Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How to Fix the Problem of Style

Whenever you hear artists talking about "breaking into the biz," the topic of style will undoubtably come up.  We guarantee that at least one person will ask the question "Do I need a style?" or "How do I find my style?"

We can answer that very simply right off the bat:  "Yes, if you want a job," and "Lots of art.  Lots and lots of art."

The first part is pretty reasonable: art directors/gallery curators/talent scouts/literary agents/etc. need you to have a style.  You might wince at this truth, but believe us, it's true.  As a hiring manager, the art director is going to look for someone that is safe, reliable, and they believe they can trust.  For an art director hiring you as a freelance artist, they are literally gambling their career on you.  If you mess up a book cover that delays production, besides you getting fired, the art director's job could be on the line as well.  So it's safe to say that yes, you do need a style as the person hiring you is looking for something reliable, and a style is your reliable method of expressing yourself.

The second part can be depressing or comforting all at the same time.  It can be a major bummer, as there is unfortunately no shortcut to finding a style besides making tons and tons of art.  It's comforting in the way that it is something that will come, and you can only speed up by working really really hard.
Simple as that.

So we've all agreed that you do need a style.  Well, what if you have multiple styles?  What if you like to work in metal sculpture, but you also do spoken word?  Or what if you love to paint detailed landscapes in watercolor but also love huge abstract oils?  What if you're a modern dancer and a short story writer?  How can your fellow artists ask that you choose between your true loves?

Or how about the fact that you like changing your style up from month to month.  Maybe you like photorealism, then you like loose brush pen work.  Maybe switching from well-composed photos in black and white to wild experimentations with exposure and light.  How can you ever hope to just stick to one single thing?

Well, if you know us at all, you'll know that we're big on experimentation, and not big on binary thinking.  The secret to fixing the issue of choosing a style and sticking with it is knowing that you don't have to.  

Yes, you heard us right, you don't have to stick to a certain style.  Please keep reading before you run off and send your art director your new experiment in style, however.  

So while you don't have to stick with a single style all your life, or even all month, it is important that you develop a body of work that has a consistent style.  You want to show curators or art directors or whomever might be asking for your work that you can consistently (key word here) produce the same style of work.  

What you can do, however, is create side projects.  If you find multiple, very different styles that you're constantly switching between, we recommend making an entirely different artist persona.  While Monkey (ie Rick Kitagawa) is known for dark, creepy, scary paintings, his other artist persona creates wildly light-hearted, funny paintings.  By separating the two styles into two distinct artists, Monkey has allowed himself the freedom to constantly work in both styles, but also maintains the commercial appeal of having a consistent style that people can count on him for.  

If you don't want to go as far as to create a whole new alias, you can always just create little sub-portfolios.  You show the art director for the game company your game asset portfolio, and you show your giant abstract pieces to your interior decorator collectors, and you show your giant paintings of purple elephants to your group of collectors who are into that sort of thing.  The main thing is that you don't want the video game art director to think that you're only going to give them purple elephants - you want that person to think you're going to give them awesome game assets.  

So, while it is the harsh reality that if you want to make money, you will need a consistent style at some point, think of it like a project identity, less of like a ball and chain that will hamper your creativity.