Style Cycle–Define Case Studies


Finding, Defining, and Marketing Your Photographic Style


Lesson Info

Style Cycle–Define Case Studies

Defining who you are as an artist is critical to your marketing. Okay? Capturing the essence of your style in a description using physical traits and emotion is how you will, basically, create an artist statement. Okay? This is the defining phase of your work. Now, are you gonna broadcast that artist statement out to the world? Maybe, maybe not. You don't have to. It can just be a personal thing to give your own self a sense of true direction. Okay? Using words to describe your style, applying it to all your work, and applying it to your brand. When you do the exercise I'm about to teach you how to do, you are going to arm yourself with words and language that you can then put into your brand and your marketing. Okay? This is incredibly powerful stuff and it will make you money. It's one thing to have a style. It's another thing to know how to communicate that style. Because a thousand people can look at your work, as we've all just seen, and everybody sees something different. So as a...

n artist, you wanna be able to make sure you can communicate your style, your brand, your business, to your ideal client. By knowing how to talk about your art, this will, in turn, help you market it. Guys, marketing is about emotion and the artist's process. Nail that, and you fasten their hearts to your work. Marketing is simply about emotion, especially in our industry. It's about solving a problem a potential customer has. For us, we're a luxury item. The problems are, you know, first-world problems. I mean, come on, it's not like we're struggling to eat. But let me tell you, Apple and its iPhone is first-world problems, too. And they manage to market really well. It's a luxury item, but they manage to make it a need. Okay? So by using words well, you allow the viewer of your work to dig deep into who you are as an artist. When you show them the behind-the-scenes mental process, they become much more emotionally connected to your work. And then when you translate that language into your marketing messaging, all of a sudden you're the one telling them and encouraging them to get connected to your work, rather than just hoping they see it and want it. It's active marketing versus passive, wait for them to come. Okay? So, what we're going to do is take the visual and emotional style components, okay, and we're gonna start creating words. You guys all just said those words with both Christie and Jenny's work. I want you to take visual adjectives and emotional feelings and write them down with this 20-image body of work. Okay, so you pull up the 20 images, put them out there, start seeing the common thread components, edit out what doesn't fit. Flip it upside down. If you see an image, and we'll do this tomorrow as we start applying all this stuff, when you see a body of work upside down, you will be able to pick out the images that don't really fit. That's not consistent. Okay, that doesn't look like it's from the same artist. That's the kind of question I want you to ask. Then, when you pull those suckers out, all of a sudden you have a consistent body of work that looks like it's from the same artist, we start coming up with these visual and emotional words. Visual are things like soft, light, airy, sharp, bokeh, clean, simple, backlit, pastel, low contrast. Very visually descriptive adjectives, right? The emotional words are things like mysterious, heavenly, authentic, hopeful, dreamy. Do you know what I'm saying? They're adjectives, but they have an emotional meaning behind them, not a physical meaning. Does that make sense? So, when you start coming up with these words to work, then what you can do is start connecting them and going, the soft components, technical elements in this image, make me feel serene. We're gonna start building language, okay? Or, the clean look of these lines gives me an authentic feeling to the work, like it's truly what it is. Or, the pastel color tones feel fresh to me. Right, this is just coming up with language that works for your work. Light, heavenly, I mean, there's all, and just note, I could take almost any one of these visual components and connect them to a word. It almost even doesn't matter which word. I mean, light and fresh with mysterious, or soft and airy with mysterious doesn't really fit. But, and deep, dark does with mysterious. Do you know what I'm saying? So there's definitely a degree of logic that goes with this. But start connecting words that you think are the most prevalent in your body of work. Are we following? Everybody's following, okay. Then we are going to build an artist statement. Connect those words and write a paragraph that defines your work using those words. Those words will help you, okay? That paragraph defines who you are as an artist, why you create the way you do, and how you want your voice to impact your audience. Okay, so, for example, you're gonna ask questions like, why do you make your art? What inspires you to make it? What it signifies or represents. What's unique or special about how you make it? And what it means to you. And again, this paragraph can be very personal. So it does not need to be public. If you wanna make it public, great. But the reason I want you to do this is because when you start taking these words and incorporating the visual adjectives and the emotional adjectives into answering these questions, all of a sudden you're creating language that not only you can follow as your own style, but that you can also use in your branding and marketing messages for your work. Make sense? I did not show an example of this on purpose. I know you all want an example of an artist statement. I know it's screaming at you right now, please read me yours, Julia! I am not going to do that and there's a very strong reason why. It will influence you way too much. And I fretted about this for probably four or five hours one night, going, do I show my artist statement, do I show my artist statement. No, the final decision is no. Because you need to write this from your own