The elusive signature style is a topic that I’ve encountered many times over the last few years. Sometimes people are excited to share their own newfound style or the style of someone they admire. But most of the time these conversations involve frustration about not having one yet, or concern about never finding one.
So what is a signature style and how do we get one?
One of my design idols, Bonnie Christine, describes a signature style as ‘a direct reflection of your very soul’. Although slightly intimidating, this description speaks to me because it implies that our style is something that we already possess deep down. It may take time (and LOTS of work) to bring it to the surface, but I found it helpful to think that my style was patiently waiting to be uncovered.
Going by this description, I think that uncovering a signature style is a process that really can’t be rushed. Looking back over the last few years, I can now see the things that really helped me uncover my style, as well what distracted me and sent me completely off course.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.
One of the biggest roadblocks to uncovering my style was worrying about the outcome of a design before I had even started to create it. Sometimes this worry came from (self-imposed) pressure to create something “good” in the limited time windows I had to create. Other times it came from thinking that I needed to post something popular on social media or to create something portfolio-worthy. Whatever the cause, creating from a stressed mindset never led me any closer to my signature style.
Other distractions included comparing myself to others and putting too much emphasis on external validation. While I don’t think there are any magic bullet answers to avoiding these traps, and I still catch myself checking for “likes” far too often, I do think that identifying these distractions gives them a little less power.
On the flip side, when I approached designs with a playful mindset, new ideas formed and lit the path toward my signature style. Taking away the pressure of the outcome created space for experimentation and happy accidents. I definitely created some hideous work that I never want anyone to see, but every now and then I surprised myself and put together new ideas or techniques that made my heart sing.
Basically I think that when you enjoy the process magical things happen.
It took me a while to build up the courage to write this post, even though it has been swimming around in my head for weeks. I think this resistance mostly came from fear mixed with a pinch of imposter syndrome. Will publicly claiming that I have uncovered my style mean that I’m locked in forever and can never change? And who am I to be giving advice when I only very recently uncovered my own signature style?
Of course, if another artist said these words to me I would say they were being ridiculous! Although a style has something unique at its core, it’s not a static thing. I imagine my style will change and evolve with me as I keep creating. And I think this is worth sharing and celebrating.