I have often struggled with producing work. Drawing art for commissions. Writing pieces to fit a project. Creating content, to use the contemporary white-collarist argot.
I’ve come to suspect that those struggles come down to a matter of style. By style, I mean a distinctive manner of doing things.
The older I get, the less I trust givers-of-advices, but this was certainly not always the case. A younger me often heard and listened when I saw someone hold forth on the need to “find or develop or discover your personal [art] style.”
I suspect most illustrators hear this little nugget of polished “wisdom” quite often—as, I suppose, do writers, singers, sculptors and all artists in general.
This “wisdom” assumes that one creates a style through a directed, intentional process. Like it’s one more product one makes.
Now, I have come to the point where I must acknowledge that I have somewhat distinct visual and literary styles. At least, I pretend I do. It’s been a gradual process, and the mind likes to play blind when processes are gradual.
From the vantage point of to-day and to-here, of stylized creation, I am convinced that style is neither intentional nor a finished thing.
It is, instead, an accumulation of inspiration and practice, combined with a dash of courage.
The inspiration and practice are simple: books read, mountains hiked, people met, drawings made, works written. Each leaves its mark on the creator’s brain.
The courage part is also simple. Much like the footwear slogan (or is it now an athleisure slogan?), it’s about “just doing it”. It being what comes automatically, or would, absent the doubts, fears, and self-censures that bedevil so much art.
Together, accumulation and courage give a surety of creative action that one could call style. This is not something that an artist finds or develops; it is something that is found or developed as a byproduct of work and care.
But there comes a difficult inflexion point in the process of organically growing a style, where it overtakes the desire to create a given work. Particularly a commissioned work. The client desires one thing, the style demands another, the artist’s rent hangs in the balance.
The artist’s style was not this demanding, insistent thing when they set out. But suddenly, it is there, crying for one vision over another, rebelling against the dictates of direction.
At least, so I found.
Almost unbeknownst to myself, I had developed a style — both to my writings and my drawings — and working in a style that did not match my own was most certainly not what my brain enjoyed. It rebelled, and I struggled.
In the end, I found there were no big moral lessons to my creative blocks.
My brain likes to create certain things and not others. To draw one way and not another. To write this thing and not that.
I can kick it off the rails, encourage it to broaden its range and scope, try new things—and this is fun and good for learning new skills, acquiring new traits, and developing humorous mutations—but it is not a good idea when I work on a commission or for a client.
After all, if an artist is lucky, they develop a style and stick to it because they like that style. And liking that style, they work more quickly and easily, creating more works and, by the magical mediation of money, converting those more works into more rents paid.
And that’s all there is to it.
Style as an individual’s natural erosion and evolution towards the swiftest aesthetically-tolerable way to meet basic needs.
P.S. – one may add nuance and qualification and counter-argument. One may. But I won’t.