On finding (and owning) your creative style

Developing your own style is often the biggest challenge of any creative endeavor. We all have an inherent natural style, but usually it’s not quite what you want it to be, or what it could be, without a lot of work. I’m still in the process of developing my style, and I’ve been drawing and making art since I could first hold a crayon, so it’s been a solid 22 years for me and I still feel a bit lost half the time. This blog turns 3 years old today, so even after three years of “official” development, I’m really just getting started.

While I haven’t always been concerned with developing my style, I was definitely always experimenting with it, even from a very young age. I have drawings from age two or three where my mom or dad had drawn something for me, like ducks in the park, and I had attempted to mimic their drawing. I loved drawing the cartoons I watched on TV, from Powerpuff Girls to Pokemon. I drew a lot of Pokemon. Inherently, my drawings were unique to my hand, but I was initially copying a lot of other people’s art to learn, and just because I liked it. In third grade, I borrowed the Ms. Pac-Man ghosts (Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Sue, for the uncultured) for easy-to-replicate characters in my comic strip drawings. I eventually developed characters of my own invention after lots of practice creating pages after pages of comics in my free time at school, figuring out what I liked, what I found funny, and what I could easily draw frame-after-frame without fully resorting to stick figures.

3rd-grader humor…

In middle school, I would fill up a notebook of what I imagined the characters to look like from my favorite book series at the time (Redwall, so lots of anthropomorphic woodland creatures) and I would draw my Neopets in a more stylized and customized way based on what I imagined their personalities to be. In high school, I often doodled ballerinas and 1960s-inspired florals and patterns. As my interests changed, my inspirations changed, and I would draw my own iterations of whatever I was paying most attention to. I wasn’t trying consciously to develop anything, just imitating what I liked for fun, bits and pieces of my interests slowly integrating into my own art creations.

a page of doodles from the week before I graduated high school

Style isn’t really a conscious thing, for the most part. You can maybe describe your personal style and tastes in a handful of words, but there is so much more “why” to it all than you may even realize. You might love the color apple green because it’s the color of the walls at your aunt & uncle’s old house on a hill with the smell of spring and Easter dinner in the air when you were younger, feeling so at home surrounded by family, and you kind of forget about all that and just know it’s one of those colors that just feels right to you. Or maybe a character in a movie you saw ten years ago wore a really cool outfit that subconsciously influenced what you like to wear. Or you read a certain picture book over and over when you were young, so the art style in it is very appealing to you. You may be conscious of more recent or memorable influences that you can visualize and describe, like the tip of the iceberg, but your actual style is made up of immeasurable life experiences like the examples I mentioned, extending far deeper below the surface.

So, whatever you make as a creative will unavoidably have an imprint of your own experiences and tastes. Krista of @hername_ismud posted a wonderful discussion of this in her instagram stories a while ago that stuck with me (in her highlights under “create vs copy”). She mentioned that it is often hard and uncomfortable work to get to know yourself, to find your creative voice, but it is extremely valuable to do and crucial if you are trying to contribute something new to the world. I love one thing she said especially, that you have to “invite yourself into your work.” You need to allow your unique experiences and gifts to shine through in what you make. She mentioned that while you can look at Pinterest for inspiration and copy other artists’ styles for fun and to learn some things, at a certain point, imitating the work of another just becomes detrimental to your own progress if your aim is to grow as an artist. You won’t find your own voice by borrowing others’ ideas, which likely cost them years of experience, failures, and effort. At the very least, you should give proper credit to your influences if you’re going to use their hard work as a shortcut.

This is a constant discussion in the artist community online, where art is so easily circulated now that some artists find that their work is being stolen and sold by overseas businesses, or even popular companies and big brands. Originality seems to be harder than ever now that we are all bombarded by pretty designs all over our social media, but in a way, it is more valuable than ever for those same reasons. I love Pinterest, but I have also needed to majorly shift how I use it as I begin to really try to uncover and shape my own style. I still pin illustrations and art and design that I admire, but I try to pin more photos of things and places and people and a variety of art mediums in order to find more unconventional and indirect inspiration, and when I do really want to emulate a certain illustrator’s style, I try to only borrow elements of it, mixed with other elements and styles, in order to make it my own.

I really like that Krista also mentioned she keeps a written notebook as an alternative to saving direct inspiration images, so that she can jot down ideas from things she sees and therefore already begin to separate them from the source and allow more room for interpretation and creativity. I really think there is major value in doing very present and physical activities as an artist, such as taking walks or flipping through old books, to find more unique inspiration. My graphic design professors have made a point in the past to assign us to check out any book from a section of our choice at the library, because it’s easy to forget there’s a ton of things out there that don’t even exist on the internet. I found a few super interesting old books on painting and design that were somewhat outdated but all the more inspiring for it, because it wasn’t something I would find online.

