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Find Your Style and Stick with It! Sigh . . .

by Carolyn Henderson on 5/16/2016 9:28:03 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.


I don’t have to ask you if you’ve ever been told, “Find your style and stick with it! That’s the secret of succeeding as an artist,” because I know that, if you’re an artist, you’ve heard this.

It is one of the conventional art wisdom platitudes uttered by gallery owners, university professors, art critics, art business seminar leaders and authors, and total strangers who are an unending resource of ideas on how to make your business succeed.

Interestingly, none of these people has a vested interest in the actual success of your business, nor do any of them have to deal with your monthly bills. Most of them do not create art themselves, although they deal with people who do -- they need artwork for their inventory, or they sell items or services to artists -- and based upon this experience, they guide, teach, and direct. For their own business, it’s more convenient, easy, and efficient to deal with artists that they can classify into niches: swirly landscapes, predominantly red abstracts, tight figuratives, or monochromatic seascapes.

(Remember: when you are dealing with people who are dealing with a lot of artists, it is inevitable that you will become a bit of a number or commodity. As nice as the people we are dealing with are, they still, to run their own business, need to think in terms of what works best for them. You, as a person running your own business, must not lose sight of what is best for you. The best business relationship between two parties is when the twain do meet, however lightly.)

On the surface, the find-your-style adage makes sense. I mean, we’ve all heard of Thomas Kinkade, right?

And there are other artists, associated with a particular style, some of whom even trademark their names.

But before we jump to the conclusion that the sole, primary, and principal reason that these artists “made it” is because they found a style and stuck with it, we might also consider that,

1) Lots of artist find a style and stick with it, and do not become household names,

2) If the style of the artist is so in demand, then all the various knock-off artists who replicate that style should make it as well,


3) Finding a style and sticking with it is a form of branding ourselves -- which is a major factor in marketing -- so success with this method is not limited to the quality of the artist’s work. Equally, or maybe more, important is the networking, the self-promotion, the time and economic environment in which the artist finds him- or herself, the contacts, and the publicity that come into play. Think, Andy Warhol. Or Jackson Pollock.

So yes, this idea of finding a style and sticking with it can work, but it will likely involve pursuing, aggressively, the self-branding philosophy, an issue we’ll be addressing later in this series of essays on Myths That Hold Us Back.

And also yes, the idea of finding a style and sticking with it does, on one level, have something to do with getting really good at what we do, but, and this is a BUT --


it can also prevent us from getting better at what we do because

1) we get stuck in a rut,

2) we are reluctant to experiment,


3) (don’t you love points in sets of three? I do) pushing ourselves through variety is one of the best way to improve our skills.

I might also add

4) some people, especially university students and new artists, are pressured into deciding on a particular style too early in their lives or career.

And while we’re at it, let’s add

5) many artists, convinced they have found their style, stick with it to the point of death and wonder why nothing ever goes anywhere, but tell themselves it’s because they haven’t been “discovered yet” (another myth we’ll look at later). They become slaves to a particular way of doing things for no other reason that they’re convinced that this is the way that things must be.

Next time, let’s talk about: "Variety and Experimentation: It’s What Art, and Life, Are All About"



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Related Posts:

Myths That Hold Us Back

The Biggest Question of Them All

Behind the Biggest Question of Them All

My Three Cats and the Real Artist

Topics: advice for artists | Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews 

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Andrea Jeris
I always enjoy your articles. You content is right on the money. Thanks for writing.

Interesting. I find that artists that have a background in business get the connection between choosing to create something that sells vs. trying to sell something they've created that has no market value. My college art training did not include any classes on how to make a living selling art. It was mainly focused on creating something new and different than anyone else, even at the expense of teaching good fundamental skills. Marketing and selling was never addressed. I consider that a waste of an opportunity to prepare an artist for the real world.

Margo Schwirian
Thanks, Carolyn, I enjoy your articles.

Thank you for this article. As an artist, I think that we inherently have our own style, no matter the subject matter, if we create from the authentic well of creative expression from within. This idea that we need to find our style and stick with it is one that I've heard all my art career. It is challenging when you want to veer off and experiment. I look forward to your next article on experimentation. With my beginning remark about our style being inherent, I think that might or might not be true? This is something I will think about as I look over my own body of work. I think I do have a certain sensibility and maybe that comes across as style? Maybe we need to define what style is. And then there is the idea of evolving as we learn and do the work. Thanks, Carolyn, for giving me a can opener to my mind so I can swirl around with these ideas and concepts.

Mark Brockman
One of the best reads yet Carolyn, thanks.

'Find your style and stick to it' means, unlike every product (a product being anything and everything created), there will never be a 'New and improved' version.

If I wanted to make money off something that never changes I would make, wait, I can't think of anything that doesn't change.

Yup, I liking making money off my art, but I like making art more. That means I need to experiment, push myself and my painting, think of new ideas and new ways to express those ideas, to open myself up to my ever changing moods and emotions. If the only way to success is to find a style and stick to it I'll take failure instead, it's more fun. Besides if you study those artists who were successful, they did not sit still, they grew artistically, most of them anyway.

J.Christian Snedeker
Tell that to Pablo Picasso ! : )

Perry Austin
Just paint what YOU like and your style/technique will take care of its self. Remember the great Ken Howard,says "If I lose the buzz, the painting loses the buzz". If you want to sell, then follow Jack White's advice and try to paint scenes that people like. DUH!

Aisling Kiernan
Wonderful article. I loved it and agree wholeheartedly!

Kevin Mizner
Great article! It reminds me of what a client said to me just the other day. "What gives? I thought most artists stick to the same subject, but you do landscapes and seascapes and portraits. Isn't that unusual to do that?" I replied that while I like to paint different genres and subjects, "I hope they all look like the same guy painted them!"

