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Finding Artistic Style

Lee May Foster-Wilson / July 27, 2022

Shifting Visions - Finding Your Creative Style

Hello everyone, I hope you have been ok during the heatwave we have experienced this month? In Cornwall I definitely feel like we were on the outskirts of the worst of it and a cool sea breeze has been very welcome. My garden has suffered a little bit and I’m trying to be mindful of water usage…our water supply is a spring fed borehole and I always get a little conscious that one day it may just dry up! I am thankful for the sea being near when it’s time to cool down, it’s finally warmed up enough for me, though I am still a wimp and clad in a short wetsuit…I’m definitely no Wim Hof convert!Lee Foster-Wilson on the Beach

This month I have been forging ahead with making my new work. After the lull last month I am definitely picking it up again. I still feel a bit of the fear looking at a blank page and am catching myself procrastinating instead of just getting started but that is encouraging to me, recognising that and being mindful enough to give myself a kick up the arse and just get pen to paper. I am also recognising that my process is a bit slower than I thought it might be. In this day and age of social media there is that pressure to create and post something new very regularly but I’m leaning into that not being so possible for me all the time, and also that I like to sit on new work a while before I even show it to anyone and that’s ok. It has meant less time on social media too which is actually feeling very refreshing.

While I carry on making my new work the question of style has been popping into my head quite a lot. I feel like I am labelling this ‘new work’ because I feel like I have shifted my style a bit to make it, however when I look back over the work I have made in the last year or so I can definitely see the evolution, it’s not like it has come out of nowhere, though I do remember the moment I decided I actively wanted to change the way I was making things. It was when I was doing the roughs for the nature book I illustrated for the RHS, I made them quickly in my iPad using a painterly brush and they were quite detailed roughs, I remember really liking the way I had drawn a lot of the things I was illustrating. They were’t right for the finished book but it created a shift in the way I was looking at my work and how I wanted to proceed. It took me another year to finally have the confidence to actually start working that way!

An artists style is an ever evolving thing. No one will make the same style of work from when they first start creating art for the rest of their lives, it will evolve, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically. Some will spend a long time making work in one way and others will flit about from one thing to another, constantly experimenting with new techniques and ways of representing their ideas.An older piece of Lee Foster-Wilson's from 2009This is an older piece of mine from 2009 (The Stillness of Horses), back when I painted on wooden boards! My style has changed since then but you can still tell it is my work...

Take Patrick Heron and David Hockney for example, two of my all time favourite artists . Patrick Heron’s work has several distinct styles but he spent a long time creating work in a single style during each period, sometimes 10-15 years! And when you look at the work as a whole you can tell they all came from his hand and eye and that each one has influenced the next. The same shapes and colours come up time and time again just in different forms and mostly representing the same train of ideas. With Hockney, he spent time in working with different mediums concurrently, the style between them is different (paintings, drawings, photographs) but again you can tell they are his work because the things that link them, subject matter and colours are bound up by a strong drive to to find the best way to represent the world around him.Two Books - Patrick Heron by Mel Gooding and David Hockney's 'Pictures'These two books are fabulous resources if you would like to find out more about the work of Patrick Heron or Davis Hockney!

That leads me on to how our artistic style doesn’t just come from the way we work, or what the art actually is on a visual level, but also from the ideas behind it, what drives us to create in the first place. Which can often be more consistent I find.

So here I am, an established artist with a 16 year career making art for all kind of applications and yet I have felt this shift in my own style coming for quite a while. How to find this style is a question with an elusive answer, for new artists and those who are more established too. I think that if you have been making art for a while and feel a change coming it can be a bit daunting, a bit of dissatisfaction with what is being produced, perhaps the outcome doesn’t bring the same excitement any more.

And the same for new artists too. Here it is important to remember a thing called the talent gap, how what we perceive that we want to be producing doesn’t quite look so right when we finally get it on the page as it doesn’t in our minds eye. This is all down to practise and the realisation that finding style isn’t an over night process, it takes time and work and along the way it’s highly likely there will be even more dissatisfaction before we are making work we are happy with again!

So if you are feeling this way or if you are new to making art and can’t seem to settle on one way of working that clicks with you (which is fine too, some professionals have more than one style!) then what can you do about it?

Well, there’s no hard and fast answers (they are as elusive and diverse as the essence of art itself!) but here are a few things that I have found help me when I feel a shift coming…and these also work well when inspiration is running in short supply too. I’m sure there’s some sort of connection there that probably needs an entire blog post of it’s own!

1: Moodboard. One of my absolute favourite things to do when I need to figure out exactly what is making me tick on a visual level at any point in time. I make them a few times a year as I recognise that my interests are constantly shifting, what makes me tick changes depending on the season. If I feel in a rut or a dissatisfaction with what I am making this is usually my first port of call. How you make your moodboard is up to you, you could cut images out of magazines, gather books and photocopy pages, or get together images from the internet and Pinterest. Whatever you do, make sure they are from different sources/artists and arrange everything on a page however most pleases your eye.

