You Don’t Need an Art Style, You Need an Art Practice

Dear Wonderful, Creative You:

One of the most common questions I get from students is this:

How do I develop my style as an artist?

It’s a logical question, but it’s the wrong question. Trying to develop your artistic “style” is a bit like trying to stare at your belly button while walking. It will trip you up, lead you down all sorts of wrong roads, and make you feel like you are failing utterly at this whole “artist” thing.

Instead, I invite you to focus on curiosity. On process. On answering What If? questions.

I got curious one day about what would happen if I drew a series of rice grains on a 2 x 2 inch square. I really liked it, so I did another. And another. And another. Soon I started piecing them together into groups of 4, and then 16, and soon it grew into one huge piece where I explored density, movement, and detail in drawing. If someone asked me, “Why are you drawing rice grains?” I would have said, “I don’t know yet, because it feels good, and I’m curious what might develop.” It was an amazing experience of following my curiosity.

slow drawing patterns

What if, instead of focusing on style, you focused on incorporating your passions or curiosities into your work? What if you focused on using the same technique or materials as many different ways as possible until you felt you’d arrived at something really interesting, or you’d exhausted the possibilities? Focusing on process answers the question: How do I develop an art style? and also, What should I create today?

For me, process is where the excitement and the meaning dwell in art. It gets at the why? of why we make art. We make art because it’s fun to experiment, and to see what we can bring into being that didn’t exist before. Much of what you create won’t be all that “good -” some will be okay, and a fraction will be truly beautiful; but when you work this way, the process will be magical, and that’s what drives me to make art day after day.

You don’t need to develop an art style,

you need to develop an art practice.

Your art style evolves as you engage with different materials and techniques. It evolves as you fold in new interests and influences into your work. Think about Picasso – he started painting highly realistic oil paintings when he was young, then shifted to his Blue period, Rose period, African Period, then Cubism… He allowed his curiosities and passions to guide him in different directions in oils, illustration, watercolor, and ceramics. He wasn’t concerned about his “style,” he was concerned about following what excited him in his art process. I find the more I focus on process, and following the thread of curiosity, the more exciting the process is, and the more I enjoy the outcomes.

Art process is much like a scientific inquiry. Art process is a series of What if? questions you answer in your work. Your style is born out of the answers to these questions. You likely won’t even be able to see your style for some time. Perhaps you won’t even notice it, much like your own accent, until someone else points out that you have one.

And the more you practice and engage with art, the more you push and pull the techniques you’re learning , the more you make them your own. That is your evolving style, and the longer you work, the more you it becomes.

There are no rules.

Just play, and follow your curiosities.

And one of the best ways I know to get started making art, and keep making art consistently is to work small. Small art is fun, quick, and enticing. That’s why I’ve created The Inchie Challenge. I want to show you how to develop your art practice by making a 2-inch art piece each day for 12 days. All the small pieces you make can build to make something truly amazing. The challenge is over, but you can still challenge yourself with my free class,

The Guide to Creative Self-Care:

I’d love to hear how focusing process and following your curiosities helps you develop your art. Tell us about it in the comments.

Creatively Yours,

Amy

18 Comments

  1. Janice

    I too use the “what if” questions and feel like a scientist of multi-mixed art techniques. I use what will best expresses a theme I’m exploring.
    I love your idea of small art.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      I’m so happy I could help, Janice. I know this approach enriches my practice tremendously. xo

      Reply
    • Betty

      Thank you …many times over! I get impatient. I work in oils for awhile then something occurs to me that seems best presented in watercolor. I kick myself bc I feel if only I had a strong sense if focus…I envy artists who have a unique or characteristic style. One artist I admired gently explained to me that she literally had a waist high stack of panels she had painted in her studio. That was also a powerful visual for me.

      Reply
      • Amy Maricle

        Yes, I totally hear this, Betty. I wonder if there is value in journaling about the impatience? I also wonder whether it’s possible you need more time in the open play and exploration stage before digging deeply into the work so that you are fully invested and can persist through the hard parts. Or, would it help to work on several similar pieces at once? These are all widely used techniques and I like them too. xo

        Reply
  2. Diane L Kundrat

    Thank you for this. I really needed to hear it!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Thanks for letting me know I’ve hit the mark, Diane! It means a lot. xo

      Reply
  3. Karen Nantes

    I can not draw and was always envious of family members who could. You’ve opened doorways to the “what if” and “it doesn’t have to be good”. I tried a few things and found I always, always enjoy myself. Now I have a meditative art practice. It reminds me to use less judgement and to welcome myself with love each time I sit down to “draw”. Who knows where it may lead. Thank you for always sharing your heART.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Karen, this is very beautiful and I so appreciate your lovely note. You CAN make art. XO

      Reply
  4. Eileen

    I have been following you for at least 6 years now, Amy … with joy, gratitude, curiosity, inspiration…feeling supported, and growing in confidence as an artist. Sooo much of my journey has to do with embracing your philosophy of Play, non-judgment, and asking “what if” as I create. I have always been a “jack of all trades, master of none” and what is called a Renaissance Soul (embraces many, many disciplines), and so your philosophy resounds so strongly with me. I really don’t have a “style” and reckon I never will! Thanks for your ongoing inspiration and support to so many!💗

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Aw, Eileen. You know this means a lot to me. Thanks so much for being here, for reading, and for letting me know this resonates. xo

      Reply
  5. Liz Parker

    Thank you, Amy, for continuing to keep us focused on the process rather than the product. Year two on my dive back into art after a 65 year hiatus – could nit have landed on a better place than the Mindful Art community!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Wow – that’s amazing, coming back after 65 years. What a blessing, I’m so happy I get to have a part in it, Liz. xo

      Reply
  6. Diane Katz

    I so enjoy small. I feel like it might become something or part of something, but keeps me busy while wait for something. I just had a thought to put some precut pieces of paper and a pen in my purse. I don’t wait well snd this will help me settle, time flies when you are having fun. Thanks

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Yes, I agree, I took love to turn waiting time into creating time. xo

      Reply
  7. Portia Monberg

    Thank you for all of the work and ideas you put into the world Amy. I find that I often do the reverse of what you are describing but also end up with tiny pieces. I make a big mess on a larger piece of paper and then analyze it to find the most interesting sections. I cut those out of the larger piece. So in the end I do have a bunch of mini pieces.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      you’re so welcome, Portia! yes, I too sometimes like to work from big to small – in any case – it’s great to take the little bits that work.

      xo

      Reply
  8. Wei-Li

    I love this post, Amy! I’m thinking about joining this challenge a little late, due to being out of town. Your art work is beautiful, lyrical and mesmerizing.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Hi Wei-Li:

      Wow – such beautiful words you used to describe my art – that’s a rare gift, thank you. I think you should DEFINITELY join, even late, because the prompts are there and you can take advantage of the prep class, the prompts and the whole structure. Plus, you aren’t alone as others are in the same boat. Happy creating!

      Reply

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