For as much as I was obsessed with books growing up, I have really drifted away from physical books in recent years, but I’m itching to get back to tangible sources like that. I was in this vintage shop in Boulder City last year that had some great Matisse and Calder and Degas lithographs, and this big selection of vinyl records that were so fun to flip through just because of the amazing old cover art, just random compilations of Tchaikovsky or Chopin, or some musicians I’ve never heard of, with the coolest cover designs. That’s the kind of inspiration that lights me up, not the same trendy design I’ve seen pop up in my Pinterest feed 10 times over the last year. But that’s the beauty of it, (and why I’m beginning to miss travelling this year, even just a day trip to a nearby city) some things you can’t find on the internet. Some inspiration has to be found 27 records deep in a dusty, disorganized pile you’re flipping through while simultaneously trying to keep it from toppling over in the back of an antiques store that you ducked into on a whim to escape the heat.

I keep seeing talk about “finding your style” everywhere lately, and it has been on my own mind for a while, so I wanted to write out some of my thoughts. It’s one of those topics that a lot of people seem to struggle with in the current age along with procrastination and indecisiveness, which I happen to think are all directly tied to the endless bombardment of over-stimulation that we’re all faced with as soon as we open up a social media app or the internet. Having just spent two weeks dogsitting a couple of golden retrievers at a house with a lovely front porch and back patio tucked at the end of a street by some woods, I spent more time just sitting outside and enjoying fresh air and solitude than I have in a long, long time. And I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. In fact, I started to wonder why I had endless to-do lists when all of a sudden it felt like I could count my priorities on one hand. I may have even had some major breakthrough realizations about my own artistic style that I’ll discuss in another post soon. I think honing your “style” is one of those processes that never ends, and while I look forward to evolving, refining, and finding more consistency, I also know that I am an admirer of many differing things, so my personal style will probably always be fairly eclectic and experimental. I just have to make peace with the process.

Paris: An Introduction

A few weeks ago I had never been on a plane or in an airport, and had never been out of the United States besides a drive to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls when I was about 3 years old and long before a passport was required. Due to a spring break study abroad opportunity this semester, I got to change all of that very quickly and spent a quarter of this month in France!(!!!) Since it’s no secret I have been trying to work on learning the French language for a while, this was a pretty exciting development, as I’ve always envisioned Paris as my ideal first overseas travel destination. While I’ve had a busy semester and could have really used that week break, I am so grateful I chose this experience instead. It’s cliche to say that traveling abroad is life-changing, but it really does open your eyes to different people, different culture, geography, politics and norms, etc. It’s just one tiny new sliver of the world that is no longer part of a big unknown, one extra sliver to expand your heart to all that is contained in the world. And above all, even though European culture isn’t the most contrasting to American anyway, it’s also a fresh reassurance that all humans are more similar than we are different.

Because it was a media communications study abroad class, I got to participate in visits to a few social media and news organizations local to Paris, and attend a few lectures and discussions with journalists and other media professionals that offered a more inside perspective of the culture, in addition to visiting the major tourist destinations and exploring the city. I will say that I typically prefer to skip some of the touristy stuff in favor of more niche exploring, so the one major con of a short study abroad like this, for me, is that you’re kind of chained to the class itinerary and the group as a whole most of the time, or at least that was the case for this trip (we were told we would have more free time than we were actually given, but that’s a whole other story). Therefore, I didn’t end up with the freedom to explore certain things that I had hoped to, however, I also experienced so much that I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. All the more reason to start plotting a return visit… 😉 So, with that preface, here’s Paris from my perspective…my first and then general impressions of the city of light.

We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport around 8am on Saturday, March 9th (quick fun note: we arrived in Paris the day before our daylight savings began in the US, but France’s daylight savings doesn’t start until March 31st, so for the first day it was the full +6hr time difference from home, but the rest of the time there it was a +5hr time difference) and took taxis to our hotel on Avenue de Clichy in the 17e arrondissement. That first taste of France was so surreal. The highways seemed fairly similar to American, and in France the cars are similar as well (steering wheel on the left as usual) just generally smaller, and more motorbikes, so it wasn’t a huge culture shock. It was just the subtle differences, passing trees and looking closely and realizing they’re just….different from the types of trees I’m used to and such. We arrived at our hotel and had to wait a bit to check in to our rooms, so we all just wandered down to the bakery on the corner to get espresso and treats. A café crème and a croissant became my go-to breakfast. Once we were able to settle in to our hotel rooms, the group voted to rest for a couple hours, being tired from the overnight flight. However, one of the other girls and I agreed we’d be better off if we kept moving, so while everyone else napped/rested, the two of us set out on a walk to explore a bit of the surrounding neighborhood and wear off some of the excited jitters of being in this beautiful city for the first time.

