finding your artistic style: part 1
This is my first post of a mini blog series on artistic style: finding your style, keeping it and what happens when you want to change it. I am not sure how long the series will be, but I hope you'll enjoy the ride with me, and maybe we can have some fun discussions along the way.

Style is something that is encouraged as an artist/illustrator/crafter. You have a certain "look" and that look defines your work. It makes people comfortable with you and your work. They can define it. As an illustrator, clients really prefer this because they know what to expect when they hire you.

On the other hand, having too rigid of a style can also be restrictive. You work in a certain way for many years, it gets to be a formula, you get bored. It's like eating the same thing for lunch every day for 15 years. One day you look at your work and just cant do it anymore. You're bored and it shows in your work too. This happened to me about 10 years ago and I'll be sharing my story later in another post.

So what happens next? My next post in the series will focus on this, baby steps to growing your style in a new direction, and also finding your style if you don't have one yet.

But before I get to all that,  I wanted to go back to 1996. When I was a junior in college at the Corcoran College of Art and Design.

The artist Julian Schnabel came to a local movie theater and we were invited to view a screening of his first movie Basquiat with a discussion with him afterwards. If you haven't yet seen this movie, stop everything. Go and watch it and then come back and finish reading.  He had never made a movie before and many people were like "who is this artist who is now calling himself a film maker" all I knew of him was his broken plate artwork from the 80's. He came off as a little arrogant, but he was brave and it was thrilling to meet him. Trying a whole new medium and putting that work out there for all to comment on is brave stuff. Heck creating anything from a book, to a card, layout, or a new product and putting it out into the world for all to comment on is brave. Just being an artist or a creator takes bravery. Period.

His film made a huge impression on me. There's a scene where Benico del Toro who plays Benny and Jeffery Wright (who plays Basquiat) are playing basket ball. This scene caused quite a discussion amongst us students. I'm posting the scene here, with some thoughts that followed.

BASQUIAT: How long do you think it takes to get really famous?  

BENNY: For a musician or a painter? 

BASQUIAT: Whatever. Famous. To where you can do your stuff all day without thinking about anything else. 

BENNY: Ummm.. Four years. Six to get rich

First, you have to dress right.Then, you have to hang out all the time---with famous people---the right people,the right chicks, the right parties.

And you gotta do your work all the time when you're not doing that. The same kinda work, the same style--- OVER and OVER again, so people recognize it and don't get confused.

Then, once you're famous, you have to keep doing it the same way, even after it's boring--unless you want people to really get mad at you--which they will anyway.

So after the movie was over and the house lights went up, and we had some discussion time. I remember a lot of various discussions about art and which art is better - small or large (large scale art said Schnabel) but the parts that stuck with me was the above scene and our discussion about it.

You simply can not make everyone happy. You'll have those people that get frustrated when you change your work because it makes them uncomfortable, or maybe they liked your old style better (but don't worry you'll find new people who like your new work too)

Then on the flip side if you keep doing the same work over and over forever you'll have people who call you a sell out and that you are just creating art to a formula. You can't win and please everyone all of the time. So you might as well create the kind of work that you want to create!  

In college we were always encouraged to grow our work. If we spent more than a semester doing the same type of work in a series our instructors would get ansty. Constantly telling us to push the work, change it, look for new directions. It was great to build this skill. Even though my work now is on a slower growth/change cycle before I mix up the direction. I know now how to change, if i feel I need to. It's a messy and uncomfortable process, but it's worth it.

I hope in my little series I can help guide you towards either pushing your work forward, finding a new direction, or finding a style that you didn't know you had.



