Monday, 28 May 2012

I have no STYLE

"Look what I found"  pastel on Wallis 
I was recently asked by someone "how do I develop my own style?".  I feel this is worth thinking about for a few minutes.

I once went to an exhibition where someone had clearly forced a style to their work. Everything they produced was painted with a herringbone pattern. Every piece looked like fabric! What on earth is the point of that, I thought? Just style for the sake of it.

I also watched another tutor on a painting holiday, I arrived on his last day. He took his students out into the fields, and they watched him paint. Then, they had to paint exactly what he had painted, in exactly the same way. ......???? Apparently they had done this every day. I guess this might help a beginner to familiarise themselves with techniques, but I am not convinced it will necessarily help anyone develop their own approach. 

I  recommend to my students to take a little look around the internet at the works of other artists. sketches, and Paintings.  I ask them to see if they can isolate what it is about the works they find that makes the work recognisable from each artist. They have reported back similarities of mark-making or brushwork; they also found similarities of intention - a search for a particular quality of light, or repetition of particular subject matter.  I have included, in this blog, some of my "kids on the beach" pictures.  I think the similarities are fairly obvious.  

"View of the Sea"
pastel on Wallis paper

There is absolutely no need to go "searching" for a particular style. Just keep painting, pursue your personal interests in terms of subject, you DO have a certain style all ready, and the fact that you cannot see it is actually unimportant. In fact, if you try to "find" a style, you will simply stop working naturally, your work will run the risk of looking contrived and forced. You have to stop worrying about style and just do what you do to the best of your ability. It is VITAL to keep reading, keep learning, and put that learning into practice, THAT is more important than looking for "style".

Having said that.......your own style will automatically be more visible if you tackle a SERIES.  When you do this, you will find that each painting or sketch you make will have recognisable attributes that make it obvious they were painted or drawn by the same person. I have always found this to be the case. Here are some ideas for a series :

STILL LIFE with flowers, fruits, jugs and bowls (or other objects of a similar nature). Change the flowers but keep using the same objects in different set-ups. Or use something specific, like an oil lamp, or a favourite pot, or a certain fruit,   which appears in each of, say, six images.

STILL LIFE with particular objects that have some significance for you.  Could be anything.  Eggs.  Marbles.  Glass.  Feathers. Musical instruments.  You name it, the world is your oyster.  Oysters.......there's an idea.........

LANDSCAPE - find a particular location that you enjoy, simply move your head in one direction or the other, there will be loads of different compositions if you do this, but all will have similarities because of the similarities in the location.

PAINT THE SAME SCENE at different times of day.

Try street scenes

Try Cafe scenes

Try beach scenes.

paint or sketch birds, or animals, if you like them.

Whatever your choice, do at least six of each. 

Have fun. Don't think about style. It is there, even if you cannot see it yourself.

"Sisters on the rocks"  Pastel on Wallis paper.

Incidentally, in case anyone was wondering, the ballet dancer image that I offered for sale at the end of my last blog post, has in fact been sold and is on its way to a new home now!  Watch this space for more.


  1. Fabulous post...your posts are always so informative and interesting...I love your blog:)
    Have a nice Monday...

    1. so glad you enjoy the blog Cynthia. It is feedback like this that keeps me going! I WILL have a nice Monday NOW.

  2. I enjoy this post Jackie. I try to learn pastel secrets from other painters and I have notice this style come up from their work when they make similar themes.

    I do happen to make a project of 4 still lifes using as common element a metal plate. One with fruits, the other with chocolates, another with some roses and a little bird and the forth with a branch of olive tree and a sparrow.

    I do not know if they have a recognizable style, but I had a lot of fun painting them.

    1. I am sure your own style is obvious to others. The important thing is not to worry about it!

  3. I think style comes when you stop trying to imitate art you like and just paint with your passion. I teach beginners. There's a point when they need to be taught and then in time their own creativity takes over. I can recognize their style from their first paintings. It's like one's signature. The way people apply paint is unique to each.

    Style is not a bad thing. A reputable gallery won't begin to take on one's work if they haven't found their own voice yet. They want to see consistency in their artist's work.

  4. Wise words, Susan. I totally agree with everything you say. As for finding one's own voice...that comes with time and many, many paintings!

