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Finding Your Style – What’s The Secret?

“How do I find my style?” is a question I get asked from time to time. The easy answer to finding your style – which is really your artistic voice – is to paint, to do the work. But is it really that easy? I’ve put some thought into this question and created this video to give you some ideas and tips on the ‘finding your style’ journey.

 


 

For quick reference, here are the 10 tips I mention in the video for finding your style.

  1. Know Thy Tools
  2. Practise Technique
  3. Understand Basic Painting Principles
  4. Practise Drawing
  5. Take Workshops and Classes
  6. Explore Different Subjects, Different Palettes
  7. Take Risks
  8. Let One Piece Emerge From The Last
  9. Be Curious About the World
  10. Look at Art Through the Ages

 

I mention in the video that your style is constantly evolving. I had a style when I first started working in pastels. Part of the style was dictated by my technique and part by my materials (I was working on mat board).

Here are some pastel landscapes showing how I was working about 20 years ago.

Finding your style: Gail Sibley, Fulford Harbour, c.1995, pastel on mat board, size unknown
Gail Sibley, Fulford Harbour, c.1995, pastel on mat board, size unknown

 

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Garden Gate," c. 1996, pastel on mat board, approx 16 x 20 in
Gail Sibley, “Garden Gate,” c. 1996, pastel on mat board, approx 16 x 20 in

 

I then took a couple workshops  and it was the one that I took with Doug Dawson that really transformed the way I worked. Here’s an example of a piece I did soon after his workshop. This was when I began working in layers of colour.

 

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Wood Shed," c. 2004, pastel on Wallis paper, 9 x 12 in
Gail Sibley, “Wood Shed,” c. 2004, pastel on Wallis paper, 9 x 12 in (done en plein air)

 

And here are examples of more recent landscapes. These two were created for the DK book, Artists Drawing Techniques.

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Summer Evening in Budapest," Unison pastels on UART 320 paper
Gail Sibley, “Summer Evening in Budapest,” Unison pastels on UART 320 paper

 

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Birds on the Water Tank," Unison pastels on UART 320 paper
Gail Sibley, “Birds on the Water Tank,” Unison pastels on UART 320 paper

 

More recently, along with work from direct observation, I’ve been playing around with abstracting the figure and the landscape, and creating more in conversation with the painting.

Here are two examples of that.

 

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Breaking Out - #6 in Emergence series," pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 9 in
Gail Sibley, “Breaking Out – #6 in Emergence series,” pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 9 in

 

Finding Your Style: Gail Sibley, "Path to the Lake," Unison pastels on UART 400 paper, approx 12 x 7 in
Gail Sibley, “Path to the Lake,” Unison pastels on UART 400 paper, approx 12 x 7 in

 

So you see, style evolves as you yourself grow from life experienced. Sometimes a place of comfort becomes uncomfortable in its familiarity and you yearn to break out and do something else. So do it! An example of an artist who did that was Arlene Richman. You can read her guest blog which shows her the transformation of her style (it may surprise you!).

 

One of the things I didn’t mention in the video was that you may already have a style. Viewers might recognize it before you do. They see a piece by you and already know it’s yours. Ever had that happen? Then you have your style!!

 

That’s it for this time. I’d love to hear from you. Have you found your style? Are there any tips you’d like to share about finding your style? Please leave a comment!

 

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

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Comments

38 thoughts on “Finding Your Style – What’s The Secret?”

    1. Thanks Ed! Glad you Like “Garden Gate.” That was always a favourite of mine! Interestingly, the owners of the painting saw it at a show then a year later told me they’d been thinking about it all year and decided they couldn’t live without it!

  1. Hi Gail,
    I really like how you explain those things with full passion and gesture 😉
    After a long time it’s the first time I saw someone talking about creating art with such a passion, and not just with “professional knowledge” if you know what I mean 😉
    All the best
    Roman R. Burgan

    1. Roman I so appreciate your comment! I always hope my passion for art and art-making comes through on a feeling level as well as an intellectual level. Seems like you caught it 🙂

  2. My favorite of your tips is no. 8, Let One Piece Emerge From The Last. Everything that I have done in the past informs everything that I do now or will do in the future. I like thinking about my paintings as a continuum, rather than each one being its own separate story. It’s like a visual diary of how I feel on a daily basis, and the whole thing is the story of my life. Thanks for this post, Gail! Truly a lot to meditate on.