Carolyn, I wish you could be made president of our art world.
Sending you gratitude and yes, love!

Marian Fortunati
I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Carolyn. -Always practical and wise.

Be well and keep growing!

Allyna Harris
I trained as a musician and composer before I became a painter. I write all kinds of music and I paint all kinds of pictures. I do not have or want gallery representation. I do gallery shows and open studio events. My paintings are inspired by nature's energy and flow and sometimes reality but are often very different from each other. My colour palette changes and so do my tools, sometimes brushes, sometimes palette knives. I am continually surprised by the variety of work I have been able to sell in this way (look for the red dots on my web site images :))
Sometimes a piece that I love and think will have universal appeal gets very little reaction. Sometimes a quick piece I am considering painting over gets snapped up at a studio sale and more "likes" on Facebook when I experiment with posting it than one of my "masterpieces" I slaved over for weeks! I find the whole process fascinating! I am curious and interested in all kinds of things. I could not paint the same thing every day. Yet galleries are still interested in what I am doing and my art collectors eager to see the latest things I am working on. My feeling is to be happy and successful in our creative work takes getting out of the way of oneself and imagined expectations. Just make the best work we can and offer it with the most open heart! Thank you for your article. I think many artists need to hear your thoughts on this.

Aleada Aine Siragusa
I just thought you may enjoy this quote from Edouard Manet concerning style, "The Fools! They've Never stopped me. I'm inconsistent: they couldn't have said anything more flattering. It has always been my ambition not to remain consistent, not to repeat tomorrow what I did yesterday, but to respond constantly to a fresh vision and seek to make a new voice heard."

quote from the Book {Manet by himself Edited by Juliet Wilson-Bareau} page 204

Aleada Aine Siragusa
Write another comment . . .

Pamela Beer

I've even had people tell me that when I find my style they'll buy a painting. I have let that one go! I held onto that belief for a long time. Now I am just having a great time doing what I want, what pleases me. I will paint something until I'm tired of painting it and then move on. If I get discovered...nice, in the meantime, I'll just help people discover me;-).

Barbara Wagner
A first time responder! But I have read your articles with pleasure for 6 months. Great article, honest and leads to some good thinking! I teach 4-5 art classes a week, and one of my students said, "Barbara, your work is different in style than a few years ago!" I said to her, I hope so. Through constant workshops (many different teachers) and experimentation, my work has evolved, and this is a good thing! I don't think we should be so consumed with "what sells" since it will affect our enjoyment in the process and yes, as you said, our freedom to experiment. Appreciate your encouragement!

Jeanie Schlump
I use many techniques to paint. My "style" is not the application, but my continuous use of color.

Sally fraser
Experimenting and style . In the past ,artists borrowed and learned from each other and allowed their art to grow and improve while probably not swinging too erratically from their style, However , Picasso had he not dared to venture way out and let his creativity loose, what a different story that would be!
I have a feeling that we are entering a new phase in art, that allows more freedom.

Your articles are not only wise and thought provoking, they are also succinct and a breeze to read. Giving me more time to create. Thank you!

Thank you! I have been told this, and have resisted it. I find doing the same thing or in the same style boring and stifling. I paint in acrylics, pastels, watercolor, mixed media and collage. I paint landscapes, animals, abstracts, vehicles and cityscapes. I crave variety. I found your insights to be spot on and very helpful.

Lyrae Perry
I really have a problem with putting artists in a category and making them stay there. Yes, from a marketing standpoint it's good because it's easy, but from the perspective of artists, we need to have room for our art to evolve. I've worked in construction accounting most of my life to pay the bills, but I have always been an artist--a painter, a graphic artist, and a crafter. I work in most media, including digital art too. I'm a marketing copy writer (to help people sell stuff). I've always painted and created in a variety of styles and media. I love it all and I love experimenting. I've been advised that I should use a different name on each style of art and put up different websites instead of showing all my art on one website, because it confuses buyers about what niche I'm in. Hmmmmm ... I'll go as far as creating separate pages on one website for each genre or style, but I don't want to put up different sites. For one thing, I don't have time to maintain all that and paint too. Besides, I really like all the different things I get to do with my art. The variety is really a reflection of who I am past and present and foreshadows where I'm going in the future. I've got multiple interests and tastes, why should I have to pick which is the "real me" to carry my real name and hide the rest? And as some others have posted, our art is changing and growing as we do. However, as a marketer, I understand about pitching the right material to the proper target market. And I do that. My Cosmic Road series is presented to galleries and buyers who like modern art. The tightly painted watercolor botanicals and wildlife art is only interesting to a different group of buyers or galleries. My big solution is to paint in series. This gives my art the room it needs. I pitch specific series portfolios to the right target audience. They don't see the other work I do so they aren't overwhelmed or confused. Because I'm always pushing the envelope,cross over artworks emerge that bridge more than one genre or style. For example, "Steampunk Chicks" is a fantasy piece, painted realistically with robot chicks, real eggs, candy eggs and confused looking fluffy bantam chick. While the painting is a really specific audience/target market, I can get away with presenting it in several different target market public shows, but not necessarily with a gallery showing. Many galleries are pitching to a narrow audience segment (think buyers), and they know what they want and what works for their clientele. Do your homework on the galleries you're interested in and give them what they want to be successful. BUT, I think artists need to paint what's fun, what they love and enjoy, because that good energy is going to translate into the work and be felt and seen by others.

Aisling Kiernan
thats great advice Lynn, while I paint in series and try to group like with like, it did not occur to me to pitch them to specific autdiences in order to sell. Thank you for explaining it so well.


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