Finding Artistic Style

Many years ago someone at an art exhibition told me that they knew a painting was mine from a distance because they recognised my style. This was curious to me because I don’t give much thought to my style. I just paint in a way that pleases me. I try to express the message behind the painting and honour the subject, but I don’t consciously think about how the painting is going to represent me as an individual artist. I often play with technique and composition just to challenge myself and to see how it turns out.

Many art students have told me their goal is to paint like some famous artist. I wonder if artists who want to paint “like the French Impressionists” might paint differently if their goal had been to paint as the best version of themselves. What if Van Gogh had wanted to paint like Bouguereau instead of being himself? We would not have the wonderful variety in art that we do toady. There are many artists whose work I enjoy viewing and whose skill I admire, but I don’t try to paint like them.

As artists we draw inspiration from the world around us, whether it is nature, other artists, literature, or dreams. It is one thing to be inspired to paint a lily pond after seeing a Monet painting. It is another to try and paint it so that it looks like a Monet painting. Imitating another artist is depriving the world of your own artistic personality. I enjoy Coldplay’s music, but imagine if every singer tried to sing like Chris Martin instead of themselves or if other musicians only played covers of Coldplay songs!

“Marina Reflection” (pastel on panel 91.5x122cm, by Christopher Reid ) is meant to blur the lines between still life, portrait and landscape

Another question I am often asked is how to find your style. The idea is that you reach a stage where you have a recognisable style that you paint in. I find this concept fundamentally flawed. It implies that style is something static. It focuses on a destination instead of the journey. It implies that an artist should only have one style. It discourages the experimentation that is so important to artistic growth.

Is style really a destination? We change with time. We discover new interests and techniques. Shouldn’t style change as we change? Shouldn’t we be open to exploration and innovation? Should our goal really be to find a style? The definition of creativity is “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” That doesn’t sound like painting in a fixed way or trying to paint like another artist to me.

“Shorebird Convention” (watercolor on paper by Christopher Reid) was an experiment with joining silhouetted shapes together while capturing the effect of the sun on the water.

The more you paint, the more you learn about yourself. You learn what colours you prefer, what subjects interest you most, techniques that help you effectively express your vision, and how detailed you want a painting to be. You might find that holding a brush a certain way, or types of strokes, or textural effects bring you joy.

Many artists become so focused on how they say something that they aren’t concerned with what they are saying. Art is a form of communication. What do you wish to communicate with the world? What do you have to add to the art conversation? What do you find interesting that you want to share with viewers? If you are carrying a canvas and a bird poops on it, there are many art critics that would rave about it being great art and people that would buy it, but what are you actually communicating?

“The Queen Of Pela Graca” (acrylic on panel 45x60cm, by Christopher Reid ) focuses on mood, but I had fun losing edges, using low chroma, and texture.

Periodically I will lay out several recent paintings so I can view them as a collection and spot patterns. I look for things that I am repeating or colours that I am relying heavily on. Then I change up my palette or make sure to explore different compositions and subjects. If art becomes a formula, I won’t get as much joy from it. Life is a visual feast and I don’t want to taste only one dish. I don’t want a preconceived style to limit my creativity, what media I choose, subjects, or how I communicate visually. If my unique voice is recognisable, that is great, but I won’t let it dictate how I create art.

Style is what happens when you paint in your own artistic voice. Don’t force it. Don’t even think about it. Just paint with joy and be yourself.

Christopher Reid

Leave a Reply