Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Consistency and Style - Should I Worry?

Not too long ago, a visitor came to my studio gallery, looked at the walls a moment, and then said, "How many artists do you represent?"  Just me, I replied, but I have twelve different personalities.

If you look at my work, you'll see a variety of painting approaches.  I may paint on panel or canvas; I may tone the surface or not; I may use a brush or a painting knife; I may work in a tonalist manner or with impressionistic colors; I may paint with oil or pastel.  For me, these different approaches result in different styles of painting - different "personalities," if you will.  It's never a random choice but is always dictated by the needs of the moment.

As Walt Whitman wrote, "I am large, I contain multitudes."

Let's stop a moment and ask, What is style?  Style results from a combination of tools and materials, a method of painting, the painter's response to the world and, sometimes, the demands of the marketplace.  Beginning painters always seem to worry about developing a "style."  We more-experienced painters always advise them to not worry and just paint.  A style will develop of its own accord.  It will also change over time as you age and grow from your experiences.  It may even coexist peacefully with other styles you may have developed.  (My styles form one big, happy family.)

Can you force a style?  A pair of shoes walked in for fifty miles will fit better than a pair right out of the box.  You can try breaking in new shoes in other ways, but they just won't feel as comfortable.  And with painting, forcing a style isn't honest, and people can tell when a style has been invented for the sake of novelty and sales.  Patrons like novelty, but they prefer honesty.

You will know you have developed a style when painting becomes as easy as walking.

Now, let's get back to consistency of style.  Is it bad to have more than one style?

I don't think so.  I do think, however, that it's important to be consistent in style when you have an exhibit or are sending work to a gallery.  This doesn't mean you have to paint the same way, every time.  Instead, out of your body of work, you can select those paintings that share a common style.  Or, you can work toward an exhibit or gallery show by painting for it purposely in a single style.

But if it's your own studio gallery, it doesn't matter.  Variety is good for the visitor.

When I started writing this blog post, I thought this would be a simple, short post.  But the more I thought and the more I wrote (and deleted, and re-wrote), I realized that "style" is a complicated concept.  I have more to think about.  I am curious to hear your thoughts on consistency and style.


Six Styles, One Painter
"Friar's Head, Snow" 6x6 oil, studio - SOLD

"Panmure Island Light" 12x24 oil, plein air

"Acadian Prince" 16x20 oil, studio

"Duck Pond Fog" 4x12, watercolor, plein air - SOLD

"Pickling Shed" 9x12 oil, plein air

"Pemaquid Rocks" 9x12, pastel, plein air - SOLD

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