Artists: Are you Consistent? A Gallery Owner’s Perspective

How Developing a Strong Style and Laser-Like Focus is One of the Most Important Things you can do for Your Fine Art Career

A number of years ago, I was approached by an artist who was seeking gallery representation in Scottsdale. She had been into the gallery during an opening and after striking up a conversation, had asked if she might stop back by the gallery and present her portfolio to me when I had more time. I had agreed and she was now back in the gallery on a quiet weekday afternoon with portfolio in hand.

The moment I saw the portfolio I knew I was in trouble. I am not exaggerating to say that this portfolio was at least two inches thick and must have weighed a good eight or nine pounds. After a brief conversation and reintroduction, she handed me the portfolio and said, “this is really only a small sampling of my work – I’ve been painting for over forty years and I have hundreds more images.”

I opened the portfolio and began randomly paging through with the artist looking expectantly on.
There was simply too much work in the portfolio, and I felt as if I were taking a survey of the entirety of art history. The work literally encompassed every style from cave painting (granted, an abstract take on it) to the Renaissance, the impressionists and all of the modern movements since – expressionism, minimalism, and pop, to name a few.

“You’re work is quite diverse,” I said.

The artist took it as far more of a compliment than I intended. “I’ve always felt,” she said, “that it’s important not to get myself pigeonholed into one particular style or theme . . . I like to keep my work fresh.”

I don’t remember the rest of our conversation – although I’m sure I politely waved her off with a stock “we don’t have any room right now,” or “we’re not the right fit.” Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to give her feedback on her presentation and body of work, as she surely went on to have a very difficult time persuading a gallery to carry her work using that all-encompassing approach.

While this is an extreme example, I encounter variations of this approach quite frequently. Now that I have been in the business longer and have more experience working with artists, I always try to  have a conversation about the importance of consistency (not to mention the importance of creating a concise portfolio).

So why is it important to develop a consistent body of work?

 . . . the decision I am ultimately making is whether I am willing to invest in the artist and their work . . .

Step into my shoes for a moment and view your art through the eyes of a gallery owner. You will quickly see that as I consider an artist for representation, the decision I am ultimately making is whether I am willing to invest in the artist and their work.
I am going to devote expensive wall or pedestal space to displaying the art. I am going to have staff spending time and resources promoting and selling the work. I am going to spend advertising dollars informing potential clients about the work. In order to make this kind of commitment, I have to feel confident that I can see a return on the investment.

This is not to say that I am not willing to stretch and take risks with unproven artists, but I am far less likely to make such an investment if I see inconsistency in the work. My concern is that I will make the investment and begin to build a following for the artist’s work, only to have the artist make a sudden and drastic change in their style, forcing me to start over again. It can sometimes take years to build a following for an artist, and during that time a steady stream of consistent work is key.

Of course, there are many other considerations – quality, creativity, and confidence – but consistency is actually one of the first indicators I look for as it often speaks to the other factors as well.

In fact, when asked what an artist should do to increase their odds of finding gallery representation and building long-term commercial success, consistency would be the very first factor to which I would point. That’s right. Even above quality and creativity, I feel that consistency is the key to long-term success.

So what do I mean by “consistency”? Many artists hear the word and feel a cold-sweat break on their brow. Most artists can understand the importance of consistency almost instinctually, but when it comes to actually creating a body of consistent work, they’re not sure where to begin. Does this mean they should only have one style and one subject? Does it mean they don’t have any latitude to experiment and evolve? Does consistency become a straightjacket to creativity?

To answer these questions we need only delineate our goal. While my ultimate goal is to sell an artist’s work and create a base of collectors who will sustain the artist over the long-term, the immediate goal in terms of consistency is much simpler: when someone walks into my gallery, I want them to see a number of your pieces and have them be able to instantly recognize all of the work as having been created by one artist. I want the artist (you!) to give them a strong thread running through the work that ties it all together. From the first piece they encounter to the last, I want them to look at each and see its relation to the others.

Furthermore, when that same client walks into the gallery a year from now, I want them to see and recognize the new work in the gallery at that time as yours. In the marketing world they call this “branding” and that is exactly what we want to accomplish with your work.

Seeing consistency this way, you will realize that you do have some latitude to vary your work. You can paint landscapes and still-lifes as long as the style or presentation ties the work together. You can sculpt figures and animals as long as the visual language is consistent across the work. You can even vary the media you employ to create the work if the subject matter and theme are unified.

A few illustrations from artists in my gallery will help to illustrate what I mean:

Guilloume. Even though this artist works in oil and bronze, his figurative subject matter and his consistent style translates across the mediums. There is no doubt in a viewer’s mind that this work was created by a single artist with a clear vision of his work.

 

An Evening Out by Guilloume
An Evening Out by Guilloume
Mutual Thinking by Guilloume
Mutual Thinking by Guilloume

 

Lorri Acott. Lorri produces in both bronze and clay mediums and sculpts both animals and figures, but her style is consistent and clear. Through the use of elongated limbs and a “cracking” in her forms, both humans and horses are easily identified as being Lorri’s work.

Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott
Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott
Deja Vu by Lorri Acott
Deja Vu by Lorri Acott

 

John Horejs (full disclosure, this artist is my father). Though creating desert and mountain landscapes, florals and still-life work, Horejs’ style and presentation tie his work into a cohesive body.

Salt River Vistas by John Horejs
Salt River Vistas by John Horejs
Colors of October by John Horejs
Colors of October by John Horejs

 

Dave Newman. Newman’s nostalgic Americana inspired style is both unique and consistent.Though Newman relies on random found objects to create his imagery, he has a very clear vision of how he will give these objects context and how the objects relate to one another. Again, presentation becomes an important part of the equation in creating consistency in Dave’s work.

Taking The Scenic Route by Dave Newman
Taking The Scenic Route by Dave Newman
V8 Road Trip by Dave Newman
V8 Road Trip by Dave Newman

 

Jeanie Thorn. It is easy to identify Jeanie’s work by the materials she consistently employs. While she varies the size and shape of her sculptures, there is an obvious unification amongst her work that allows visitors to the gallery to locate her work with ease, even when it is scattered across multiple walls.