heart and if you see mine, it will influence you. Okay? And it will not come from your authentic place. And I know you're all shouting at me, but I suck at writing, Julia, I can't do this! (audience laughing) I hear the objections coming out of you right now. It does not matter if you suck at writing or not. Your words will help you. And it could be total hogwash right now. Just vomit it on paper, get it out there, and then you can fuss with it later. Okay, but if you answer those simple five questions, why do you make your art, what inspires you. Remember your outside resources, outside inspiration? What it signifies or represents. What are those physical components and what do they mean in an image for you? What have you been working on with your find-it formula this whole time that moves you? Right? What's unique or special about how you make it? What do you do that you do all the time that's so you? It doesn't have to be unique from everybody else. It just has to be unique to you, that's something you go to all the time. And then, what does the work mean to you and how do you want it to impact the viewer? Answer these questions and you will create an amazing artist statement that you can then refer back to. And it is a living, breathing document. It will change. You can guarantee yourself that over time, probably less than a year later, you will be modifying it. That is what you're supposed to do. Don't just write it and forget it. Use the document every time you create. Read it every time you do a session. You will be amazed at how consistent your style becomes when you use that document and hold it dear to your heart in every image you take. It's okay to let it change. It's okay to not be happy with it in the beginning. Just trust the process. All too often, my sister, bless her heart, has lost almost 50 pounds through diet, nutrition, some light exercise. So basically getting herself healthy. And she's working with a nutritionist and she, I mean, my sister is, you know, four and a half years older than me. She has gone through every diet imaginable. I mean, you know how it is. You try anything for years, you'll lose 20 pounds and then gain it back kinda thing, yo-yo. She's done this for years and she did not believe this nutritionist. She's like, this is not gonna work. And she kept telling her, trust the process, trust it, trust it, trust it, it works, trust it. And bless her heart, she trusted it, and she's lost 50 pounds. So that's what I'm encouraging you to do today: trust the style process and the style cycle and where you are in each phase, and trust that it will work. You're not gonna lose anything and you might create some really cool art in the process, right? Go with it. So before we start analyzing great, great, amazing stylists, I wanna take questions about this before we move on. I know this is a step-by-step process and I've wracked my brain trying to make it that because I'm hoping that that will give you an actionable task to complete to move you forward. Because to me that's what education is about, is taking systematic approach to things so that you move a student forward so that they can progress. But I know that along the way, you get stumped, there's questions, it's hard, you worry about things, objections go off in your brain. Let's talk about those. Do we have anything that's like, (growls) this is not working, I've tried that, I need help? Where are we? For those of us who do multiple genres, do you suggest doing this individually for each genre or overall as your style as, you know, your style or for newborns, for weddings? I would start with what you want to start with. I know that sounds really vague. You're like, okay, Julia, that's not a very good answer. And I know it's not a very good answer and I'm really sorry in advance, but the whole point is, you need to follow what you love. So if you feel like doing a newborn first, for goodness sake, do a newborn first. It doesn't matter. That's the point. I don't want you to get stuck in this, yes, I'm giving you a formulaic way of doing this, but I don't want you to get stuck in, oh, I gotta do it for weddings, and I gotta do it for babies, and I gotta do it for seniors. Just do it. What do you wanna do first? What do you wanna do first? What you thinkin', Lincoln? I think I was more of like, do you find what your style is first and then let that define each one of your genres or like how, do you see what I mean? I have kind of a different style for each one of my-- You're in analysis paralysis right now. And you're over-analyzing, it's okay, I do it too. It's a disease, I get it. Been there, done that, and I still can't cure it. It's, analysis paralysis, when you over-analyze, like, seriously, don't worry too much about what's first or what's, do I have to find myself first and then, you know, move into different genres. No, what I want you to do is go back to the find-it formula and literally just create something. If you wanna do a wedding, great. If you wanna do a senior, great. If you wanna do a baby, great. It doesn't matter. Pick the technical components first, then your subject matter. Like really, I know I'm beating a dead horse, but that's okay. So, for example, say you really wanna work with wide angle because you just think it's cool. Or the wind, like me, the wind for me was fascinating. To me, that first element of style was the wind. I wanted to harness flow. Initially, it was the wind, then it started moving into anything that flows, fabric, hair, something that can create that movement across a page. That, to me, intrigued me. And it doesn't matter what subject it is, at all. So that's what I'm saying, is find that component, don't worry about your subject matter so much. And that's what we talked about with Cathy. She's like, how did I get all different subjects? Who cares? Do it with one subject every time. Same subject, pick the same kid every day and shoot them for a week straight with different components that you wanna practice in your style. Or that makes your heart sing. Then later, what that will help, you're putting the cart before the horse. That will help you