My college instructors taught me that "style" is a 4-letter word.
For good reason, too. They knew that "style" was a word that causes confusion. It complicates things. The word serves to distract, intimidate, and frustrate the working artist; thus, my teachers told me not to worry about developing my style during my college years. Honesty, I think all artists in every chapter of their lives should ignore worrying about their "style", because trying to force or decide the style of your art is like forcing yourself to find certain foods delicious. Likewise, your sense of humor or taste in music aren't really things that you have much control over, and to some degree it's the same with the aesthetic of your art: you kinda just do what you do.
So instead of the word "style", I prefer to use the word "flavor" (especially when talking with my students). The word "style" usually forces us to look at only the visual elements of our work: how we make it, is it loose or tight, flat or textured, digital vs. traditional. There is too much focus on the methods and visual language created by mediums.
BUT, if we focus on "flavor", we then start to think about our artwork more abstractly, almost as if it has a personality. This is helpful because we start to identify elements of our artwork that are not affected by choice of mediums or techniques. For instance, if I were to describe myself only by the way I look, it may look something like this:
- medium length dirty blonde hair
- gold necklace
- gingham shirt with grey cardigan and black leggings
But If I describe my personality instead, my list will look more like THIS:
- extroverted and enjoys being around people
- people pleaser
- afraid of the dark
- likes dogs
You probably see where this is going: the first list sums up how we perceive "style", whereas the second list is "flavor". In the first list where I describe the way I visually look, I could get overwhelmed if I changed any of those elements that I thought defined me in an important way. What if I put in my contacts and take off my glasses? What if I want to change clothes? Or dye my hair red? Will people recognize me? I'm all over the place! You can understand how the art equivalent of this process results in the anxiety around your work and pursuing any natural experimentation.
With the second list, those elements will not be affected by how I dress or what my hair looks like. I like dogs. I'll always like dogs no matter what I look like. If we start to think of our art in terms of personality, we can get to the core of what our work is and free it of being defined by medium or visual aesthetic. I describe my art as quirky illustration with a focus on characters, pattern, and color. You'll notice that I did not define my art in terms of how it actually looks or the way it's executed. This definition allows me to work in all sorts of ways without the mind games of worrying about style: I can work digitally, with gouache, very minimal, with lots of details and texture...and it all nicely fits within those parameters.
Not everyone has this struggle. If you do, I hope the idea of "flavor" helps you to work through those worries about your art's growth and evolution. In the end, this idea can encourage you to create without fear!