 

Mandala by Jeanie Thorn
Mandala by Jeanie Thorn
Cross Cut by Jeanie Thorn
Cross Cut by Jeanie Thorn

 

“But Jason,” you object, “I’m afraid I am going to get pigeonholed into my current style or subject matter and frankly, I just get bored quickly.” I understand these concerns. Here are some considerations that will allow you to live with (and embrace) consistency:

  • Edit. The great allure of being an artist is that you get to try new things and you are your own master. I’m not suggesting that this has to end, that you are stuck for the rest of your life creating the same art over and over again. What I am suggesting is that you make a conscious decision that the work you are preparing to present to the public or to galleries must be consistent. You can do the abstract work if you are primarily a landscape painter, but don’t include it in your public portfolio. Edit your work down to only the work that is congruent.

 

  • Give yourself parameters. Allow yourself one experiment out of every 20 pieces – 19 are going to be the consistent, the twentieth can be whatever you feel like doing. This twentieth piece might end up hanging in your private collection or might become a gift to a friend or family member.

 

  • Evolve. “Look at Picasso”, you say, “he didn’t just stick with one thing throughout his life.” I will agree with you, but if you look at the arc of the lifetime of work Picasso created, you will see an evolution over years and decades. What I want you to avoid is the bi-monthly reinvention that many artists experience on a regular basis (you may be going through this now).

 Now here’s the secret about passion: passion isn’t that feeling you get when you first try something. True passion comes after you’ve sacrificed and devoted yourself; after you have been true to your commitment

  • Choose. Sometimes a lack of consistency comes not out of a love of variety but instead out of a fear of commitment. You might have three or five (or twenty!) different styles you have dabbled in and you’re just not sure which one is the right fit – which one will engender success and sales. I am often asked what style of art sells the best. My answer is simple: the style which any individual artist is most passionate about. Art taps emotion and you are going to be far better at selling if you can make a primal connection with your viewer. You are going to be far better at making this kind of connection if you are creating work that you are passionate about. Now here’s the secret about passion: passion isn’t that feeling you get when you first try something. True passion comes after you’ve sacrificed and devoted yourself; after you have been true to your commitment. There are no two ways about this and you are eventually going to have to make a decision when it comes to your direction – so why not make it now?

 

  • Cheat. If you have work that is close but not quite consistent, you can fudge a bit by simply using a consistent presentation. You would be amazed at the variety of work that can show together simply because it’s in the exact same frame or has an identical base. There are limits to how far you can push this cheat, but in a pinch it can maintain your portfolio’s consistency.

I met another artist several years ago who had made a commitment to consistency. She decided to focus on one subject for a year. Instead of becoming bored with the subject, she reported that the more time she spent with it, the more she began to see that there is an infinity of variety in the nuances of any subject.

If you have a problem with consistency, I encourage you to make a similar commitment. I promise you that this commitment will have a revolutionary effect on your work and your success as an artist.

What do you Think?

Do you feel consistency is important? What have you done to maintain consistency in your work? What are your greatest challenges as you seek consistency in your work?

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

76 Comments

  1. This advice is by far the most helpful I’ve received in any art blog. It has saved me countless hours. It also underscores what I’ve suspected for some time: that commitment to a healthy approach is liberating. By commiting to simplicity (choosing a style to develop into mastery), I may freely explore the subtle nuances in my subjects and leave the harried rabbits to do what they do best – endlessly chase trails (how exhausting!)

  2. I think my work is pretty consistent. Sometimes I think I am finished with a painting but after I look at it for a while it seems like something is missing. It may be a good painting but it doesn’t fit with my other work. Right now I have a painting that I find is very striking but much too “tidy” or too rigid looking. No one looking at it would recognize it as my work, even me. While I like it a lot I realize it will hang in my house or a friends instead of a gallery. Sometimes when I look at a painting that doesn’t quite fit my style, I can go back and rework the background or another area and it becomes a part of my body of work.

  3. This was helpful. Especially the examples. I also have many pieces, and even though I do not recognize it, it appears that my style is easily recognized. It is good to know that this quality is a plus. Perhaps I will approach a gallery, even though I am an illustrator. I have been looking to expand.

  4. This is one of the most helpful things I have read for a long time and came at just the right time for me. I have been struggling with finding focus in my work and love the idea of taking one subject and reworking it over a long period of time. Going to give this a go. Thank you.

  5. I have been very consistent in my work and often wonder if it’s not inventive or creative enough, but recently came across a quote from one of my favorite artists, Chuck Close, that gave me assurance that I am following the correct practice. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday, and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere.” – Chuck Close

  6. I have made a decision to a specific style of work and it has unleashed a tremendous amount of creativity and creative energy. I still make artwork that is a very different, one from the other, however, there is specific discernability in the style. I now have a gallery representing me in NYC. I do not think that would have happened if I had not made a consistent body of work. This is advice that you have been giving as well as other professionals in the art business. I resisted it for some time, however, I am very happy with my decision now. Thank you for willingness to share such valuable information for the artist. It is much appreciated. One thing I have done is to make both representational-figurative artwork and some totally abstract works as well. This seems to help with any restlessness about experimentation, yet, in working in both, I feel as though my work benefits from the different mindsets of the two styles. It has been interesting for me, is that you can see how the abstracts also have some of the same traits as the representational-figurative artwork.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this. I was that lady to a few gallery owners. They were all very kind to me. It is a simple idea that works. Consistency. It’s timely because it is what I am up against right now. I try to pick some subject or idea to explore each year. Invariably however, I lose track of that when the muse takes over and I leap down another path or style or subject. I get distracted easily.. Lol. I have ADHD. ..But I find that I have developed a few series that I do consistently. I also find that I have collectors who love a particular style or series that I do. And so I do those things consistently for those different markets. However, I believe what you say to be true and I know a consistent body of work and a recognize able style is so important. Right now I am in a state of flux. Having broken my wrist last winter, arthritis has set in and now I find I have to reinvent myself to accommodate arthritic hands. Which brings me around to your blog ( which always enjoy and learn something new). So, what a great coincidence that you right this today, as I am going through my body of work to see how consistent it is. As I am trying to figure out what my body can do do comfortably. I have taken down my website and I am rebuilding it with consistency being the first consideration. Jason do you think that a body of work that I have described above is the wrong approach. I mean the people who like my figurative work, love it. The people who like my abstract work love that. But the two don’t look anything like each other.

