Monday 13 May 2013

How to discover your own creative style


I'm sometimes asked questions about my art, from people who are curious to know 'what paint do you use?' and 'who inspires you?'

Straight forward enough to answer, but I realise that sometimes what people really want to know is - how do you create your work, how did you get it to look the way it does, what process made that happen?

So I thought I'd share a blog post about my creative process, and a few tools on how you can discover your own creative style.  But first, lets go back to the beginning, I've a little story to tell you....

A long time ago, when I was just 18, an unfortunate meeting with my art tutor at college led me to pretty much give up on my art (you can read the full story here) and it was a good few years before I decided that I wanted to try again.
It was an exciting and precarious time.  I'd been out of practice for so long I didn't really have any clue as to what I wanted to be doing - other than that I enjoyed painting coastal scenes.  At first, my style of painting was rather realistic, I'd spend hours recreating waves and scenery exactly as per the photograph I was working from.  Despite them being quite good, something about the work didn't feel right, it felt too much like what I'd learnt in school, it felt regimented and tame.  I needed some kind of stimulus to guide me onto the right path, and holidays to the South West of England were a turning point.  I would spend hours wandering the lanes of pretty holiday villages like St Ives and such like, disappearing into galleries that were full of colourful and inspiring wild art - art that wasn't realistic, art that made the heart leap with anticipation, art that made something inside awaken and stir.

I would look at these paintings and try and figure out how a particular artist had created their painting.  My curiosity and a natural need to know more emerged.  What paint were they using?  How did they create that beautiful colour?  What about the composition, the brush strokes, and so on?  I knew that if I discovered the answers to my questions, I'd be on the road to enriching my personal artistic technique dramatically.  You don't have to go to school to learn, the world is full of teachers who appear in many different guises throughout our lives.  I was ready to go beyond what I'd learnt in the classroom, and the thought of this journey excited me.

I took on a personal scholarship of artistic discovery, painting all manner of ways and creating many paintings based upon the work I'd seen on my travels.  I also read books to gain a deeper insight, and to help me further along my path.  But despite all this, my style still wasn't quite right.

And do you know why?

Because technically, it wasn't 'mine'.

Emulating and being inspired by a professional and successful artist is a good way to learn new techniques and how to enhance your own work, but in the long run, you can only go so far with this.  There comes a point where you have to take a leap of faith and let go of what feels comfortable (ie, trying to be someone else).  The artists I admired had been good teachers, but it was time to face facts - they were established because they were unique, they had discovered their niche and painted in an individual and recognisable style - their own.  It was time for me to find mine.

But where, you might be wondering, do you begin to find this elusive style?

You start with a fresh piece of paper or canvas.
You stop checking out what everyone else is doing.
You stop comparing yourself to others.
You relax.
You start drawing, or painting from deep within.
You allow your ideas to unfurl - and they will, slowly at first, and you'll perhaps get through swathes of paper in the process, but persevere - as each attempt at allowing your style to shine through is one step closer to it emerging fully.

At first, when I began to do this, I felt afraid.  I felt that my work wouldn't be good enough and I had a tough time listening to my inner critics point out my flaws.

After a few false starts and hiccups (yep, you'll definitely have some of those) I began to let my brush do the talking.  I began to relax when starting a new painting and let things unfold almost without thinking about it.

Creating a painting in your own style becomes an alchemical process.  You'll feel butterflies in your belly as a sure sign you're on the right path.  Everything you have ever learnt, been taught or inspired by comes to the fore as a guide, but you're no longer relying on copying someone else as your own confidence begins to soar, you are now creating from your very soul, and you will know that you truly are because your work will flow.  When you infuse a creative pursuit with your own energy, something magical happens.  The piece of art or craft you're creating will almost effervesce with it, it's like a huge invisible watermark, and when people see it they recognise you in it.

Have faith in your own abilities.  Let go of being a good emulator, and start being the best possible you.  I hope this post has helped you understand the creative process a bit better, and I'm looking forward to sharing some more Guides with you in the coming weeks - look out for my next post, where I'll be sharing how to overcome Procrastination.

Love J xxx

For more guidance on living a creative life, discover 'Bloom ~ grow your creative life' handbook.



  1. Hi Julia, Thank you for sharing your heartfelt advice. It is reassuring to read about how another person's talent has evolved over time. As you suggest, development is not an equally measured linear process. Patience with one's progress seems to be a key ingredient.

  2. I've discovered that I seem to have my own style pretty early on. It's quite subtle though. I notice it in terms of colours, subject matter and interpretation and just an overall feel to things. Sometimes it's about my limitations which stop me from doing what I might actually be wanting to do. (Incidentally I don't paint but design and sew novelty things using embroidery etc.) Sometimes I get annoyed with it as 'I' just seems to appear and I get bored with that. I like to try new things and not be stuck with the same, so I don't always like the concept of having a style as it seems quite prescriptive and constrictive.

    I often don't like to look at my work after I've done it, despite finding it initially pleasing to look at. I often prefer other peoples work to my own.

  3. great post and one that we can all relate to

  4. brilliant post, julia :)
    i can really relate, and it's so well timed for me... after leaving university i didn't draw, design or sew again at all for 10 years. i only started my sewing business a few years ago, and then i have literally - like, in the past couple of weeks - started drawing, painting & experimenting again.
    i'm finally remembering why i loved it (but Inner Critic isn't happy yet)

  5. Thank you for such an inspiring read I am on the journey to find my own style I am getting there but your tips are interesting as I think at some point we all compare ourselves to others and worry we are not good enough. So thank you for reminding us our style is just that.

  6. Great post! I have just e-mailed it to a friend as it is the type of thing we discuss and you have put it so well.


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