Lately I have been feeling the pressure of finding or creating my signature style as an artist. In this blog I want to elaborate on this: is it really vital to find or pursue your signature style? What are the pros and cons of a signature style? And, in case you come to the conclusion that it is vital: how do you find it?
A SIGNATURE STYLE AS AN ARTIST: IS IT VITAL?
If you’re an artist or pursue any form of creative profession these days, online marketing is vital. Or so does everyone keep telling me. It’s the one thing Martha May Ronson, Navigating the art world by Delphian Gallery and Donald Miller (StoryBrand) have in common. Something about being a brand. Or creating a brand around yourself and your work. And how vital it is to have a brand if you want to become something like remotely successful in your line of work.
Something in me feels tiresome about having to build a brand around me and my work. Or frustrated. While at the same time I’m also very much intrigued about that whole branding idea. I mean, I didn’t call myself The Fran for nothing, right?! But I still can’t get my head around it: do I want it or do I not want it? And if I don’t want to, what’s the reason? Because it better be a very good one if you believe Ronson, Delphian and Miller…
THE PROS OF HAVING A SIGNATURE STYLE
So let’s start with appointing the pros of having a signature style:
- You and your work are being recognised by viewers and that’s how your own work becomes your best affiliate
- People know and become convinced about why they should be buying your work
- You automatically attract the right people (that is: if your brand suits you!)
- You will become trustworthy as an artist and as a business: you prove you deliver quality works within a recognisable range over a longer period of time, people dig that!
- Artistically you have a sort of base ball park from where you start. I guess that could make things easier when it comes to finding new ideas or exploring new subjects? (I cannot know this for sure, for I feel that I haven’t found my signature style yet.)
- As an artist it makes it easier to connect with suitable galleries, shows, events, etcetera. Because you will know immediately whether or not it’s a match.
THE CONS OF HAVING A SIGNATURE STYLE
Then there’s the cons of having a signature style. I don’t know about you, but I feel very strongly about these. Most of them are questions, because I’d really like your input on these!
- How is it possible to keep experimenting and exploring new ideas if you have to stick to your signature style?
- I myself find the work of artists who have found their signature style often very repetitive and boring. But I don’t know whether that’s a good thing? It could also mean that I am just not the intended viewer/buyer and that everything is sorting itself out?
- For me it feels very intangible: when do you have a signature style? What is required to call it that? Is just working with oil enough to appoint ‘oil’ as your signature? Or does it require something about the subjects or your approach as well?
- You can’t switch once you’ve found it? Again: question mark.
Let’s leave the list for what it is. Because I’d like to elaborate my doubts with an example. In her free masterclass on how to sell your art online Ronson talks about Banksy. About how he has build a very recognisable brand around him and his work. You immediately recognise his work as his. You know his values (political satire, transience) and his style (street art, black and white drawings). And when I heard Ronson talking about Banksy it really hit me: it works! I appreciate this Banksy brand as a viewer and as an art lover. But if I were in his shoes as an artist I would probably feel very restricted and confined. Or would I?
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO ONE QUESTION
Writing and thinking about this I now feel there’s just one very clear question I have to ask myself. What is my goal? If my goal is to make money with my art I think it is very clear that I should be working on becoming a brand. If my goal is to experiment until I die than maybe becoming a brand is less important.
The thing I am super curious about is how to combine the two! Would it be possible to ‘start’ a brand around me and my work in which I feel comfortable. And to keep experimenting on the side? How would that work? And does that mean that I can’t share those experiments within my own brand? I think that if I come up with a solution for this ‘problem’ I’d have the best of both worlds. To have a profitable art business together with a challenging and inviting artistic journey for me as an artist. To combine a recognisable brand AND the opportunity to keep experimenting.
HOW TO FIND YOUR SIGNATURE STYLE
Let’s just say we’ve solved the brand versus experimenting problem and that we want nothing more than to find our signature style. How would we go about it? And although I may not be so sure about whether or not I want a signature style, I really do think I cracked the code on this one:
- EXPERIMENT! It’s really that simple. Just lock yourself in your studio and try everything. Follow your gut. Make the things you want to make. Explore themes, subjects, mediums, surfaces, approaches and skills.
- Focus on what you like to do and the results that you love. So once you’ve found something you REALLY like doing, keep doing that, because that is a clear sign. The same goes for end results. Don’t be bothered with what others think about your end results. Be your own critic: if you like what you make, than you should pursue that. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make progress or try out new ways of looking at things, but that goes without saying.
- Create A LOT of work. Focus on productivity. Make as many artworks as you can for about one or two years. Try not to overthink it during those years. Then after that period of time look back on it. Can you see reoccurring themes, colours, approaches or maybe find a common denominator? Ask the opinion of your peers, your fellow artists, your friends, people from outside of the art world. What do they see?
- If you have gathered feedback then you can try to capture all of that into three or four words. Those words can be abstract or more concrete, it’s your choice. Put them together in a way that works for you and create your own art brand around it.
MY SIGNATURE STYLE?
Let’s say I would do this. And after asking feedback I would find out people love my ink drawings more than any of my other work. My ink drawings have been called striking, vibrant and bold. Then I could choose striking, bold and ink drawings as my signature style.
Same goes for if people would love my mixed media collages above anything else. They have been called colourful, sophisticated and striking. So now I know I could choose to pursue a signature style in collages as well. But would that mean that I should focus on making collages only?
Maybe I could also choose to forgo the specific medium and focus on ‘striking’. A word I’ve heard twice now. So it must mean something right! Right?
Enough food for thought. To be continued…
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?
I am very curious about how you feel about developing a signature style. Do you think it’s positive to pursue it? Or do you think it will just show itself after you put enough time and effort into your art? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.