Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's your signature style?

 Ruling pen and shellac ink

A week or so ago I was reading an interview with Brian Ritchie the bass player from the Violent Femmes. I no nothing about the Femmes music but was interested in what Ritchie had to say on artists who repeat themselves, in other words giving the fans what they want rather than trying something artistically different. As the curator of the MONA FOMA in Hobart, Ritchie states that ‘I don’t want to give [people] what they want. I want to give them what they don’t know they want yet.

Last year I completed an online workshop to help me identify and decide if I wanted to pursue an artistic business. Interestingly once completing the workshop I found my desire to not only create art, but also sell it and create a business out of it diminished significantly. I suspect that was information overload in action. One of the key messages I got from this workshop is that successful artists have a signature style; it is a message that is repeated in subsequent art books I have read. It is something that has worried me because I’m not sure I do have a signature style. Yet what does a signature style actually mean? Is it important? Can you have a successful career as an artist without developing a signature style?

Fineliner on cartridge

My interpretation of signature style, at least initially, is that artists repeat the same type of art: same media, same colour palette, same substrate and same images. It’s something I’ve noticed in a number of artists whose blogs I follow, almost every new artworks seems to be a variation on the last new artwork, there is very little actually new about the artwork. I’ve also noticed it in successful calligraphers that consistently do the same lettering style. In fact, it’s common in all forms of artistic expression. You become comfortable in doing a specific thing and it becomes successful and then you just keep doing it. Look at all the ‘80s bands, they are reforming and performing all of their old hits because the ‘80s is popular again.

Is the variations on a theme signature style enough for artistic fulfillment? I suspect not. Personally I’d find it very boring indeed to continually paint or draw the same kinds of images. I like to do new things, learn new techniques and try something different — can’t that by my signature style. I could call myself an experimental artist!

Rotring radiograph on watercolour paper

Now I've looked at it at a deeper level, I think that a signature style is something that signifies something about you. For me it’s specific media; pen and ink, watercolour, graphite, coloured pencils and similar themes and images; freedom, flowers, women and text. While I like to experiment and see what happens with specific techniques, these are done within a similar theme. I like to think that each new artwork is different to the last, and that it tells some kind of story. So, I guess I do have a signature style, just not in the obvious sense.

What's your signature style?

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