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How to Make it as an Artist: Part 8

Finding your own individual and easily recognizable style is one of the hardest, yet most important tasks as an artists.  Wether it's as a painter, a sculptor, wood worker, writer or singer/songwriter, being recognizably unique is one of the most effective ways gain a fan base.  If your art looks or sounds like everybody elses then you don't have a competative advantage. Unfortunately, as in all types of business, it IS a competition!  No matter how much you want to ignore that fact you have to face it to realize that you are trying to gain peoples attention with your art.  Now that sounds kind of lame and not really as free spirited artsy fartsy as you would probably like, but it doesn't have to be that way.  It's all a matter of perspective.  And this can be the driving force you need to keep progressing as an artist.

It can be really fun as an artist to experiement with your style, your business plan and your way of life.  If you want to be unique you need to think outside the box.  For most people the box is dictated to them.  They only listen to popular music that they are spoon fed through the radio and television, follow the latest fashion trends from magazines, believe all the news they see on TV, live the latest health trends and pretty much follow the 'normal' societal path that everyone else does because they don't want to stand out and don't want to use their brains to seek out their own passions and CREATE their own paths.  As an artist it should be your desire to seek out all things new and different and create never before works of art.  You need to zig when everyone else zags in order for them to take notice.  And you need to do it with style!

Have you ever had people look at your art and say "that reminds me of so and so!" or "that's very Picasso-esque" or any other number of comparisons?  If so, then perhaps you need to do a little tweaking... unless you are trying to look like someone elses work :)  Over the past 3 summers I have been teaching art through the Whistler Arts Council as well as in private classes.  Primarily I have been teaching colour theory and how to create unique colours as oppossed to teaching specifics in my style, like how to paint a tree or how to capture water.  I believe that when you learn how to paint like someone else then you will always paint LIKE them.  It's often good to study another artists work to see how they treat colour or form, but it's important not to adopt their style.  Everyone's style should be unique in it's own right.  We all have unique brains and have had entirely unique experiences in our lifetimes so there is no reason that we should create artwork that is the same, or at least highly similar.  How boring would it be to walk into a gallery for a group exhibit and being all excited to see 30 different artists work only to discover that you can't tell the difference between any of the artists?  Well, it does happen from time to time unfortunately.  And that is where you and your own style come into play.

When artists are first starting out they tend to do all sorts of experiements with their work.  One day they do a still life, the next a portrait, the next a landscape and then an abstract piece.  This is important in the development of your own style, but can be frustrating for you because it may just seem like you are pumping out a bunch of random pieces.  Everytime you go outside the box of what you know and try to do something different, as long as you pay attention, you strengthen your artistic knowledge as a whole.  From the time I started down my artistic path many years ago I have played with pencil, acrylic, oil, water colour, film, digital, spray paint and sculpture.  Each time I tried a new medium I almost always started off trying to create with the same methods I use for acrylic painting... usually with disasterous results!  Every medium has it's own little tricks as well as it's own little lessons!  If you pay attention to your mistakes and experiments in new mediums then you will most likely learn not only how to work in those mediums better, but also fundamentaly how you think as an artist. Pay attention to the patterns you use in the creative process in all mediums and you will surely begin to understand how your brain works, especially in your favoured medium.

As had mentioned before, keeping a photographic record of all of your work over the years is really important to understand and develop your style.  If you look back at all of the pieces you have done since you started you will probably notice certain characteristics that are similar between a large number of your pieces.  It may be the colours you choose, the style of brush strokes you use, or perhaps certain patterns you follow.  If you notice this style tren in your work then this is probably indicative of how your brain works in the creative process.  Instead of continually trying something new so that there are no concious comparisons and similarities in your work I would reccommend focusing on what ever the similarities you have noticed are.  One of the best things you can do to really define your style that I have found is to paint the same painting over and over 3-5 times.  What??/ that sound boring you say?!... well it kind of is, but... if you take the time to do this and improve upon one thing in the piece each time you can train yourself to become familiar with the way your brain thinks.  If you keep changing your colours, your themes and brushes in each new painting it will take you way longer to determine how you define your style.  After you have done this excercise, and you only need to do it once, then you have all of the pieces to sit side by side so you can compare what it is that you like about the piece and what technique you used to create it.  Looking back at what you have created in the path is a very powerful way to steer your art in the present.

If you have a favorite piece you have created that you feel really speaks to you then have a picture of that piece for refference when you are doing any new pieces.  Kind of the same way you might have a Dali painitng or a Lauren Harris taped to your easel when you try to emmulate their style.  But instead of emulating someone else's style you are emulating your own.  If you keep this up as you progress and change up the pictures you use as refference as new favorites come into play then you will most certainly be developing your own style and not copying someone else's.  Then sooner rather than later as you show your work more often at shows, markets and online, people will begin to recognize your work as belonging to you and not just a group of artists with similar styles.  And viola... you have a competative advantage!

You will find out after a while of market research what it is about your art and what types of pieces people relate to most.  If you keep painting pieces that are similar and they keep selling then you have a choice to make.  Do you just keep making the pieces that sell, but are all pretty much the same?  This can be fun at the start while you are finally making lots of money from your art, but for some it can wear you down and begin to feel like work and not passion anymore because you are just doing a repetative action and are more or less like a factory worker than an artist.  Or do you follow your passion and take a chance with every new and exciting piece?  This drives your creative spark and gives you a feeling of purpose, but not always $$ in the pocket!  Thanks to print making though you can kind of have the best of both worlds.  That somehwat steady trickle of income can help you cover bills while you work on your new pieces.  Some may be happy just mass producing the same piece if it's a big seller and some may be driven nuts by that.   Having that balance of sure fire winners and adventurous new pieces is a personal journey that you can only figure out over time. It's kind of like when you were a kid and you try to stand in the middle of a teeter totter and find the perfect balance in the middle.  When you first lift the one side off the ground it's momentum causes you to over compensate in the opposite direction.  This back and forth goes on for a little while and then after a bit of work, you find that perfect balance.  The scales can tip from side to side when you are met with distractions and interference from friends or others on the playground, but each time through practice you can regain that balance faster and faster each time with conscious focus!

After you feel confident in your uniqueness and you have found your own personal balance you will most likely find that a new fire is burning within you that drives you to keep pushing your style and progessing in your own field.  Once this fire is buring within you you are set. You are following your passion, you ARE an artist!  It's time for you to enjoy the freedom that you have created with your mind!

Once you reach this state pat yourself on the back, but don't just stop there.  As in all aspects of life it is very important to be appreciative and grateful of where you are, what you have and especially WHO helped you along the way in getting there.  In my next blog I go into further detail on this subject.  

       Until then,  HAPPY CREATING!!

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