Finding one’s individuality as an artist

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My answer to finding our individuality as an artist is pretty simple. Remember back to our earliest years in school when we were first taught how to form the letters of the alphabet? We were very tentative at first; we had to twist our mouth a bit and hold the pencil just right as we learned how to combine curved and straight lines in order to form the perfect “e”. Soon we learned how to put some of those letters together to form our name. Later we were taught how to combine these letters into what was called “cursive”…and that became our earliest signature.

Our signatures were pretty shaky at first, but ever so gradually things changed; confidence grew, we grew and changed, and our signature changed. It became uniquely ours as we wrote it over and over, hundreds upon hundreds of times.

Finding one’s individuality as a painter is just like that. It’s a natural process that requires knowledge, practice, and time.  A forced style is dishonest and superficial.

I’m so honored to have these seven great artists share with you their experience in finding their individuality and also their recommendations for how you might find yours as well. A sincere “thank you” to each one. (Please click images to enlarge)

Rose Frantzen – “Life Has No Opposite” (This is about a 50% detail section of an 8 x 8 foot painting comprised of 28 panels)

Rose Frantzen – Commenting on finding one’s individuality as an artist, I am first drawn to recite what I heard from David Leffel. “One’s individuality is already there because we each have a central nervous system.” Since art making, seeing, living is processed through this singularized system, we each create “our” experiences, “our” work. So I begin with the idea that we all have a foundation we can trust. However, learning an art form, we are often best served by studying, mimicking, copying the more experienced practitioner. Within this acquisition of skillfulness, we may begin to experience doubt, a discomfort, a questioning, or perhaps a distancing from “myself, my work.” I say, “Embrace these moments,” utilize them, search the myriad of possibilities within visual language, choose, play with what resonates, fail, discover, uncover, make a mess and laugh with the joy of it, because without even knowing, or trying…there you are… Hello.


Jeremy Goodding – “A Common Thread” – 32″ x 24″ – Oil

Jeremy Goodding – First, understand the basics. The mastery of drawing, form, color, value and edges will help you unlock your potential. Second, pay attention to what moves you. Take time to see and experience the world around you. We all have a unique sensitivity. This uniqueness is likely to play a significant role in your artistic identity. Third, take risks with each painting. Find ways to express what you see and your unique sensitivity. It can feel like a lot of exposure but this is the nature of artistic expression. Fourth, let it come naturally. Your identity isn’t something you can rush. One has to wonder if it is better to let your artistic identity come to you rather than trying to find it as an act of one’s will. Finding your artistic identity can be a bit like a wildlife encounter. You have to frequent the right habitat and have patience.


Charlie Hunter – “Walpole Pole” – 9″ x 12″ – Oil

Charlie Hunter – Richard Schmid said that art moves us because it lets us see what being alive feels like to someone else. This is serious business. It means you can’t lie. You must root around in the muck until you grasp hold of something that feels fundamentally truthful and honest. Sometimes you have to root around a long time. I was 46 years old when it happened. Here’s the first painting where I walked through a new doorway I’d never seen before. It’s not particularly good, but it felt RIGHT in an entirely new way. I got there by painting (badly) and pastelling (competently) and drawing (lots) for most of my life. There aren’t any shortcuts. Maybe your truth is representational. Maybe it’s not. Maybe your truth turns out not to be what you wish it would be. But if you do your job diligently and don’t lie, you will find it. What you choose to do with it is up to you.


MaryBeth Karaus – “Dear Ruby” – 24″ x 36″ – Oil

MaryBeth Karaus – It took me quite a while to figure out that the art form that I love the most is painting. It took five years – and a BS in graphic design – before I finally understood that graphic design was neither my greatest talent nor my passion. By then I was a young mother, and I began painting professionally and found it suited me much better. I have painted every genre as an artist, both in watercolor and in oils, and have found that I enjoy painting still life – particularly flowers – in oil the most. I am blessed that I have found the most success in the niche I am most passionate about. I have continued to refine my work by pushing the boundaries of traditional still life through more contemporary compositions. This has become my individual artistic voice. Coincidentally, this is what the galleries have asked for specifically. Pursue what you love the most and see where it takes you.


Deborah Tilby – “The Bicycle and the Boat” – 24″ x 24″ – Oil

Deborah Tilby – I am interested in capturing the quality of light and the subtle colour and tonal changes I see when out in the landscape.  Most of the time my subject or point of view on that subject is not unique, so my goal is always to have a distinctive paint application. I don’t believe there are any shortcuts; it takes time and loads of practice and experimentation for one’s own style to emerge.  It is absolutely vital. A fatal error is to research the art market, see what is popular and try to emulate it. This  is the quickest way to kill individuality and there is little that is more tiresome than seeing highly derivative work.


Colley Whisson – “The Carpenteria, QLD (Study) – 12″ x 10” – Oil

Colley Whisson – Many people may not know that my father is a well known Queensland Artist, my early style was reminiscent of his style. An artist friend suggested that it would be better for me to look for a different approach, so that I wouldn’t feel as though I had anything to live up to. I feel as though the art gods were shining on me, when I came across a painting by Arthur Streeton, this one painting changed my life. Streeton was one of the main driving forces behind the Australian school of painting; the group was dubbed The Heidelberg School, named after a suburb of Melbourne. At the same time I was embarking on a lifelong love of pencil drawing, I feel this gave me a marvelous understanding of light and composition. My plein air painting and drawing sessions mixed in with many still life exercises started to fashion my approach. I’ve been a keen student of art history and seeing so many marvelous paintings, I do feel my style is an amalgamation of every great painting that I’ve seen. Ultimately, I believe our painting style chooses us, not us choosing it.


Additional thoughts

* Don’t make uniqueness the object of your affection.

* First, learn to “speak”. Develop your painting vocabulary: composition, drawing, values, edges, color, etc., etc. What good is uniqueness if when you have something to say you have not the skill nor ability to communicate it convincingly?

* Be a serious student. Take your work seriously. A hobby artist attitude will not get the job done. Continually increase your understanding and apply what you’ve learned.

* Improve your taste through the study of the great masters.

* Paint what you understand, love, and are passionate about. Do not get into the rut of painting a particular subject just because it sells.

* Give yourself time. No one matures overnight.

* Subject matter alone cannot be the distinguishing feature of finding one’s “voice”. Several of the artists shown and spoken of here paint a variety of subjects and yet their work is still easily recognized. Why? I believe it goes to the emotional content, design, drawing, color choices, and paint application. All are very personal, and when developed, can lead to a very personal style.

* Learn and apply the valuable stuff you have learned from others, but don’t mimic. Remember, it’s all about you gaining knowledge and understanding of how to create a great painting. It’s about seeing through your eyes, not the eyes of another. The artists represented here interpret through their eyes, intellect and emotions and their individuality is crystal clear. Everyone after them can only copy their “voice”, and that to me is artificial.

How’d you like that? Pretty good stuff don’t you think? For more on each of these artist’s work, click on links below.

Rose Frantzen

Jeremy Goodding

Charlie Hunter

MaryBeth Karaus

Deborah Tilby

Colley Whisson

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