"How do I find my style?" is a question I am often asked by students who have reached a certain level of accomplishment and wonder how to take it further. Wanting to have a recognisable style is only natural really when it comes to creating art. Most of us would like to make our mark and have people notice that it stands out as ours and no-one else’s.
Style had not crossed my mind until I was caught – yet again – in Harrow Art College’s first year life class instead of with the rest of the third year, working on my diploma show. Our head of year, Charles Bartlett (RIP) was endlessly frustrated by my inability to stick to deadlines and briefs. On this occasion he told me, loudly, that my work looked like that of an extremely talented art student. I was quite surprised, and flattered, until he continued to say that unless I adopted a ‘style’ I would never succeed as a commercial artist.
I was quite outraged! Here I was trying really hard to reproduce what I saw and he was telling me that it was so hopeless I should copy someone else? I missed his point at the time, of course.
I now understand what he meant, but I still don’t agree.
There’s always a lot to be learned from studying another artist’s style. It’s good to try and feel the way someone else might have approached a subject, how they held their brush, mixed their colours, how they built up an image or found their inspiration. It is very valuable to let a different approach enrich your own.
I really think that ‘style’ just creeps up on you though. It is born of confidence in your technique and materials. Of practice and experience and just plain hours of slog. And mainly of many, many failures. It comes when you stop worrying about the end result and just get on and have another bash. It develops over time and you don’t even notice it until someone says ‘oh I knew that was one of yours’ and you notice that you’ve actually found your own voice quite by accident.