How to Develop “Style” (Q&A)

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At Instagram I was asked a lovely question on one of my sketches which went like this: “Odd question, but how did you develop your style? I’d love to see the comparison of some of your old works to current style.” (via shelbyanna16 @Instagram)

As always, I am amazed when anyone finds anything I do interesting enough to even ask questions of it, about it, or of its development into its current state. It is a humbling experience and one which brings me great joy.

I was asked a similar question via my ask.fm, of which some I will incorporate here, as my feelings are no different, though I will go in a bit more detail here than there.

With that, let’s get talking about style! *wiggles fingers dramatically*

First off, your question is not odd Shelby. All questions are welcome in this very broad and often strange, place that is the art community. From professionals to amateurs, art develops differently for different people. Even people with similar styles do not come to them the same way, nor have gone through the exact same experiences to bring them to their current state. This is important to remember.

Style, in its loosest sense, is as diverse as the people under heaven. We are each unique even in our sameness, and for each man or woman who speaks with a similar voice, there comes a slightly different cadence, a change in key, or a new perspective. Style is the art version of voice for writers. How you write, how you speak on paper, is just as much an indication of your personality, or goals, as is your style.

Style is a broad subject to which few know how to define, or seek to define it. Some consider it but an expression of self, others something taught with time, some even consider it a non-existent. But these, too, are broad expressions of a term few have ever defined clearly, but to which every artist, or non-artist, uses on a regular basis. For something so basic you would think we would know what it truly means, but that is the thing with common vernacular–it at times get so generalized we all use it because other people use it without truly figuring out why we would use it personally.

Though I will not solve this dilemma now and but add a new voice to the cacophony, to me, style is a mixture of multitudes–it is apart of you, but outside of you. Your style changes as you do, or, I believe, it should. My artwork of yesteryear is not the same as today, in this moment–and that is good, for this is growth. As we develop as people–so too should our art–and this includes style. Many claim that style should set you apart, make you distinct, a brand, if you will. And while this is a good thing to consider, it is this advice that often makes new artists feel bogged down. How can one “make” a style that is distinct if they don’t even know where to begin? Or better yet, should we really focus on style at all?

I believe we shouldn’t. And here’s why–style should come to you from practice, study, and observation. If you do not like how you draw noses, you should be allowed to change it–not be stuck to one style because somehow it is “distinctive.” And what does that mean? Does that mean we make weird stick people? Do we shade in strange ways? Do we somehow go so realistic it is “distinct?” Is it mark-making? Is it something more simple, broad?

Developing “style” should never be a process to which we focus so fully on we lose the point–to connect to our viewers, to express the world through new eyes, to show the world as it is in ways that are akin to metaphor. Art is metaphor in its best self. It is something to which we see to look beyond it to something greater. It is not the sum of its parts–art should not remain stagnant. And your message should always be greater than what your style is. Because as you find what you wish to say–your style comes with it.

When you practice, you gain experience, and you garner good tools to continue to experiment, and stretch your muscles. Style should never be the thing we seek to develop but to allow it to instinctively come to us as our art tells us we should change. As we grow as people, as individuals, we should let out style change itself as easily, as powerfully.

Yes, I do believe there is a need for conscious effort to develop the “voice” we wish to develop with our art, but I also believe that the worst thing I could ever say is to focus solely on style, because in the end, if you are true to yourself, to developing, to grow, then developing a style is side-effect of such efforts.

Some artists believed that to find the image was the most important thing, to constantly work their pieces until there came a thing amidst the scribbles and circles. And there he hoped to find what he was looking for. We must find our image, and if that means practicing our shapes, our shading, our colors–then we should. Style should never be a thing forced, but a thing found. It should be an extension of yourself, a true thing, not a falsity. Do not hide behind what you believe is “liked” by others but be true to what is honestly you–to what you either wish to aspire to or to which you believe expresses the messages and meanings you believe are paramount to your work.

A horrible mistake to make is to not let your art speak for itself. If you control it too much you lose the beauty of spontaneity. You lose the honest work of finding your voice and letting your art speak to you as it may speak to others. If you are deaf to even what your work says about you then you have failed on the basic of levels.

In the simplest of terms–as I change inspirations, as I garner new experiences, methods, then I gain more information to work with, to experiment with, to play with. And as I gain more information, as I change interests, my artwork gains nuances, and as the layers cake over I gain something–new perspective, and new growth. This is style at its finest. Style is never a step by step process of point A to point B but rather as a grand adventure that you yourself embark on in this thing called life.

Walk your path, take steps forward, and grow.

The more I have come to listen–then more I have come to learn. And developing my style I feel is an act of growth and maturity. My style has come from all my past selves, and is a fulfillment of their wish, if minuscule, to be wholly myself and to never settle for stagnation.

The short answer: I studied others, sought out my own voice, dwelled on what I wished my work to become, and I sat down–and got to work. Practice might not make perfect, but it certainly comes close. And the comfort in all this: I am in the making. And to grow is the greatest achievement I can say my style has ever developed.

You are in the making, remember this. You are not fully made yet, and as you grow–you gain wisdom, you gain perspective. And if you are wise, your art will grow with you. Your personal life and your art life are woven together–do not neglect one for the other. As you draw or paint you gain perspective–find answers you never sought, hear questions you never thought you asked, and as you read, walk through life, talk to others, you find inspiration, definitions to terms you longed used but hardly knew.

I apologize if this is not the answer you sought, a step by step guide to gaining a style similar to mine, or some other thing, but this is the truth of the matter–as I have grown, changed, then my art grew with me, and as I have honed in on what I want–my art has reflected this.

That said, if you wish for a list of inspirations, pointers, or other odds and ends then I am more than happy to oblige, as these too added to my growth and “style,” no doubt. But remember–style should never be the first question, it should be the fulfillment of your pursuits and good mark-making.

Get your hands dirty, dig down deep, and find what you have found important to say, to remind, to recall. And you will find your voice, your style, within it. Let it speak back to you through the echoes of your mind, and you may find that style was never really the goal–but its treasured side-effect.

For funsies, here are some years of progress shots from 2013 to now. (Only a few–I have uploaded multiple ones for this year for more fun-times).

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