A methodical pursuit of style

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Dear Artist,

In 1947, the eclectic French author and theorist Raymond Queneau wrote a small classic called Exercises in Style. It tells a simple fictional story over and over in 99 literary styles. Introducing writers to an almost mathematical formula for creating style, journalism and authorship hasn’t been the same since. Queneau’s demonstrated styles are loaded with fun. The concept may have benefits for visual artists.

I’ve always felt that style ought not to be forced, that it needs to evolve naturally, often simply by keeping an eye out for those pictorial elements and idiosyncratic touches that pop up in their own sweet time. Style, in my book, is the result of intuitive evolution or a byproduct of error, ignorance or handicap.

Queneau’s implication is that one might simply adopt style, if only for the purpose of trying it out. Theoretically, if it feels good, one might run off with it. Here’s how:

Take one of your standard works and try repeating it in a different style. Perhaps more than one style. You might have to look around a bit to see which styles appeal to you or are a challenging or logical transfer from yours.

You might consider impressionism, realism, vorticism, conservative formalism, obscurantism, primitivism, or any other -ism that turns your crank.

You’d also need to give some thought to softening, hardening, obfuscating, lining up, decoupling, going high key, low key, looser, tighter, into distorting, correcting, fiddling or wobbling off in all directions.

Advanced artists may find their own well-honed styles make the exercise a difficult, troublesome one. On the other hand, a less advanced artist may find the exercise a shortcut to progress and a possible route to personal truth. If you think of style as a series of factoids that eventually conjure up your personal reality, then maybe those factoids can simply be tried on, like somebody’s second-hand collection of hats. Leaning on someone else’s effort is not exactly a new idea.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Learning to learn is to know how to navigate in a forest of facts, ideas and theories, a proliferation of constantly changing items. Learning to learn is to know what to ignore but at the same time not rejecting innovation and research.” (Raymond Queneau)

Esoterica: Exercises in Style tells the same story in a variety of forms, including slang, poetry, rhetoric, narrative, word game, repartee, mathematics, abuse, mystery, epenthesis, haiku, logical analysis, sonnet and tactility. Each variation is also dependent on the differences between what is observed, spoken and omitted. One feels the presence of a known author in each rewrite. Transposing to visual art, one might ask what could be wrong with trying to contrive the world through the lenses of Cezanne, Picasso, Sorolla, Brangwyn, Sargent, Rockwell, Pollock or the young painter down the street. Would they mind?

 

Copying others
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France
 

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“The West Bank”
original painting
by Jeffrey Hessing

In one of my first drawing classes the professor told us, “Le style est l’homme.” The style is the man. Art is a constant process of self-definition. When you go inside and express from a deep level your person vision, the result will be “your style.” As a learning tool, imitation is often useful. Copying others can help artists find their own path; which style, abstract, figurative, tight, loose, etc. resonates most with a particular individual. If you copy a style, it will always be a pose, superficial and someone else’s. One can play with different styles but it will remain a game or an exercise.

Finding and expressing yourself is a lifelong challenge, fun and exciting.

 

Stylistic confusion
by Leslie Tejada, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
 

Many years ago I did just the exercise you suggest in the Esoterica. I was painting and drawing the figure at the time, and an extended trip to New York City to see art resulted in a lot of stylistic confusion upon my return. I would look at the model and see her as a Picasso, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Redon, etc. So I decided to paint these influences out of me by doing a series of self-portraits in the styles of historically influential painters. What I discovered was that my own emerging style was more akin to the painters whose styles I could most easily emulate. (Yes Cezanne, no Goya!) And I have some interesting paintings upon which to look back at my personal evolution.

 

New-styled works
by Sheila Psaledas, ME, USA
 

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“Afternoon Fog”
watercolour 15.5 x 17.5 inches
by Sheila Psaledas

I agree that a more experienced artist may have difficulty working through a style change. I have painted in a certain way for several years and sold works, but over the past few years I have had an emotional “pull” to change elements in my works. I’ve posted a few of my newer ones on Facebook.com and asked a few friends to compare works on my website with the new ones. I’ve had wonderfully supportive comments! These new-styled works are also selling and I am encouraged to go this way — it satisfies the artist in me.

