Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween/ Style

Keep your poisoned apples to yourself!

Happy Halloween everyone! Monkey's favorite holiday of the year is here, and the Monkey + Seal duo will be hitting the street as Narwhals tonight. To celebrate, here are some studies Monkey did in acrylic, as well as a Halloween serigraph (above) he pulled for kicks.

The caption (which got cut off by the scanner) says "If I'm Not Dead I Should Be."
Truly, the Devil incarnate.

Since this is a Saturday Process Post, Monkey has decided to talk a bit about style. Not style, as in fashion, but style as in how you choose to express yourself visually. I guess that could be through fashion, and now that I think about it this post (although written from an illustrator/fine artist's standpoint) could apply to fashion designers as well, but I admit that I'm quite ignorant of all that. I'm writing this from the standpoint of an artist who is actively trying to make a living solely off his art (as opposed as someone who doesn't care if they ever sell a single painting/drawing/etc.).

So. Many young, budding artists think a lot about style. I know that I certainly do. Do you want to go stylized? Realistic? Abstract? Stylized realism? Graphic? Art Brute? Impressionistic? The list goes on and if you're anything like me, you've probably tried out quite a few different styles, trying to figure out what works best for you.

My art instructors always said that style is something that you just eventually fall into. Either you find something that works for you or you find something that appeals to the masses and you keep riding the praise, even if you aren't necessarily really into your style. I have found this to be pretty true. If you haven't figured out the way you want to work professionally, it just takes time. Seal talks about mileage in her last post on working. You really do have to put in the mileage to find yourself. I know it may be frustrating, but believe me, it'll happen.

Also, realize that style evolves. If you constantly draw or paint in the exact same way, while it may make you money, I feel like you are stagnating as an artist. Being completely consistent means you are not taking risks, which generally means you probably aren't learning anything new. While this is fine, I personally prefer to learn as much as I can, as often as I can, as that's the only way I'm going to be the best artist I can be. Now I'm not saying that you should put up five different styles in the same gallery show, but if you look at the work over the years of anyone from Picasso to Jeff Soto, you'll see changes and growth. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and the artist will return to the way they did things earlier, othertimes they'll try something new.

But what if you've been making art for a while, and you're STILL not sure what style you want to go with. Well, there are lots of things that could be preventing you from finding a style you really like.

The biggest hurdle, I've found, is that there is a hierarchy in style, and this is what constantly messes me up in the head. Realism is always on top, with different fads (art brute has been pretty big in the lowbrow scene for a while now) taking their place underneath it. Now, I personally do not believe that painting things realistically is the best way to make art, but if you ever show a painting that's painted photo realistically to anyone, they'll say "wow, you're a great painter." If you show the best abstract in the world to a random stranger, you'll get reactions from "you're amazing" to "what does this even mean," to "you're not a painter, you just put random splashes of paint on canvas." Humans naturally are drawn to things that remind them of themselves and what they know, so realism always tends to feel like it's the most important way to make art (this is not true, however).

At Academy of Art in SF, the illustration and fine art programs both emphasis learning strong draftsmanship, line control, rendering form, color theory, etc., etc. It is a very technical school that places a lot of emphasis early in the program on classical realism. However, as a painter who is more inspired by Camille Rose Garcia and Luke Chueh than Rembrandt or John Singer Sargent, this mucked up my painting for a long time. While I could paint realistically, I didn't really like to, but people really liked the work that I was doing. This made it hard for me to really embrace the style that I wanted to do, and I would end up doing a little bit of both styles, which made my pieces mediocre, as they weren't painted very technically, but they weren't really stylized either. This is something that I'm still fighting now.

The other major roadblock to finding a style is that for people like me, I like lots of different styles. While I plan to succeed as an artist with multiple styles, this is very, very, very rare. Like I said before, styles evolve, but you don't see many painters known for both their photorealism and their abstract paintings. I have found that once again, this is a question of mileage.

In a week, if you're trying out three different styles, and it takes you on average 24 hours to do a painting, assuming ALL you do is paint (no sleep, eating, potty, etc.), you can get 2.3 paintings done in each style. If you are just working in one style, in a month you'll get 7 paintings in the same style. No wonder if you're constantly experimenting, things will take longer for you to find a style you really like. No one really falls in love on the first date, you have to keep on going out and figuring out if you really like the person. The same goes with style. If you're looking, it will take you longer in the experimental phase the more styles you are interested in. But the only way to figure out what works for you is to put in the time and effort and see if it's right for you.

Anyhoo, thanks for reading this lengthy post, and I hope you got an insight into my personal struggle with style and were able to take away something useful.

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