How Do I Create a Unique Painting Style?

Caucasian couple in evening wear admiring art in museum
Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

Question: How Do I Create a Unique Painting Style?

I have been painting a year or so and have yet to find my own particular style. Is it to be drawing, acrylics, oils, people, buildings, animals, landscapes, paintings from photos, or a host of other subjects I have studiously noted down? I have tried my hand at most except for portraits. I just get so confused and end up doing very little." -- Serefosa


I'm a great believer in giving everything a try because sometimes it's the things you don't think you'll enjoy that you end up loving. A year isn't very long in terms of developing a style, and time well spent trying different mediums and subjects.

The first thing to remember about style and choosing to focus on a particular subject is that it needn't be a life-long commitment; you can change it, and will likely find it evolves. Also, you don't have to choose just one subjects or style; you can work with two or three, swapping between them.

For an example of an artist working in different styles, take a look at a contemporary artist whose paintings I love: Peter Pharoah. He does wildlife, people, and abstracts. There are definite style similarities between his wildlife and people paintings, but with his abstracts about the only style overlap is the choice of color. If you'd only ever come across his abstracts, you may not believe he could or would do wildlife paintings.

Then, think about why galleries want an artist to have an identifiable style. It's that 'thing' that makes someone able to look at a painting and say "That's a Josephine Blogg's painting". It makes an artist's work collectible; it shows you're able to work to a consistent standard, so are worth investing in.

Take a read of this article: How to Create a Body of Work, which sets out one way to work to develop your style, and create a body of work while you're doing so. Even if you're not sure about what subject or medium you want to use, pick one and working with it for a while in this way will be a good learning curve.

Also remember, there's no rule against combining painting and drawing in one work, even though many art teachers will encourage you to paint with tone only, avoiding ​line. For example, take a look at the (non-sculpture) work of Giacometti: Seated Man, Jean Genet, Caroline, and Diego.