Finding Your Style while Building Your Audience?

  • I'd love to get people's take on what feels like a bit of a conundrum for me.

    I have spent a lot of time building up my technical skills, and I know that I can always learn more, but I feel like I am at the point now where one of my biggest weaknesses is not really knowing what my "voice" or style is. I like a lot of different styles, and I am drawn to so many different types or art, illustration, and visual stories.

    There is also this idea of wanting to start building up an audience, but without a sense of what my style is or even what I'm really doing, this seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse. I often feel like to find my own style, I need to hunker down and work and not worry about what other people think and just really explore the depths, lest I end up just imitating someone else's style. And yet, doing art is also not merely a self indulgent exercise because it should be something enjoyed by others.

    I know it's a bit of an open ended question, but I'd love to hear other people's take on what feels to me like an invisible rock in my shoes.

  • @robgale your drawings certainly have a signature style already. I think the bigger issue is finding out what you want to do and then your style just shows up. I noticed this especially doing Inktober. No matter what I drew I saw a certain flavor to my drawing even if I was intentionally trying out a different style or genre. So I guess you need to decide what direction to go or explore.

  • Forgive me but I think you are over analyzing things too much. Don’t delay building a community because your art is exactly the community with artistic growth as the backbone. Explore, create, shift, change and bring those people along for the ride AND get their input along the way. If you wait until it’s perfect, it will never happen. My style was very different two years ago but I just kept working and posting and talking with people. Now I have a more defined look but I’m still growing. Had I waited u til now to start building an audience, I’d be missing an enormous following online.

  • Pro SVS OG

    Funny I was listening to the last live-streaming by Aaron Blaise yesterday (he paints live and answers questions coming in through the audience for a couple of hours, once per week) and somebody asked a question very similar to yours.
    His answer was pretty much in line with what you will hear over and over again: you don’t find your style, your style finds you. Just work, let yourself be inspired by the artists you admire and draw what interests you. One exercise that helped me in many different ways is to make copies of another artist´s work for one hour and then draw my own stuff in their style for an hour. And then forget about that artist and go to the next...
    As for growing an audience, that´s a byproduct. If you do work that you find interesting and means something to you, other people will find it interesting too. As you change and grow, some people will loose interest and others will come. People may be interested in your journey. Others will only come for the final result. I´ll let Bansky say it better - sorry for the strong wording “Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don't go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.”

  • I've been having this problem lately too, I'm finding it hard to get to the style that suits me and that I enjoy. Like everyone has already said, don't hold back until you think it's perfect because that will never happen, your style is always going to change as you grow as an artist and when you discover new artists. Share your work and process on social media/friends etc and you'll definitely find out what people like better and they may give you valuable input to improve - that's what this forum is for I guess!
    Keep working though and eventually you will find a style that you enjoy working in and what seems comfortable 🙂

  • Have you ever thought about it in terms of personal brand, or personal mission statement? More than visual style focusing in on your current goals and sense of purpose could provide a 'backbone' as someone else suggested. Then you can start sharing as you explore. And it can change/evolve. I like your question.

  • @chrisaakins Good point! I have a tendency to over think things, but maybe it's just more a matter of taking a step back and seeing that "flavor" that you're talking about.

  • @anthonywheeler I like what you're saying, it's like they are two parts of the same thing. That, in a way, the making can't really be separated from the sharing, and that doing one without the other just leaves you to have to catch up on the other later.

  • @smceccarelli I really like what you're saying, I think it takes a bit of a leap of faith that what you like and what you are interested in, other people will also be interested in. To be honest, this freaks me out a bit, and yet, I know it's true. It's like you don't have control, you just keep moving!

  • @hannahmccaffery This is a great reminder. Style is ever evolving, not a fixed thing. It's so easy to forget! It's also so nice to be reminded that this isn't just something that I alone struggle with. Thanks for the encouraging words!

  • @martha-sue I have thought of it in these terms, and in some ways I do think it's helpful, but I have a hard time with branding and mission statements and things like that. They just feel so abstract for me, so I have a hard time acting on them. Though I think the big picture thinking you're talking about is also something that I struggle with and would benefit from keeping in mind.

    Has that kind of thing helped you? I'm always curious to hear about what works for people, maybe there's just some aspect of it that I'm missing.

  • @robgale I guess because I am doing graphic design work and have been in marketing art direction it's my language, it helps me make sense of other people's businesses and then make work for them. I know it can be hard to connect with and even seem silly. But I do believe it's how we consume media conciously or not. A brand is what the audience believes about it, if you can become mindful of what your putting out there and understand how it's experienced by your audience then it seems to me there's more hope of achieving your goals, and directing attention. But it does have to be genuine so it's critical to find a way of working on it that doesn't feel off-putting to you. I thought this episode of creative pep talk said it well:

  • @robgale actually now I'm curious, just looking at your work you've obviously been immersed in commercial work of all kinds, how do you think about client brands? Is it different when you apply it to your illustration work?

  • @martha-sue

    To be honest, I think I'm jaded from having done design work for a number of years. The soul is all gone from the process for me now, and it's just work. I know it's not this way for everyone, I have friends who are passionate about their design work, but for me, the juice is gone.

    So it IS really different applying the work I do for a client vs doing it for myself. Basically, I don't have a personal investment in the end product.

    Making pictures though, primarily for myself and a small community of fellow artists and friends, has this enthusiasm and passion, and I think on some level I'm afraid of losing that.

    This is really good for me to hash out. The truth is, I think I need to work toward a kind of reconciliation between these two parts, which is represented by the "finding the voice" ie getting in touch with that which is meaningful to me through my art, and "building an audience" ie putting that work out into the world. It's all too easy for me to bury one while I pursue the other.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @robgale The reason I didn’t pursue professional illustration when I was young and never attempted it until in my late thirties is that I was afraid that transforming my “hobby” into a profession would take all the joy out of it. So I think your thoughts are very valid and you should give yourself time to sort them out. Decide what you really want out of art and how you want your life to look like (one author said: “Don´t choose a career, choose a lifestyle”).
    For me, I can say working professionally has not taken the joy out of doing art, as I feared, but it has forced me to find another “hobby” (writing, as is).

  • How would you define the style you currently have? and what is the style you want to have?

    I can relate about the difficulties in finding your own style as it's something I struggled with and still struggle with, however I have come to realise that there isn't a specific style for every artist. Whenever I feel like I have found a style I like, I have adjusted it in some way in my next piece. If I decide I don't like the new style I look back on what I did like and why it worked for me. I've recently started a "100 kids" project and want to avoid doing everything the same style so that a style can find me through copying others, mixing styles, evolving them and going wild. Try to enjoy making what you make and don't think about it too much, you already have a style, but that doesn't mean it has to define you throughout your career.

  • @smceccarelli It's really encouraging to hear that a. You didn't start to pursue it until later, and b. that you haven't lost the enthusiasm for it.

    I don't think I need to lose my enthusiasm for the work, being a little older and hopefully wiser, I think I know what to look out for, and I want to be cautious about making sure I'm doing work that I enjoy, rather than just doing whatever comes my way.

    I like that quote "Don't choose a career, choose a lifestyle". I'm going to chew on that for a bit!

  • @gary-wilkinson Great stuff! I feel like this process will be a constant back and forth between "defining" and allowing things to take their natural course.

    I am naturally a somewhat anxious person and I think it becomes hard to remember to just enjoy the process, so constantly reminding myself of this, and hearing about other people on similar journeys is extremely helpful.

    Looking forward to seeing your 100 kids project take shape!

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