I get asked a lot how I developed my own ‘style’ and why it is important to have one as an artist so I am sharing my own take on how I feel about that from two points of view: One from a Creative view and the other from a Working Artist View.
Exploration is a deeply important part of the creative process. Many humans thrive from the journey that trying ideas out, combinations out, or theories out gives them. For 15 years I have been a painter but I didn’t land on a ‘style’ until about 5 years ago. There are reasons for that I will share in a bit. What is important to share first though is that for the first 10 years or so, I was fully engaged in the exploratory process of being a painter and finding my way, and studying to become the best painter I could be. I was not relying on my painting practice to pay the bills, feed my family, or pay my rent. I sold pieces, but selling was not my motivation during that time, finding myself as an artist was.
The creative process of freedom and trying many things fed my soul and during those years, I laid the foundation for a much different practice that was ahead, even without knowing it. Many beginning artists jump right out of the gate wanting to sell without building their skill sets or actually learning how to paint in a way that their spirit longs for. There is nothing wrong with either, as we are all free to create and do exactly what we want with our talents. With that said, the minute one chooses to make a living as a working artist, to depend on that income solely for their livelihood, much of that changes. Exploration has to become bed partners with devotion to craft, strong business skills, and a visual language that becomes consistent from piece to piece.
All of these options depend on one important thing – INTENTION.
If your intention is to paint and create and enjoy the creative process and journey without a strong connection to making money, then you are free to explore and try umpteen different things and ways of creating. There is so much freedom in that.
If your intention is to sell what you make, especially to sell what you make as your main source of income, you must begin to understand that there is a market and industry with guidelines and expectations that you have to meander through at times. Having your own visual language or style is one of those expectations that is an important part of that for most artists.
A strong visual style helps you show commitment to craft over time, and investors or customers buy in to that as a professional practice.
A strong visual style helps you convey your specific point of view as an artist. Truly understanding why you paint the way you paint, gives you a dialogue to articulate that point of view to an audience, and it builds confidence in your investors and customers.
A strong visual style helps galleries or licensing manufacturers market your work as an established, serious artist. They are in the business to make money and your product having a cohesive visual language helps them sell your work. When an artist is all over the place artistically, it conveys to some buyers or markets that the artist is still learning or in an amateur phase. (No judgement there, just the reality of the market.)
A strong visual style helps you stand out among a really tough, competitive market. There are tons and tons of painters in our world. Many who are successful may not have as much training or skill as you, but I can bet they paint a lot, they market the hell out of their work, and they convey a devotion to craft and process. That devotion resonates with a huge amount of people and their devotion to craft helps their visual style become confident.
A strong visual style helps you convey your brand to a market, and yes, branding matters. There will always be family and friends who support you and buy your work up to a point, but when you saturate that market, you better have a long term business plan and action steps for growth or your success will fizzle. Developing your style helps your brain and heart connect to create in a way that is confident and strong. That confidences builds success over time.
Do you have to have a ‘style’ to be successful as an artist, not, not really. But most every successful artist that I know who is making a beautiful living as a working artist has one, and a strong plan for their business. The combination is crucial to long term success.
I work with professional artists and artists choosing to move from exploratory to professional quite a bit and we pick apart all of these concepts above because they are truly important to be aware of. Decide what your intention is as a Creative, then choose how you want that to look as an artist. If making a living as an artist is what you are longing for, start asking yourself what are you willing to do to develop your visual language and give yourself time for it to evolve while you paint your way into knowing.
Would love to know your thoughts on this! My experience has been my own and there are many more aspects of this that I will share over the coming months. What is your take around the importance of developing a visual style?