paintings together and I think, “you know, I do have a style that is my own”.

  • When students of mine in my painting classes want to find thier ‘style’ I impress upon them the need to open thier minds, to get into the act of painting and not worry about the outcome. If you stay in the moment the outcome will take care of itself. To show no fear and just dive in. Then, when all is done, look at the work, look at many works at the same time, look for those things that happened in the painting(s) that you ‘think’ are happy accidents but are really subconcious actions, those actions are your ‘style.’ Having said that, some times excepting one’s style can be as hard as finding it. You are who you are, you paint as you paint (not talking here about level of ability) so continue to work, to be open, to enjoying the act and let the style come, be excepting and if there is something about your style that really bothers you, work with it, make it better but do not abandon it. That ‘something’ you don’t like now may be what makes your painting stand out among all the others.

  • I missed this post over the holidays and it speaks right to what I am interested in as a teacher and as a (soon-to-be) coach. I know that there are what I call “hard-wired” perceptual and procedural strong suits that we humans arrive with — I think that one’s style starts with these perceptual distinctions — do you walk into a room and notice the color, the quality of light, or is it the energetic movement of the people within it? One potent clue to finding one’s style is to revisit your childhood preferences. Another is to take a measured and intense immersion into materials that have sensory and sensual deep appeal.

  • EXCELLENT ARTICLE Painting every day is the key. Love to Paint, it is the window to my heart. Marcia

  • Deb

    Yes, hard work and dedication.
    Professional artists are the hardest working people I know. Its 24-7 for most of us…if you find me on vacation, my Jullian easel is not far away.
    Deb

  • After a lifetime of making a living as a signpainter, airbrush artist,and tattoo artist, Ive finally gotten to the place where I can slow down and give this fine art stuff a try. Ive never been to art school or had any formal training, but I have painted a lot of pictures, my style is recognizable simply because Ive done so much stuff over the years that people are use to seeing it I guess.Ive never really knew what to classify my art as, I was too busy just doing it and trying to get paid to think about stuff like that. Anyway Im retired now and now just wanting to focus on painting, and hopefully get even better at it. Ive got a bunch of my old stuff at http://www.myspace.com/artbywells it would be real cool if some of you fine artists took a look at it and let me know what you think.

  • [...] yesterday’s post I promised ideas to help you spit shine your image as an artist. Here are 6 steps to finding your artistic style. var shared_object = SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "What is artistic style?", url: [...]

  • Jesse B

    Thank you so much I’m so happy i found a post like this i really was in a jam.^W^

  • [...] I’ve been thinking/talking a lot about finding “my style” and ran across this excellent article about developing your artistic style. I was feeling a little down on myself that I don’t seem to have one and that my art is all [...]