Most of us creatives want to find our own style. Some make fun of us, call us special snowflakes and others say we all have a creative voice already. Still, forming your style is a big part of learning a craft.
Finding your style isn't about being so very special and unique. It's about communicating with the world in your own recognizable way that is based on who you are.
When people can pick out your pictures, writing or art without knowing it's yours, then you've established a style. If that style also feels entirely true to who you are, if it lets you share your view of the world in an way that delights you, then you know that style is in fact yours.
But the road there is long and tricky and it can feel like an elusive place that doesn't exist. Especially if we're easily inspired by others and our taste varies and changes.
I've searched for my own creative style in all my crafts - in my writing, in my photography, in the branding of this website and in my art. I've struggled, wavered and changed. I've doubted whether I'm able to stick to something.
But I've also made progress and that progress has come from scratching beneath the surface. From looking inwards instead of outwards. And this is what I've learned.
Having a style doesn't mean it's your style
When I still sold my art, there were times when I wondered if I had really found my style. I had found a style, yes, but was it mine?
In retrospect, I have to say no.
My rainbow colored, imperfect paintings were fun to paint and they communicated my love for creativity, and it's not surprising that that was the style I painted in.
In 2016 and the beginning of 2017, I was high on creativity. After being held back for years by fears and doubts, I was amazed and delighted to finally be part of this wonderful creative world. All I wanted to do was to celebrate and cherish it.
It was a style that fit my state of mind and I'm not saying I was wrong in creating it. That style wasn't entirely me but I wouldn't have been able to figure out my own art style either. I had too much to learn and try.
What I might have done differently though is to keep exploring. That would have gotten me closer to finding my own style, instead of as soon as possible circling in on something I'd eventually tire of because it wasn't truly me.
Style is a thousand tiny choices
Take a photo for example. Each picture is made up a thousand tiny choices - what the photo is of, from what angle, in what light, which colors are pulled up and which are dialed down. What mood the photographer tries to catch, whether it's in documentary style or glossy or gentle. What is the story being told? What emotion comes to the viewer? All those choices result in a photo.
When we're beginners, most of these choices are made on random, with no real intention. We don't understand enough of the craft to see which choices we are making and how they affect the whole. Often we mirror others and therefore make their choices, without really knowing.
But once we start getting better, we're able to see these choices and make them ourselves. And that's when we arrive on this question: what are your choices?
When you do come to that question, you have to take a detour into your own head and try to understand the main character in your creative life: you.
You have to figure out who you are
Who you are is a question worthy of a lifetime. A question with a thousand answers and no real right or wrong. A question we ask, answer and ask again. We make up stories about who we are, have them contradicted and make up new ones.
Who you are is elusive and hard to describe, and it's the most important aspect of your creative style.
These are just some questions you could seek the answer to.
- What are you endlessly drawn to and fascinated by? Which perspectives do you love and why? Which styles do you feel a deep pull towards? What do you avoid and fear, and why? What do you keep coming back to throughout your life?
- What do you value most? How do you want to spend you life? What do you actually love to do, or would love to do more of?
- What do you want to say with your work? What is the message beneath the surface, the thing you believe to be true about life?
- Who do want to you create for? What are their desires, fears and secrets? Why do you create for them? What do you want them to feel?
It's easy to think we're naturally ourselves, that what we create instinctively should be our own style. But it's so much more complicated than that. What we do naturally is a mix of experience, comfort zones, stories we have about ourselves and possibly insecurities.
We are our values, our longings, our dreams we haven't told anyone about. The things that lights us up like torches, the things that makes us cry and the things we get bored of. It's all of it.
When you start pulling threads out of yourself, things you can hold up and recognize as part of you, you can start putting them together in different combinations, feeling your way towards something that feels like you. And that's when style starts to happen.
Your own style is in the intentional effect of your creative choices
When you have collected some parts of who you are and what you want to say, you can start matching them with the creative choices you have to make. Start figuring out what the different choices say and how that relates to what we want to say.
This is where honing our craft comes in.
This is when we need our books and courses and role models.
This is when we dig beyond mirroring and start picking apart how other creatives achieve the effects they achieve. We deconstruct to construct our own style, we look at the choices of others to make the right ones ourselves.
You want to look for the resources that won't just describe how to get to a result but also why, or ones that help you see your own role. For my photography, I've used Sara Tasker's The Insta Retreat, for the rebranding of my website Caroline Kelso Zook's Better Branding and for writing Lisa Cron's two books.
They've all helped me immensely in understanding and making choices that are based on who I am. I encourage you to go and find these types of resources for yourself.
How much and what parts of yourself that you put into your craft is up to you. Most likely, you'll find some corner stones that are important to you and you'll experiment with mixing and matching them to find a balance that feels right.
I won't say I've fully found my own style in anything yet, but I'm getting closer. I'm still dialing different parts up and down, still learning about how all the tiny choices affect my creations.
To some degree, I think our style is always moving because while we can find it, that same style will keep changing as we change throughout life.
To find your creative style, you have to look
It's easy to say we want to find our own creative style and still get side-tracked when inspired by those we admire. While we want to stand out we may also fear it, and by only looking outwards instead of inwards we keep ourselves from ever finding our own voice.
If you want to find your style, if you want to tell your story in your own way, you have to make an intentional effort. Style that happens by itself isn't necessarily your own personal style. Instead, you have to ask yourself the deeper questions that should determine your creative choices.
You need to understand who you are and what story it is that you want to tell. Then you need the skill to actually communicate that style and story through your chosen craft.
Finally, you need the courage to let others see who you actually are.