What exactly is an art style?

Every artist wish to develop a unique art style. At the end that’s what make the art recognisable and outstanding. But what exactly is an “art style”? There is a lot of confusion around the term itself. And even experienced artists have sometimes problems with explaining the difference between “art style” and “art technique”.

What is the difference between “art style” and “art technique”?

The term “art style” is usually used in relation to a period in art history. However, when it comes to the art critique it’s often used interchangeably with the term “art technique”. This may cause a lot of confusion, simply because they’re two separate terms. So let’s get back to the definitions. Technique is a “technical skill, an ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result.Style is a “characteristic manner of acting, a particular, distinctive mode of action“. I other words,  the style is a manner in which the artists represent an idea. To express this idea, the artist must possess a specific skill set to be able to use the tools and mediums. Great example showing this difference are Pablo Picasso’s variations about Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, year 1656/1657

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, year 1656/1657

Picasso created over 50 images inspired by this famous painting. However, by looking at the pictures, you can easily recognise Picasso’s hand: simplified, geometric shapes, limited light and shadow, bold contours. It doesn’t matter that the ways he applied the oils on canvas were varied, the style is clear and specific to Picasso. Different techniques of applying paint, same art style.

Image source: del Museu Picasso de Barcelona

Another excellent example of the difference between art technique and art style are illustrations by Stanley Lau, Artgerm. He’s famous for his fan art portraits made both with digital and traditional media. However, by looking at his pictures, you can without doubt say: “That’s Argerm!”, and it doesn’t matter if the picture was created on the computer or with Copic markers, you simply recognise his style.

Illustrations by Stanley Artgerm Lau

If you study the pictures above, you will probably come to the conclussion that technique is something that can be taught during art courses, while art style must be discovered by the artists themself.

Discovering Your Art Style

I think, we can agree that an art style is something completely separate from technique (media) you’re using. You can easily learn how to mix oil paint, how to apply it with short confident strokes, or with long precise ones. But how to express your idea with shapes and colours? How to find your own unique art style? That’s the real challenge! Usually artists develop their style slowly over time. If you’re lucky you may discover it by an accident that will make your path nice and easy. Unfortunately, for most artists, it’s something that comes from dedication, experimenting and constant exploration of what they love.

Learn Art Fundamentals

From my experience, it’s important to understand art fundamentals, and have a little bit of technical skills, before experimenting with art styles. I know it’s tempting to rush things like this. However, without basic knowledge you can easily get frustrated. And that’s a talent killer. In other words: the more proficient you are in fundamental art skills and handling the medium of your choice, the more precisely you’re able to capture your idea.
art fundamentals online course

Observe and Analyze

When you take a look on the pictures in any artist portfolio, you will notice certain, repeating elements or themes. It may be something very obvious, like a pretty face that seems to be appearing in every painting. In many cases, it’s something more subtle, like colour palette or thickness of a contour line. Being able to spot and extract these elements is another important step on your journey to discovering your art style. If you understand what makes a particular artwork outstanding, you may be able to reproduce similar effect, and creatively use it in your own work!

Be Open for Critique

Always be open for constructive criticism. It’s sometimes hard, but it’s the main reason we challenge ourselves to become better (or more proficient in this case). Don’t be shy. Show your artwork to other people. The important thing is to be able to discard “dislike manifestations”, but at the same time, be able to spot constuctive critiques. For example: “I don’t like it, because I like more vivid colours” is NOT a valid art critique. It’s simply a subjective opinion. Some people like bright colours, other like desaturated colours. And that’s ok. Understanding the difference is a key. Consulting more experienced artist is always a good idea. If you’re interested in developing your art style with my help, you can always contact me and find out more about private tutoring.
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