Last week I received an email with this question: “How can I find my own style of painting?”
The answer is that your style will find you. You can modify it or steer it in a certain direction, but it will always be your style, just as your handwriting is uniquely yours.
Think back to when you first learned to write as a small child and were struggling to copy the exact shape of each letter. The early results were stiff and awkward. But as you continued and your thoughts went from forming the letters, to putting the letters into words and then into sentences, your childish efforts began to develop into what would be your adult writing style and penmanship. As you were taught the rules of grammar, you developed your own way of expressing your thoughts.
The painting process is the same. The early days of struggling with shape, color and the principles of picture-making will evolve into your own painting style.
Study the work of artists that you admire. Try to feel what they are saying. Does their style fit your personality and how you see the world around you? You can borrow ideas from other artists and blend them into a style that you are willing to work toward. If you choose a style that is contrary to your personality and personal vision, you will not be happy. Some students copy their favorite artists. This is good for studying, but you cannot copy another person’s style and make it your own. Every artist’s style is particular to that person, their emotions and how they interpret their world. But you can borrow bits and pieces.
The biggest hindrance that I have seen over the years of teaching is the insistence of students to copy their reference source exactly as seen. By not interpreting the scene through their senses, they are the child dutifully copying his letters but saying nothing.
Before you begin to paint ask yourself what there is about the subject that caught your attention. What does it say to you? Is it the color? The light effects? The mood? This should be the reason for painting a particular subject, not to show that you can render every detail. Copying is easy; painting how you feel about the subject is the real test. Make changes, be brave. Enjoy the freedom to move or eliminate objects that distract. Make the painting yours.
And take the time to study your finished paintings. Decide what you like and don’t like about your work. Be honest with yourself. Don’t paint to please others. It’s always nice to have someone admire your work, but ultimately you need to please yourself. Like the child struggling with his letters, your painting style will slowly evolve. Just keep painting.