Artistic Style

Part 4 of the OCA Illustration 1 course is ‘Style’. There is a good explanation at the start of the section and other descriptions of what style comprises through the projects and exercises but… have I understood it? Do I ‘get it’? I’m not sure, it seems like just the kind of thing that I would mis-uderstand. So I’ve started to look for other explanations to help me round-out my own understanding.

my artistic style emerged from the deep recesses of my brain and began taking hold more prevalently in my work


This is from a contribution entitled Crossroads – From Jack of All to Master of One and I like it because it matches my own experience in other fields. In this case the ’emerging style’ is not necessarily linked to a ‘great style’ – so I’ve seen it in my writing, where the style that has emerged has only contributed to structuring my existing ability rather than making it great.

STYLE  Style is both general and very individual. Just as every person has a unique handwriting, every person’s art has a unique style. Some big general categories are Realistic (photographic), Expressive (less realistic with lots feeling), Fantastic (surrealistic) (real but impossible – as in a dream), Formal (very orderly and controlled), Nonobjective (without subject matter), Abstract (not realistic). Of course since every individual is unique, these are often combined and there are many sub categories as well.


When I fist read this I thought ‘this is not what I’m looking for’ but then I realised that, by contrast, it highlights what I am looking for. This paragraph sums up “big general categories [of style]”. Looking at these is part of the discovery of what a personal style is but it highlights that there are many subtleties to be found within each categories and probably a large body of styles that are hybrid categories.

…during a studio visit in early 1992, Philbin, at the time the director of the Drawing Center, fished an ink drawing out of a trash bin that Eisenman had done of Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble having sex. “She said, ‘This is what you should be doing,’ ” Eisenman recalls. “She meant that I needed to speak personally. I was throwing away that point of view, because I thought there was no place for it. So the floodgates opened.”

This extract speaks to ‘risk’, ‘vulnerability’ (thank you Brene Brown), the significance of other peoples’ opinions (they count, but they are not the answers.. or do they count? Discuss.), judgment of ones own judgements, taboos and ‘fitting in’.

It’s also a moment… the floodgates opened… what is evident is that this personal style had been building up like the filling of a reservoir: slow and steady… waiting for that moment of release. When I say ‘moment of release’, I don’t mean an orgasm… I mean this buildup of material was now allowed to pass out into the world. An orgasm would be ‘a moment of release’ but then it would be over and you’d go to sleep and… carry on as usual the next day. Her floodgates opening were a change in her life – a pivotal moment. Not one piece of work rescued from the trash but everything that followed.

Still – the important thing to see is the buildup before hand… it didn’t happen overnight, it was just released having been formed in private over a long time.

Now… there is this website called Quora which is where people, anybody really, can answer questions. They can be upvoted by other members (or down-voted). These opinions vary widely, they may be very insightful or completely wrong… and it’s a question of making that judgement:

Then question is “How important is it to have a signature style as an artist in conceptual or contemporary art in our times?”. The answers include…

Copying the symptoms of a popular trend overlooks the process that produced those works, usually resulting in unconvincing work lacking in depth.

The style cannot exist without the process that leads to it. Process takes practice.

… a style (a way of doing things) develops naturally, with practice.

Being self-conscious about developing a style leads to affectation and stunts artistic growth.

This is a reference to fabricating a style externally… what I’m reading is: a warning not to do it; to decide in advance what your style is going to be denies the process and practice required to develop one that has personal integrity; somebody else’s style cannot be yours.

My Style

MY style is definitely not set. Perhaps others see patterns or strengths but I do not seem myself as at all settled. The first project in Part 4, ‘Tools and Materials’, calls for looking at artistic use of material and medium by practitioners, comparing those in the same general area for specific use and approach.  It talks about the separation of ‘Style’ and ‘Concept’.

I’ve been aware that I can get very into the development of a ‘concept’ for an illustration but the next stages that involves composing and planning the process are not so easy for me… I dithered over how to introduce colour for the last assignment… that is, whether to use Photoshop to colour a black and white image, or whether to use coloured pencils or paints to create the imagery. In the end I used a hybrid of paint, pen and computer to produce the finished result.

My experience of media is like this:

  • Paper (or any substrate): the idea of choosing a surface to work on is a little new for me.  have tended to ‘default’ to easily-available white paper. Sometimes wood and board presents themselves.
    I’ve just recently started to try black and brown papers. Notably using black in order to remove the substrate as a focus (such as the wave for Assignment 3). This in itself led to a quick doodle experiment with a white pen using coloured and black paper… inspired by the problem of showing white foam on a wave.
  • Paint: My experience with paints is quite limited. I have watercolour tubes, oils, acrylic and gouache available but I don’t have a ‘feel’ in my head for what the capabilities of each are.
    I recently used the solid tablets of watercolour rather than tubes and perhaps these are more manageable for some things.
    Oil paints always surprise me for their texture and how they can be used. They are very vivid and I have enjoyed the results of their use several times now.
  • Pencils, Colour: It’s taken me a while to discover how much better the ‘proper artists’ pencils are compared to the coloured pencils that are regularly available from supermarkets etc. Add to this the possibility of using water with them (a third way to use watercolour paint!) and they are much more versatile than I had imagined.
  • Pencils, sketching: I’ve been using these for a long time but I don’t feel I’m at all mastered them. I can produce a reasonable objective study given the time and freedom from interruption – that’s more about application of observation than mastery of the pencil. On the contrary – I’ve not managed a good objective re-production using paint!
  • Ink: there’s something I like about ink but I haven’t been able to grasp it yet! I’m interested in its ‘messiness’ – the potential for spilling or flicking it… writing with it and having the nib produce ink blobs randomly. I used it to allude to blood in my ‘SHUNT’ picture – the brake lights of cars were picked out with red ink painted to look like each was a ‘splatter’ of blood. Because the red ink was not opaque the line drawing showed through well.
  • Digital: there’s a whole world of digital ‘tools’ to try… starting with the simulation of every tangible, non-digital medium and substrate. I find it to be both a curse and blessing – it’s a fantastic way to ‘compose’ elements of an image but it can be very difficult to be expressive via a mouse and pointer. A substantive difference is that you can’t see the material with which you are making the marks – it appears ‘magically’ when you apply it.
    ON the plus side I enjoy the ability to easily mask areas and paint textures within those shapes… something I might try more of IRL.
  • Spray gun: I use this at work for painting scenery on a life-sized scale. It can be extremely useful. I can imagine that I would enjoy making illustrations on a larger scale for them to be reduced to become A4 artwork in a book or poster.


All good things…

This post has been all about getting my head around the topic… the idea of ‘Style’. I’ve looked at what other people have to say about it and tried to understand what they mean. I’ve looked at some of the things I’ve been doing with media but, ultimately, this is not about ‘finding’ my style. Just about understanding what it means.

I have a wide range of media that I use and there are many more (like printing) that I have barely touched upon. The best advice seems to be that developing a style means allowing yourself to have a style rather than choosing it – it sounds a bit like finding a ‘Spirit guide’ in the Native American culture. It finds you!



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