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August, 2007

Developing a Style

A short while ago I was being interviewed for a magazine article, and the interviewer unwittingly asked me a question that I particularly detest; “How do I label my style?” So I told him I was a “Plein air-Color-Tonal-Impressionist, with a bit of Russian and Chinese influence”, figuring that I covered a majority of the current fads. I don’t think he got it.

I seriously doubt whether my collectors continuously fret over the characterization of my painting style. I do know, however, that style seems to be a concern of the students that I teach. It is, nonetheless, a bit like worrying if your handwriting will look like yours.

In younger painters (and some older ones too), the problem seems to stem from a desire to hitch their wagons to the stars of established artists with recognizable painting styles. Painters like Andrew Wyeth, Charles Reid and David Leffel (to name a few) have painting styles that have been developed over a lifetime and are readily recognizable, and beautiful to look at. So the neophyte painter, lacking confidence in his own internal direction, says, “I’m going to learn to paint just like Charles Reid.” And who can blame him? Charles is a nationally known artist with a beautiful and seductive painting style. So the young artist buys the books, executes the studies, maybe takes a Reid workshop or two, and with a little luck, they eventually become a second rate Charles Reid, and tailcoats in with a cheap imitation of a very personal style.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am in no way eschewing the valuable knowledge that one can gain from studying the technique and approach that Charles Reid uses. I too own his books and have done the exercises and am forever grateful for what I have been able to glean from his vast experience. I’m the first one to admit that, if I’ve accomplished anything at all, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of some great artists. I’m well aware that I didn’t invent the wheel. I’ve garnered what I could from past and present masters, and have endeavored to amalgamate those lessons into a personal approach to painting that works for me.

At the outset of each workshop, I tell my students that if they go home wanting to paint like me, I would be highly flattered, but a bit disappointed. Each artist has a unique voice, and a personal vision, that is peculiar only to him or her. No two artists see, or experience, the world in the same way.

So don’t rob the world of an opportunity to experience your personal vision.

 

I do have a number of artist friends that make good livings cloning the styles of one artist or another. I used to make them wrong. I now realize that, for them, it beats working on a road crew. Many of them are quite talented, and it saddens me to think of what their artistic contributions might have been.

If just selling paintings is what you are after, then cloning a seductive style, or a splashy application of paint may prove to be the most expedient means to that end. You may, however, discover that, in the final analysis, you began as an artist and ended up an artisan.

My subject matter is very eclectic. It keeps my approach fresh, and new problems require me to develop new techniques. So I’ve included a few examples of works with varying subject matter. Each subject put me through some different technical hoops, and although the overall body of work looks like mine, I see some subtle differences in each approach. 

 

painting

Rounding Tortola

18 X 24 oil

painting

Headin' Home

30 X 40 oil

painting

On the Aegean

36 X 48 oil

painting

Swans in St. Amand

30 X 40 oil

painting

Moored - Mevagissey, England

24x18 oil

paintingSummer's End

9X18 oil