Before going into the value of variety, I want to first articulate the qualities of variety's debatable opposite: consistency.
In my experience, consistency is necessary for an artist.
Practicing your field of art consistently is the only way to truly improve and grow in your abilities.
Maintaining your own consistent style is important to patrons who collect your work. (More on personal style in another post!)
Choosing a consistent method for pricing your work is key. For fair and efficient sales, you should have a reliable system for deciding how much to charge for your artwork.
A consistent income is essential to make a living as an artist.
These are all pretty universally acknowledged points among the art world, but it's worth listing them to bear in mind as we explore the benefits of variety.
Have you ever been in an art class or workshop, and as the instructor is teaching, noticed by someone's questions that they seem stuck on their own method?
Maybe they continually resist the instructing artist's critique, or they aren't receptive to any new ideas. Have you ever wondered to yourself in response, 'Isn't that why we're here? To learn new things?'
Most of the time in a class setting, people are there to learn, and are open to new techniques and information. Generally, you choose courses that you hope will help you learn a particular skill or develop your understanding of a certain medium.
This is where variety comes in.
By choosing to learn from artists who teach in different ways, who have different styles of art, and focus on different subject matter, you are drawing from a wonderfully diverse pool of knowledge and experience. Taking a class that focuses on how to paint animals in oil can teach you more about painting different textures. Studying with an artist who works much larger than you usually do can help you to learn about simplifying shapes, or how to obtain a more interesting surface texture.
When you go out of your comfort zone this way, you can learn some really valuable insights that you can use for improving your unique style and capturing your chosen subject matter.
A wise artist friend once told me about how her experience with workshops and utilizing what she'd learned there significantly improved when she realized she didn't have to follow everything that the instructor taught. That is, after the workshop ended and she went back home, she was able to pick how she wanted to incorporate the new information into her individual process and work.
Since art is generally quite objective, there are many contrasting opinions and processes even among artists with similar work, so what you learn as non-negotiable fact in one workshop might be discounted as personal preference in another. By selecting the techniques and advice that stood out to her, my wise friend is able to take advantage of so much more from the numerous workshops she has taken. When you are able to garner particular advice and information from other artists and professionals, you can build a much wider framework to draw from. If we take new intelligence with a grain of salt, we won't be limited to a particular method or subject matter, and we'll be able to grow better as an artist overall.
Variety is also a wonderful rule of thumb when it comes to mediums.
For years, I was afraid of breaking the 'rules' I heard about oil painting and concerned I would unknowingly make a dreadful faux pas. Even though I was excited by all of oil painting's possibilities, this led to my increasing procrastination of painting, and staying safely in my comfort zone - drawing with graphite and charcoal.
When I went to my first Portrait Society Conference last year in 2019, one thing I heard over and over again from different artists on the faculty was this: Experiment. Try new mediums, make mistakes, practice and familiarize yourself with your different paints, brushes, and surfaces.
I felt as though a burden was lifted from me! This new perspective gave me freedom to make faux pas in my work, and use those as learning opportunities for why there are 'rules' in art. Working with this mindset makes art so much more enjoyable, exciting, and educational.
Another powerful way to use variety is in shapes. I recently took an art workshop from my good friend and fellow artist, Stephanie Thomson. Of the many valuable nuggets of information Stephanie shared, one of the main points that has stuck with me is the importance of specific shapes. In life, the shapes that make up everything we see, shapes of color, value, and pattern, are all unique. As we draw or paint, our brains want to create patterns that we can follow, which often results in a lack of variety among the shapes in our art. A few examples where this is especially noticeable is in tree branches, fabric folds, and facial characteristics. We paint the same shape repeatedly, where there should be complexity and diversity. Observing your subject more carefully and painting more intentionally will take your work to the next level, giving it a more life-like quality.
Below is an example of a variety of artwork by living artists that I love. As with most people, I find myself drawn to art that is similar in some ways and very different in other ways!
I would love to hear your thoughts about variety and consistency in your art and career.
What has your experience been? Have you heard any advice relating to this subject that has really helped/hurt your artistic pursuits?
Click through the gallery to see art inspiration from Tina Garrett, Alex Venezia, Richard Schmidt, and more!