It’s often said that artists don’t find their personal style—it finds them. Although I agree with this statement, I found in my experience that individual style develops only after a number of other tasks are accomplished.
All professional artists began as novices, and for many the first step to becoming proficient was receiving instruction in basic artistic principles, and learning how to handle their chosen medium. After I learned the basics of watercolor, I began to experiment with a variety of subject matter. At first, my painting efforts were quite clumsy, but I was determined to hang in there for at least five years before giving up on "getting good". After several years of working with watercolor transparently, my confidence with watermedia grew, eventually leading to my experimenting with opaque media (acrylic and gouache) on paper.
A signature style can’t be forced; it develops naturally over time. This development, however, usually begins with knowledge, followed by practice, and finally, experimentation. Some artists seem to find their style after just a few years. It took me more than 10 years, but I'm a slow learner. My own style started to emerge once I focused on one subject matter. At that time, it was still life. Now I’ve added landscape and figurative subjects to my repertoire, and work in acrylic and oil, in addition transparent watercolor. Regardless of the subject, there is a thread of similarity throughout my body of work. This only appeared after I learned the principles of light, shadow, color and edges; then spent several years of employing these principles in my work; and finally after adapting and using techniques I’d learned in new and exciting ways.
Even after reaching a professional level, some artists continue to seek advice from more experienced peers throughout their careers. I have always been a willing art student and plan to continue learning the principles of art from those who are more experienced than I am. The wonderful thing about developing my skills while I paint full-time is that I've not only gained a recognizable style but also continue to learn new painting techniques. Whenever I’m faced with a challenge, I always keep in mind that every artist, no matter how advanced, started out as a beginner.
Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Woodword’s work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.