Idea and style

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Before committing myself to the fine arts in 1982, I worked for 10 years as a freelance commercial illustrator. Admittedly, I was insecure starting out…insecure of my abilities and uncertain if art directors would find my “style” unique and acceptable enough to give me work. Thankfully, it worked out, but the big “elephant” in the room was always “style”…how to create a unique look that would set what I did apart from all other illustrators in town, and therefore create a demand for what I did.

I never succeeded at doing that, so never made the “big time” as an illustrator. Thankfully, I still had plenty of bread and butter assignments which provided a good living.

When I finally left illustration to dedicate my life to painting, I came to realize just how superficial and shallow the emphasis on “style” above all else truly is. So, I really agree with the comments that follow here by John Carlson. “Style” will come naturally as we mature as people and grow as artists; as in a good novel, good music, a good movie, and good art…it’s what we have to say that should always supercede “style”. Let’s first have something worthwhile to communicate. As we grow as artists, what we have to say will be said with grace, excellence and STYLE. It will be natural, real, and unique to us.

Neither a good idea or stylish. Outrageousness in fashion and the visual and performing arts is more about being talked about and getting attention than having something worthwhile to say.

Jackson Pollack’s work is always an easy and obvious one to target when looking for meaning. But, we sure recognize his work. He had a “style”.

On the other hand, Jean Gerome’s vocabulary as an artist was so extensive that he was able to communicate powerful truths with profound grace, beauty and excellence.


Let’s hear from John Carlson…excerpts from his excellent book…”Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”.


Let the student realize at once that there is no method or style through which he can become a fine painter. Have not a care about ‘putting the paint on’.



Childhood signature – Age 11

Current signature – many, many years later.


“Style or method in painting is like your personal handwriting; you thought little about it when you were forming your first crude letters in school. We all use the same alphabet, and one man’s letters are legible to another; and yet how vastly different in general appearance! The style of your handwriting was dictated by some latent and unconscious quality within you, and even your present style will gradually change, with the years of practice in writing, or in painting, with the ripening of character. When you sit down to write an essay or a letter it is not your penmanship that you are thinking about; it is what you are going to say that occupies your mind. The style in painting, as in writing, is subconsciously developed.”


“It is what you are going to ‘say’ on the canvas that is all-important, and not how you are going to put on the paint or handle the thing.”


“Many students become expert in ‘dashing’ things in, while they still have little or nothing to do the ‘dashing’ with! Let us, therefore, at the very start understand that painting is not a trick of the wrist, nor does it depend upon certain kinds of brushes. ‘Dashing style’ in painting, unless the dasher knows intensely what he wants to say, is as offensive to those who are more developed artistically, as are the vociferations and fork-gesticulations of any empty-headed dinner guest. Strange as it may seem to the student, the greatest things in the world are so devoid of technical ostentation, that were it not for the immensity and grandeur of the idea in the things said (the significance and insight and the dignity of it all), they would be empty indeed.

“If you feel things intensely and can learn to see simply (which is not a child’s prerogative, but that of an intelligent man), a style or manner will develop that will be adequate, and it will be as ‘individual’ and different from anyone else’s style as your personal idiosyncrasies dictate.

“Your color sense, too, will improve along personal lines, and it too will always be distinctive and ‘characteristic’ of you. I have never met two individuals who saw color identically. Not only the physical construction of the eye, but the personal predilection or soul-state of each individual causes him to see differently. Copies of personalities are neither possible nor desirable in our world.”


Next week, an interview with watercolorist, Andy Evansen.

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I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest teaching video and book. The video and accompanying book, shown here, along with my first video, “Limited Palette Landscape”, include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)

For those that have purchased the book, I invite you to join our new Facebook Group – “Limited Palette Unlimited Color”. If you qualify, I hope you’ll join us. Check us out on Facebook. HERE is the link.


John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.


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