Create Your Own Style: or, How to Reclaim Your Own Style

Almost all my artist friends admit they were like me: I studied an artist and copied or adopted what I learned. In high school, it was Van Gogh and all my work had swirls and thick paint. In college it was the impressionists, after college Matisse. Every time my work started taking on characteristics of each period. It's easy to get stuck looking for scenes that look like what your favorite HERO painted or paint your subjects just like them.

“On the evening river” 11x14 pastel on Polyester film

I've been around long enough that I learned I can't paint like them, nor should I try. Yet all of us are influenced, and should be, by those we admire -- dead or living artists. My goal has been to take the lessons I learn from them. Wolf Kahn's color has fascinated me since the mid 1990s, but I don't want to create a Wolf Kahn every time I paint. My goal is to create what is unique to me using the influences of others. There's only one Avon Waters, artist from Indiana. My studies go on, but I must take what I learn and apply it to my unique way of working. For the most part, I've been successful at that only in the last 3-4 years. But every now and then, I slip back into the old habit of painting like --------( insert artist). The above painting started out looking like a Kahn.

This looked too much like Wolf Kahn

There’s only one Wolf Kahn and there’s only one me. After blocking in the notan with color, I knew I had to find myself in this painting somewhere along the way or in the process. This one looked too much like a Wolf Kahn.

Reclaiming The Real Me

This was a studio piece. I had the luxury to let it sit. So I sat back and look at the Wolf Kahn washed in and my works on my phone and on the walls that had more of who I was and less of my Artist Rock Stars. The first thing I noticed was that unlike Kahn, most of my works use darker darks and larger masses of dark to mid-tones. My colors are influenced by him, but I made his color palette darker for my tastes.

After letting this sit, my solution was to grab a dark violet and a medium violet and go over what would have been Kahn's darkest darks (which for my style, Kahn's darks are more of a medium value for me). I then rubbed out the colors to get what you see above. I selected the medium violet for the sky because I knew with the yellow it would grey down the intensity and push the sky back toward the horizon where needed.

The notan sketch suggested a bright large mass in the upper half of the painting. My mind went to Kahn's bright yellow trees. It was only after getting the colors in that I recognized I was in COPY mode. After so many years of adopting styles of other artists to learn "how did they do that" it takes courage and time to break free. In this case, it took the courage to grab a dark and nearly wipe out all that was recognizable in the early stage. To end up where I did, I needed a complete mental shift.

What I Learned

  • It's okay to copy another artist's style, but I must be able to recognize when it is a copy and not just an influence

  • There's no shame in a copy if it is to learn

  • Be honest with myself: the old me would have said, "Maybe no one will notice...."

  • Don't be afraid to dash and slash something that looks too familiar to a HERO

  • I feel we are all products of our influences -- the world is so old, nothing really is completely new

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