  5. I think once an artist stops showing their influences and simply works, that's when they've started to mature. My own work is not at all consistent, in terms of what I do, materials I use, where I might go next,but it's clearly all the work of one artist, not a series of copies! I notice similar lines and forms appearing in my own work no matter what medium.

    I do think it's a mistake to ask beginners to imitate anything, though. To learn materials and approaches is fine, but for finished works, they really need to develop confidence. I've seen too many people stuck, after years, still looking for works to copy, not enough confidence to launch into their own work. And even the loveliest copy is not art!

  6. Good post! And I really like the last painting of "Sisters on the rock" It's lovely.

  7. thanks very much everyone. Clearly a popular post! I have enjoyed all the replies, lots of good comments and food for thought. Lynn, glad you like that pic, I really enjoyed painting those girls. I sat on a beach in South Africa where they were playing, did sketches, took a few photos, and eventually created a series of images from that reference material. I think I did about six or seven in all.

  8. I've heard people ask about when their style will show up. I myself have no idea really what style is. I see your kid paintings all have kids bent over looking at something with their faces not even in view. I happen to like this view and take m photos of my family like tis often but is that what you mean by style? Or is it how you lay down the pastels and is it recognizable through various mediums? My daughter tells me she can pick my work out of any class line up I am in. She says it's because I make something a little off in some way. I sure don't mean to and don't really think I do but it's okay. I don't care about having a style as In paint for fun and still have tons to learn anyhow. Just to be painting and drawing after years of thinking I couldn't is reward enough!

  9. timaree, it is more than just showing kids with faces turned away. look up DEGAS on the internet. Can you look at one of his paintings and know it was painted by him? I think probably so, after you had looked at quite a few of them. What about Toulouse Lautrec? even someone like David Hockney? or think about some of the most famous US artists over the generations -Norman Rockwell springs to mind.... in every case, I think you would find the work recognisable even if you could not see the signature. THAT is having a certain kind of style.

  10. Jackie,
    Thanks for your post on this subject. My students are always asking me this question about style. I will be sharing your post on Facebook because many of them are connected to me there... and many other artists that can benefit from your article. Your work is always inspirational and your words even more so!

  11. Hi Jackie,

    This is quite an interesting topic.

    Like Susan Roux, I teach beginners. In the first drawing class we talk about how each person's way of making marks is different than anyone else due to many factors: how they are feeling that day, which hand they use, different body mechanics, even how much caffeine they've had that morning.
    In a way, their personality is evident in each drawing. Timid, aggressive, unsure, courageous, perfectionist, unfocused - all on display for everyone to see.

    Within the first week of class, it's apparent who did each drawing, even if it isn't signed. I think these natural differences are the beginning of "style."

    As you said, we don't have to worry about developing style, we just have to keep practicing our craft.

    Thanks for a lively discussion!

    Jaime Howard

  12. wow, this has really turned into the most commented-upon post to date, obviously it is something many people think, or worry about. I love Jamie's comment...yes, perhaps it does depend on personality! Mind you....having said that...most people say that my paintings are "peaceful" - yet I have never thought of myself as a peaceful person, I am full of anxt...yet it does not seem to transmit into my work. Odd that. Maybe I am not as anxt-ridden as I think....or maybe I am less adventurous than I should be and instead of "peaceful" read "careful". Food for thought!

  13. Rather than creating my own "style" I prefer to think I'm realizing my own personal vision. My view of the world, how I feel about it and what I find interesting. This could be considered finding your "voice". Once you've tapped into that inner vision and begin to give expression to what as the most meaning for you, your style will follow.

  14. It's a great topic jackie. When I started to take my drawing and painting more seriously I felt I was lacking a style, particularly from working in commercial design for so long. I struggled with - am I painting something other people will like or am I painting in a style that excites me?

    Then I thought do I really want a style that I will have to stick to from now on or do I like being able to mix it up all the time? I totally believe in trusting your own instincts and allowing yourself the time to try anything and everything - mediums, subject matter, etc.

    I think you know if you've "found" it when there's this rush of adrenalin after you've finished one piece and all you want to do to is keep going again and again. It worked for me. Cheers! And love the artwork.

  15. thanks for the lively comments, everyone.

  16. Hello from Turkey... I admire both your work and the way you teach - inpiring and encouraging, thank you very much...


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