 

 

Master hats
by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA
 

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“Inside the Rhino”
graphite on paper
by Skip Rohde

This is one of the best exercises an artist can do, particularly since most artists learn by doing, not by reading about it. For those who are new on the artist’s road, it’s a great way to try on some new “hats” and see which approaches and techniques ring true for you, and which ones don’t. It’s also a great way to learn what made the masters so great. If you want to understand Cezanne, copy a Cezanne and then go paint your own picture using his approach. For those of us who are further along, it’s a good way to stretch yourself and maybe add a new tool to your toolbox. It all comes back to just painting, doesn’t it?

 

Art torture
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
 

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“Fallen angel XIII
acrylic painting
by John Ferrie

When I was at school, back when the earth was cooling, I had an instructor we called “Dead Ted.” He was a tall dry man with a German accent who smokes thin cigars and wore the exact same thing every single day. He tried to teach us in the style he knew from his strict European training, all the while telling us that none of us would ever be “true artists.” In class, we would stare for hours at blank pieces of paper on the floor, “Stalking zee Internal Dialog.” Then the paper would be whisked away and you could miraculously still see the paper in your mind. He would then read from books like Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance with his thick accent and I felt like I was having the life sucked out of me. I spent a great deal of time meticulously planning his dismemberment.

I can honestly say, decades later, I have not and never will draw on his teachings. I must say this new exercise in futility of yours is on the same level. It would be about the same as putting a painting in a blender and hitting “Frappe”! You might get a gem… chances are, you’ll get a shredded mess. Artists need to listen to their voice and let it come through. “Style” is just a gallery catch phrase that hopefully will move some work. Working beyond what you already know is crucial to being an artist. Taking a painting and redoing it just for the stake of “Style Pursuit” is nothing short of art torture.

 

Finding the voice
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
 

You say, “Take your standard works and try repeating in different styles and ways.” Been there, got the T shirt, many developed artists and authors might comment! Surely in finding a comfort in one’s expressionism takes time. Whether writer, artist or worker in sculpture we all have sometimes spent years trying to find our own ‘voice.’ It is this ‘voice’ that eventually says who and what we are creatively.

For example, one’s work is one’s signature; that would not recognize the works of Dickens, Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart or the sound of Larry Adler playing his harmonica. They all started with their clean palettes!

It has taken me years to find my writing voice. I am 73 now. I am quite sure my work will probably not be remembered except by my grandchildren — I wrote a short book for them and read the story to them on tape. Now I write mostly short stories for young people. But one thing is certain; my style is my ‘developed’ way of written expression. I have been through many different types of approach to storytelling and writing (or in the case of a painter, the ways of pictorial representation) and it has only been through time and perseverance that ‘I’ emerged. A poor reflection of my favourite author’s quality, but when I write I am easily recognizable so my partner says!

It’s the methodical pursuit of style over years that leads to that pot of gold; the finding of oneself in the creative world. Never mind the quality, feel the truth of who you are in your particular medium.

Only then, with one’s signature voice, can it become possible to find true style and self-satisfaction in my humble opinion. The best advice I ever received was from my old English teacher who said to me once, “Be true to yourself, lad, and let the words flow.”

 

Student-level advice
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
 

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“Young Charolais bull”
oil painting 4 x 4 inches

I’ve found the search for style always a load of dead crabs. Like you say, style is something that comes from doing the work, with, in the mind’s eye, an idea of where the artist wants to arrive. Shortcuts in getting there are rare. True, style arrives all by itself, sometimes the consequence of error or ignorance. I have a good friend, a prolific illustrator, who has switched styles the way we would switch coats: he’s done paintings in e.g. the style of Van Gogh or another artist that caught his fancy. I’ve always found that his watercolours in his own loose, straightforward ‘style’ are his best yet.