    1. Oh that’s so wonderfully said Marie! You are so right that our art is a visual diary of our lives, recording observations or feeling at the time. And yes, I think #8 is important – that we think of our work in a continuous way, always building upon our discoveries as we go. Thanks so much for adding to this discussion!

  3. Excellent video, Gail. Very intelligent and generous with your experience.
    It’s interesting that you have moved from figurative, representative work to now taking a more abstract approach. Personally, I find that abstract fascination more appealing than trying to paint what I see, but maybe I might travel in an opposite direction to you, and gravitate to representation. Either way, it would be wonderful to be as successful as you in that journey!
    Liked the bloopers at the end! I was thinking you must have some Italian in your blood – your hand movements are very expressive!
    Many thanks,
    David Wells

    1. Many thanks David!
      It’s funny because when I was younger, even though I liked abstract art, I had no desire to paint them myself. As I get older, I find a yearning to do more abstracted work. I think it’s something to do with being more fascinated by the process and act of painting itself rather than subject matter. It will be interesting to see where you artistic voice takes you!
      Glad you like the bloopers – just being me. And the hand movements – sometimes I try to tame them down but I guess I just let loose in this video! Also there’s lot’s more of me on camera in this one.

  4. Hi Gail,
    I’ve subscribed not long ago to your newsletter and it’s a great pleasure to read about you and your heart strokes.
    Go on inspiring all the people as I, who live their passion in the shadows, and thank you for your “smiling generosity”…
    Please excuse my english, I’m French and don’t practise English often…
    Best regards,
    Isabelle

    1. Hi Isabelle, so lovely to hear from you. The feeling of what you are saying comes across loud and clear and I thank you very much for your words and sentiments!!

  5. Fantastic Gail. Exactly what I needed to hear as I am just 2 years into this experience of painting anything other than walls! #4 is the task I need to add. Thanks, Marsha

    1. That’s so wonderful to hear Marsha! One of these days I am going to develop a drawing course….
      And you’ve been doing great in your learning and commitment to it!

  6. Funny that you posted “Finding Your Style” at this particular time because I was mulling over that same question in my pastel class yesterday. Your video on this topic confirmed some of what I was thinking. Practice drawing and painting and also pushing through when things don’t seem to be working out are part of a realistic approach toward ending up satisfied with one’s end product. Being curious and willing to take risks are good ideas too. Thanks for your timely suggestions!

    1. Kathleen I am delighted that this has come in time to confirm your own thoughts and pass them on to your class. It took me some time to ponder the question and come up with these ideas. It’s not just an easy answer!

  7. Thanks for your piece on style! I agree with all your opinions. I think one mistake we make is to think about our “style” at all, and to consciously pursue that “style”. This often results in some strange and baroque art which is not our personal expression at all. The other mistake some make is to be praised for one particular piece, and then to make variations on it for the rest of our career.

    We should be pursuing our inner artistic expression, as you say our voice, which arises naturally from the pursuit of good technique and the development of the work itself, and is not conscious at all. People tell me all the time they like my “style”, and I have to try to understand what they are seeing, because I never think about it at all.

    1. Many thanks Leo for your input on this. You are so right about really forgetting about the idea of ‘finding your style’ and just painting!

      The other thing you bring up is the idea of being praised for one piece and then feeling like since it’s a success, that it must represent your style. And so continue to paint that way. That’s fine but sooner or later, your artistic voice wants to reflect the self that’s grown along the way. And you’ll find yourself wanting to spread your wings and do other things. Some don’t pay attention to this irritation and keep painting work that feels comfortable and successful. For me, moving to a more abstract way of painting was a result of listening to what my inner voice was telling me. Some of my audience can’t relate to it but I cannot let that hold me back. I still love painting from observed reality but I’ve added this other genre and continue to enjoy exploring it. And also, a new audience comes along who respond to this type of work. The main thing is to paint from your heart, not as a reaction to what others say.
      Whew! Thanks Leo for opening those ideas!

    2. So true!!! I bet VanGogh did not fret about his style. It came out of his work & what influenced it. As Gail said paint, paint, paint!!

  8. This is a wonderful, inspiring lesson, Gail. You have outlined some very practical steps in growing into the artist we are meant to be. I liked Leo’s take, as well, that pursuing a “style” will not encourage artistic growth. Thanks for your generous sharing and advice! I’m so glad I found you a few years ago!

