“You’re unique, just like everyone else.” This oxymoron is a principle for why you will always be different than your neighbor. This includes painting miniatures and other art forms. But, what is fascinating is that you don’t actually know the particulars of your “uniqueness” until you express it.
And, perhaps this is why discovering your artistic style is a worthy pursuit. In essence, discovering how you make art, your style, is also a way to discovering who you are.
How do you go about discovering your miniature painting style?
This is a great question! I’m 100% sure this is a question that many artists also ask at some point. Whether you’re a novelist, a photographer, an illustrator, or dancer, at some point, you’ll wonder what your style is….
In this article, I highlight 5 ways you can discover your miniature painting style.
What is “style”?
Let’s start first with a definition of style.
Style is a manner or approach of doing something. And, in so doing whatever that is, you create a distinctive appearance.
Ultimately, style is a symptom (or visible manifestation) of many internal personal factors converging on an act of creation. Your style reveals the summation of many “you parts”.
For the person who paints miniatures, this means that however you create, the final result is a proxy of your manner and approach to doing things.
This is scary for some people and thrilling for others.
How can I figure out my miniature painting style?
I thought about this a lot as a writer (which I address in a different post), and now as a painter of miniatures. Where do you begin to find your style? This is such an enormous task!
Sure, we all want to be better painters of miniatures and models. We all want to learn and master techniques that make our miniatures come alive on the tabletop or display case.
But, what is our “look”? What do we want to express from ourselves through our miniature painting style?
Well, the process won’t be easy.
I certainly won’t be gentle. My advice here is meant to challenge you.
But, whatever you do, you own the result. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, you succeed.
You own every mistake or achievement.
Continue reading for the 5 ways you can to discover your miniature painting style:
1. Stop Following Other People
Do you have a favorite painter or style of work you’re trying to emulate? Stop. Don’t admire.
Put an end to all that internal monologue: “Oh, I wish I could paint like that…” or “I wish my minis could have that style!”
Forget all that. If you have to, unfollow those social media posts.
Are you lost now? Have you lost your guiding star for inspiration? Does your motivation for painting miniatures come from looking at the work of other artists you admire?
Did you LOSE YOUR INSPIRATION?
Look around you. Reflect on why you started painting to begin with and that is truly pushing you to paint more. Maybe you want to paint miniatures so when you game with your friends, you ALL have more fun.
Painted miniatures are simply more fun in games, e.g. tabletop wargaming or boardgames, whatever.
There is your inspiration. It’s that small voice and vision in your head that you’ve been ignoring.
And, you’ve been ignoring your instincts, because you’ve been haunted by other peoples’ work. You stalk those blogs, Pinterest pages, or Instagram posts, and you feel crappy about your work.
You know I’m right. Unsubscribe and unfollow….
(hint: just maybe not my blog, hehe).
2. Don’t Copy
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (source). Isn’t that what many people say about copying things?
Stop flattering other artists!
Don’t copy someone else’s painting style. You see that LOOK, it’s not your look. It’s theirs.
They may even be hyping it because it’s profitable for you to copy them. Have you subscribed to Patreon? Patreon is a “pay-per-view” model way of learning how to have an artistic style that isn’t yours. Sure, imitating a painting approach or technique is useful and flattering, but it’s also a pain in the butt.
It doesn’t really get you what you’re after.
What I mean about “don’t copy” is that its going to slow you down from figuring out your unique way of doing things. Your style requires you, and just you.
When you try and copy someone else’s work, it’s an effort in frustration because you’ll never achieve the look you’re aiming for. It is nearly impossible to copy another person’s style.
Okay, I get it. You love the look of how another artist paints their miniatures and wonder if you could incorporate that small piece into your approach. This is different.
Rather than copying the work of other painters, try and see the concept they are going for. Is there an idea or context within the painting that goes beyond the brush strokes and physicality of the object?
Admire and emulate the aesthetic, the feels, the emotional connection of another artist. These things are not style.
Copy the principle, and make that aspect a part of your style. Maybe you like how that artist shades cloth or highlight hair on a sculpt. But, why? Is it because it looks more gritty and moody? You can get a moody, gritty-style with your way/style of painting.
Gain inspiration from another’s work, but dig into it to find the piece (the visual motif) that really draws you in and incorporate just those bits into your work.
3. Paint Until It Hurts
Paint a lot. Paint daily.
Paint so much your hands bleed, your back aches, and you are borderline insane with the obsession.
It should hurt.
Paint miniatures until there’s physical, intellectual, and emotional pain.
Your mind should melt into slag.
What am I getting at?
Clay. You’re clay, and the best way to make clay work is to knead it until it is soft and pliable.
Have you watched the Karate Kid? The old or the new one, it doesn’t matter. In the movie, the Master instructs his student to repeat a Kung Fu move until exhaustion and collapse.