For a student, I’d say it’s a good exercise; for an artist it would be nonsense to consciously take on another artist’s style. I mean the “free” artist, not the illustrator, who may need to be able to hop from one style into another according to the magazines he is working for. I honestly cannot conceive of Cézanne, Sorolla, Brangwyn, Degas or Lucian Freud trying on another artist’s style. I believe they’d not welcome it either, unless as an exercise within the classroom.

What you sum up in your letter sounds like a classroom exercise and that’s fine. I know and have worked or exhibited with some 200 artists worldwide, with artists like George Mclean, Robert Bateman, David Barker, John Busby, Sir Peter Scott, Rien Poortvliet, Henk Helmantel to name a few, and I cannot remember one instance in which style was discussed. In my experience it’s not an issue among artists. Queneau’s surrealistic idea is interesting, but mainly for a reading public; it hardly feels viable in pictorial art.

 

Evolving style takes time
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
 

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“Late October”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

My father had a theory about labor. He said that if you performed a repetitive task, your body would automatically move towards efficiency. I think this theory works well and would be applicable toward acquiring a painting style. Merely by painting more and more, your tendencies and interests will mould your style like a block of wood spinning on a lathe. I find my paintings fall into the Impressionist camp but there remains lots of wiggle room for exploration depending on the subject. I might use more broken color in Monet mode, or keep my color more tonal like Inness or Whistler or the American Impressionists. I could really push the color and move into a more Fauvist vein or keep it more subtle like Sisley, a personal favorite of mine. If I moved into more foreign territory, like Symbolism a la Redon, or abstraction a la DeKooning, eventually I would return like a rubber band to my actual style. Style needs to evolve. People are impatient nowadays but you simply need to spend the time. It can’t be avoided.

 

Your environment affects style
by Scott Jennings, Sedona, AZ, USA
 

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“The Colors of Autumn”
oil painting
by Scott Jennings

Thirty years ago when I was just beginning a professional career in fine art, I knew an artist that could adopt most any artist’s style that he chose. I was amazed, because I found it very difficult to change my inherent style. Then, about 23 years later, I had become frustrated with my own work and began looking for ways to change what I was doing to suit the mental image of what I wanted to see in my own work. What I discovered in my pursuit of a new way to express myself was that everything about my painting environment affects the way I paint. It is obvious that changing from sable brushes to bristle brushes or palette knives changes the look of your painting. But there are a myriad of choices that an artist has to affect his style. The painting surface you use, whether or not you use mediums, the lighting in your studio all affects the outcome of your painting.

One of the major choices to make is exactly how you physically paint; whether you stand to paint or sit makes a huge difference.

There are three basic painting techniques that have a great impact on your style. Do you paint while mainly moving your fingers, your hand or your arm? Most commercial artists, as I was, are trained to paint with their fingers giving the tightest control to your application. Using your hand and wrist loosens up this technique, but painting with your arm gives your application the most expression and intensity. Whether I listen to classical music, new age or rock and roll has an obvious impact on my style. So step back and take a look at every aspect of your painting habits and materials and decide if that particular aspect is helping or hurting your ability to express what is in your mind’s eye. If it isn’t right, make a change and decide whether it is a positive or negative effect. You will be surprised how much creative latitude you will have without actually having to change your mental approach to your work.

 

Curiosity about styles evident
by Steve Sumner, Evergreen, CO, USA
 

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“Dustbowl”
oil painting
by Alexandre Hogue

Alexandre Hogue was an American Regionalist artist who painted primarily in the plains states, especially Texas and Oklahoma. After the war he became Chair of the Art Department of the University of Tulsa. After Alexandre died, I got a call from the Curator at the University of Tulsa’s Library. He wanted to show me a large collection of Alexandre’s paintings that were in storage and wondered if we wanted them. Knowing Alexandre’s work, I was anxious to see what was there. To my surprise, instead of seeing paintings of the oil fields, or landscape paintings, I was greeted by two dozen paintings of abstract expressionism, constructivism, neo-realism and every “ism” from 1950 until the late ’80s. Not one of them resembled a Hogue. Sometimes, as I was told, Alexandre would try to engage some of the younger faculty in conversations about the new -isms and styles as they became popular.

