Finding your art style as a journey into the Self — 4 practical tips

An “art style” is less about art than about the self. 

We say “style” all the time, but what we really need to think of is our “personal voice.” It’s your personal vision, taste, and character that is unique as you are, and it will grow just as you have grown to be who you are today.

Still, the question remains: you want to develop a distinctive voice that people will come to know you for, but, you are not sure where to start.

To start off with..

It’s a good thing to explore a wide range of medium and techniques at the beginning, and not just visual art, sound, performance, creative writing…it’s a process of discovery that might feel like searching in the dark, but, that’s also a beautiful thing.

Then, there’s going to be a time when you narrow down and focus on the medium and genre that really speak to you – keep an inspiration folder; if there are works of particular artists you absolutely love, find out why they make works the way they do.

Work by modern artist Sanyu that inspired me.

Focusing on a particular genre instead of doing an infinite array of creative endeavor is just the beginning, but you don’t want to rush this step, either. Ask yourself what method or process you enjoy doing from the heart, it has nothing to do with trends.

So how do you uncover what’s uniquely yours? 

My style is always evolving, that doesn’t mean I haven’t “found” my style, and it’s the same for you. Your voice will show in everything you do, evolving as you tweak a few elements, introduce new ideas, and hone your taste – all the while refining your skills.

That said, there are things that I wished I knew when starting my journey into art, so here is my advice to share with you:

1. Be genuinely interested in something outside of visual art

All creative forms are an attempt to be in dialogue with life.

Many people can learn the skills to make amazing art, but what sets a work apart is that it’s interesting. That means you need to make your life interesting.

Don’t just skim the surface of a myriad of stimuli you may choose to expose your self to, go deeper. When you go deep enough, it will show through your work, even if you don’t make work about the subject. It could shape your approach, the techniques, rituals, and materials in your art making; it’s all the little things together that’s going to make your work unique. 

Detail of an earlier work fueled by my passion for mountains.
2. Keep a meditation practice

Whichever tradition that connects with you, make it a priority to practice daily, it helps to find out who you are.

I tried mediation in college but felt I could never find time in my daily life to meditate. It was in 2015 when I first took an immersive meditation course at a Vipassana center, that I started to practice more seriously.  In many ways it felt like a game changer for me. (Of course, you wouldn’t make “finding an art style” the main objective for meditation, rather see it as a byproduct.)

3. Learn from a master. 

In case you didn’t catch that, don’t try to have a style right from the gecko.

Dedicate yourself to learning from a master for a period of time is the surest way to adopt a style. Yes, it’s going to look a lot like your teacher’s work, but that’s also the surest way your personal voice will come through.

Remember you have to learn the rules in order to break them, you progress by making small breakthroughs along the way, and once you master the craft and internalized the rules, it’s time to break them. What you make now might no longer speak to you one year from now, be happy with that.

Master miniature artist Govind Ramdev, his sensibility of lines and colors has become part of my art.

4. Describe your WHY in writing. 

And keep going back to it, put it up on your wall as your mantra. 

“Write to discover what you know” I feel it applies to artists too. For me, writing is another way to look at my inspirations and structure loose ideas into concrete thoughts.

What is it that really drives you to do art? What makes you feel fulfilled? What is your IKIGAI and where can your art practice fit? Writing down the ideas about your WHY as you go, even as it is evolving, will help you see the path more clearly and stick to what’s important. When you want to be more playful and even try a totally new medium, the work will be grounded to a central theme.

Last words about style

Instead of feeling stuck about not having a style, do the ground work; it’s not an overnight process for any artist, even for those who are insanely talented, hardworking, and productive (you can see how James Jean’s oeuvre transformed over a decade on his website).

What you really need to do, at any stage, is just be yourself, do your own thing at the place you are now, be open-minded but don’t simply do what everyone else is doing, there are too many shiny objects in the world.

An early work as a reminder to do the things you love, even if it’s difficult.

Before you know it, people will start to tell you how much they love your style. Have fun.

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