Because with repetition and rehearsal, your body, your soul, absorbs and internalizes the movements, the style.
Style needs more than your brain, it needs your entire being.
The only way to get your entire being involved in painting miniatures it to break down the barriers that hold you back. The easiest way to break down barriers is attrition.
Another interesting story of how this is done is from military training. Why do you think Marines practice shooting at human shaped targets, and not simply the round ones with bull’s eyes in the middle?
This is because the US military knows that it goes against human nature to shoot and kill other humans. So, to make a Marine more likely to fire without thinking too much, drills and training programs are designed to repeatedly expose soldiers to the sight and action of firing a rifle at other humans.
After repetition, a soldier doesn’t need to know how to aim a rifle or wait to pull the trigger. The movement is seamless like breathing. Him and his rifle are one.
Have you painted enough miniatures to become ONE WITH YOUR BRUSH?
I promise you that if you paint enough miniatures, thousands of hours perhaps, your miniature painting style will emerge. Your style or way of doing things has no choice but to reveal itself at some point, because YOU won’t be getting in the way.
It took years of daily painting to understand that I preferred a certain type of blend or “look” on my miniatures. If I look back on old photos of my miniatures, I can see the progression of my miniature painting style.
It started a bit awkward, clunky, and then reached a plateau. My recent paint jobs now all have a similar “feel”, “look”, or “style” to them. And, the cool part is that I’m satisfied with it!
Try painting a lot. Paint daily if you can. Paint until it hurts and after a while you’ll notice that you’ll starting loving what you make in about 70-80% of your work.
At this point, you’ll probably feel comfortable that you made it; you found your style. Then, of course, the challenge is taking it to the next level.
4. Don’t Excuse Bad Painting Technique
If you’re a writer, then you know what I’m talking about. You can’t write an epic novel with spelling errors.
The same is true for painting miniatures. You can’t reach a great painting style and result with crappy brush work and poor color choices.
Before you endeavor to break rules, you need to know what those rules are. Learn to paint well. Struggle to acquire the skills you need to achieve whatever vision you’ve set for yourself.
For example, if you’re going to airbrush, learn how to use the tool properly.
Figure out why certain colors work well together, and how contrast makes miniature “pop”.
Don’t say to yourself, “I know this looks bleh, bleh, bleh, and I did this and that, but that’s my style.”
Sloppiness and poor paint color combination is not a style.
Miniature painting without finishing the base is not an approach. Poorly executed non-metallic metal (NMM) or flame effects that don’t create a sense of light or heat is merely lazy or poor execution.
You can do better. You need to do better. Don’t use the term “style” as an excuse for poor miniature painting technique.
5. Your Vision, Not Theirs
Remember that you want your models and miniatures to look how you want them. Paint your models and miniatures in a way that fits your true vision. Don’t try to meet the expectation of others.
Don’t fall into the trap of repeatedly asking for feedback at every tiny step of creation.
Did you dye your hair purple because you wanted to, or your peers all have purple hair?
Don’t conform to any style, vision, or result that isn’t yours. Don’t settle for another’s expectation.
Settle for what you want to accomplish. Do whatever that is.
If someone is painting a miniature for competition, and you don’t want to paint for that reason, then stop trying to paint for competition. It’s all rules made for a particular event.
In the big, wide world, a miniature can be stunning and lack the required “look” for competition.
All of this seems like universal advice that you can apply to any effort you do. It’s common sense. But, really… to become a better miniature painter with your own style, you need to hone your vision without the taint of expectation.
Failure is not trying. But, another type of failure is succeeding to do something you don’t care about.
Paint miniatures with your vision and your style will emerge. And, you will care about it and all other expectations will fall away.
Go out there and paint miniatures that you want to paint!
Painting miniatures isn’t easy. Not only are they difficult to paint from a technical standpoint, but the act of painting miniatures requires an internal motivation.
What drives you to paint miniatures?
What are you looking to accomplish?
Finding your style and honing it is a challenge for all artists. This is particularly true for painters who haven’t matured to the point of knowing what they like and don’t like. We’re bombarded by images of other painter’s work.
Social media has become a boon and curse.
You can find inspiration from the exposure to other artwork. But, you can also drown in it. We are saturated by the images and creativity of other people.
If you’re looking to find a unique voice, a style of painting miniatures that is your own, try to follow this advice:
- Take a step back. Don’t follow the crowd.
- Be yourself. Don’t copy.
- Paint until your hands and head bleed (metaphorically).
- Break rules, but only after you’ve learned the rules.
- Follow your vision.
Paint miniatures the way you want to paint, and you may find people coming to your work, attracted by your style, following your social media posts.
And, if they don’t…keep going anyway.