    1. It seems to me that you have a great folioing (actually two followings) and I hope you can resolve your difficulties with the arthritis (I have found that I develop “work-arounds to get the results I want without the impossible physical inputs). Sounds like you are like some writers who have developed two personnas because they write in two (or sometimes more ) genres.

  8. Thank you so much
    This has cleared up a lot of debate in my mind on how to present. I was told recently that my work (although new at art), has taken a different direction from what I have shown the person before. I am testing the waters with styles and I think I am falling in love with a particular one. I don’t really have a problem with being consistent with a theme, however, my theme is very general and I recognize the need to focus on specific parts.

  9. I wanted the tell you that I love your blog and it has helped me work towards becoming a professional artist so much! Your subjects are most times things that I have never even realized or understood. I will be working toward some day approaching your gallery as I live nearby.

  10. Great Article! Until the last 18 months, a consistent body of work was something I had an ongoing struggle with creating. I felt like, for me, it took years of “style dabbling” to learn different methods and look at subject matter in a different light. I made an effort to stick with a new style for a couple months (at the same time trying out a new medium) and low and behold, everything I had learned came together to form something with which I have a long-term passion. Although I wish it would have happened 20 years ago, I know that artistic and life experience has led me here.

  11. Jason, Great article. I teach this to my students at every workshop I teach. The ability to create a consistent body of work is the mark of a real artists. My view is if you cannot create a consistent body of work over and over, then you are merely a hobbyist – not an artist.

    1. Interesting you should say that. I didn’t call myself an “artist” publicly until I knew that I could duplicate (be consistent) with a style and medium. Before that I was, as you mentioned…a hobbyist…or as I called myself, “a guy who likes to draw”. In my humble opinion you’re doing the right thing by your students.

  12. I agree 100% with your comment about passion and that artwork derived from it is going to be stronger and resonate better with the viewer. There’s something more genuine in that experience. I also think the ideas flow better when it’s genuine.

    Sometimes in order to maintain that passion a change can help to keep things fresh. I recently needed to take a turn in my work for this very reason, so I tried my hand at landscapes—something I’d never done before. Employing the same materials and surfaces I quickly discovered that I had created a series that looked like me, but was surprisingly/refreshingly different. By keeping the same technical approach I learned a lot about how I engineer paint that is unique to me.

    I do see the marketing challenges that this new body of work potentially creates. At the very least, this exploration helps me now as I turn back to the original body of work because I am more informed and assured in the overall effort of what I am trying to do.

  13. My work is consistent. But recently I decided I might need to “add sky for my birds”-in other words, expand to include some “supporting narrative” for my birds and animals through sky or landscape.
    I’ve wasted countless hours (months really) and materials trying to successfully make that idea work. I have failed.
    But I am comfortable with that failure. I have returned to painting “the object”, which REQUIRES NO NARRATIVE. The animal. The bird. That’s the narrative.

  14. The artist in your story evidently thought she’d be better off showing you “everything,” so to speak, than showing you a few things and risking inadvertently picking things that you didn’t like. Just as you assemble a variety of artists with different styles of art for your gallery, she selected a variety of things to show you — as though you were in a sense the customer walking through the door. Your gallery has variety. Her portfolio had variety.

    The problem of her variety is two fold: one, that too many choices are as bad as too few (decision fatigue sets in quickly) and two, that the expectation for artists today is that one “should” have a signature style. Client looks at the work and knows instantly that all the items are made by the same artist, as you say.

    Signature styles might work well for galleries, but they don’t foster the sort of outlook that produces a great artist. Granted, most galleries are never going to find themselves representing a great artist so gallery owners are wise to choose things that their experience tells them they can sell. The gallery is a business. And artists seeking representation ought to have enough confidence in whatever they make to edit their portfolio down to — at a bare minimum — a set of works that look good together. It seems pretty simple to me: if you want these works to hang on the same wall together (in a gallery) choose things that look good together (in the portfolio).

    But stepping outside all of that for the sake of considering art in broader terms, the elements that combine to identify works of art as all belonging to one artist’s vision are qualities that are much more expansive than is typically encountered in a modern day “successful” artist’s portfolio. Pick up any book on Renoir, for instance. Renoir painted large monumental works. He painted small intimate works. He painted landscapes, still lifes, portraits, mythological pictures (not many, but he did paint some). He imitated the style of Courbet at one time. He worked in the Impressionist style of fellow travelers like Monet. He imitated aspects of Delacroix. He changed his style radically in later years. He painted in exactly the sort of far reaching fashion that contemporary observers tell artists to avoid. But what he did was hardly exceptional among artists of his generation or the generations before him.

    Up until the 20th century, the expectation was that a really ambitious artist could tackle all sorts of things. Sometimes the “many things” all presented themselves in even the same picture. Andrew Wyeth is the sort of contemporary artist who exemplified this older level of expectation. Take a picture like his famous painting Ground Hog Day — it depicts a still life, an interior, raking light, a landscape seen through a window — there are, in a sense, three genres of painting combined in it. Early studies for the painting show that at one time Wyeth contemplated including a dog as well. The work fits into the idea that most people have of Wyeth — indeed helps to define his “signature style.” And yet Wyeth also painted “Otherworld” in later years — an oddly implausible scene from inside an airplane, where we see from high above a spectral figure of a woman who looks out a window of an airplane to a landscape far below in a very modern, very seemingly un-Wyeth-like painting. Youthful Wyeth had made bravado watercolors in a style somewhat like Winslow Homer. How many artists even aspire to paint at Wyeth’s level today? I can assure you that Wyeth did not achieve Wyeth’s level of ability by limiting himself to a narrow field of endeavor either in his youth or at any other time.

