Developing Personal Style

Your Thoughts on Personal Style

Virtuosic Technique

Misty Copeland‘s homepage

Artists, and the general public alike, know how hard virtuosic technique can be. The relentless precision of Albrecht Dürer’s draughting. The perfection of Misty Copeland’s ballet dancing. People watch The Olympics to see rare humans do things that we mere mortals can’t come close to.

To dance like Copeland, draw like Dürer, or do gymnastics like Simone Biles is extraordinary. But it can also lead to fetishizing pure technique over expressive individual style. Not every drawing wants to be a “perfect” representation of the human figure. From Salvador Dali’s watches melting like camembert cheese to Francis Bacon’s twisted human faces, “imperfect” style can also be powerful.

Your style won’t be right for every Art Gallery, Ad Agency, or Animation Studio. And that’s OK! But by being specific in your work you can attract those who most powerfully connect with your style.

Perhaps Love?

Perhaps Love – Placido Domingo & John Denver

Here’s an interesting duet: Perhaps Love by Placido Domingo and John Denver. When I first came across this curious track I wondered, why would a country bumpkin like John Denver embarrass himself by singing next to one of the great vocal masters of the age, Placido Domingo? When you listen, Domingo is perfect on every note. Denver is lucky to be in the right octave.

Denver wrote this song for his wife when they were going through a separation. It is about love. In Domingo’s perfection, I’m not sure the powerful feelings of love truly come through. In fact, the most emotional moments in the performance are Denver’s imperfections. There is power in his “imperfection”. His quavers and cracks are where we experience the strongest feelings.

John Denver is no Albrecht Dürer or Misty Copeland. But neither were Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, or any number of artists who developed unique and powerful personal styles.

Imagine if there were an American Painting Idol… or let’s say, French Painting Idol, and Claude Monet were a contestant. He’d be ridiculed off the stage. Just as he was when he painted Impression Sunrise in 1872.

We are moving in TV away from high fidelity pictures to low fidelity… From Giotto to Rembrandt the aim was fidelity to nature. Monet changed all that.

Nam June Paik, 1970

For me, you can take your huge, encyclopedic Western Art History book and rip it in half right at Claude Monet. The whole thing as Before Monet and After Monet. When it comes to Western Art, Monet changed everything. He would have been laughed off French Painting Idol, but lucky for us, he pursued his unique vision anyway.

At the end of his life, Monet painted his largest, grandest and in many ways greatest paintings about virtually nothing; about looking into a huge expanse of water set with a few lilies in which unexpected colors appear in the depths, or elusively in reflections. It is a most mysterious, extraordinary subject in which he invests all his experience and power. In the end there seems to be hardly any subject matter left – only content.

Bridget Riley, 1992

Bob Dylan, Robert Plant & Jim Morrison – rejected?

“Musicians Telling the Truth about ‘American Idol'”

The Sound of Silence

As long as we’re using Music as an analogy for our Visual Arts styles, let’s do one more. I love this analysis of The Sound of Silence by Elizabeth Zharoff, “The Charismatic Voice”.

Zharoff starts by thinking it’s sacrilege for a metal vocalist like Disturbed’s David Draiman to be singing an already perfect song. By the end, she changes her mind. She’s surprised to feel that Draiman has brought the lyrics to life more powerfully than the Simon & Garfunkle original.

Elizabeth Zharoff “The Charismatic Voice” listens to Disturbed’s cover of Simon & Garfunkle’s “The Sound of Silence”

Activities for Developing Your Personal Style

“How to find your style” by Kelly Marie

I hope all the philosophy above was inspiring. And if you already have a good sense of your style, awesome! But what if you don’t really know? How do you get there? Here’re a couple of activities:

One Option

  1. Think about something you care a lot about. Any topic: music, politics, family history, social justice, abstraction, science, fashion, the sublime, life, death. Forget school. Forget art galleries. Forget HR Directors, Creative Directors, and Art Directors. Forget Curators, Collectors, and Clients. What topic means the most to you?
  2. List 3 different media you could use to make a piece that explores your topic. Any 3 media. But different: Painting, Photography, Installation, Performance, Animation, and more. Pick 3.
  3. Sketch! Pull out a pencil, your tablet, or whatever you like to imagine and think with. Sketch out how you would explore your topic in each of your 3 media.
  4. Evaluate. Now look at your 3 sketched out ideas and think about which is the most compelling. I once wanted to make a piece about Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The 9 Billion Names of God. My first idea was to put an LED Reader Board in the gallery. It would constantly be changing characters displaying “The 9 Billion Names of God”. I decided that this piece would technically satisfy my goal, but would be a fairly boring work of art. My final choice was to suspend a laserprinter from the ceiling of the gallery, write a small postscript program to generate pages of “names”, remove the laserprinter’s delivery tray, and have the printer run 24/7 printing out sheets of names that would float and fall to the gallery floor. After a couple weeks there was a sinusoidal pile of paper in the gallery. This piece was much richer than that first LED Reader Board idea, even though they were both takes on the same core idea.
  5. Make it. Whichever of your ideas feel the most powerful, do it!

Another Option

If you have a good sense of where you’re at, but don’t have all the portfolio materials you need, for example:

  • Want to design sports uniforms but don’t have any in my portfolio
  • Want to make a pitch bible for a show I’d like to create, but no class has asked me to
  • Want to be a tattoo artist, have illustrations in my portfolio, but not any Tattoo Illustrations

This is the week to do it!

What’s the most important thing your portfolio should have and doesn’t have ATM?

Make one this week! Take pix and add the new work to your portfolio! 😀

Buy Stuff?

I don’t want to:

  • Promote Consumerism – everything about our culture already does too much of that
  • Promote Credit Card Debt – try to only spend money you actually have
  • Promote buying from Amazon – they create massive human suffering. Their prices are low, but the cost is too high. Try to buy anywhere else.

Still, if there’s something you need for your career and don’t have:

  • A Tablet for Procreate illustrations
  • Tattoo Machine
  • Laptop
  • Camera
  • etc

This could also be the week to do that. Don’t obsess over tools and don’t go into debt buying expensive tools. But we do need some tools sometimes. And the very cheapest one is often not the best choice.

If you need a tool, maybe watch a bunch of YouTube videos and figure out what a good choice is. If you need it and have the money – buy it.

How to find your art style FAST in 3 easy steps (yeah, really) by Kelsey Rodriguez

All Art Careers & Media

I’ve referred to painters like Monet & Basquiat on this page. And the 2 “find your style” videos I added refer to painting.

But whatever you do, whatever your career, whatever media you work with, you can find your style.

Think of all the kawaii influenced graphic design out there. Or, think of all the goth influenced graphic design out there.



Whatever you choose to make this week, post concept sketches and images or video of your final project anywhere you like:

  • Google Docs
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • Gyazo
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • etc, etc…

And then post links to your content on your Etherpad.

Write a few words on Etherpad describing your goal and what you wound up creating. Does this piece feel like you? Is it an example of your personal style? Why or why not?

How can you move forward in developing a personal style, whether it’s completely unique and out there, or your take on an existing commercial space that you’d like to fit into?

Add it to your Portfolio Website!

This week can be an exploration or experiment. A great experiment might teach you something valuable without necessarily producing a “masterpiece” at the same time.

Still, I encourage you to try to make a strong piece this week that can be a useful addition to your portfolio.

Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat. image: British GQ

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