I would like to preface this with the fact that I am just one person who happens to be an artist and make a living from it. This is just my experience and what I have done might not work for you, but I hope at the very least it will inspire or give hope to some!
Consistency of style is something I have struggled to find for most of my life as an artist. I have a very busy brain and so I didn't really start seriously trying to make art my career until 2004/2005. Between 1997 and that time I spent a lot of time working with horses (I wanted to learn to train them), various jobs like working in a frame shop/gallery and a sweet shop, then receptionist at a very smart estate agent in London and over that time I would also do the odd animal portrait for people, something I was good at but really didn't feel very passionate about and therefore didn't really get into a business mindset about it at all (in fact 'business mindset' was something to elude me for a LONG time!).
Some of my pastel portraits:
I didn't go to university since my college experience was very discouraging (I even met a working illustrator during that time who told me not to become an artist as I'd never make money, thanks dude!). So I thought, pfft, I don't need to go into art, I'll go and get into the horse world instead (like that's easy, ha!). This didn't take off.
Discovering Digital Painting
In 2004 I discovered digital art and to start with made my art using a mouse! I eventually got myself a Wacom and made digital my go-to (having been painting traditionally in pastels/acrylics/oils/watercolours up till that point). I thought that digital was the right thing to do since at the time I thought I wanted to get into creature design/concept art for movies. I didn't know what that involved at all. Fast forward to early 2016 and I had spent those years in between really struggling to find steady work and to find a recognisable style and decided I would return to traditional media, using Patreon to document my experiments and as a form of accountability for what I was doing.
'Paint What You Love'
I must make clear that through this time I had been told that my style wasn't consistent and that I needed to improve my portfolio and that I should paint what I loved. I don't think I really 'got' what they meant by paint what I loved because I thought I was doing it already! I love fantasy art and love werewolves, monsters etc and did a lot of darker work back then (some you can see in an earlier blog) but often when I was trying to achieve something really scary/creepy, people would say 'that's cute' or 'aww' in response rather than 'OH GOD MY EYES!'. It was frustrating!
What I hadn't realised is that I was painting what I loved seeing other people paint and didn't realise that for me there was a difference between what I loved looking at and what I really really enjoyed painting. I was constantly fighting my true spirit of whimsy and humour. I also realised, once I started my Patreon page that I had also been working in the wrong medium. I had missed traditional mediums SO much and returning to it really had a profound effect. I decided I wanted to work towards a theme to try to help myself with the consistency issue and toward the end of 2016 I started painting the inhabitants of an 'enchanted forest'.
I thought that if I gave myself a framework to restrict me (so I didn't jump around wanting to paint lots of unrelated things as I had in the past) that it would help with my consistency and that maybe at the end of it I might have enough artwork to make a book. I was still, at this point, resisting the whimsy! In my mind I was thinking 'yes, a mysterious enchanted forest, filled with dark and creepy things' but what kept appearing was not dark and creepy!
A Turning Point
My ogre painting was a big moment for me when I was creating the forest, I really really loved painting this face and the technique I used was very satisfying.
I didn't recognise it at the time (2017), but I now realise that this character was a kind of jumping off point of the whole feel of what was to become 'Strangehollow' as well as how I paint currently. It still took me another year and another book (Cauldron) to fully embrace the fact that I wasn't going to consistently make dark, spooky or unnerving art! (Except occasionally as I do still have the urge, it's just not really what comes to me naturally as it often ends up looking a bit cute!)
I now know that my art 'voice' encompasses the following, not always all at the same time of course!:
- Beautiful (I want it to be aesthetically beautiful to me)
- Dramatic (I do love a powerful dramatic image)
- Inspired by the natural world (in evidence with my love of creatures!)
It's a very helpful exercise to write down a few words to describe your style, I have to thank Savina Fransisco for this particular suggestion as it really helps to keep me on track with what I post. I will be writing a future blog post about branding and how I improved that side of my business which started with the art business boot camp course from Make Your Art Work.
In conclusion it was the restriction to making a 'world' along with using only one medium that helped me gain my consistency. This would work on a small scale too, it doesn't have to be a book full! You could maybe decide to make 8-10 illustrations of your favourite fairytale perhaps, anything that lives in the same world. My dragon calendar also worked in a similar way, making 12 paintings of the same subject, trying to make them all different but also still hopefully look like they are part of the same world, it's a really great exercise.
Anyway, I could waffle on about this stuff for hours, but I hope that this might help some of you who struggle with the consistency 'problem' that I did. I must make it clear that it doesn't mean that my work won't change and evolve over time (it already has visibly since 2017) or that having different styles is wrong. It is just something that has worked for me and might work for you too!