Then you need to analyse it, spend some time noticing what you are drawn to in each of the images then look at them as a whole. What are the recurring themes and objects, what are the colours like, any texture or absence of it, what emotions do the images convey, how have they been created. Getting to understand what makes your heart go all a flutter is a great starting point on the journey to creating work in a style that feels like your own.A section of the moodboard on Lee Foster-Wilson's Studio WallA section of the current moodboard on my studio wall...

2: Think about what you are drawn to outside of making art. Do you have any hobbies or interests that could also fuel your art? Have you read any books recently that have ideas in them that got your creative brain firing or are there any subjects that you are passionate about? Thinking about how you could incorporate them into your work could also be a jumping off point for finding your style, for example, the ideas you have in mind could benefit from being represented in a literal way or perhaps they call for a more abstract approach.Lee Foster-Wilson's open sketchbook next to floral photograpic referencesMy love of the plants in my garden and the summer light that plays upon them is feeding heavily into my work at the moment.

3: Play play play! I seem to offer this advice all the time for many creative ailments or conundrums, but honestly, playing with your art and really letting loose is the best way to find your style. It helps you to think about what you are enjoying most from the process as well as the final image. And doing this doesn’t have to end up with instagrammable content, just messing about with your materials and how you like to use them will give you glimpses into the kind of work you enjoy making most and what works best for you.

Also play with new materials, you may think you are a painter or a drawer or any of the myriad of other ways we have to make imagery, but if you try something new you may find that brings out a whole new style area that you like even more! If you are in a phase of style shift, you will have to sometimes let go of old ways of working to find the new ways that give the results you are heading towards.Liquitex ink bottles in Lee Foster-Wilson's studioI love my pens but lately I have been bringing some inks to the arty party...just a little bit but I'm excited to see where it will lead!

4: Recognise that your natural style won’t be the same as your favourite artist/s. Your style will have a touch of all of your influences, that could be in the subject mater, the colours, the texture…the list goes on. All of these little things will influence how your work looks. Lean into it and remember that generally there will be gap between what you like the look of in your minds eye and what you are actually able to create on the page, and that’s ok!

You may really like the way one artists work looks and wish yours looked more like that but when you come to make some art it ends up not really being anything like that, or if it does, it hasn’t come so easily as you’d hoped. That is a good thing on a few levels, the first one being that it’s not ok to copy (well, there are occasions when copying is a good learning tool, but absolutely only if you are doing it to practise and keeping it to yourself, NEVER to share or make money from…not ok at all. EVER) the second being that as you have been making the work your own hand will be influencing it whether you like it or not. And thirdly, you don’t really want your work to look like anyone else’s because then it wouldn’t be authentically yours, you will always be looking to them for inspiration on how to render something, and not into yourself and your own talent and abilities.

By all means take influence, but bring yourself to it too. If you just keep making art, before you know it, that influence that was so strong at the start will just be a flicker in your work.

5: Surround yourself with visuals that you love. Much like making a mood board but surround yourself with it. Postcards, photographs, objects. Fill your work space with colours and items that bring you joy and evoke the feelings or ideas that you are trying to capture. All of these things will subliminally feed into your work and help you to bring your uniqueness to your art. Because essentially, finding your style is drilling down what makes your work, yours.Objects in Lee Foster-Wilson's Studio

6: Step away from social media and the internet. I love scrolling and seeing all of the beautiful things my artist friends and peers have been putting out into the world but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting your style to be more like that thing you just saw, or maybe that other thing, or perhaps the next thing that you clicked like on and then you end up not really knowing what it is you want your work to be like.

Scrolling is different to mood boarding, it’s too quick and doesn’t give you time to reflect on what it is that you are really drawn to, not to mention the comparison trap. Essentially finding your artistic style is about trusting your artistic instinct and you can’t do that if you are comparing your art to the work of 100s of other people all the time. So step away for a bit or a long while, look at your mood board, your analysis, all of the lovely things you have surrounded yourself with and then begin.

7: Ask yourself if you would like your own work if you saw it in a gallery. A tough one, but would you? If the answer is no or a maybe then you will know that you are still looking for that sweet spot. Perhaps you would like elements of it, if so what are they and how can you bring more of that to your work? Or perhaps it’s a definite yes. I think most of us would probably say a maybe to most pieces of your own work but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’s a recognition that there is always room for improvement and that being creative and finding style is a journey, there’s never really an end point!Lee Foster-Wilson's Tryptich 'Words to Live By' 2022My newest work! Coming as prints very soon...You can see how my colours haven't changed that much since that piece I made in 2009 at the start of this blog post and there are other elements that I have come back to in a new way. 

I hope these tips are helpful if this is something you are struggling with. I know that I am in a phase of needing to remember this as I keep playing and figuring out this latest shift.

Above all just try not to overthink it because in the end it’s just a case of keeping on making the work and knowing that if you do it enough, your own style will shine through whatever medium you are using and whatever you are drawing, much like David Hockney I guess.. No one is completely original, we all draw on a multitude of influences and if you just keep making the work you will come across little things that you include without even thinking about it.

One day you will look back at your older work and realise that there was a certain glimmer of you in there all along, a common thread if you like, between all of your pieces. That thread will get stronger the more art you make, so keep going, try new things, settle for a while with what you love and when you need to, try out new ideas and move on. The essence of you and your style will be there waiting for you underneath everything else.


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