Monday, October 7, 2013

I Have a Style?

As friends and family discover that I am starting a business to market my artwork, they invariably ask the question, "What kind of art will you be selling?" They ask this in the kindest way, and I assume they expect me to have a ready answer. If only I did! I realize that I need to work on articulating this, first to myself and then to others. And, since it's dangerous to speak before you know what you're talking about, I need to do some research first. I need to research me, the artist.

At first I assumed I could simply ask myself, "What kind of style do you want to produce?" as if I needed to find a style. But, that seemed like the wrong question. I need to recognize that I already have a style. People have been telling me what they think of my style. I've heard it a lot recently. When they mention it, I think to myself, "I have a style? Really?" Well, apparently, I do. I have a style. There, I said it! I just need to name it, accept it, and above all, trust it.

Common Art

I decided the best way to study my actual style, not my wannabe style, was to look at my artwork. I approached my artwork the same way others have: as benevolent observers who, after seeing one piece they like, go searching for more, and who sometimes dig even deeper to find out about the person who created it. I have a fairly large body of fresh artwork. I've produced over 100 small, square paintings in the last three months. (All of the illustrations in this post are from that collection). I decided they would be a good representation of my overall style, so I used them to make my observations.

I can confidently say that my style lies somewhere just south of the border that separates fine art (north) from folk art (south). It's just a metaphor. I'm not saying there is no fine art in the literal south or folk art "up north." I do not believe that the opposite of fine art is unrefined art. Rather, I think of it this way. If you were to start down a straight road, going away from fine art, you'd be traveling toward increasingly accessible art, or what I call common art. If you travel all the way to the end of that road, you end up in a child's bedroom, where genuine art is being created with crayons and construction paper. Common art is accessible in both technique, for those who might want to attempt to create it, and it is also accessible in aesthetic, for those who merely appreciate it for what it is: something they recognize, something they like, something they have. Even though I appreciate fine art, I do not love it as much as I adore common art. I sense near-divine beauty in the ordinary. This is where illustration comes into my style. Because of my adoration of illustration, especially the kind that makes a children's book come alive, I have become an illustrator almost by accident and certainly because I was trying to imitate what I loved most.

Wordy Art

Words find their way into much of my art. This is not accidental. It isn't that I believe the image cannot speak for itself; it's that I absolutely love the act of rendering letters by hand. I have been doing it for fun since I was very young. I see written words, the actual shape of the letters and words, as a separate art form. Of course, I'm not the only one who sees this. Indeed, even in this age when computers can easily and precisely lay out fantastic type in any design and size, hand lettering has held its own and is even preferred by purists like me. Have you been to a small coffee shop recently? I'm convinced they hire at least one employee just for his or her ability to write artfully on a chalkboard! I am thrilled that, in this tech-saturated age, hand lettering has not died out, but is rather expanding as an art form. Do we thank the millions of scrapbookers for this? Or, the graffiti artists (yes, "artists")? Or, Starbucks for bringing coffee (and coffee shops) back from the brink? I could obviously philosophize about hand lettering endlessly, but I'll move on.

My personal style of hand-lettering has been honed over decades. It crisscrosses between the extremes of fine-art calligraphy, with its myriad rules and literal guidelines, and common-art graffiti, where anything goes and goes ON anything. Somewhere between those two extremes, my style happily plays, sometimes following rules and sometimes making them up as I go. I'm not into Zen, but I can get lost in the very act of rendering words on paper. It is meditative for me.

Smart Art

I value wit, so there's frequently a clever component in my art. Can I say that without sounding arrogant? Hopefully, I can. I like to think about things. Okay, that's understated. I like to over-think...everything! It would be hard for this aspect of my personality to NOT find its way into my artwork. I also like to be challenged intellectually. I love to learn new things. I think I will always love the challenge of the next new thing to be learned.

The 100+ small paintings that are informing this search for my style were created in response to a list of art prompts (see my Everyday Matters entries here, if you're interested). Something I've always known about myself is that I don't like to enter through the main door where everyone else is going. Nowhere is this more evident than when I am responding to an art prompt. I will intentionally NOT do the predictable drawing. Perhaps I'm just rebellious. Perhaps I have a pathological, youngest-child need to be noticed. Or, perhaps I just like clever, side-door approaches. Yeah, that's it! I strive to be clever. I am hard on myself, so I never think my artwork is quite clever enough, especially compared to other "smart art" that I see. This might be a universal occupational hazard for artists. We can't stop looking, admiring, and comparing. There is a word for this tendency. It's called inspiration.

Happy Art

And now, for the too-personal portion of this already-too-long post. My art is generally lighthearted. I, however, am not. My artwork is much happier than I have ever been. I really only noticed this disparity recently. Whereas many artists produce art in "periods" that mirror their moods, as with Picasso's lengthy Blue Period, I do not tend to do that—not yet, anyway. Instead, I find myself sub-consciously trying to create what I wish existed. Like most people, I would like to be happier than I am. During the hours that I'm working on a painting, I'm living in that painting, and because I'm the artist, I decide how happy that place will be. You might call that head-in-the-sand "ostrich art," but for me, it's just a lot of free therapy. It goes something like this: I paint something I like; I greatly enjoy the process; I generally like the result; I frequently get positive feedback; and I'm motivated to paint something else I like. Rinse and repeat. And, little by little, the happy art makes the artist happier. There's a lot to be said for this course of treatment!

Add It Up

That's what my study of my artwork told me. After all this contemplative research, I finally have an answer for the question, "What will you be doing at Blu Jar Studio?" I will be producing Common Wordy Smart Happy Art. If there's a way to express all that with a single word, that would be great. Anyone want to take a crack at it?


  1. Well said! I tend to gravitate towards celebrating the "every day" in my drawing, and I love how beautifully you do so.

    1. Thanks so much, Vicky! You win the prize for reading this incredibly long post! I won't tell, if you didn't actually get through the whole thing. :)

    2. LOL! If it interests me I can easily get lost in reading, whatever the length.