Thanks for doing this series, Claudine. For the past three years, when people ask me what I do, I say "mixed media, journaling, assemblage...I'm still trying to find my schtick, so I do whatever I feel like doing." Reading your post reminded me that I still haven't found my schtick and I don't know that I've actually been consciously trying to do so! Can't wait to see where you guide me!
Oh Claudine I am so excited. This will be fun.
Thanks for this Claudine. I'm still in the learning stage but I'm starting to design my own cards and scrapbook pages and not just use other designs as a map, I'm sure my style involves a lot of color and or texture. Not sure what other characteristics I'll favor. Art classes are a lot of work but so rewarding. I'm hoping I'll have a chance to take more soon. I'm looking forward to your posts and more insights. This is good!
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Tracey - dont forget there a certain wonderful freedom in not having a particular "look" too!! I bet even though you don't feel you have a "style" I bet it's there hiding just under the surface :)
So excited about this series of blog posts. I have always envied artists that had developed their style. After 13 years is card making, ATC's and now art journaling - I still don't feel I've found my signature style. Looking forward to your ideas on developing this.
Wow, great post and looking forward to this series. I think you offered some really interesting thoughts and now I have to go check out that film!
Thanks, interesting read. I look forward to reading this series. Many of us know about and want "a style of our own" but not how to find it... except pushing on and to keep creating... but maybe thats the only way!? :)
Thanks so much for this inspiring post, Claudine! I can't wait to read the whole series!
How generous of you - Claudine - to take the time and educate us and share your thoughts on this important issue- great interest!!! Love from Tina, Stockholm
Very needed post. Even that people (here in PR where I sell my products since 1996) tell me that they could recognize my art style no matter if it is in ceramic or mixed media or if I change colors palette, I am always worried to have too many "styles". Maybe I am confused that making art for babies, teen agers or adults is not a change of style. I am that kind of artists that gets bored of doing the same thing too soon. Actually I am struggling these days with my "not inspired time" for making ceramic. In fact, I am not inspired because the stores keep ordering the same designs for over 10 years. I will be coming back to see what else you have to share with us on this matter! Thanks!!
This is so interesting! Thank you Claudine for sharing this! I am all over the place - I quilt, I make cards, I scrapbook and I art journal... but I have no style... I would like to try to find a path, so I will keep on reading your posts - the first one started something already I think.

hi all!! thanks for your kind words about my post. I wasn't sure if I should even do this series! But I am glad I started. Now I have so many ideas to share with you!

@Tracey and @Coral - also remember that style is different from surface. you can have the same style across all different surfaces like jounaling, ATCs, canvas, sculpture. I'll be talking more about this in another post!

@iHanna - you are exactly right. the only way to finding your own look is to make a lot of art. I have some guideposts to help you along the way that I'll be posting in another blog post.

Elizabeth - you def have a same style across childrens and adults etc. your work is lovely. As artists who have had hits. I like to think of the hits that we have to do over and over again the same way a singer might feel about a hit song. You know they are sick are singing it but the audience loves it! Somewhere in here there is a post I'm going to do about just that very topic!
Wow, Claudine! This is going to be so helpful - you are always looking out for us aren't you! xo
I look forward to reading your series, Claudine. I have had a little bit of fear of having a style because I love variety and trying new things so much. Still finding my voice. I saw Basquiat a few months ago and absolutely loved it!
@ Kari - don't feel that you have to have a certain style. there is a lovely freedom in being able to be very versatile and I'll talk later about artists I know who work in multiple styles and make a great living at it! so there is no rule that you have to pick one. :)
No artist here-I play at crafting.But I have become overwhelmed with "stuff" because I see something I like and I want to try it.I am drawn to what I refer to as pretty frou frou creations.I've figured out that's because I have 4 sons and 2 grandsons-there has not been cause for any pretty in my life for a long time.But what I do best is always dark and introspective.
I need to find my way-thank you for doing this series.
I look forward to reading this series on your blog. I'm a designer and I tend to change my style up every once in a while. It does boggle the mind of my fans, but you're right, I gain new ones that way. Thanks for the great blog!
Hi Claudine...Hope all is artist friend was over yesterday and she was looking at my new work and said I had a "style"...I'm happy about that because for so many years I was a production artist and made things that sold...don't get me wrong...I loved what I did...but didn't take the time to develop richly as an artist...sending submission to Somerset really helped me push the envelope and grow big time as an artist...can't wait to watch Basquiat and thanks much...looking forward to the series
U_U I made a comment but i dont´see it. Any way, Thanks for yoour post. Very interesting
Thanks so much for sharing your story Claudine!
I am one who can say "I knew her when" with when being before you evolved your style into what it is now.
Remember Chapter One?
Loving your new work, as well as your old.
Hi Claudine, I happen to be in heavy experimentation mode at the moment. So much so, that I'm launching an entire blog series in which I can get my art geek on and discuss what I learnt when I decided to answer the abundant, "what would happen if I did this?" questions. I'm commenting here about this because my first post will be about how I'm finding working on a series in order to build a cohesive body of work!

Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to following this blog series of yours.


Thank you for the good thought provoking post today.

About a year ago, I realized that something was bothering me deeply about what I was doing. I felt emotionally split by trying to make things to sell, drained by teaching workshops and traveling and trying to make new work.

I realized that when I graduated from college with an art degree I always thought I would be an ARTIST. But I now discovered that I was not doing art as much as "giving" so much of myself away to others and not concentrating on myself and my art.

I stopped...

I've stopped traveling, teaching workshops. I stopped making shrines, assemblages, and sculptures because I felt like I had done it to the point of feeling like there is nothing left for me to say.

