Why Artists Change Style: Should You?

Why artists change style: Should you? Header

There are a number of reasons why artists change style, sometimes a style just evolves, while at other times it’s a conscious effort to change tack.

Artists change their style as they grow, when they try out new things, and experiment with new materials and techniques. They also change their style to adapt to the needs and desires of their fans. As fashion and tastes change a commercial artist will adapt to meet them

But what are the consequences of making a change? Are there reasons not to change style? This post explores the pros and cons of changing your artistic style.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

What Defines an Artists Style?

First, let me define the term ‘style’. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is ”the manner of doing or making things”.

An art style is the distinctive mark of an artist’s work that gives his or her work its identity. A style is like a brand, it’s distinctive and recognizable. Like a logo. It’s the thing that sets the artist apart from the rest.

An art style is one that repeats itself over and over and is associated with one particular artist or indeed a particular movement. It‘s a combination of the materials used, the techniques applied, and the subject matter chosen.

For example, think Andy Warhol and Pop art, Picasso and Cubism, and Monet and Impressionism

All unique and instantly recognizable. You get the point.

What Happens When An Artist Changes Styles?

If you already have an established art style there will be consequences should you choose to change things. The most obvious of which is the loss of a signature style that identifies your work to your collectors.

Like it or not, the public likes to box their favorite artists into a certain style and it can be hard to take your fans along with you if you change your style radically

Many admirers will feel betrayed if you decide to take another path. They love what you are and any sudden change can put them off. The danger is you will lose an audience but not gain a new one.

Hobbyists and amateurs have no such worry, they can chop and change at will. I often remark that the artists who have the most fun, are those who don’t sell anything at all.

That leaves the professional artist with a dilemma. Do they carry on with a style that has served them well, but is no longer a challenge, or do they try something new and exciting, and risk alienating their fans?

If you need help choosing a subject read this: What Kind of Art Sells Best? All The Secrets Revealed

No artist wants to stagnate and churn out the same old stuff for evermore, but on the other hand, making money with art is not easy so why kill off the golden goose?

There is no simple answer to this conundrum. The best advice I can offer is to take things one step at a time and change gradually. It’s the sudden change that can cause problems.

Nurture your buyers and take them on the journey with you.

You should read this post: How to Find Your Drawing Style: 8 Ways to Develop Your Art Skills

How Many Times Can an Artist Change Style?

I haven’t counted how many styles I’ve had over the years but I’ve had quite a few at different stages of my life.

My style changed when I discovered new mediums and tried different subjects. My early work was less detailed and I was less of a perfectionist

I had a looser style and that was because I discovered pastels, and that forced me to paint in a more fluid way. Pastels are suited to larger artwork and that in turn invited a sketchier style.

The problem was, that I was never comfortable painting on a larger scale. I started to experiment with painting smaller landscapes.

This is very much related: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart

I had my own techniques and color sense and I developed my own more precise style.

Years later, when I started drawing wildlife in front of people, my style morphed into hyper-realism. I did that in order to elicit a few gasps from my audience and attract sales.

If you want to do the same read this: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

It all happened by accident. I carried on this way for a few years but inevitably I took realism as far as I could. Now I’m backtracking and trying to free up my style once more. and I’m not finding it at all easy.

You have to bear in mind that this all happened over a number of years and there was a gap in between when I stopped painting.

3 Drawings of elephants in different styles by Kevin Hayler
3 Elephants drawn in different styles

These drawings show my progression in styles. The first drawing on the left was drawn in the 90s and is perfectly fine. It’s fairly accurate and the shading is ok, if not well developed, and I was happy to suggest some detail without spending too much time on it. It’s slightly stiff in my opinion.

The middle drawing is very highly detailed. I used mechanical pencils and a magnifying glass to draw in super detail. The shadows are far more realistic and I have added more life and character into the composition.

The third drawing on the right is my attempt to backtrack away from insane detail and return to a looser style and add some atmosphere. I used a sketchy background to add drama and the ‘lost and found’ technique around the edges.

Ignoring that they are all elephants, you can see the journey and anyone could be forgiven for thinking they might be from different artists.

Can an Artist Create a New Style?

It’s true that some artists can change their style at will. It’s a rare skill. Most of us have limitations.

Artists tend to have an aptitude for one style of art over another. They have a specialism where they excel. In a way they own it. To change their medium or work in a different way, or at a different scale, is a tall order.

This post is related: What is the Meaning of Media in Art Terms? With Examples

Having traded in front of the general public for so many years, I’ve learned a few things and one of them is how oblivious the public is to the artistic process. Many people assume if you can draw or paint, you can do anything. It’s a common misconception.

Thinking of drawing in public? Read this: Should You Teach Your Art Skills in Public? (Pros and Cons)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been approached by someone who thinks you can draw what they are imagining. My heart sinks when I hear these words:

“Can you just…”

In most cases, artists cannot change their style at will. The artist’s style is established through a combination of mediums and influences. Through constant research and practice, the artist discovers their own voice, builds on it, and uses it to create memorable works of art that reflect their own vision.

To consciously set out to change your style is a real challenge. For an artist to succeed they must dedicate time to experiment freely with a new way of working, with new tools, or with new subjects

Can it be done? Sure. Is it practical? Rarely. A working artist is usually too pressurized to take the time needed to change their direction. For leisure painters, it can be demoralizing to make a change only to fail.

Most of us find something we are good at and try to master it.

I’m inspired by Stephens Bauman’s style of drawing. It’s not the subject so much as his technique and painterly feel that I admire. Full of movement and atmosphere.

Can You Have More Than One Art Style at Once?

Yes, you can, if you happen to be accomplished in more than one discipline you can serve different markets to suit your style and subject matter.

I like to think of it this way. There is the art you like to do for yourself, the stuff that satisfies and makes you happy. Then there are the pot-boilers. The art you do for the money. They can be entirely different.

Doing your own thing is not primarily about pleasing others, although that’s great when it happens, it’s about the challenge and discovering what you can do.

Making art on commission or as commercial wall art is about accommodating others. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does limit how you play with your art.

This is useful: How to Get Art Commissions: The Easy Way and Make Money

Back in the day, before the internet, you had less scope to serve different markets. Now you can reinvent yourself with different personas and different products. You might be frustrated by limiting yourself to one genre and need to vary your output or get too bored.

Now you can post your art on dozens of art sites, have more than one website, and change your mediums, and put it all out there. There is no need to be the same person anymore.

You could open several stores with totally different artwork and see what takes off. You can be whatever and whoever you want to be. It’s crazy.

Why Artists Change Style – Final Thoughts

Artists change style to keep their art interesting and prevent themselves from getting into a rut. Change comes naturally to us all over time. We mature and develop as we age, and our art changes as we do.

I’m reminded of a comment made by a gallery owner when I showed her some of my sketches.

“That’s very much a young man’s art”

It was true. I’d sketched some pretty girls. That mattered to me at the time. Now I’m 60 and drawing orangutans, what does that say?

We all change, adapt and evolve. It has to be that way, if not we’d grind to a halt. We all strive to improve on the art we’ve made in the past.

When people look at my art, I’m often asked if I have a favorite. I’ll answer their question, but in the back of my mind, I always think my best art is the next one.

Family of elephants. A pencil drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
Drawn after visiting Kaziranga NP in Assam.

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit:


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