How I Found My Art Style

You wouldn’t believe the amount of times people have said ‘I wish I could draw, I can only draw a stickman’, and I never know how to respond. I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with a stickman? So many artists have created some incredible work with simple figures, think of Lowry! Or if you’d like a more literal example of stick figure artwork, go checkout a graffiti artist called Stik. There are so many ways to draw and create art, so I think the issue is that most people just haven’t found their personal style. Even then though, I have only grown my skills with lots of practice. Truthfully I think all you need is an imagination and the urge inside of you to make it real life, whether that be as a painting, a collage, a sculpture, a dance or even a song. This blog is all about my journey and how I found my unique art style, but please take this with a pinch of salt as styles are ever evolving and to be honest, I hate restricting myself so I often find myself breaking my own stylistic rules and just painting whatever inspires me in the moment (but that’s the beauty of art isn’t it?)

When I was a child, I remember my bedroom walls were filled with drawings and collages. I’d rip up magazines and fill one wall with fashion, and then I’d draw a series of baby animals and fill a wall with those. My biggest inspiration growing up was Neil Buchanan, I’d get the Art Attack annual every year and was always so excited to show my teachers what I’d learned from his programmes. At this point, it was never a career prospect, just something I really enjoyed doing, but it’s that enjoyment that fuelled the motivation to keep experimenting and trying new things.

As I progressed through school and took art at GCSE and A Level, it was again a process of mastering as many styles as possible and learning from other artists and works that inspired us. I was eager to learn how to use oil paints at this point, and I was a big fan of the film La La Land at the time, so I based my final project on jazz musicians… this was my final piece:

An oil painting inspired by the jazz scenes in the film, 'La La Land.

As you can see, it’s very different from what you might see in my portfolio today. I don’t think anyone would recognise it as mine. But one thing that has never changed about the way I work in any medium, is my love for loose strokes, suggestive stories and splatters or shapes blobbed about. My art teacher used to call me the ‘ink master’ as I apparently created some interesting work with inks and watercolours, but I don’t even remember these, I didn’t think these mediums took much skill! How wrong I was.

A pencil drawing I created of Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones.

An oil painting of the sunset at Cleethorpes Beach.

During this time, I was creating commissions for people. I had no structure and was willing to just paint whatever anyone wanted with any medium. I worked from the floor in my bedroom and would create oil canvas paintings, pencil drawings, acrylic on board, coloured pencil sketches and more. I soon realised that I was never going to get really good at one medium if I didn’t make the decision to choose one or two to really focus on. That’s when I decided that despite my previous dismissal of watercolours, I had grown to really enjoy using them; they match my quick paced brain! I’m able to keep my loose way of working whilst still capturing a likeness to pets and people, which is what I liked (and still enjoy) to do. 

A watercolour commission of an adorable pup named Ralph.

A watercolour portrait I created for my friend and her partner. I finalised this with some coloured pencils.

At this point, I hadn’t really found what inspired me though. I never looked at the world around me and felt the urge to paint it. It wasn’t until I moved away from Grimsby to London, and grew a newfound appreciation for my hometown. Cleethorpes especially has some beautiful spots, which I never took the time to appreciate. Without realising it, I started to become inspired by the peacefulness of the beach and began painting my first local landscapes:

One of my first local print designs of the Leaking Boot in Cleethorpes.

These came to be very popular, but again, I didn’t want to tie myself down, so I kept experimenting by painting animals, dancers, flowers… anything that popped into my head I would put to paper. If I didn’t, I thought I might have burst. This is when I started to imagine how I’d paint everything I came across, especially peaceful places that made me feel happy, and I still do today. Painting with watercolours is like a form of therapy for me, I love the way the colours can bleed together and surprise me, I don’t have to plan too much and the quick drying times allow me to maximise the amount of bursting ideas I can create (even if I decide not to sell them). Customers started to comment on how they loved the way my style captures scenery in a realistic yet atmospheric way, how it can bring back nostalgic memories, and how the colours make them feel calm and happy. Honestly, I didn’t even do this on purpose. But I soon realised that I naturally would go for pastel colours and let them blend in a way that is dreamlike and whimsical. It was almost like something clicked and I knew this was my style.

'Missing Home'. This was created whilst feeling homesick in London, it features the Cleethorpes Pier at sunset.

'Donkey Party'. This painting shows my silly side, I really wanted to personify the donkeys and imagine how they'd stand when caught in the middle of a party.

Styles alter and evolve over time as we’re constantly exposed to new inspirations and materials around us, if they didn’t then life would be pretty boring. The heart that goes into my paintings will never change, even if the materials do, and that is really exciting to me. I can express myself in so many ways if I wish to. For example, although I trained as a musical theatre performer, I never felt the need to paint anything related to it until last year. Since then, I have grown so captivated by the architecture of London theatres and I find that painting them is a way for me to express my appreciation for the city as well as the musical art form which I love so much. But painting these has encouraged me to become slightly more illustrative in order to capture them in the way I want them to look.

A watercolour illustration of the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End.

Art is subjective, what might not be the liking to one person could speak a thousand words to another. I love to illustrate and create stories too so I’d never say ‘never’ to trying my hand at other artistic endeavours in the future.

If you’re an aspiring artist or someone who is unsure of your style, I would say to just keep experimenting with different materials and paint whatever inspires you in the moment, something will just click one day. You might grow out of it and something else will click another time, that’s what is so exciting about life as a creative person. Your imagination leads the way.

A realistic watercolour portrait of a striped cat laying playfully against a wall. Painted by Grimsby artist, Eve Leoni Smith.

A recent watercolour portrait of this playful cat.

If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that there are no limits to what you can do, and you certainly shouldn’t put yourself in a box. Keep learning and developing and don’t be shy of change. Anything can happen.

Thank you for reading and if you have any questions, I’m always happy to chat! Just pop me an email or follow me on social media (@eveleoniart) and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Eve x

Back to blog