    I personally would rather buy the work of an eclectic but highly talented artist than to buy something by someone who cranks out simple ideas with predictable regularity. I was in a major museum recently looking at some paintings by John Singer Sargent. This museum had five works hanging on the same wall. None of them looked very much like the others. Obviously all hung together for historical reasons because they were all by Sargent. Two were landscapes. Even the two landscapes had little in common. Two were paintings of figures but they were both quite different from each other. A fifth was really hard to place — but for the label, one wouldn’t have even recognized it as Sargent’s painting at all because it depicted a very unusual subject, some plants seen up close on an embankment of some kind. But I think it speaks to the astonishing skill of Sargent that these five works could almost have been made by five different people. The subjects, the painting style, the coloration, the scale, the textures — they were all different — and none of them was a society portrait, the sort of picture for which Sargent is really most well known!

    Well, if this society ever wants to produce artists like Sargent again, we had better dispense advice that encourages the potential young Sargents among us. Great artists feel a large ambition, and at the very least we should tell them it’s “okay” to pursue it. Signature styles are okay for everyday art as decorative object. But the kind of art that endures across generations and that delights the imagination is not made in this small potatoes kind of way.

    Encourage artists to be the next Botticelli, the next Jan Brueghel, the next Rubens, the next Ingres. Every gallery dealer ought to at least cherish the hope that someday he’ll get his hands on the works of someone amazing. The little things can take care of themselves.

    1. Totally agree with everything Jane has to say. I read a book about 10 years ago 0can’t remember the title -but it was a book of artist interviews on their art from 20 of the top US artists at the time (the ones winning all the big competitions). The interviewer asked each one “What is the single worst thing an artist should do” and all but one replied “Stick to a certain style!”

    2. Jane, I am in complete agreement with you. I have been that artist that has been accused of having a “too big portfolio” . While I have several very different bodies of work, my followers can see my style in all of them. I can certainly understand the gallery owners perspective as a business, however I am sick to death of going into galleries and seeing “stripes” over and over and over again.
      I wonder why the gallery owner cannot look at a large portfolio of several developed styles and bodies of work and not appreciate a professional working artist of such depth and skill. I am always able to confidently make more of any particular style of any given body of work that they want to show and feel is “A good fit” for their gallery. For me, consistency is the easy part; stretching and evolving is the challenging part. I don’t want to be the artist that is said of me “oh she’s the one that does the stripes “. I guess no matter how good I get, I’m realizing that the Gallery world may never want me. I fear that it is a function of our modern day society that we are all supposed to act in the same sane “sheeple” manner, saying and doing all the same appropriate things, always being consistent with our behavior. Sad to say, but diversity is not celebrated anymore in our culture; only consistency and following the rules. We have a saying in our little tourist town that has developed specifically related to this… “Gotta be pretty to live in the city”. Scary, but true. Not this little black duck… I will continue to be an artist. … I will continue to be an artist…I will continue to celebrate my creative diversity in the spirit of all the great master artists.

    3. I may be has different styles.. what ever, as far as I njoy painting and creating something different, somthing new.. that’s me.. My friends and my clients most love my works.. Different clients has all differnent taste.. It’s not for one art gallery. It’s for all people that has different taste..!

  15. I had hit a huge artist’s block a few years ago that I couldn’t seem to shake off. Last year, I kept hearing in my head “I have to paint!”. Yes, frustration with not moving. So I chose a principle in art deciding I would study it until I loosened up, again. Those few studies have turned in to a year of creating a series of work. Once I set intention to get the paint moving while focusing on working this skill set, it all began to develop into what is about 20 pieces (although small but cohesive). I am so tired of painting these studies now I could scream. But, it is a skill that pulls me into art to begin with and I can see it has limitless pieces that could be developed, even expand on the original idea. I will hopefully soon take a break from this particular theme to play on a few pieces with not expectations but to just paint. Then, perhaps, I will go back to the original study, expand it to the next more complex level and see where that goes. Until I made myself concentrate on the idea of working through this study I don’t think I could have developed this body of work. Now comes the mounting, varnishing, wiring, busy part of a piece of art that will take me some time. But I learned and know now what this concept of a body of work is and how it works.

  16. I definitely see your point (and knew this before), but I also like to experiment. I’m a photographer and work mostly in B&W. Other photographers who see my work can spot it even if I shoot color as they know my style. I do have a growing body of work that’s very different in look because of the process (Mordancage). I can present a portfolio in that or in scenic shots, but would never mix them. But it’s difficult to know which would get a better reception sometimes. And I enjoy doing both. I sympathize with the desire to not be pigeonholed.

  17. Jane, wish I knew your name and could see your work. Your words struck a powerful chord with me. It brought me to that place of having wanted to be a great artist, whatever that could mean. My portfolio is not imitative, even of myself. I am focused on the excitement of discovery. People tell me they can see a consistent style in my work though I have sometimes difficulty myself. I may never make it into a commercial gallery given the standard of consistency. I fully understand and appreciate the gallery owner’s perspective but we also do need your expansive view. I am going to copy your words for inspiration.

      1. Thank you, Ta. I read your comment as well and agree with your perspective.

        I am not familiar with Lowry’s work so want to check it out. We each have to forge our own even if recognition is not given to us.

  18. Wasn’t this published last year? Same featured artists? Of course, new opinions ….
    I like exploring different subject matter and have remarked before I fear repetition. I saw a website with at least twenty calves’ heads on the page, nearly the same size, position, and gaze, but painted in different colors. I doubt the artist was trying to replicate a Andy Warhol’s series.
    Stagnation is death to an artist. One would hope we all grow in maturity of style and skill. But that doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to one genre. Part of the benefit of income is the freedom to experiment and branch out. If I paint in the same style but refine my technique I’m growing as an artist, regardless of the varied subject matter which I relish. Never stifle inspiration.
    The danger is selling a piece, painting it again, and then it sells …. soon you’ve dug yourself a rut impossible to get out of. I have an artist friend who was so sick of painting Texas bluebonnets she quit painting for a couple years. Her gallery told her, “Either bring me bluebonnets or don’t bother.” In one sense I can’t blame him, but I do. I know, sales is critical … but so is the art.
    I’m currently experimenting with raw canvas and have found the process rather satisfying. I’ve sold a couple and neither buyer was concerned because it was in contrast to my commercial canvas or canvas on board. The point is, my style hasn’t really changed.

