Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Maggie on Style, Part II

Aaaand, I'm back. I really could've written this post at 3:45 a.m. last night while I was awake with tissues stuffed up my nose, but I don't think it would've been especially coherent. (Instead I worked on my novel. Yes, yes, I know the logic in that, but you can afford to be more incoherent when you're making crap up.)

So here is part two on Style. I want to preface this whole conversation (which I think will probably turn out to be quite rambling considering my current relationship with cold medication) with the warning that this is only my thoughts on style. This is how I got to where I am now -- it's not an exact formula on how to find your style, or the only way to go about it. One of the comments on the last style post was that style was something you had to develop over time, by doing lots of art. Yes, that helps -- but in a world where so many artists are part-time artists, does that mean that most artists will only find a style in their 80s, right about when they discover that their false teeth make intriguing still life subjects? Or perhaps never?

What a dismal thought.

Obviously I'm not in my 80s and I'm pretty pleased with my style. People can pick it out of a line-up, it feels like me, and it suits my subjects nicely. But it was not always that way! Are you ready for the stylistic story of a girl named Maggie? Too bad. I'm going to tell you anyway.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maggie. She doodled constantly and had high aspirations of becoming a Famous Artist. She sketched horses. She drew planes. She painted cars. She did it all.

And all of it looked different. Indeed, putting them side by side looked like the exhibition of a artistically-dedicated pencil-freak with multiple personalities. When faced with the idea of a style she said "poo poo on thee" for I'm multi-talented and if I can do all these styles, I will do them all, because I'm so smart. So there.

And that was almost where the story of me ended. Because the truth was, yes, I could paint and draw in a zillion different styles. But the truth was also that I wasn't selling anything, because hung together, it looked horribly amateurish. It looked cobbled together, like an art school portfolio of me playing at being seven different artists. I knew I needed a universal style, so I decided to force the issue.

I was selling on eBay at the time and I knew that bold, colorful pieces that looked good in thumbnail size sold well. So I designed a style that was just for eBay -- brilliant cityscapes with dark black lines around everything. And you know, it was fun. Sure, it was contrived, and it wasn't exactly me, but it sold, and I was happy. And in the background, I kept doing super realistic colored pencil pieces as portraits. And they sold, and I was happy.

But I was missing something. I was getting known for my cityscapes with their big black lines, but I didn't want to be. It was fun, but it wasn't feeding me artistically. I know, that sounds wishy-washy, but it was like being a diehard history lover at heart and then going and majoring in math. I could do it, but it was just work. I was still sneaking away and doing the colored pencils -- I loved the bold colors of acrylic but I preferred to work with pencils.

So here I was with these two entirely different styles. What I really wanted was to reconcile them somehow into one. So I did just what I told you guys to do in my last style post. I took out my art and laid it up against the wall and I looked at it. First thing I did was take away the pieces that I didn't like. I didn't want to do anything like them again, so they didn't figure into it. The second thing I did was take out pieces that were experiments -- I liked them, but they were totally out of left field and just me playing. Then I stared at the ones that were left. The effect was what you get from the art in this post -- some radically different pieces of art.

But I'm an analytical person and I wasn't going down without a fight. So I studied them, and I asked myself:

  • what appeals to me in each?
  • which ones did I enjoy painting the most?
  • which ones am I the proudest to tell people I did?
  • which ones can I still look at after three months and not dislike?
  • what are the similarities between the ones that I've chosen based on the three questions above?
And when I looked at it like that, it was pretty obvious to me. Is it to you as well? I knew then what I had to have.

  • realism. I tried the abstract thing. The impressionism thing. The photo-realistic thing. And realism was what made me happy. It can have elements of those other things, but when it comes to it, I like representational art.
  • color. I like it. Lots of it. In weird places. If there was a way to meld my crazy cityscape use of color and my dry, realistic use of color together, I wanted it.
  • palette. In my favorite pieces, there was definitely a certain palette forming. Today, I still only use the same twenty colors of pencils over and over again.
  • Stained Glass. It's a theme I keep coming back to over and over again. I still haven't figured out how to incorporate it as much as I like, but I will get in there someday.
  • Pencils. It had to be colored pencils. It was just the medium that I felt the most comfortable with, ever since I first picked one up.
So I went wild. I started pretending I was painting with my colored pencils. I chose the same colors in pencils that I would normally have grabbed in my paints. I tried to accomplish the same effects I got in pastels with my colored pencils. And you know what? Those two radically different styles turned out to be not so radically different after all. I feel like both of those styles said something about, but neither told the complete story. When I combined all of the elements I liked -- that told the complete story.

