In the early days of owning a camera, the emphasis is on getting to understand how it works and what it can achieve for you. The next stage for me was to try out all the techniques; I would see a picture in a magazine and think “I want to try that!” and so I would spend a few weeks practising the specific technique required.
After all this thrashing around, getting to grips with the gear and essentially learning through copying, you reach the point where you think “But what is my style?” What is it that makes it ‘my’ picture, not a replica of someone else’s?
I have found the exact same process happened with my painting. Getting to grips with washes, brushes, paint and water. Following step-by-step tutorials in a book. What is harder, is to ‘see’ the painting in the scene. To translate reality into paint. I am not interested in photorealistic images; I have a camera for that. I want to interpret, to loosen, to find what speaks to me. The holy grail of a style that is mine.
However, with both media (and any other, of course) it is finding your own style that makes the end product recognisably you. It must carry something of your personality with it, your energy and your outlook on life. Style is separate from skill with brush or lens. It’s not what or how, but something more elusive that makes it uniquely you.
In both cases, I like to look at published artists’ work to try and identify an approach that appeals to me. These images are of course ‘pre-digested’. That is, they represent the artists’ interpretation of the scene. It is this step that makes your style; how you interpret a scene and translate what you see into your personal two-dimensional image in the finished piece.
According to Ron Ranson, the key is to look beyond the mannerisms and techniques to the principles underlying the work. Style evolves slowly from something deeper within. Here, of course, is the link to contemplative rather than reactionary work. By seeking that closer connection with the subject matter, we can hope to interpret it in a meaningful way that comes from an intuitive outpouring of creativity once the thinking mind is quietened.