Although Alexandre had his own very distinct style and was part of the American Regionalist movement, he had a nagging curiosity about styles and artistic evolution. Alexandre wondered how styles and -isms came about and why artists painted that way and what their motivation was to evolve into a new style or to change a style. Alexandre was curious to try it all, not only for himself, but so he could better understand his students and his faculty. So as each new -ism came along, Alexandre would try it; he splattered paint like Jackson Pollock, did giant cartoons, painted eye bending psychedelic lines, as well as stark canvases of the minimalist movement.

Alexandre did attest to the fact that a style is not a thing you put on like a suit coat, but rather it was something that was part of his soul, and although style could change through a normal evolution of one’s esthetic (as we have seen over and over again in the study of art history), his style for the most part was his brand and his “raison d’être.”

 

 

World of Art Featured artist E.L. Stewart,  

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Little Rose Strap

acrylic painting 48 x 36 inches
by E.L. Stewart

 

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Russ Williams of Austin, TX, USA, who wrote, “Comics artist Matt Madden did a comics experiment of Exercises in Style, telling the same 1-page story in a great diversity of styles and techniques, which is well worth checking out.”

And also B.J. Adams of Washington, DC, USA, who wrote, “Without even trying, an individual style seems to develop itself within the many artworks one person creates. If an artist is unhappy with what seems to have developed without their even seeing their style, then your exercises could give them a welcome innovative approach to their future work.”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A methodical pursuit of style

 

 

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Sep 01, 2009

Robert, I just had the thought that while you’re painting and going about your day, you must often be mentally composing your twice weekly letters to us. A very nice exercise in itself, to have something distant(?) to keep the mind chatter busy so you can be free to paint.

I’ll put my little daily blogging into that frame now, and thank you for steering me this way.

And different strokes for different folks is a cute blog in which a painter gives her fans one photo to work from, and then she puts on the blog all the different works sent in. Most of them look rather alike.

http://differentstrokesfromdifferentfolks.blogspot.com/

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Sep 01, 2009

That may have been a mistake.

From: Ruth Farnham — Sep 01, 2009

I don’t think there is anything more exciting than exploring new paths. I’ve been painting for seventy years and have covered a lot of ground by moving, sometimes gently, sometimes quickly, into thought processes that change my work. It can be a subtle change or, as is happening now, an almost completely different approach. Can’t remember who said “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”, but it’s a handy mantra.

From: Dwight Williams, Idaho — Sep 01, 2009

Yogi Berra supposedly said the bit about the fork in the road. Many things attributed to him aren’t really his though, they say.

Robert, what about being two or three artists all the time. I paint in several ways and often don’t know who I am until I get going. One abstract “style” is so different from what the public knows of me that I have toyed with the idea of creating a new name and putting it on that group of abstracts. Why not? Authors often write under more than one name.

From: Marylin Davies — Sep 01, 2009

I’ve done this exercise and find it fascinating. It amazed me how much I learned from a photo I took of a sunset in South Carolina, painted in realism, impressionism and cubism. Fun too.

As to the quote, remember from our school days, The Road not Taken by Robert Frost. “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference …Robert Frost.”

From: Brad Greek — Sep 01, 2009

I’ve found that by participating in themed juried shows can take one in different directions. Getting one outside their own box and challenging their imagination. Recently I’ve had the oppertunity to enter a show called “Inspired by Kandinsky”. By studying other artists’ work, using their style in your own motifs can be very exciting. I took Kandinsky out plein airing and had a blast.

From: Teresa Hitch — Sep 01, 2009

At this wee hour of the morning, I find myself reworking a painting, assisted by Prokofiev. Thought you might enjoy this link, as Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris dances to this atmospheric music, “Romeo and Julliet.”

