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Finding Your Personal Style

19 Feb 2010

It’s often said that artists don’t find their personal style—it finds them. Although I agree with this statement, I found in my experience that individual style develops only after a number of other tasks are accomplished.

All professional artists began as novices, and for many the first step to becoming proficient was receiving instruction in basic artistic principles, and learning how to handle their chosen medium. After I learned the basics of watercolor, I began to experiment with a variety of subject matter. At first, my painting efforts were quite clumsy, but I was determined to hang in there for at least five years before giving up on "getting good". After several years of working with watercolor transparently, my confidence with watermedia grew, eventually leading to my experimenting with opaque media (acrylic and gouache) on paper.

A signature style can’t be forced; it develops naturally over time. This development, however, usually begins with knowledge, followed by practice, and finally, experimentation. Some artists seem to find their style after just a few years. It took me more than 10 years, but I'm a slow learner. My own style started to emerge once I focused on one subject matter. At that time, it was still life. Now I’ve added landscape and figurative subjects to my repertoire, and work in acrylic and oil, in addition transparent watercolor. Regardless of the subject, there is a thread of similarity throughout my body of work. This only appeared after I learned the principles of light, shadow, color and edges; then spent several years of employing these principles in my work; and finally after adapting and using techniques I’d learned in new and exciting ways.

Even after reaching a professional level, some artists continue to seek advice from more experienced peers throughout their careers. I have always been a willing art student and plan to continue learning the principles of art from those who are more experienced than I am. The wonderful thing about developing my skills while I paint full-time is that I've not only gained a recognizable style but also continue to learn new painting techniques. Whenever I’m faced with a challenge, I always keep in mind that every artist, no matter how advanced, started out as a beginner.

Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Woodword’s work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.


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Comments

John Cogan wrote
on 19 Feb 2010 8:37 AM

You are right, Lori.  We never can stop learning and our style, though 'mature' at some point, is something we will continue to refine as long as we produce art.

on 19 Feb 2010 11:53 AM

John, thank you for your comment on this forum. It's always nice to know that seasoned professional master painters - such as yourself - are striving to become even more masterful.

I've been admiring your paintings for many years - amazing that they're painted in acrylic. If anyone on here wants to see representational landscapes painted expertly in acrylic, check out John Cogan's website.

Karyn wrote
on 19 Feb 2010 1:16 PM

Very true, Lori.  Its a concept that I keep running across in different artist statements and interview.  They have all spent the time in the studio learning the elements, practicing with the medium before their own style comes out.  

Margo5 wrote
on 21 Feb 2010 7:04 PM

Lori, thank you for this article. I try not to be concerned about style at this point because I am having so much fun learning. I think if I had been told in third grade that I could spend the rest of my life learning about art and that my math and history books would all have something to do with art, I probably would have died of happiness on the spot.

Stepheybaker wrote
on 8 Aug 2010 6:08 AM

Thank you for this post. I so agree with you in that a personal style is unable to develop until having a handle on a medium. You gotta first learn the tools, experiment, play, fail, know what to do by knowing what not to do and then you're ready to bring forward your vision. From your vision a style emerges that illustrates the story you're expressing. Now that story can be the language of light, shape, form, emotion - the sky is the limit - but what brings that vision into clarity, into a style, is having a sense of what your creating on the page to begin with. Until then it is just art for arts sake.

bries wrote
on 8 Jan 2011 6:11 PM

Great article...I will keep that in mind.