define what technical elements you want and what mood and emotion you wanna create in your images and what story you wanna tell. Then you can start applying it to your different genres and see what sticks. It might not stick with every genre. You might go, seniors, I'm just not feeling it with them. Do you know what I'm saying? So try not to say, okay, maybe I should work with seniors first and see what my style is there. Okay, and then we'll go to babies and see what my style is there. No, no, no. Let's figure your style first and then go, okay, how do I want that to apply to different things? You're actually gonna end up with a lot more consistency there, and you're gonna focus more on what's in your heart rather than what the subject matter is. Subject matter influences us too much sometimes, I think. But, again, I know I'm being vague, but this is a personal journey. And if you wanna do it compartmentalized in that way, and do weddings first, and then this, you need to do that. Because everybody processes and does things as artists differently. So I'm not telling you don't do it that way, but I'm also telling you, it doesn't really matter. You need to follow what works for you and I know that that's hard to hear. Everybody wants that kind of, okay, this is what you do first, second, third. If it were me, I would figure out what technical components I love first and what makes my heart sing, and then I would apply it to subject matter to see if it stuck. Does that answer? Okay. Sometimes I hate answering some of the questions sometimes because I'm so, it can go any way, however you want. (audience laughing) Like, that does not help the person. Okay, what else? Bonnie. Yeah, I mean, I have hangups about writing an artist statement anyway, because it forces me to pick one. But I'm looking at, I mean-- (audience laughing) We're all a little bit commitment-phobic, you know, I get it. I'm teasing you. Yeah, I guess I have as many artist statements as I do personalities. So I could write a whole magazine about me. I'm looking at three, four, and five in the process of writing the artist statement. And I'm zooming out and I'm thinking about the whole cycle of finding your style. And I'm, I don't know, in like the 40th evolution of that thing now. But if I'm not at the defining/refining stage of the cycle, I'm trying to imagine how I would answer what the signifiers are, what's unique about my technique, and what it means to me, since I'm still, if I'm still in the sort of exploration phase of the process. So if you're in that phase, how do you get to what seems like a more finished perspective in the artist statement? If you're in the experimentation and discovery phase, there is no way that you can realize and define. You have to go through the cycle in its order. I mean, if I'm experimenting and discovering and kind of trying to figure out what I love and what I do, and I haven't figured that out yet, it's really hard to realize where I'm going and write about it. Very hard. That's why I keep saying, wash, rinse, repeat. Because if you do the find-it formula multiple times, and the only way to figure this out is to do it, wash, rinse, repeat. Over and over and over again. Because then what happens is, as you start doing this work and you're looking at it, you go, yes, no, yes, no, I like it, no I don't, it means something to me, it doesn't, it didn't work, it did. You're gonna have this, it'll naturally edit itself. And then once it's edited itself, and you start to feel that happening, then you can take this 20-image body of work and go, yes. I'm feelin' it, this is working. And this is why style is so dang hard, because it's this elusive thing that just kind of permeates your work and isn't something that you go, yes, maybe, no. It is always like, gray area, what the heck? It's a feeling. It's like a, it's this hard to describe thing about your work that is you. And I think that's why it's so frustrating for all of us. But what I'm trying to do is help you see it in a more black and white system. It will always be gray. But I'm trying to pull out white and black, show it to you, and go, here's how you go through the cycle. It is almost impossible to define it if you haven't gone through this thoroughly. Now, here's the gray area. You'll never finish going through the find-it formula. You can wash, rinse, and repeat forever. You'll have really clean hair. But what I'm saying is, that discovery process is one that you will finally have to eventually try to leave and go into realization and definition. But you can't leave it too early, either. So you have to develop enough of a body of work through the find-it formula, where you go, okay, yeah, I'm feeling it. I do love the wind, I do love muted tones, I am really strong in my composition, I know exactly where I put things, I always use the same camera lens, the same camera angle, the same lighting technique, or a variation of lighting technique, or there's a quality to it that is always the same, that that's me. I do it because I love it and I want to, not because I think I have to. Then, when you get to that point where you go, yeah, I am doing this all the time, that's when you start looking at a body of work and going, okay, yeah, that's me, here's, let's start describing it visually and emotionally and connecting and making a statement. Is that answering your question? Okay. If you try to define it too early, you're gonna get confused. Because when you try to define it without that feeling of knowing, of like, yeah, this is me, I like this, I'm jiving with this, then you're gonna get pulled out by other things. You're gonna get tempted by the devil, so to speak. That means you haven't washed, rinsed, and repeated enough. So swim in that for a while, and that's why it's so hard with these people who have multiple genres that they're doing. They're like, oh, how do I stay consistent? You are still in wash, rinse, repeat. Just keep wash, rinsing, and repeating, but do it in your conscious mind, in the forefront with intention, like you mean it, and then you will start discovering the common threads that run through your work.

