I’ve spent years nailing down my “signature style” – most intensely this past summer which ultimately led to months of not being able to produce anything. Obsessing over my “style” and trying to be consistent with it sucked all the joy out of creating. It took me a long time to get back to working because that exploration took me so far off course that I couldn’t produce anything without feeling discouraged and conflicted 15 minutes into the project. It still haunts me – because although I paint Chinoiserie, I don’t have a style that you will immediately recognize. Yet.
In those explorations, though, I did find a few artists whose work I admire. Some of my work is influenced by theirs and part of the reason their art appeals to me is because I see some of my favorite techniques in their work and some of my highest aspirations. Here’s a list with links to their sites:
With that being said, my Chinoiserie prints (and my work as a pattern designer) don’t yet incorporate all those elements that I so love to produce. The clean art-deco style of Mads Berg has yet to make an appearance in one of my Chinoiserie prints. The immaculate line work and harmonious colors of Fei Fei Ruan is still just an aspiration for me. The easy flow and beautiful textures of Karl Martens’ birds aren’t in my repertoire. At this moment. The clean minimalism despite exquisite detail in Ray Morimura’s scenes remain out of reach for my impatient nature. For now. But that doesn’t mean the influence of this quartet of artists will be forever excluded from my own prints and I suspect they will begin to seep into the DNA of my work as an artist. Actually, some of them have begun to do just that.
I have started to use a shading technique I love – one that reminds me faintly of Mads Berg – in some of my designs. I have begun to incorporate some flowing lines that echo Fei Fei Ruan ever so slightly. The serene yet somehow packed scenes of Ray Morimura still elude me, as does the ethereal quality of Karl Martens’ work. But someday…if I keep producing enough work, those influences will begin to germinate in my own work. That will only happen if I’m patient and don’t spend too much time obsessing over it.
Developing your style is not something you can force – because if I’ve learned one thing it’s that your style grows organically. You fill up your bag of artistic tricks – and when those get used again and again, your style beings to show. You throw out a few things that don’t work as well for you and keep those that you know you can execute in a way that is only yours. After all, I don’t want to be Mads, Fei Fei, Karl, or Ray – I want to be me – not one of the great copycats. I don’t want to steal someone’s art – I want to produce art I love. Art that’s uniquely me. Art that echos the art I admire.
This is a pattern that illustrates what I’ve been talking about to a certain degree. The shading between the gray and white is one of my favorite things to do – it gives a nice blend with clean (but not hard) lines, the flowers are simplified in a way that keeps the busyness to a minimum, and the salted texture to the watercolor leaves makes them seem a little more organic.
Here’s that shading technique again – and I think the variation in color brings so much interest to the simple silhouette. The lines are clean, but not harsh.
On my to-do list is to add this technique in new ways to Chinoiserie patterns. It’s great as a background for a painting, but I think it can be so much more that just that. That minimalist/clean aesthetic appeals to me on such a deep level that I need it in more of my work.
So if you’re looking for your signature style, don’t look too hard. Don’t force it. Look at art you love, think about why you love it, then try to incorporate your own version of one (yes, ONE) aspect of that art into something. Try a few different techniques to get that element in to your work in your own way. After a few tries, choose the one you love to execute and stay with it for a few paintings. Then move on to a different element you love inspired by someone else’s work. Repeat. Eventually you’ll see those elements start to come together in your own work.