And you know what, now my art booth looks like a sane person with one personality did all of it (which just shows you how deceptive looks can be).

I have to mention another comment, made by the wise Katherine Tyrrell, as well. She said that it wasn't just finding your style, it was developing it. This is Very True. Now that I've found my style, I'm quite happy to spend the rest of my life making it more like me.


Becca said...

I have only just recently started down the "finding my style" path way. I think one is starting to emerge and that makes me happy. how long did it take you to find your groove?

Anonymous said...

Boy Maggie, you hit the nail on the head for me. This is the journey I've been starting, but felt a little weird. Nice to hear about your experiences.

"But I was missing something. I was getting known for my ...... but I didn't want to be. It was fun, but it wasn't feeding me artistically. ....... I could do it, but it was just work." OMG how that resonates with me!

Last fall I started to do pieces that I thought were interesting; not at all what I was doing (*yawn*). Was having fun, but fell out of it for whatever reason.

Lately have been in a dry spell, and here you write this! Funny how the right message comes at just the right time. I'm going to try the "art up against the wall" this weekend. Thanks for telling your tale!

Anonymous said...

And I forgot to ask: did your previous patrons give you any grief for not producing what they originally fell in love with?

Eric Orchard said...

Great post! And beautiful work! I was sent over here by Tara Larsen Chang because I did a similar post. I posed the concept of style as a question and I was suprised at how many people came out against a consciously achieved style. They seem to say one thing and the art dirctors and agencies seem to say the opposite. I really thought everyone was devoloping a style.

What you said about combining your different styles really resonates with me. This came up in a conversation with an agent, my work had too many different looks.

Now I'm busy refining and combing things into a complete style. If I have something that I like, then I'll go on to developing a different style.

Karen Mathison Schmidt said...

Great post, Maggie! And good advice on aggressively developing a style, versus "just letting it emerge over time." Any artist who has finished even as few as 10 or 20 pieces can study their own work and make conscious decisions about direction.

Making art successfully is marvelous, strange combination of inspiration, hard work, pure fun, exasperation, sweat and elation.

My husband the musician once put it like this: "Sometimes making art is like sticking a knife in your head. But I can't stop doing it!"

Maggie, thanks for encouraging us by sharing your journey!

Katherine said...

I like that! You can carry on calling me "the wise Katherine Tyrrell"!

To elaborate a little further
- you're young, whereas I am of course ancient. However with any luck we both have a few decades left to live. It would be terribly boring to just carry on doing the same thing all the time - hence we need to work on developing our style - even if it's just stopping to look and reflect at what we are producing from time to time.
- Plus we learn more about ourselves as we get older - and we change. So for our style to be like us, it also needs to develop and change. Which also makes life more interesting.

BTW - the piece which I think is most like you is the wild pony horse whose name I always forget - but you know the one I mean...........looking straight out at us. That's actually "you".

You are also the queen of the unconventional cat crop which comes out of left field.

And for anybody who doesn't know Moose they will be completely perplexed by what I've just said given that he doesn't feature at all in the above images!

Stacy said...

Thanks Maggie! You've given us a great place to start with this style question. I will be one of the many who will be having a go at your "how to determine a style" exercise.

Autumnwillow said...

Hi Maggie, great post as always, but this one hit home with me. As with others who've commented, I'm at that crucial point of figuring out a style. My problem is... doesn't it get kind of monotonous and boring to use the same style and medium pretty much all the time? And I like to jump around into different mediums too... For some reason I'm looking at the choosing of a style as kind of a form of creative suppression.. jail time, kind of!

Of course, maybe I'm jumping the gun. Maybe it's just not "time" for me to choose a style yet anyway... hence the caged-in feeling, eh?

I love hearing your thoughts on things that I'm either going through or soon will be! Thank you for your openness.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Becca, Tracy, & Autumn Willow -- your questions are up on the blog.

Karen, you said that beautifully. Your husband, not quite so beautifully, but just as effectively. ;)

Katherine - absolutely. To everything you said. Persephone (the wild pony) was the first piece that I laughed and clapped my hands over, because that was me.