  19. I understand the case for consistency…..but I totally agree with the viewpoint put forth by Jane. Do your thing., whatever it is and wherever it leads you …and keep doing it.

  20. As always, very helpful advice Jason. I was happy that you included Guilloume as an example as I do enjoy working in both 2D and 3D mediums. My style is consistent between sculpture and painting, which isn’t really a conscious decision…but I am glad of it! Thanks again.

  21. What Jane has so superbly described, I agree with from experience as an art student observing other art students,art teachers and contemporary artists and as a collector myself through the years.Though there are artists I greatly admire for their cohesive style and skill and have been very excited to discover and follow a few years, the artist’s that really keep me in anticipation of their next show and make me willing to extend the effort to attend, are are those who will add in the element of surprise of new methods and unexpected art of their explorations and discovers. Sometimes they have just one or a few of these pieces in the show, then the next show even more, then the next a complete show of the new work with also adding a few “newest” pieces of what they currently have on the easel for a taste of what is to come and guess, dream, wonder and look forward to. Often artist’s exhibition are spaced two years apart. So it is a gradual transition. It really helps keep them in my mind.
    Because these artists have dedicated the time and effort to learn the art skills taught by the old masters and have studied, practiced, and mastered them whether they do abstracts or realism, it seems the sky’s the limit for them and their practiced eye and skills are carried through whatever medium, new style or materials they choose. Skill and mastery along with heart and passion and learning are what appeals and excites me in a artist to be moved to make a purchase of their work. Especially more than just one purchase. I have also heard of artists with multiple styles using multiple galleries to exhibit each style separately. The galleries do not have problem or conflict with this as they each have a separate collector base interested in the particular style they are exhibiting. I have also see artist’s have their day in the limelight but after ten years, if they were lucky that long, overshadowed by the newest in the gallery or by those artist’s who did change their style and caught attention for it. If an artist’s loves their style, it is wonderful for them to stick with it and they should absolutely not feel pressured to change it because of the new kids on the block. But if part of what makes an artist feel like spending their many hours of time at creating art is the joy of discovery, experimenting and evolving, they also need to not feel that if they join any gallery they will be pigeon holed into sticking with their latest body of work of x amount of years of their life. It would turn their artwork into”just work”.
    Galleries will and need to do what the each find works for their particular collectors and if they have cultivated a collector base of individuals who like artist’s to maintain specific styles that has to be respected and provided for the gallery to stay in business. If the gallery owner is not content though, maybe adding a shorter show each year and playing up a show theme of, “Behind the scenes art of…” or “The hidden workings of an artist!…” or “Exploratory art, what brings an artist to the next level of mastery!” of their existing artists or new artists may attract this other collector base. I am not a gallery owner so I am just guessing. It seems in this internet world of today, people are very interested in learning about how artist’s come up with their ideas and methods and processes and how their work evolves. This work may appear even more valuable to collectors if presented “sold” creatively as these pieces are really very unique to the artist and rare to collect. To work on “A Series”or to be an artist who work’s in “Series” often seems to legitimize the exploration of various styles and there seems to be galleries as listed on these artist’s websites, who have no problem with showing these artist’s ever changing work. But as I mentioned these artist’s do have a cohesive thread running through their work and that is great skill, from material application and techniques, to composition, color theory, etc… That is what I see in Mary Sullivan’s varied work when I clicked on her name above, work that I would think should sell well in a gallery with a collector base that responds to her varied, visually exciting style with a few surprises in the mix.

  22. Nearly fatal. This happened to me just 2 months ago. I picked up my career as an artist (after retiring from the classroom) and a local art center was seeking the portfolios of artists for the next 2 year cycle of shows. So I eagerly sent them snippets of all my series works, media- you name I put it in.
    Heard nothing.
    Then I got the email and the phone call. A friend of mine was on the panel. In essence, everyone was in agreement that my work was consistently strong, well executed, etc. but they not only didn’t want to consider a show, but also to drop me from the artist list. It put my friend in the uncomfortable position of gently and carefully defending my work and ability.
    The phone message was- “Don’t do this ever again.” I was embarrassed, thankful, and overjoyed that my friend put herself in the way for me where wisdom would dictate otherwise. So while my approach to my work is consistent, the wide use of media and the focus on an idea across many pieces only to be replaced with another idea, was definitely inconsistent.
    To summarize- your article is a giant confirmation of what I found out. And the sad thing is, whenever I’m looking through the mountains of images on the internet, I’m looking for “presence” and when I see too many images not connected or too many versions of the same image (too much surface consistency)- I move on. How did I miss this in my own work? thanks for the article. (I’ve made notes).

  23. Why Jason, because it suits you as a gallery owner? First off I agree 100% with Jane in her comment above.

    We all want to sell our art but we all can’t get into bricks and mortar galleries, some of us don’t have any (real ones) so we have to sell on line and its hard, difficult with lots of competition from round the world, your art has to stand out, if I’ve seen one landscape I’ve seen a thousand all much of a muchness, lots of consistency but how do you choose one over the other?

    I’m a self taught artist, I never had the luxury of going to art school or any school past the age of 12. A guy I know who went to the main art school in Bangkok told me once it was a good job you didn’t go to art school because they would have changed the way you paint, they would have stifled your (raw) talent, you must work on your art, paint every day and one day you will have your own exhibition, I thought about his advice the day I held my first real solo exhibition earlier this year.

    At the moment I’m like a little kid who’s just learning to walk and touching everything,
    I feel I’m still experimenting with my work, and don’t really think I’ve settled on a particular style yet. I do know I don’t want to paint the same thing over and over again, I want my art to be picked for it’s uniqueness not because the colours fit in with someone’s decor.