Thinking about your continual recommendations for Mozart, I’m wondering if you, personally, would find your style changing with a very different composer. For the past week, I have been struggling with a painting, in quiet solitude, unsuccessfully. The painting will eventually be part of a collaborative mural, so requires many modifications from my intentional style. Finally, in resignation yesterday, I cleaned off the carefully laid acrylic, to start again.

With the help of a little nachtmusik a successful new painting is emerging in a style that conforms to the needs of the mural, but clearly speaks with my unique artistic voice.

Trying different styles may be valuable. Success may not come easily, but when it finally does, the satisfaction is enough to send one back to restful slumber.

From: Haim Mizrahi — Sep 01, 2009

Why even talk about style.

The journey of an artist is so complex to begin with, or at least should be, that the best approach is to abandoned any head game as far as trying to force an identity on oneself and focus strictly on instincts and emotions.

From: Jack Dickerson — Sep 01, 2009

I just did this for 5 weeks. I have a few different styles, and altho I feel they are closely related, galleries tell me they want one consistent style. However, I like moving back and forth between them. It seems to refresh me. Every time I explore something new in this change up, I learn something new. I know it when I start a new impressionist or figurative work. Can’t immediately put my finger on it. But I can tell there is more of a natural flow, and I get more in the “zone”. Here is an example of an impressionist work, and some exploratory graphical work, and then the start of a new figurative yesterday.

From: Theresa Bayer — Sep 01, 2009

Thanks for telling us about Raymond Queneau–I will definitely look him up. I’ve never done it methodically, but I have played with style a lot. And there is one thing I can tell you for sure: you can never run away from yourself. Everything I made in various styles still looked like “me.” My artist friends would tell me so when I’d lament not having a singular style. It’s like trying to change your handwriting or disguise your voice. There’s something of “you” that will carry over, every single time, albeit overt or subtle.

From: Garth Palanuk — Sep 01, 2009

Another thing I’ve tried, along these lines, is doing the exact same painting but with a different pallet….. primary colours only, old masters’ pallet, winter pallet, etc.

From: Skip — Sep 01, 2009

Style is like hair color. You can change it now and then, but it never looks real when you veer too far.

From: Linda — Sep 01, 2009

An exercise in a different style may be a learning experience, but should an artist radically change her style? Galleries are looking for artists with an “established, recognized” style. I have read articles in art mags where known artists have tried to change their style and sometimes their collectors accept that sometimes not. In the mean time the artist looses sales.

Now, granted one needs change once in a while, but when your livelyhood is at stake it can only be a theraputic diversion. You can gradually change style, subject matter, medium, etc. to test the waters. Only you know your gallery/collectors.

Can an artist have and sell several different styles? Do galleries like such artists? Can an artist go crazy painting “what sells? I am getting closer to my own style, but still like to try different things. And sometimes they turn out very well, but very different from my “comfort zone”. But it’s all in having fun.

From: Carol Cox — Sep 01, 2009

Just reading again your letter on getting into right brain mode – I don’t know a lot about it but wanted to say that, as a relatively new artist who has had very little instruction the thing that I have found has helped me such a lot is just practice, practice, practice with my chosen medium. The more I get to know my medium the more I can relax and allow creativity to flow. To me that has become SUCH a key.

Gary Player – the famous South African golfer – was once asked, after winning yet another major event – how he came to be so lucky. His reply was ‘the more I practice, the luckier I get!!;

I’ve found that to be so true with my art – the more I practice – the easier (at times) it flows. Certainly the more relaxed I become with it too.

From: Julia — Sep 01, 2009

There are those that would argue that trying on styles like you would a suit of clothes isn’t being true to yourself. I would argue that new, and sometimes not-so-new, artists aren’t necessarily being true to themselves as they are.

We’re all influenced by other artists early on in our artistic journey, and if the person who had the strongest influence was an instructor that expected you to paint in the manner they dictate, then it’s entirely possible you’re not painting in your own style, even after years of work. Some people find it more difficult to shake influences.