Class Description

How can you work successfully (and profitably) as an artist in a crowded, over-saturated market? You have to make your work and your brand stand out by creating your art from a deeply authentic place that is only YOU and yours alone. In other words, you must define your STYLE. By standing out uniquely, you can attract the kind of client who is willing to compensate you appropriately for what you bring to the table.

Join master business and photography educator, Julia Kelleher, for a class on finding, defining and applying your style to your work and your brand.

In this class you’ll discover how to:

  • Identify your style as an artist intentionally rather than by accident
  • Incorporate your style into your brand
  • Use your style to help gain financial benefits
Learn how an undeviating style can bring in your ideal client, make you stand out in a crowd, command top dollar and keep your competition at arms length.


Cesar Flores

Wow wow wow, as an artist on a beginner's stage this was an amazing presentation. Julia is a pro on teaching the psychology of the artist within ourselves. I will follow her from now on and start putting in practice her step by step techniques on finding my style as an artist. Thank you Creativelive and Thank You Julia, you are amazing


This course is amazeballs. Love love love love love love love. Just buy it. :)

a Creativelive Student

Great class. A step by step way of finding a artist style that is from your heart. Stop hoping the style fairy will randomly visit you some day. I view this in-depth system as a smart exploration component integrated with a gut check component. Julia has laid it all out smartly and easy to follow. The work itself will not be easy but the steps are beautifully explained. Brilliant! Buy the course. Yeah I will be using it for years. Shelle