    As an artist you have to be different that’s what makes the difference, we all want to be a great artist, whether we will or not is another story, what my art will be like in 10 years who knows, but I do want people to know it’s my work in my style, I agree with you Jason on that.

    It’s only in the last 5 years or so since I’ve started to see art in a different light, I went to the UK a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe the art galleries and museums that were, there, I was fascinated and spent as much time as I could in them, we just don’t have anything like it here in Thailand which is a great shame.

    I remember we went to the Tate, there was a Lowry exhibition on, I was speechless, it’s difficult to explain to people who take such things for granted, I was back like that baby learning to walk and wanted to touch and see everything.

    I want to be like Lowry, his paintings are instantly recognisable as his work but there’s more to him then matchstick men.

    Those artist I saw in the galleries and museums in the UK were artist, who pushed the boundaries, who experimented, who changed the art world and their art lives on, that’s what I want to be like and if that stops me getting into a gallery such as your’s Jason, then so be it.

  24. I have many different subject matter in my art work. I paint what I’m passionate about or experiences I’m having at the time. Having said that with all the different subject matter I still strive for a consistent style that is recognizable. Thanks for all the feedback!

  25. I find galleries exhibit work that follows the same formula and presentation styles! I can fully understand gallery owners are restricted by a need to cover the high costs associated with the upkeep of expensive high end premises but in doing so they stifle diversity of style. This is clearly why so many collectors are turning to view the vast range of art available in online galleries and purchasing from them as being a best value option.

  26. Such an amazing discussion that has inspired me to ask so many questions about consistency vs going with the flow. What do we want our art to say and where do we want it to go in the world. Monet painted his garden and I was amazed when I went to an exibition of his in London at the breadth of his work. A lot of it very different to the softness of the lily pads. Did Renoir know how revered he would become, did Turner deliberately inflame the art world at the time in order to be seen as the painter he is revered as today. Were they clever at marketing or passionate about their art. Do we create our art for the market or do we create our art and go with the flow in terms of where it will go. The masters in Europe had benefactors and art academies that gave a context for their work. Are commercial galleries able to generate the sense of mastery that emulates or extends the work of the masters of old. I too want to see the great masters of our age, the men and women who will be known way beyond our lifetime. Who are they in your mind? Off to do some research on that for myself and thank you for one of the most stimulating conversations on art I have had the privilege of being a part of for a long while.

  27. When I was young, I was trained as an illustrator to do many different styles. I was proud that I could do that well as most artists cannot. Back then, I felt that being versatile was a gift. After all, actors and singers are praised for being versatile. As soon as I realized the importance of doing consistent work, I had no trouble getting into galleries. A couple of years ago, I started a new series and made sure I had the following in each painting of the series: vivid color, texture, an upward sweep in the abstract background, a hand print, and meticulous detail in the flying creatures. I’m ready to present only this series in a portfolio when I approach galleries. BUT, here’s my question to you, Jason. On my website, I show every style I have ever done in my gallery. Other series work each have their own tab on the menu bar. As a gallerist, do you think it hurts me to have all of the varied styles in the gallery portion of my site? The home page features a slideshow of only the new series. I just sold a $500 piece off of the website that is not consistent at all with my new series. Should I remove all of the varied styled work from my site? I know consistency sells and I MUST make a living wage through my art. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for addressing this issue on your blog!!!

  28. Wow!This article couldnt of came at a better time. For the past two months I’ve had similar conversations with my art mentor. I just am interested in so much. Horses. Farms. Wildlife. Dogs. I know consistency is key but the thought made me sorrowful to think of giving something up. I’m represented in a gallery here in Wisconsin. Now with your advise it all clicks. So unleash the passion,commit thyself… watch out world here I come!

  29. This is the same advice I received many years ago by instructors. Choose one or two aspects of your art and explore these fully – growth, development of style, and immense satisfaction are the outcomes.

  30. Jason, You can only offer your knowledge to people. You can’t
    make them understand. I would think that Jane and the others, accusing you of stifling their creativity and passion, would wait till they are recognized as artists before they try to convince the rest of us. Myself, I’m hoping to one day have someone see a new piece by me, recognize it and want to add it to their collection. As always, thanks for your invigorating opinion!

    1. Hi Ginger, I’ve sent my work to 10 different countries, I’ve sent my work to New York, Washington, Colorado, Hollywood, Redwood City. My best customer lives in Amsterdam which is not short of Art or Artist, which I think gives me the right to call myself an artist.
      I for one was not accusing Jason or anyone else of stifling creativity and passion, I was just adding my opinion, I would like nothing more then have my work in Jason’s gallery, I feel Jason offers good sound advice, I read his book and reread it and learnt a lot from it which has helped me develop as a artist, I own Jason a lot, I just happen to disagree on this point and I may well be wrong but I’m an emerging artist and I learn from my mistakes. Ta

    2. There are two points of view I’ve read and both are valid. Consistency is a word that is used to generally here. Yes, there is an obvious definition, but with art it has gotten way off base. It doesn’t mean you paint a landscape 10 different ways or abstractionist using the same swirls. If you notice lots of color in your work, a minimalist approach, a figurative approach, stripes and circles then go with it because in art consistency it’s balance, composition, creativity, passion and personal satisfaction. Before you know it even though they may not look the same you’ve created your consistency. What Jason needs to do is to define consistent art. There are very few things that achieve it and it does not have to be a headache. Let your brushes do the walking on 10 canvases. Step back and look, you may surprised.

  31. Excellent one, Jason. A perfect example, for anyone who might not have recognized it already, of the immense value of your blogs, which are born of years of experience, common sense — and honesty!
    As a nature photographer, my photographs are, by definition, rather varied in subject matter. So I was surprised when visitors to my gallery would comment on an underlying “feeling” that is consistent throughout my body of work. It was gratifying to hear, and spoke to me of just how sensitive art buyers often are — even to subliminal consistencies. I don’t doubt that the same could apply to paintings, sculptures, etc.

