I love to discover a new artist that really inspires me. I happen upon other artists in all sorts of ways: browsing the children’s library, the scholastic catalog, or somewhere online. When I find one I really like, I scour the Internet for their website, and anything else I can dig up. I love to flip through their online portfolios and drink in all I can of their work. It’s usually really great color and lighting that catches my attention first, and of course there’s that ever elusive and sought-after element: style. Yes, style. Some folks have it, others, well…
After absorbing all I can about my latest art-crush, I usually enter a phase where I daydream of painting just like them. I try to think in terms of ideas that would be appropriate for their style. I think about what medium I would use. Am I familiar with it? How do they achieve “the look”? Can I replicate it? Sometimes I actually go through with the experiment. The usual result is disappointing. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m not an expert at someone else’s expertise. The other reason: it’s just mine. That moment of discovery is lost. I never have that turn-the-page reveal experience, that “love-at-first-sight”. I’ve lived with this painting. I’ve seen its bed-head hair and smelled its morning breath. And no, it doesn’t throw its socks in the hamper, either.
So then I go through the sour grapes phase, where I tell myself, I don’t want to be a copycat anyway. That artist can paint like that artist. I’m going to paint like ME! But what is “like me”? Then comes the identity crisis. Who am I as an artist? What is “my” style?
All my teachers told us not to worry about developing a “style”. Style, they said, is something that just happens as you develop, as you continue to do what you love. A big part of that development actually does involve trying to imitate work that we admire. My husband is a Musical Thater Actor. He started off by simply singing along with Colm Wilkinson, Michael Crawford, and Anthony Warlow. Sometimes I hear their influence in his voice, especially when he sings songs they have sung, but there is also something all his own, and the more he sings, the more it is his own. We are the product of what we surround ourselves with. Soak up all you can of things that inspire you. Live with that “sense of wonder” Rachel Carson talks about. Every once in a while, do a study from something you love and try to replicate it. It will all become a part of your collective style and enhance the richness of who you are as an artist.