This applies to medium as well. Maybe you were formally trained in oil painting, but inside you is a watercolorist struggling to break free. Or maybe you’re a self-taught artist that learned by practicing painting still-lifes in acrylic, so that’s what you do, but in reality your ideal subject might be landscapes, and perhaps etching would carry more appeal.

When your experiences are limited, or the result of someone else focusing your efforts early on, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t being true to yourself.

From: sittingbytheriver — Sep 01, 2009

I am both a visual artist and a dancer. As a dancer, I am required to put another person’s movement in my body, and this requires clear observation combined with something deeper: empathy. To copy another artist’s style in visual art can help you empathize with the artist and his work. You will gain a deeper understanding of his motivation and his process. this understanding will be beyond what you glean by merely viewing the work, because it will be experiential.

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 01, 2009

Observe, study, experiment, work in different mediums, or style, until you find your particular expression that feels “right.” Above all, find your own voice. That may take you through periods of admiration for others’ work or exception – abstract, realism, ethereal, whatever. But once you find it, pursue it with dedication and a mind to excellence … don’t deviate, whether that sells or not.

Those artists we respect for their work were like no one else. They found their voice. Some of us are still hunting ours or are in the process of refining it.

It is often a life long process.

From: Lorrie Williamson — Sep 02, 2009

Once I was told that the works I entered into a show were not acceptable. As an artist invited to bring 8 to 10 of my paintings to be displayed in a Gallery show, I wanted to know why they were not acceptable.

The answer given by the person in charge, a professor of art at a local college, was “Your work is all over the place… you have this and that and … it will never do… You should be known by your art. It must be one style to be remembered.” I agree in premise to what he said. I went and looked at his art that was already hanging in the gallery, and was so amused that all of his paintings were “cows grazing in a pasture.” I will always remember him for his wonderful watercolors of “cows grazing in a pasture with skies of pale yellow,”… and nothing more, other than his comments. (P.S. All of my my paintings were in the show, hanging in three different sections plus one in the foyer. I liked that.)

I like variety as my “body of work” suggests. I do enjoy imitating the masters as a way of learning, but when it gets to my actual painting, I tend to go with my mood of the day. I love to experiment with abstract painting, but spend most of my time doing representational work. I enjoy it all and very often strive to do something I haven’t done before. A style might evolve in my work in time, but in the meantime, I will just try to be true to myself and enjoy the bliss that comes when I don’t worry about ignorance and errors.

From: Terry Puckett — Sep 02, 2009

I just finished reading your recent post about Chinese painting. It mentions quite a few rules, yet the Chi, or emotion and energy of an exceptional work of art seems often to defy, and go beyond rules. I tend to prefer emotion in painting over perfect order. We have all heard “learn the rules and then forget them.” That said, I admire the order of oriental art, and the way that is not over worked, and sublime. There is much to be learned from Oriental calligraphy, and the way that the masters practice their craft for many years to be able to present such perfection. Much of contemporary art is anything but peaceful, full of color and action and personal self expression. Is one better than the other? Not to me. I think it boils down the Chi, or essence of energy of the piece. Memorable art has a life force of its own.

From: Cathy Harville — Sep 02, 2009

As an emerging artist, I am always fascinated by the changes in my artwork. When looking at my studio walls, it sometimes looks like several different artists were at work. The themes of nature run through all the art, but many visitors have to be convinced that I created all the work!

One dead giveaway, actually two, that a work is mine is (1) the use of a palette knife to (2) create grasses, and limbs, and anything that is linear. In using a palette knife, I tend to create a lot of texture as well.

I often have painted from the same reference photo two or three times. The results are always different, and sometimes not as successful. Sometimes, I get impatient or bored, and the second or third effort shows it. However awful the result may be, I learn by pushing my limits – by trying things that are risky, like changing the color palette, or composition.

