Last week I promised I’d offer some more guidance for surface and pattern designers who are still struggling to discover their personal art style. I know how bewildering this situation can be since I’m going through it myself – and, hopefully, getting there. Here’s a quiz that could help. I’m focusing on pattern, but people who are into illustration could come up with their own list of questions and categories.
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy lots of art, but you don’t necessarily want to make lots of different art. When I look through my Pinterest collections I notice pieces that are wild and pieces that are subtle, some minimalist and some completely over the top, some very classical and some pretty avant-garde. I think it’s totally ok to draw influences and inspiration from all of these. What’s important, though, is not to be swayed by them to the point of losing your own direction.
In the beginning each new beautiful piece you find makes you think ‘I want to make THAT! That exact thing. That’s what I want to make!’ And then your thought processes run along the lines of ‘how can I change this enough so that it’s no longer copying, but still has the same feel of awesomeness.’ Since this tends to happen a lot, you end up jumping back and forth between wanting to make simple and complex, and bold and delicate, and kiddy-cute and grown-up elegant things. But as an artist you can be anything, but you cannot be everything. Instead of changing direction completely with each new wave of inspiration, what you should to strive to do is to take in specific influences while still keeping your own course.
Here’s something that helps:
First, you work out what are the basic characteristics of art you enjoy making. You take this as the starting point of your signature-look-in-the-making. Take this quiz to come up with a starting point – you can grab a pen and jot your answers down so you’re able to put them all together into a brief description at the end.
1. I LIKE TO IMAGINE MY ARTWORK ON:
a) Framed prints hanging on walls
b) Wallpapers and wall decals
c) Home decor – lamp shades, upholstery, curtains, floor tiles, clocks, bedclothes, duvets, cushions
d) Fashion – women’s dresses, scarves, bags, kids’ clothes, men’s shirts, tee shirts
e) Accessories – phone cases or skins, laptop cases or skins, tote bags, watches, jewelry
f) Kitchenware – melamine or porcelain dishes, plates or mugs, kitchen towels, aprons, trays, cutting boards
g) Paper – wrapping paper, gift boxes, cards, envelopes, paper hats, notebooks, coloring books
h) Editorials – illustrations for magazine covers or articles
i) Children’s books – story books or picture books
j) Advertising – commercials, advertising campaigns, product packaging
k) Quilting fabrics – to be used in quilts and sewing projects
2. THE TYPE OF PATTERN THAT GETS ME MOST EXCITED IS:
a) Basic – dots, stripes, checks, argyle, chevrons, plaid
b) Abstract – color swirls or splotches, blends, drips, textures, batik, camo, ikat, tribal
c) Geometric – triangles, mandalas, arabesques, Celtic knots, latticework, mosaics, prisms
d) Floral – botanicals, calico, toile, wreaths
e) Conversational – figurative patterns with animals, Christmas or other holiday themes, space, dinosaurs, kitchen utensils etc.
3. I LIKE TO WORK WITH:
b) Pencils, crayons, markers
f) Digital (raster – Photoshop)
g) Digital (vector – Illustrator)
4. I AM REPEATEDLY DRAWN TO COLORS WHICH ARE:
a) Pastel and pale
b) Muted and desaturated
c) Bold and saturated
d) Contrasting (‘clashing’ color combinations e.g. red/blue, green/purple, black/white etc)
e) Analogous (e.g. lemon/grass/turquoise – colors that live next to each other on the color wheel)
f) Monochromatic (i.e. tints, shades and tones of a single color value)
g) Subtle and traditional
h) Wild and unconventional
5. WHEN I IMAGINE SOMEONE USING OR BUYING MY WORK, THE PERSON IS:
a) Male, female, younger, older, teenager, child, young child, baby?
b) A stay at home mom, a professional, a student, a business man, a skater, a DIY enthusiast……
c) Not very artistically inclined, budget minded, sophisticated, focused on appearance, focused on comfort, energetic, quiet….?
This is me, as described by the questions above:
I make detailed seamless patterns which I like to imagine applied on fashion textiles, product packaging (like tea boxes or artisan chocolate wrappers) and paper products. I’m drawn to making large-scale florals with a twist, so I’ll often add unexpected motifs in between the flowers (like fish or sea creatures, birds or insects, or different characters), which make my work feel modern, quirky and suited to a younger audience. I like tight organic and asymmetric repeats with little open ground showing. My favorite color palettes are wild, saturated, unexpected and slightly dissonant. I make my art for people who wish they had more adventure and excitement in their daily lives, and love to brighten up their surroundings with exciting and visually striking imagery.
Note that there is no wrong way to write this description, because it’s you telling yourself who you want to be as an artist. Whatever you feel is true will work.
Now that I have this definition of what my brand looks like in my own mind, I can measure each new pattern idea against this description and easily determine whether it’s worth doing it or not, i.e. will it complement and further enhance my developing portfolio, or will it only be good for the ‘secret experiment’ files. One key thing to remember is that I’m making art for other people to like – so if I’m not sure my target audience will like it, I might as well not bother.
Second, every time I come across a new piece of art that makes my heart jump (and this happens daily – there is so much talent out there, it’s not even funny), instead of indiscriminately falling in love with it I ask myself which part of this am I so smitten with? Is it the use of color? Composition? Characters? Texture? The second question I ask myself is ‘How would I draw this piece? What would I do differently?’ This helps me visualize using the parts of the piece that I liked, but within the context of my own artistic vision. The more you do this, the more you will find an abundance of ideas within yourself of how your interpretation of that element would look. As Bobby Chiu always says, art is like a muscle, and it grows as you exercise it.
Another good thing you can do is to just keep collecting different inspiring pieces (Pinterest and Behance are both great for this, since both provide vast amounts of wonderful art and both allow you to curate your own collections with a minimum of effort) and look through what you’ve gathered once in a while and try to tease out the common threads. What sort of elements do you keep being drawn to? Once you notice these trends in your own taste, you will have a clearer idea of what is the next thing you want to learn or improve within your own art.
Finally, don’t keep drawing the same things you already know how to draw. With every new piece, try to define for yourself what is it you are trying to learn. Make sure there’s a challenge in each new thing you make. Try to include some textures, dare to use a bolder color palette. Focus on composition. If you know exactly what you’re working on, you’ll have a better idea of how far you’ve progressed.
Next week I’m posting part I of an interview with the amazingly charming, knowledgeable and funny Clare Yuille, the brilliant mind behind the Indie Retail Academy (which teaches you how to sell your work to shops, without freaking out 🙂 ).
Did the quiz give you some new insight into your potential future signature style? Would you like to share some techniques that you found useful when trying to move yourself forward artistically? Tell me in the comments!