How to Develop Your Unique Artistic Style
Given the time and resources, I believe anyone can learn to draw, or paint, or write. But making art is more than just studying anatomy, learning to mix paint, and mastering grammar.
There’s a special mental side to making art that deals with voice, style, originality, and authenticity. But the good news is that, in my opinion, you can learn how to master all those things too.
Your artistic style is what makes your work feel like you.
It’s what makes a Picasso feel like a Picasso, and a Hitchcock feel like a Hitchcock.
There are plenty of tutorials online and in books describing step by step how to draw the human body or paint a sunset of film a fight scene.
But there’s no tutorial on finding your voice as an artist.
The reason is that no one really knows the exact steps they took to hone their style, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be much help to anyone but themselves, because your artistic style is totally specific to you.
In fact, it is you.
Just as you develop your Self and become more like “you” as you grow up, your artistic voice is doing the same thing. With every experience you have, your Self changes and grows, and with every piece of art you make, your style changes and grows.
So, although I can’t lay out a step by step guide for you to find your artistic style, I do believe there’s a general progression through an artist’s life, including my own, and I’m going to lay out that progression here.
An Artist’s Style Progression
A quick note here: I’m going to go through the general progression of artistic developments through my life, but this by no means the only or best way to go about it. If you haven’t or aren’t following this path, that’s fine! This is just how I’ve gone about my path. Feel free to forge your own.
Development #1: Honing the Interest
You draw, paint, write, and make a lot of stuff as a child. Eventually you find the basic art form you enjoy making most.
For me, this ended up being drawing.
Development #2: Honing the Craft
Once the interest is planted, you dive in, aiming to improve your craft. You copy other artists, trying to learn how the artwork is made.
For me, this involved copying and drawing a whole lot of Sailor Moon and Pokemon when I was young.
Development #3: Honing Your Taste
You see a piece of art that speaks to you more deeply than anything else has before.
For me, this happened in college when I first saw the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley. I saw it once, in a library, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days.
Development #4: Honing Your Voice
You follow your obsessions and curiosity.
For me this evolved to be mainly scientific topics.
Development #5: Honing Your Style
You notice and pay attention to which elements keep popping up in your artwork.
This leads you to discover what makes a piece of art look like you. This includes color palettes, overall drawing style, textures, voice/subject, and specific techniques.
For me, something really clicked when I began making this weird chevron-ish pencil texture in my work. I began noticing it pop up again and again in my work, and eventually it became a major part of my style.
It’s important to keep in mind here, that this is a continuing development, that can and should keep evolving throughout your life as an artist. I don’t make that chevron pattern as much any more because I’ve since developed other quirks as I’ve changed and my art has changed. But each one will lead you to the next if you follow them.
So those are what I think are the basic developments, but now how do we move through that progression, pushing through each development?
The Step that Makes it All Happen
There’s one crucial step that happens throughout this progression, and without it, nothing will happen and your style will never be found. So what is this secret step to find your artistic style?
It’s making art.
Each development is pushed to the next by making more and more art and noticing the artistic habits you begin to develop.
These habits are the things that just begin happening in your artwork almost in an automatic, subconscious way. The topics that keep popping up, the pencil texture you keep automatically drawing.
THOSE are the things that make up your style.
But you can’t just choose them, you have to find them.
And you find them by making lots and lots of art.
Your style is the result of a honed interest, all the things you’ve absorbed over your lifetime, an appreciation of the art, a refined craft, a sense of curiosity, the ability to notice and follow the leads your work shows you, and finally the repetition of creating art over and over.
To do all that, just make more art.
Your Mistakes Will Guide You
All the failed pieces, all the work you created where you had no idea what you were doing and were totally unhappy with the results — all of that is an essential part of the process, and is exactly what will lead you to finding your artistic voice.
It’s just a matter of persevering through the rough, floundering periods where you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you’re all about. Just like getting through middle school so you can finally be an adult.
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” — Neil Gaiman
Want to know more?
If you want to feel less unsure of and confused about the development of your artistic style, check out my free guide: Making an Influence Map. Creating an Influence Map is a wonderful tool to help discover who we are as artists by reflecting on your earliest roots and influences, giving you clues on where to go next, and reminding you of where you came from, pumping up and ready to go out and make art that feels like you!