From: Paul Herman — Sep 02, 2009

I have felt more sympathy for the sentiment in this letter than many of your others. When I was young I didn’t know how to answer questions about my style but as I get older I realize that though I have always tried to simply & sincerely paint what I was looking at, I always made the same mistakes, until it eventually came to me that that was my style!

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Sep 02, 2009

I have been taught that copying works of old masters is one of the best learning tools. Since I never had the time for painting that I needed, I never dedicated due attention to that. I copied a few masters I admired over the years and found the exercises extremely useful. Interesting thing happened this last winter. I have lost the wind from my sales for a while and went back to the books to seek inspiration. I decided to pick a painting from a Group of Seven book and copy it as an exercise. I picked a painting by Franklin Carmichael who wasn’t even one of my favorite artists (Tom Thomson and A.Y. Jackson were). I didn’t take much care selecting the painting, I just decided on one that looked nice.

The experience of copying that painting felt like magic – I felt that I totally understood every placement of object, every color and brushstroke – I felt like I was painting my own painting. I know very well that on my own I wouldn’t be able to paint that beautiful scene and I also knew that the thoughts I had during the process must have been totally different from his, nevertheless there was some wonderful match of style, subject matter, composition, and who knows what other ingredients that made this work click so well with me. One might think that I proceeded in a logical way – by either copying more of his work, or by consciously applying his style to my new works. Actually I found this experience so wonderful that it made me uncomfortable – just like walking into a candy store with no clerk in sight. I could reach and take anything for free, but I knew that wouldn’t be right. So I didn’t do it.

I recognize the gift of having this great art to lean on and learn from but I decided to let it simmer in my mind and find it’s own way into my style if it will – I am not going to reject it or adopt it, I will just keep admiring it. I often place that painting next to some of my own paintings and I compare the “level of delight”. I most often find that I need to increase the complexity of my own paintings in order to tune up the delight. I suppose that leads to evolution of the personal style by leaning on work of others.

From: Larry Moore — Sep 03, 2009

Probably a tad late to chime in on this, but I talk about this subject a lot in creative thinking and finding your voice workshops. There are two major aspects in art making; the mechanics of painting and the artists voice or style. In the beginning an artist spends all his/her creative energies on learning the mechanics, such as drawing, paint handling, edge control, composition, value, color. Kinda hard to interpret a thing if you are still trying to figure out how to get to a color. It’s only after the fundamentals are mastered that the real voice of the artist can come through because the physical act of painting/creating has become second nature. So, learn the rules first and then you can break them all you want.

From: Jim Gray — Sep 03, 2009

REASON FOR BEING !!

Remember your painting’s REASON FOR BEING !

For crying out loud, folks !!!!

Just paint what you really love to paint….think only about your painting’s REASON FOR BEING is what it is about and why you wanted to paint it in the first place.

REAL style will come when you have no fear of painting and you paint every day because you just want to, need to, have to. PAINT FOR YOURSELF ! Otherwise, get a job in Commercial Art where the client and product have priority. STYLE will come NATURALLY if you SKETCH and DRAW, SKETCH and DRAW and PAINT, PAINT, PAINT !!

From: David Arsenault — Sep 03, 2009

As a subscriber for a number of years (one who hasn’t previously written), I’ve seen many topics addressed and issues discussed. Perhaps you’ve even approached the matter of Self vs. Other: the eternal question of how much an artist puts of himself into his work as weighed against his/her desire to connect with other like-minded souls. Up until the recent economic downturn (and a divorce that preceded it) I believed that my job as an artist was to distill as purely as possible the feelings and emotions I felt about a subject. To me, that was the truest way to becoming one with the art lover.

The goal—to my way of thinking—was to clearly express a sense of my humanity and internal experience in relation to places/ events/ emotions as directly as possible. the viewer would meet me somewhere between my thoughts, feelings, imaginings, feelings, etc. and theirs.

