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. That’s why even experienced artists have sometimes problems with explaining 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 or creation, many people use it 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.
Examples: Art style vs. Art Technique
Great example showing this difference between these two terms are Pablo Picasso’s variations about Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Both artists painted the same scene, but in two different art styles.
Original painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, year 1656/1657
Picasso created over 50 images inspired by this famous painting. However, just by looking at these pictures, you can easily recognise Picasso’s hand. All paintings have simplified, geometric shapes, limited light and shadow and bold contours. It doesn’t matter that the techniques he applied the oils on canvas were varied, the style is clear and specific to Picasso.
Different techniques of applying paint, same art style.
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!”. At the end it doesn’t matter that the first picture was created with Copic markers, and second on the computer. His art style is easily recognisable.
Left portrait created with traditional techniques, right in digital techniques. Illustrations by Stanley Artgerm Lau
Technique is something that can be taught during art courses,
while art style must be discovered by the artists themself.
How to Start Discovering Your Own Art Style
I think, at this point 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 precise strokes, or with long confident 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 to 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 solid basic knowledge you can easily get frustrated, and that’s a motivation 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.
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. You need to try to 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
You should try to 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 constructive 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 artists is always a good idea. There are several webpages like DeviantART, where you can share your pictures and get a feedback form other creators. If you’re interested in developing your art style with my professional help, you can always contact me and find out more about private tutoring.