What is your painting style?

At some point in your painting career, you’ll wonder if you’ve got a painting style.  Would someone be able to point to one your paintings and say, “Oh, that’s a John Smith!”  It’s always nice to be known for a certain style but many of us find it difficult to recognize our own.  The following are some of my thoughts and observations about this.

  • Your style is like your signature, a certain way of handling your materials, your brush strokes, maybe your palette, or your subject matter.
  • It may take years to develop a recognizable style.  In the meanwhile, most artists experiment with many types of painting, often copying our favorite painters.  This is a great way to see what excites you and to test the waters.  How did Monet capture that light?  How did Picasso make the most of his materials?  Eventually you’ll find a style that suits you.
  • Your style may…and probably will…evolve over time.  It’s pretty unusual for an artist to find one particular way of painting and to never change again.
  • While your work may change over time and while you are having fun learning how other painters create, at some point it’s a good idea to focus on one style for a while.  When an artist shows me a portfolio with a mishmash of subject matter, techniques, and mediums, and who exclaims, “I can paint anything!” the first thought I have is “amateur.”
  • You need to focus.  What are you passionate about?  What is your emotional connection?  What reaches into your chest and grabs your heart?  That is what you need to paint.  At least for a while.
  • Build up a body of work.  Do maybe twenty paintings that are similar in technique, subject matter, medium, etc.  Some people say to create as many as 100, which seems a little excessive to me but, well, whatever works for you.  You just need to prove that you have the tenacity to focus to create a body of work.
  • Stand your paintings around the room and ask a trusted friend, preferably a knowledgeable artist or teacher to give you their honest opinion.  How would they describe your work?  What are its strengths, weaknesses?  Close relatives are usually not good at this because they love everything you do.  And beware of someone who may have an ax to grind.  You definitely do not need their opinions to undermine your self-confidence.
  • Listen to what they say.  If someone says, “That’s an awful lot of yellow in your work,” maybe you need to reevaluate.  Or if you’re aiming for super realism, and your friend says, maybe the shape on that bottle could be worked on, that means you need to work on your drawing skills some more.
  • And finally, as I have said before, be kind to yourself.  Your work is continually evolving and that’s OK.  You may still be sailing for the horizon which continually moves beyond you.  Sometimes you need to stop and take a reckoning of how far you’ve come already.

There is a lot of other advice about how to identify or create your style, but these tips will provide you with the basics.  Please let me know if this posting is helpful to you or if you have any other questions.

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