I decided to finally address the nagging feeling that I should have never stopped being a "fine" artist. That I should have not spent so much time being distracted by the crafty world. It was good while it lasted.

I was trained to be an illustrator and I know I need to be a painter.

I FEEL STUPID for wasting so much time.

Better now than later right?

Changing style may not be such a big deal to some. An easier transition even. You don't have to up and stop Everything like I did.

BUT for me, the art I make-is ALL I do and know. I gave up everything to do this and although I have- making a mistake like I feel I have for the past couple of years-can be AWFUL!

The hardest part of being successful is knowing what you really want to do. Once you can define what you really want-you can do it. (Not as easy as it seems! Ha!)

So far, I have been doing better. Been drawing and painting and selling original work again. When I now travel, it is to NY or Los Angeles to see shows and I'm making friends in the art world who are doing and making similar work.

I just hope I didn't waste too much time. I suppose we shall see in a year or so. (Fingers & brushes crossed)

hey Jane! don't feel like you wasted time. you had art that you needed to get out of you and it ran it's course. I think this weird thought that we have to marry a style and live with it until death do us part is just silly! there are some artists who work in a style their whole lives. or there's people who like to dabble in may different styles and then there's people like me who have a concentration on a look for as long as it takes until that way of working runs it's course.

it's all valid! I can't wait to talk about all this in my next posts!

I find my work goes in circles/cycles. Right now I am cycling back to my work I did in undergrad when I was minoring in illustration with a heavy focus on drawing. I am loving drawing more and bringing that into my work. Since I was a little kid I wanted to be an illustrator and now my work is circling back to that. in 10 more years I may circle back to doing large scale oil paintings again like I did in college. who knows! It's all a big ride!

just don't forget

that no time spent making art is ever wasted. the work you created before always informs in the next stage of work. I don't think you'd be creating the exact paintings you are now if you hadn't gone through your stage of making assemblages!!

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@ Katherine - can't wait to read your blog series as well!!
I'm loving this series, thanks for doing it. I seem to have trouble finding a recognizable style...I like too many styles! I specialize in wearable art so I flip from recycled records to pearls in the blink of an eye. There are many artists whose style you know from 300 feet away but I must admit, I get tired of seeing the same things from the same artist for years on end, I don't see how you couldn't grow and mature into something new. Or at least work the old in with something new to keep people/fans interested.
Claudine, thanks for sharing so much of your talent with us. I am thriving as a new artist and loving all the options open to me. I dabble in lots of mediums and am richer for it. My style is varied but distinct, but I am always open to new techniques and ideas. I so look forward to your input.
Claudine, thanks for sharing so much of your talent with us. I am thriving as a new artist and loving all the options open to me. I dabble in lots of mediums and am richer for it. My style is varied but distinct, but I am always open to new techniques and ideas. I so look forward to your input.
oh it's so wonderful to see this movie on your blog - it's absolutely one of my favorites and has an amazing cast. i love it so!
Great series Claudine! Basquiat has always been one of my favorites. Glad to see that you were added into our Flying Lessons group over on FB also. All the gals there would love it if you would give us your art perspective from time to time. We loved your interview during the class.
Wow, I think the universe is hearing my heart. Thanks so much Claudine! I have been really trying to figure out my style and I am just not ther yet. I really need this series!
Hello Claudine-

Thanks so much for writing this series! I am just starting to get the courage to create my own art with the hopes that I might sell it someday. I haven't been formally trained outside of art classes in high school and a few college classes. Sometimes I feel like I have to have a degree to be an "artist" and that feels a little daunting. I am still trying to find my style. I have artists that I admire, but the last thing I want to do is copy them, then it wouldn't be mine!

Mary Anne Edmiston-Dietz
Great post. I hear you and have seen you evolve over many years. On the flip side, I recently noticed that my work is not cohesive enough. I feel like it's all over the road so I have begun to concentrate on doing series. Doing the same thing allows you to fully examine and explore a technique or subject matter which is what I need now. I guess it's all relative and a matter of balance. Thanks, Gloria (who walked thru Sienna with you and Paul in 05 in Italy. Remember Tim Burton columns in cathedral?) :)
I just found this series from a comment on the collage class message board and it is so timely. In looking over all the collages being done by the participants, I see so many styles and have been thinking about whether I have a style. I've been wondering if staying with what's comfortable for me - vintage, earth tones, lots of "stuff" is a cop -out so I don't have to stretch myself. Doing what works for others, but doesn't really do it for me doesn't feel authentic. maybe what I really need to be doing is to work at being better with what speaks to me?
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