These days, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m second-guessing myself—even after many years of growth. If all I’m accomplishing is expressing myself but I’m not tangibly (as in improving sales of originals, giclées, etc.) connecting with/growing an audience, what is the point? Is sharing my inner self enough? Is that the “be-all and end-all?” Or am I creating in a vacuum? Maybe I’m confusing sales with connection; but the fact is, I can’t practically (as in can’t afford to) keep doing what I’m doing—and grow beyond it—unless I’m reaching an increasing crowd of clients. If I’m not helping more and more people see their world in a new and different way, and if I continue to work at my art at something much less than full-time—am I wasting my time?

Am I missing something? How is it for you and your readers?

Thanks for all you do for the artist community.

From: Russ Hogger — Sep 04, 2009

To Jim Gray, I couldn’t agree with you more.

From: Brenda Poole — Sep 04, 2009

Style is like your signature, you sign your name a thousand times in your life and your painting is the same! That’s all there is to it. You can paint in any style you like but your signature is your signature and will continue to be so, your paintings will become just like your signature, they will have a certain look that is yours. If you try and copy other painting because you like how they look or how the artist painted, it will still have your signature on it not the original. So, maybe it’s best to just paint what you like, how you like and your signature will come through. There is way too much bull and hipe to art. Your individual painting is yours and will always be your style if you claim it! Another painter has their signature style, that’s all there is to it.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Sep 04, 2009

Recently, in a group of artists I belong to who paint together, an opportunity arose to have a group show in South America. The premise of the show is, “being inspired by the artist Jorge Torres-Garcia”, who painted in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s. This artist was very versatile, like so many of that period. His work is reflective of Paul Klee, Picasso, and may other expressionists of that era. He went though his own “periods”, and morphed into different ways of expressing himself. He used primaries at one time, and at another, more earth tones. i am intrigued by the idea of doing a work in a similar fashion to one of his “periods”, and being part of a Canadian exhibition in Uruguay. Some are put off by the idea of being “inspired by” this artist, they don’t want to copy……………I see it not as “copying” but as using his colours or style to do my own thing. Perhaps reflect Nova Scotia in that style or some other different approach! It is wide open. It is exciting. We are an enthusiastic and lively group and I have been enriched by being part of it. And we all do have our very own styles, for sure. But this is a challenge, and is fun to contemplate. A trip south may even be in the offing…………!

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 04, 2009

Jim Gray, you rock.

From: Aleta Pippin — Sep 05, 2009

For my recent show, I decided to revisit techniques that I hadn’t used in a few years. Mixing it up once in awhile is a fun treat for me and I enjoyed the process. What I found, though, is that I love my “style.” That doesn’t mean that I will simply continue to paint in my style as I am always challenging the norm. But the realization that I’m pleased with the place that I currently occupy was a bit of a revelation as I tend to be restless.

I do think it is important to consider our methods, to push beyond what we would normally accept as finished, and to experiment. Frequently we’ll find something useful and once integrated into our normal routine, we move to another level of our “style” and so our style continually evolves.

From: Michael Epp — Sep 05, 2009

I remember a story about BB King hearing slide guitar as a young man and, since he had never heard of a slide, trying to emulate the sound using his fingers, and inventing a whole new style of guitar playing. I think that may be the value of trying on another style — you may end up using your brushes or colours in ways you’d never considered previously in pursuit of some effect you don’t normally go after. Could be time very well spent.

From: Kier — Sep 06, 2009

When I was younger I tried to develop in my landscapes the style wherein there were elements both the viewer an I could agree were unlikely trees along improbable watercourses. Later I tried to develop a style in which the colors and forms of these elements were more or less naturalistic. Later still I began to do any old thing I pleased, pushing paint around to a fair-the-well. A little after that I tried to maintain that style, but retain the naturalism of the previous style. Then I thought, I’d like to paint in a style someone else would like to see. I’m still considering this, but I’m enjoying pushing paint so I might not get to it.

Once I thought, boy, oh, boy, I sure would like to paint like Monet. Then I figured learning that wouldn’t be much. Honestly, I can’t think of a reason why anyone would enjoy painting bad Monet imitations.

 

 

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