Developing Your Painting Style: How to Switch Up Your Art Practice

photo by Abbie Rose

photo by Abbie Rose

About 2 years ago, I found this artist on Instagram that I totally fell in love with. The reason I like her work so much is because I saw a lot of similarities between her work and mine, which I found really fascinating because we live in different areas and the subject matter that we're dealing with is pretty different. I’m sure some of you will know who I’m talking about. She’s quite a well-known artist on Instagram, I’m not sure how well known she is in the “high art” world. She kind of balances herself between commercial and high art in a way that I very much admire. I can see how our work is similar, but I also see how our work is very different. Since finding her I’ve found a few other artists whose work I love who again, work in a similar way but are also contributing their own ideas and painterly styles.

And then I’ve also found a lot of painters who are making work exactly like this artist.

And I totally get it. Especially when you’re just starting to learn how to paint and figure out what styles you like, it’s easy to teach yourself by looking at other artists work and imitating it. But it’s important to make sure that you are contributing your own voice to the conversation, and not to repeat what someone else is doing. Learn new techniques, but then add your own spin to them. I’ve been told by a few people that my work reminds them of this artist, and on the one hand that makes me feel really good because I think she’s very talented and successful in her practice. But on the other hand it makes me feel a bit disappointed in myself, because I don’t want to be making her work. I want to make Nicole Young art. So now I’m in the process of reshaping and developing the way I paint. I’ve been very happy with all the work I’ve created over the last year, but I want to keep pushing myself and growing the way I choose to work.

In my final year of my BFA, one of my advisors taught me this technique that has helped me in my painting practice so much. I only wish someone had shared it with me in my first year! It’s what lead me to develop my current painting practice and what I plan to use to develop some new techniques now. 

If you want to change your practice, try some new  techniques, develop a new series, or just work through a creative block then this is what I recommend doing. Create a list (this must be why this works for me, I’m a list lover) of 15 ways you can change the way you paint. Then create 2 studies for each of these items, 30 studies total. Here’s some examples of what that might look like:

1.       Paint with only one colour.

2.       Paint on a patterned surface.

3.       Paint the entire surface of the canvas.

4.       Paint keeping the entire composition in the bottom half of the canvas.

5.       Paint a painting that looks like a collage.

6.       Cut up old paintings and make new paintings out of them.

7.       ….

Those are just a few examples of some ways I might change up the way I paint. This is such an interesting process because you’re definitely going to make some paintings that you hate. And that’s totally okay! Because you’re also going to create some paintings that you really love. Usually I’ll repeat this process a few times, and often I combine a few of them. If I loved the studies I made for numbers 3 and 7, for example, I’ll combine elements from both of those and make a few new studies.

It’s also helpful to chat with other artists about your work. Find an artist friend, show them your 30 studies, and find out what they think is working and what isn’t. Then go back to those few new elements that you’ve figured out are working for you and develop them further. That’s all painting really is, just a process of growth and development.

I’m going to be sharing the new studies that I make on Instagram (@nicoleyoungart) using the hashtag #30studies. If you end up trying this technique, feel free to use this hashtag too! I would love to see what you create.

Nicole YoungComment