  32. I am not sure that I entirely agree with Jane, especially about Renoir. He may have used some of the techniques as others but his work is very consistent. So were the other impressionists. One familiar with a particular impressionist can walk into any room and identify the artist. Renoir is Renoir and Degas.
    Jason, this has helped. In the past, I usually submitted two examples of the type of subject matter (landscape, still life, etc.) to see what was preferred. The last gallery I submitted to I took your advice and put together a much more consistent portfolio. Needless to say, I was admitted to the gallery.Thank you so much.

  33. Lucky me Jason, I’m a single mom, who raised 2 amazing children daughter age 5 and son 9 months all by myself. Now, my son left for college this fall 2016. From now on, it is all about my art. I did my research and found you at the very beginning, even before I decided to paint. So, I’m all set to go. I had to do this as I believe in, “Learn from those who have gone before you”. I started with the subject that I was deeply passionate about in a consistent style and is currently working on same concept, but in three different series as I wanted to create a visual variety for my viewers. I had stop for a certain reason, but I could not stop my subjects generating new ideas in my mind. So, I chose to record them as drawings, put them all in protective sheets in a folder. I had to do this over the summer. Now, I’m back to painting and I have so much of work to be completed, which can last even for more than a year. Hurray!!

  34. One more strategy I follow is that, I have refrained myself from looking into any art created by others and would like to keep it that way for some more time to avoid those works creating a unconscious effect on my style. I try to keep it very minimal when I’m exposed to them. The idea behind was to bring the innate style in bring, which I did. Thank you again!!

  35. I don’t think one has to “try’ to be consistent, it just happens as one explores variation of a subject or letting your work come out of your center. After working for some years, an artist naturally finds oneself delving deeper into a theme.

  36. By working “in the zone” an artist will naturally paint like themselves, no matter what they produce. More important that “trying new things,” and “letting it all hang out” in the production of work that shows who painted it without having a name on it.
    Many artists of old, and many comtemporary artists create pieces of different images, but their work is still recognized. If the contrary reponders would look at Jason’s father’s work, there are two different subject matter, but still the “handling” is the same.
    This is consistency. He is being himself.
    Don’t try to paint like someone else, or be different.
    As I tell my students, you already have a style, so embrace it and run with it!!

  37. Thanks Jason, once more an inspiring article. And thanks to my fellow artists who shared their experience. When you want to sell and make a living on your art is impossible not to pay attention on what gallerists tell you. I recently had the experience of being told that there should be a story developed in each piece of artwork. The gallerist meant well, of course, and probably she knew what she was talking about. The problem is, if you are spontaneously nearer to abstract style, how do you tell a story when the subjects are only color, light and space? I spent a month without painting, I just didn’t know what to do, I felt devastated too. I thought color, light, space perhaps a hint of a shape or landscape were enough to build a “story” or better saud, a “mood” in the viewer. However, nowadays when everything is at hand and obvious, I’ve wonder if my painting is outdated. I started painting again after doing lots of thinking, and I concluded that I still should paint what I feel. I can draw and even go realistic, I could eventually include any “characters” in my work, but I feel moved by different things and wish the viewer would be too, not only by the emotions expressed in my work but also by his own, triggered by my painting. I’ve been told my painting is “too lonely” but has also been described as “inner silence landscapes” and I like it, what can I say? At the moment, I stopped doing gallery hunting, I’ve been selling which makes me utterly happy and confirms there are collectors who like my artwork, and I’m working hard. Let’s see what the future brings. Good luck to you all!

  38. One last thing I would like to highlight on your generous advice Jason, is what you said on how helpful it is to frame similarly or, I wonder, may be go on the same format. I’ see your point and absolutely agree with you. Thanks again!

  39. Thank you for this article, Jason. It really speaks to what I am working on now. I have been an artist all my life, but just this year I have been working hard to develop a style and stick with it. As a result, I have a very small number of pieces to show in this style at this time.

    As a gallery owner, how many pieces do you like to see in a portfolio?

    Jenny G.
    Westminster, Colorado

  40. I’d start by offering my thanks, to Jason and the commenters. If you’re a contrarian one could play Michelangelo’s agent. “Mike, Mike that David thing is way too heavy and people are just not buyin’ nudes. The Saint Pete’s painting got the modesty thing goin’ on, but we gotta’ work on the portability. Fresco’s are great if you’re a travelin’ artist. I’m all over that Bible stuff, it’s still hot, but ya’ gotta’ drop the 3D nude stuff.” I guess it would pretty easy to pick people from any artistic discipline that run contrary to Janson’s notion or agree with the notion. I’m not sure Chuck Close would get representation at Xanadu. From his wikipedia entry “Throughout his career, Close has endeavored to expand his contribution to portraiture through the mastery of such varied drawing and painting techniques as ink, graphite, pastel, watercolor, conté crayon, finger painting, and stamp-pad ink on paper; printmaking techniques, such as Mezzotint, etching, woodcuts, linocuts, and silkscreens; as well as handmade paper collage, Polaroid photographs, Daguerreotypes, and Jacquard tapestries.” [Lucky Chuck didn’t focus on work using Polaroid.] What about Georges Simenon, he published 425 books, 200 fiction under 16 different pseudonyms and 220 under his own name. So my advice for those with too many interests, think about pseudonyms, next step Xanadu.

  41. I’ve been following your blog for more than a year now (I think) and you have given some excellent advice. I took some time to explore different mediums with one subject by doing a 365-day creativity challenge and it did wonders not only for my art but for my soul. It ironically helped me narrow down to what I am passionate about as far as my choice of medium. My subject matter (natural hair of African-America people) has not changed in more than a decade. In fact, the more I delve into my subject, the more I want to explore. However, I was unsure of how I wanted to portray my subject – photography, quilting, painting, drawing – and the consistency of my work. So I explored them all plus some (Afros365.com), and I discovered a way to combine some of my favorites into one mixed-media form that speaks to me. I can now move forward with developing a style and building a consistent portfolio. Thank you very much for your wonderful blog and expert advice.