  9. Timely article. I just took a workshop and came home to work on a commission and felt so confused. Confused between the new techniques I had learned and my usual process. I think if we can take 1 thing from a workshop and incorporate that into our own voice it helps build us. We can’t expect to paint like others in their way or style. We are each unique and can learn and incorporate into our voice. Hoping to find my way back to me again soon!

    1. Thanks Anna. I feel for you! You have that excitement of the workshop but also the need to paint a commission. I understand the tension between wanting to put some of what you’ve learnt into practice yet needing to hold back and paint in your usual way. Perhaps you can do some warm-ups with one new thing incorporated and then move to your commission. Or maybe better yet, work on the commission and then reward yourself!
      You will be you again – there’s just a bridge to go over to meet yourself 🙂

  10. The way I see it style finds you, not the other way around. Just keep painting and the muse will guide you to that style as you go along. Like the pieces that show how your style has changed over time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Exactly Cliff! You just have to be open to what’s there! My style has certainly evolved and continues to do so. I love exploring different ways of doing things – sometimes they stick and are incorporated into the way I work (my style) and sometimes they just aren’t part of my voice!

  11. Evidently I do have a style because people have told me “I like your style”. However, I no longer like my style. I keep watching what other people do , have taken many workshops and now I am looking at the paintings I have left and saying to myself. So What! I think that may help. I need to make them a little more flashy or something. I am an old lady who has been painting a long time so have changed over the years, but still not happy. I think the act of painting is more rewarding to me than the result. Oh my!

    1. Annabel, thank you for opening up about where you are in your painting journey.
      I’m sure you do have a style but I also feel your antsiness, your frustration, and your desire to move on. I’m also glad that you feel the process of painting is the most rewarding part of the process. It’s through the painting process itself that we can change and I feel your desire to do so!! Perhaps, if you haven’t already, it’s time to grab some not so successful paintings and slash some pastel on! Perhaps focus on mark-making, or making greater (or lesser) value shifts, or pump up the colour. Or all three! Remember, you have nothing to lose if the earlier paintings you’re working over weren’t successful. See where the painting tells you to go. Stop and ‘listen’ often. Be bold and brave. Talk loudly. Sing loudly. Dance around. Shout out, “What if I….” And get that pastel on.
      And don’t worry about wasting the pastel. Consider this your therapy frustration release!!!
      And also don’t worry what others will think. No one else needs to see what you’re working on. And something will happen – a spark will fly. Take that spark and fan it into a blaze. Then let us know all about it!!

  12. I have just ‘discovered’ you or been led to you- what a great summary for me to put on the wall as I am beginning to paint for myself and not just copy others. Thank you

    1. Sal, I’m so glad you’ve found me! And how wonderful to have said something worthy enough to go on the wall. That makes it aaaaaaaalllllll worth the effort 😀

  13. Well, I’ve been drawing, mostly sketching, all my life. I’m 71 now and about 4-5 years ago I showed one of my sketches to a very good artist and she said, “Now you need to finish it.” I asked how I do that and she mentioned blending sticks, (my sketch was my horse in pencil) and also to turn my photo reference and my sketch upside down. Since then, I started playing with pastels.
    Well, now I’ve got a plethora of “clients” who want me to paint their beloved pets! I’m having a GREAT time, but I’m still looking to learn and I like what you do, also Colbert! So I watch and need to learn more but no time with people commissioning me right now! But I will! I’m sure things will slow down. I’ve only done maybe 12-15 paintings really. Best time of my life!
    Having a website made as we speak…..

  14. Your enthusiasm is infectioius Gail. Thank you so much for all you do to help everyone. I started art just over a year ago at the age of 70, initially watercolour before I discovered pastel, on which I’m now hooked. I certainly haven’t found my style yet, I always intend to loosen up somewhat, but I end up copying my reference way too closely, so much so that a style just can’t emerge.

    1. Hi Ali, thank you for sharing where you’re at and yay you getting started into art at 70. And I’m sooooo glad to hear you are hooked on soft pastels!

      Regarding your wish to loosen up, may I suggest, stating the painting with the photo and then somewhere in the middle, putting the photo away and just (yeah, easy to say, not so easy to do) respond to the painting. This is where you can start making your voice heard!

  15. Love this. I have yet to find my style, but I am definitely starting to notice which artists’ work I most enjoy, as well as which kinds of paper and pastels I like working with. I appreciate you sharing your experience and insights, and I absolutely love the Path to the Lake piece! I am new to you and your newsletter, and can’t wait to learn more from you.

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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