Stacy - I hope you blog about it so I can watch you do it!

Eric - I'm going over to check out your blog now. Thanks for the kind words!

Alison said...

I’m a bit impatient and hate that it is taking so long for me to work out my style. Your blog is very relevant. I love to draw in pencil but have found that there is no interest in buying pencil Art in this area, so I’m having to change my medium. I feel like I am a long way off yet and it frustrates me but I’m working at it. I have at least narrowed it down to loving to draw/paint children.

goldendhara said...

Style to me is like a garden with flowers, plants and tree's.

Some do really well with eachother, others should not be mixed or left out. You know which flower should be were so that every flower in this garden is as happy and as beautiful as possible.
You need to maintain the garden, but at the same time you need to change it, weed it, nurish it, take out plants here and there and add some new ones.

The garden also has seasons, every season has it's own nature, and it's own plants who do well.
In winter it seems that nothing happends or a plant has died, while acctualy it takes patience a lot of patience to wait what will come out in the end.
The fruit the garden gives you cannot keep, you need to replant them, or eat them, if you keep it or want to hold it forever it will start to smell.

Every season has its own charme and work you need to do on you garden.

So my point to this all is this.
The garden will be always vibrant, and inviting to go in to and walk around in if you are willing to work in it.
It takes work and effort to maintain it.

and for me this is also working with 'style'.
Everybody has a style if you revere to the analogy of the garden. You might like it or not. It is up to you what work you do to created your own 'garden' and if other people are willing to walk around in it.

(sorry for the bad english, i am not a native english speaker/writer)

goldendhara said...

sorry.. one thing to add.

back to the garden analogy:
It seems you Maggie have a lot of land in you garden, and you have many types of tree's, flowers and plants. And it also seems you love a lot of diverse types of plants, tree's and flowers.

One part of you garden looks fantastic, you know how to maintain this part of your garden. And how they interact with eachoter there are even fruits coming from your garden. And animals and people enjoy being in your garden.

As working on you own garden it is a great thing to do, you also learn a lot by working in other people's gardens.
"If thou want to keep it, you must give it away"

But don't forget there is more land to work upon. :-)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Goldendhara, I actually like your metaphor quite a bit. Only I think of it this way. I have a lovely garden that I tend carefully and unify and make sure is pleasing to me first of all and then to other secondarily, and that's where I let the public wander.

However, back behind my house, I have my greenhouses where I'm growing up weird little plants and new colorful flowers, trying them out to see if they'll ever end up in the actual garden. The only thing I feel like I'm limiting is how much access I give the public to my experiments.

goldendhara said...

How sweet! that greenhouse with the little fragile flowers. Only maggie is allowed in there.

Well since we are in the garden analogy.

How did your garden look like in the beginning before you say.. you developed style?

Because i think 'the style' was there already, hidden between all the other flowers. The special flowers covered up with weeds, and other big flowers planted everywhere. :-)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Because i think 'the style' was there already, hidden between all the other flowers.

Yes. I think so too. I just wasn't good enough to enact that vision, I think. And I was also struck with artist envy and had to do the usual thing of pretending to be all the artists I admired, instead of learning from them indirectly.

I think "finding a style" is probably just that. You start out with a big chunk of rock and chip away until you find the style was there all along, and refine it and change it all your life.

Wow, that's a lot of metaphors!

dhara said...

well, you do bring up a very important subject.

Envy, Jealousy. a damaging emotion poisoning the mind it sure interfers with the creative energies.

Hard to admire for yourself and also hard to get rid off.
But i am sure almost EVERY artists has dealt with this or has to deal with it. I know i did/do.

This is a subject were artists do not like to speak openly about.
Maybye.. something for a new topic? :-)

Belinda Lindhardt said...

Maggie yet another fabulous and inspiring post. I think i am at one of your earlier stages where i am still "finding" my style. I have yet to sell anything so i am not sure what the is worth venturing. But i really like your idea of developing rather than finding :)
Thankyou again :)

Melanie said...

thank you, once again, excellent post! and thanks to every one else that made these wonderful comments, which also resonate!

Anonymous said...

Great post. The paintings are wonderful. Thanks for sharing them. I think just following a style can create boundaries to an artist, if he has no rules to follow he can create the best. I am interested in Art Glass and follow my heart when creating one.