Style. It’s a loaded word. Everyone seems split between those who have it and those who are trying to find it. I remember the moment clearly when I found myself suddenly aware that I was in the ‘lacking in style’ category, when it was abruptly pointed out to me 10 years ago in art class. After casting an eye over my work which at the time was just a random collection of stuff that felt good to make, the assessment was that I was still trying to figure out my style. But reassuringly I was told it would just develop over time and I didn’t need to worry about it. It sounded like getting adult teeth, or one day deciding that you finally like the taste of olives. Let me tell you, finding your style can be as painful and exciting as growing teeth and more confusing than inexplicably now liking the taste of something.
It’s hard to say exactly what ‘style’ is, because it could be literally anything. In its core it’s about what makes you different. So what do you have to say that no one else does? And how are you going to say it? Those are pretty big questions that still spook me sometimes. Perhaps what is meant by not having one is you haven’t gathered enough from the world yet to make up your mind. Perhaps it’s the exact opposite and you have gathered too much and not sifted through all that you’ve plundered to be able to communicate your ideas through a perfectly coherent voice. To me it seems like this magical thing that one day I’ll capture with both hands and keep it safe like a little firefly in a jar.
I imagine everybody deals with this, I think of doctors reflecting on their bedside manner style, bankers worrying about their strategy style in an investment portfolio, or even fishermen honing their unique way of casting a rod into the sea. But I think it’s felt acutely by creative types, where uniqueness of style often equals value above anything else. People want to see something they haven’t seen before and agents are on the look out for something fresh to attach to a campaign. So here we all are, searching for thing that sets us apart, joyfully rummaging through our lives for our own je ne sais quoi.
So how do we find it? It seems bizarre to look for something that in theory we all intrinsically have. If we look inward, there is no one like ourselves, with our experiences, interests, friendships or even specific odd sock collection. I’ve read that often the problem, is nothing more than your skill level needing to catch up with your taste level. Therefore the answer is good old practice. I think that’s something quantifiable we can all do (which is great when facing something so hard to define). To me however, this only skims the surface when so much of style is about your personal philosophy. And I don’t mean you have to become Aristotle. I recently joined an artist talk, and they spoke about just saying the truth — whatever that might be to you. In my case I think this could be as simple as saying I like drawing crazy shoes, or bigger truths like how the fashion industry effects me and others. This inward approach requires us to explore our inner selves to gather and distill are uniqueness down into something with a stronger flavour.
The opposite approach is to understanding our style is to look outward. In other words we understand style through comparison and exasperate those differences. For example I can tell my work is loose, by looking at work which is mathematically drawn. And I do take a lot of joy sometimes in creating a big mess and throwing paint around with a smile on my face and not bothering at all about how something should look. This final way (and the way that I find to be the most fun) is just getting out and about with my sketchbook. I draw what feels interesting to me that day. To discover my style I rummage through pastels, paints, new brushes or by using no brush at all and using my finger tips to stamp my work with colour. I go on excursions and search amongst passer by’s I’ve committed to the page in my sketchbook. I peruse for inspiration on Pinterest, on Vogue.com and on Audible. Sometimes I go to galleries or museums and scribble with joy when I find a little snippet of inspiration or inkling that I’m on the right track. It’s kind of like a game of warmer or colder with things that appear closer to what I’m trying to get at.
When talking to people who clearly have a very distinct character and voice within their work, they often don’t see style as important. I wonder if this is like money not mattering when you have it, or if there’s truth in it. But I’m an optimist, and for that means choosing to believe that it doesn’t matter so much. It makes it much easier to enjoy what I do and just go with flow of my creative interests. And besides, we can all curate our work if we wish to show a certain side of ourself on instagram — which is a great shortcut if you ask me. What I do to move forward is to think about the day in hand, and keep my mind focussed on the newest idea I’m excited about. So as much as we all try, the search for your style isn’t in fact something you can really pursue. But it will happen as a result of exploring what you like. It will probably all happen without you even noticing and If you ever need a reminder of this, eat an olive.