That first walk ended up being one of my favorite memories from the trip. It was so great to just leisurely soak in our new surroundings apart from the larger group. To get a feel for the area, for the particular energy of this city and our little section of it. Parts of it definitely reminded me of past experiences of Georgetown in D.C., and NYC, especially at night. But it was of course distinctly Paris, packed with beauty and character and history unlike anything I had ever experienced in the US. I immediately felt like I could explore this city for the rest of my life and never see all of it, never run out of interesting things. There were charming cafés around every corner, every building had its own interesting architectural details, every door was beautiful and unique. That’s one of the first things I noticed, as someone who appreciates little details like interesting/colorful doors, I very quickly realized I couldn’t keep stopping to take a photo of every cute door or I’d never get anywhere, haha.

turned a corner to find a little dog in a windowsill, omg

The people are friendly, as long as you remember to say bonjour and merci. But really, I found no proof of “the French are rude” stereotype in my experience of Paris, quite the opposite, really. I also think the stereotype that Parisians wear lots of black and very little color is a bit over-exaggerated. Black is always going to be a common apparel color, especially in cooler seasons, but there seemed to be plenty of pops of color in the streetwear I observed, besides plenty of camel and mustard as the other dominating neutrals. A common trend seemed to be women in feminine skirts with sheer black tights, paired with either short boots or stylish sneakers of varying styles (for a comfortable commute, I imagine). Sheer black tights toujours. Lots of variation in coats, but I definitely felt right at home with the gray wool overcoat I brought as I saw many similar versions on women and men. There were so many cute kids and so many cute dogs. It seemed like every other person was walking either a small dog or a small child down the street, and yes, often with fresh baguette(s) tucked under an arm as well. People watching really is the best, especially when taking the metro or sitting outside at a cafe (every Parisian restaurant or cafe had outside seating of course, and often heat lamps above so it really doesn’t matter the weather, day and night, warm or cold) and everyone looks interesting in Paris so it’s impossible not to people watch. It was all a bit of sensory overload, but in the most satisfying way possible. Everything felt both familiar, and life-changingly new to my eyes.

I quickly absorbed details of the surrounding streets of the neighborhood where we stayed, after a few days it was easy to recognize certain shops, graffiti, and the architecture. The same went for the metro as well, despite the multitude of trains and stops, if you get to know your “home” station(s) and just check out the map, it’s not too hard to figure out which line to take to get where you need to go. If you’re taking it during the typical rush hours, get ready to embrace the lack of personal space, because people pack into the cars like sardines. But hey, it’s kind of fun quickly searching for a spot to wedge yourself in…at least it was for the week, maybe not for a long-term daily commute, hah. A good time to perfect saying pardon in your best French accent. You might even get lucky and end up in between a couple of flirty Italian guys who speak only enough English to tell you “your face is nice” like one of my friends on the trip. 😉

every metro station has a different look, gotta catch ’em all

Speaking of language, it was certainly interesting finally getting to put my French to the test. Initially, any speaking/accent abilities of mine went out the window from the nerves of interacting with actual native speakers and I kept it minimal, but over a few days I started to get a little more comfortable and eventually there were even a couple occasions where someone didn’t immediately assume I was American. I really only got to use the basics, but it was nice to be able to order food competently and understand a few menus and signs that didn’t have English translations included, or pick up bits and pieces of overheard conversations. Also, the most helpful thing for me was that I was the only student on the trip who has been actively studying French, or at least the one with the most experience with it, so I became a sort of go-to French dictionary and pronunciation guide to many of the other students. I’m still on a very elementary level, but it felt nice when the others asked me simple questions and I was able to offer help and answers. It kept me on my toes, testing my comprehension in a fun way, though I definitely still said “I have no idea what that means” or “let’s try google translate” a few times as well. 😉

latest Coeur de Pirate album, anyone?

Initially, I was planning to give a chronological recap of my trip, but I think it will be smoother if I break it down into categorical sections. So, these have been my impressions and general observations, and I will follow up soon with a post about the classic tourist destinations I visited (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, etc.) and then possibly another post about the lectures and educational activities (the “study” part of this brief study abroad), maybe even a post about the food or other details, we’ll see. My cousin (shout out healthtreeliving.com) and I were just discussing blog post ideas, so while I’ve had quite the lull in posts the past few months, it’s looking like I have a fresh wealth of things to write about, not to mention some old drafts that could use finishing. Although, this one already took way too long to write, so it’s always a matter of finding the time. Between you and me, I’m also itching to give the blog a fresh redesign…again, time.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of Paris from my viewpoint, à bientôt!