An artist’s style is like Austin Power’s mojo – without it an artist is lost and has difficulty cultivating a steady client base. Another analogy is the menu at your favorite restaurant – if the menu changes and your “usual” is no longer available, you would probably be dissatisfied and find a place that is more consistent. Basically, an artist’s style is a consistency that his/her patrons come to expect.
I found my style after several years of trying different techniques. I knew I liked color, painterly brush strokes, and texture. I built a portable folding palette so I could transport fully mixed colors with me when I was painting en plein air – a French painting term meaning “in the open air”, a. k. a. painting on location. This allowed me to always have a consistent group of colors. Not until my third time in college (yes, I took a wandering path to my art degree) was I working on an advanced painting project that required me to paint on different grounds (the painting surface is called a ground). I prepared a blue ground, a textured ground, and then tried something new — I painted the third ground red with gold over the top. I was inspired by icons, which are some of the oldest paintings that have survived to this day. To keep costs reasonable I used gold paint instead of gold leaf. I painted on the three grounds and when I put them next to each other, I noticed that the one with the red golden ground stood out from the others, and I knew that my style was born! I don’t always paint en plein-air, but I utilize the ali-prima style in my studio. This streamlines my process and generates reliable results that keep my patrons coming back, and makes commissions easier for everyone, because people know what to expect out of my studio.
So if you are an artist still looking for your style remember you are like a violinist learning vibrato — once you feel it, you will know it. Your style should feel like a part of you, and make your work feel complete. Don’t worry if you haven’t found your style. People used to always ask me what my style was and I couldn’t tell them, except that I liked color and texture. But I kept making paintings and my style just evolved. I have no intention of changing my style, but maybe I will do a few experiments here and there and incorporate a few new tricks I might learn!