One of the most frequent questions I see from art students is, “How do I find my style?” And, one of the most frequent questions I hear from professional artists responding to this inquiry is:
“Don’t worry about your style; just draw and paint!”

To an inexperienced artist, that response can feel frustrating and unhelpful, but there is a lot of truth to it. However, let us dig a little deeper and see if we can expand upon this advice and make it less frustrating.

The variety of art styles in this world is comparable to the number of artists. Your art style is much like your handwriting. It’s an amalgam of you, of how your eyes absorb the world, of your visual library, of things your like, of things you have practiced (and not practiced) – it’s the sum of your artistic experience.

“Your art style is much like your handwriting; it’s an amalgam of you, of how your eyes absorb the world, of your visual library, of things you like, of things you have practiced (and not practiced) – it’s the sum of your artistic experience.”
Artist Kiri Leonard as a child

Naturally, when you first begin learning how to draw and paint, you do not have much experience. This lack of experience reflects in your art style. However, as you begin to learn the fundamentals of art (anatomy, value, color, perspective, and so on), your art style begins to form and develop. This is exactly why professional artists will tell you to just practice.

For instance, If you’re struggling to draw hands. The reason you are struggling is that you haven’t practiced and studied your hands enough. It gets much easier to draw a hand once you have done your anatomy studies and have drawn a thousand hands!

Your art style will form naturally over time, but your art style is also something you can play around with once you’re comfortable with art fundamentals. This is how artists, who work in animation and games, can easily adapt and change their styles from project to project. It all comes back to having that foundation of knowledge and experience. That is why it is so important to learn the fundamentals before you start worrying about style.

There is no point worrying about drawing an elegantly stylized eye if you cannot draw a somewhat realistic eye yet. It is like learning a language. You wouldn’t expect yourself to be able to speak Russian fluently without ever studying it. Art is the same; before you can master it, you must put in the time to study it.

“It (Art) is like learning a language. You wouldn’t expect yourself to be able to speak Russian fluently without ever studying it. Art is the same; before you can master it, you must put in the time to study it.”
Sketchbooks in Kiri Leonard's Art Studio

Your art style is also impacted by the tools you use. The art style of a watercolor artist will be different from that of a pencil artist or an oil painter because the medium works differently. As you develop as an artist, you will likely find art mediums you enjoy, moreover others. As you learn the techniques of these different mediums, that too will help form your art style.

A good method to learn and grow your art style is to do copies of artists whose artwork you admire. Artists have long copied from masters and learned so much through doing so. One of the best methods of learning is copying. Just look at how children copy their parents when they grow up. It is how they learn to walk and speak.

Pay sharp attention to the things you learn when you do a copy of a master artist. (For instance, which colors did Rembrandt use when painting a beautiful eye?) and then try to apply them to your own piece afterward.

When doing this kind of studies remember never to claim a copy study as your own work. Always credit the original artist if you share your copy studies.

Rembrandt Study by Kiri Leonard

This style of inspiration can also be interesting to trace back from artists you admire. Look at their inspirations. In some artists, you can see how the art styles of artists they admired inspired their artwork. Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo inspired generations of fantasy artists. Brian Froud inspired generations of fairy artists and so forth.

Exercise tip: Create yourself a mood board (it could be a Pinterest board) of all the artists whose work you admire the most. Sit down and analyze what it is about their work that you like so much, write it down, and then incorporate these things into your work artwork.

Maybe you really like the color palette of one artist and how another artist uses strong linework. What happens if you try to blend these two? Do small drawing studies and try it out. Eventually, your own style can emerge from doing studies like this.

Digital Painting of Montague Mouse by Kiri Leonard

Montague Mouse: The Story Begins by Kiri Leonard. Prints are available here.

Ultimately, finding your art style is something that takes a lot of time and practice.

It will happen organically over time, but you can speed up the process by doing dedicated studies and experimenting with art styles that you enjoy. Don’t try to force yourself into a style you don’t enjoy. Listen to yourself as you paint and draw. Let the things that excite you guide you when you create.

“Don’t try to force yourself into a style you don’t enjoy. Listen to yourself as you paint and draw. Let the things that excite you guide you when you create.”

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