There’s an interesting contradiction at the core of creative work. On one hand, it’s important to develop some sort of consistent style. Something distinguishable within your work that allows you to stand out as unique. It doesn’t take long to recognize a Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson film for example. Their style is on display from the opening titles.
On the other hand, an equally important piece of creativity is consistent change, variability, and ever evolving flavors of nuance within your ’style.’
So the million dollar question is, how can we be consistent while also incorporating change and variety?
When in doubt, turn to nature.
There is something obviously distinguishable about a river, a tree, the ocean. We can look at them and confirm what they are at a glance. But what happens if we look a little closer? Constant movement and change. The ocean ebbs and flows. Trees change colors. You never step in the same river twice.
What story are you telling with your art? What experience do you give your audience? Just like the river, we hope to be distinguishable at a glance, but ever more interesting upon deeper observation. Art evokes emotion and thought.
When a piece of art speaks to someone, it’s because they sense something familiar in it. The task of the artist then, is to express familiar human emotion in a unique and interesting way.
Here are some things to keep in mind when developing your artistic style:
What genre does your content fall under? Some examples include: lifestyle, educational, editorial, adventure, comedy. You don’t have to put yourself in a box, but establishing a genre that you want your work to exist in can be a good way to develop your unique style.
If you’re a photographer or videographer – what environment are you typically shooting in? Again, you don’t have to pinhole yourself into only shooting one type of environment – but where is most of your content coming from? Are you shooting in a studio? Outdoors? In cities or in nature? Chris Burkard is a great example of a photographer who’s developed a unique style using these two elements of genre and environment. His photos are wide ranging and all very different, but most if not all will incorporate some level of adventure, and a beautiful outdoor environment.
As you add more content to your portfolio, you’ll probably start to recognize some distinguishable themes within your work. Maybe your work represents exploration and wonder. For others, themes may include activism, politics, business, and social change. Other theme examples are technical, creative, DIY, self improvement. Themes help you develop a lane to continue progressing your work. Effective creators will pick a handful of themes they care about to develop within their work. What themes speak to you?
Staying consistent with genre, environment, and theme can help you hone in on your exact creative style. So how do we go about creating variety within that style? That’s the fun part.
Be a Sponge
Who are you inspired by? Is there another artist or creator whose work speaks to you? Why? Without directly copying or stealing, we can absorb ideas and inspiration from work that inspires us, and incorporate elements of it into our own work. Become a student of your craft. There’s so much inspiration out there. Creativity is all about taking things that are already there, and turning them into something new. Start with a large collection of inspiration and ideas (storyboard), and develop your own unique spin on things within that context.
Keep it Moving
Don’t let your work get stagnant. Art tells a story, and the viewer wants to be taken on a journey. With photographs or paintings, what is the path that the viewer’s eye will take through the work of art? How can you make that journey more interesting? Where do you want their attention being drawn? With writing, how can you keep your reader interested from one sentence to the next? Keep it moving. Make the reader need that next sentence. Art of all forms is like creating a puzzle for the viewer to put together on their own. If it’s too obvious, the viewer can lose interest. But if we can guide and prompt the viewer to draw conclusions of their own, we’ve successfully incorporated the principles of movement in our art.
Don’t take it too seriously. You’ve probably already established some parameters for your work to fit into. With enough time dedicated to your craft, your style will evolve naturally. So how can you have some fun with it? What are some elements you can add to your work that will add a refreshing dose of lightheartedness? In writing, maybe it’s a joke or a break in the narrative to address your reader directly. In photos or video, maybe you add a random element or character to a scene that feels misplaced. This will create curiosity and intrigue and make the viewer question what the purpose is. Even if there is no purpose, it’s something to talk and think about.
Like most things, striking a balance seems to be the key. We want to be consistent and recognizable, but also exciting and ever changing. Develop your style, and lean into your individuality to have some fun within it.