    1. The idea of the 365 creativity challenge is so wonderful, Unicia! Some of my artist friends have shared with me, over my concern of being unclear and uncertain of my style and voice in my art work, or what I consistently want to focus on or express; that the only way for it ti develop and emerge is by doing doing doing. One friend had the luxury of spending 2-3 years only painting really early on out of school, and she says that is how her style became clear and developed. My art instructor, a working artist, has said the same… and another shared a book with us about a well-known artist (I can’t remember her name right now), who committed to sketching daily for at least 15 minutes, which created the foundation for her development as an artist. So, thank you! I work full-time right now in another field, but I think I just need to cancel Netflix and Hulu to “find” the time to develop consistency of style by doing daily LOL Also- I was wondering, was the creativity challenge you did self-directed or something you can sign up for? Thank you!

  42. I work with steel, welding circles, squares and rectangles. Every piece I make is recognizable as mine, whether it be figurative, abstract or whatever. They are all welded from the same basic shapes. I have found that these simple shapes can be worked in an infinite number of ways to create variety in a consistent manner.

  43. Thank you for sharing your valuable view on the subject. This has been something I’ve known throughout the years, but refused to commit to the practise. I would simply get too excited about another approach after a while. Now, I am practicing consistency and wish I had started long ago. I’m really enjoying the flow and speaking MY language consistently. I am gaining confidence and passion as I continue with this same style.

  44. Thanks Jason. This was a good reminder. I have been on the path of consistency for some time, and found by looking back that there is a pattern in my art after all. By studying my past work it has given me a direction and I am going to take it as far as I can and then beyond. This is turning into a very enjoyable journey!

  45. This post created a lot of feedback! Thank you for your generosity Jason. I have had the “doesn’t that stifle your creativity?” question asked of me lately. Finally having given myself permission to be in my studio for twenty hours a week, I create, explore, celebrate…. “Go to your room”, Robert Genn advised. A wise man and a wise artist. I have been developing my own awareness over the years of what particularly inspires me. With consistent time spent painting that awareness has suddenly blossomed into a style. Will I continue to do landscapes? Probably, not always. I have other interests. What will remain the same is the texture, the negative space and the randomness. Love not having complete control over the result! Am I bored? Not yet. Nor do I anticipate being bored. There is just too much to explore while being consistent!

  46. I have developed a theme. This theme has allowed me to work in many styles while maintaining a singular theme. It is this consistency in the theme that makes the use of different styles a consistent thing. The theme of the painting is what people recognize and thus are amazed at how one can use so many styles within a singular theme. I suppose it is a bit opposite of what one would expect after reading this but it works for me. I do find myself taking a break from the overall project of a singular theme and goal (3 1/2 years into it so far and many more to go) but get back at it to continue on.

    1. Warhol is a great example of consistency and creativity. He has a wide range of subjects, but with most of his work you look at it and right away know that it’s a Warhol. His style, medium and techniques are consistent, even though his subject matter can vary. Great example of consistency.

  47. Thank You that was a perfect explanation for me. ” I finally get it ” Thank You again. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🎨🙋🏼

  48. Explains what numerous gallery owners have said about my work – ‘I see a style’. One can have a style and consistency without succombing to the hobgoblin of little minds. Thank you

  49. I find this blogpost and the dialogue it has fostered in the comments so helpful, and appreciate your view, Jason, as well as the input of everyone else. I am just starting to explore art, but have been drawn to doing it for a long time, finally taking a few community classes and drawing a bit on my own, with the intent of dedicating more of my time/life to it moving forward. While learning technique and slowly becoming familiar with various media, the thought of “my voice” or personal style for a sense of consistency has intimidated me. Yet, I get how it’s helpful.

    Perhaps, Jason, a post that more fully defines consistency or what it might look like would be helpful. I have a sense that it’s not necessarily so straightforward… as several others have described, it could be more of a consistent feeling or sense, even across media. With many of the greats, even going through various periods and focus in their works, it’s often possible to discern their work across media, color choices, and even moods, in my experience.

    And with those of us who may be exploring media that are very diverse/not consistent, but we want to continue developing bodies of work in both (my example: Sumi-e painting and pastels/charcoal) what would be a good approach to presenting them to the world? It doesn’t feel right to me to edit out one and not make it available. I’ve had some people drawn to my landscapes/still lives, and others more to my Sumi-e, and others to life drawings. Also, doing a different media that seems inconsistent can greatly inform work in any medium. I’m also excited to share what I create with the world. And I personally am curious about all aspects of others’ work. Although, I get that that doesn’t necessarily translate into sales and a following.

    What do you think about what Pamela said… about presenting an edited body of work to a gallery, but having various categories of work on her website? That makes sense to me. It seems a bit of a tricky business to navigate, yet I think John Irizarry and J.Paris Rody both make excellent points in terms of developing a consistency that goes beyond media or subject matter… almost making it a meditation of sorts, and allowing oneself to come through in each work. The instructor where I’ve taken a few classes says that… and that just by doing, doing, doing, our own style starts to emerge. And I see it in my classmates– each of us already has a nascent personal consistent style, even before we’re fully familiar will the medium.

    Thank you, again! I’m so glad I found this blog– both for Jason’s experience and insight, as well as for the lively dialogue and perspectives of everyone commenting.

  50. Thank you SO MUCH for this article. I started oil painting over 40 years ago, but life got in the way. I went back to college in my 30’sand got a degree in art, but often said it was a big mistake. (Not enough hours to explain.) A ten year illness kept me from doing much of anything. Five years ago, my husband got a job in Tucson, AZ, so we moved from the Midwest. My original passion from my teen years, painting skies, returned. At this point in my life, selling isn’t my objective. Yes, it’s great when they do sell, but I never get tired of the joy I feel when I look at the sky and start planning a new painting. I have had well meaning people tell me I should paint “more abstracts” or “more Southwest themed works,” and I know if so had to do either, I would just stop painting. I’m unhappy at the current gallery that shows my work, so I’m ending my relationship with them. I’m not sure where I’ll end up showing next, if anywhere🙂 but I know my work is consistent. I may not paint in a style that everyone loves, but I love painting. THANKS AGAIN!!
    Nanci

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