What About Style?

Been doing a lot of thinking about “style” lately. Everybody’s got one, but it has to be discovered. How does that happen?

Just like learning to draw and paint well, the emergence of your style depends on practice. The more you draw, the better you draw, and learning a few basics really makes this process easier and faster.

The more you draw, the more you draw like “you”. Same thing as your handwriting and printing – you learn some basics, start writing and printing, and your handwriting style becomes unique to you – so much so that handwriting analysis experts can tell an awful lot about you from a writing sample.

If you have spent much time looking at art, you could probably recognize that a piece was painted by Van Gogh or Mondrian without too much trouble. They both have their own very unique style.

Traveling in internet art journal circles, you might be able to tell that a watercolor was done by Cathy Johnson or a sketch by Danny Gregory or Tommy Kane, or even me.

I have a very strong style that has been with me since I first picked up a paintbrush. It’s sort of like Dali meets Disney. It’s color-intense, whimsical, and sometimes the dreaded “cute”, and if you look at some of the pieces closely, you might notice that things are not quite realistic. Here’s a recent example of all of the above . . .


Leaves probably don’t hang from branches by jump rings, and tree roots need to be IN the ground to hold the tree up, not on top of it. But that is how things sometimes are in “my world”.

I have always worked in watercolor in a non-traditional dark-to-light fashion, as opposed to the traditional build up of washes from light to dark. There is distinct difference in intensity.

Sometimes, there are ink outlines . . .


And sometimes, I go for realism like this . . .


or this . . .


But, in all of this, you can see MY style, right?

This is a thing that amazes me – and has frustrated me too.

I know I am not alone in often dealing with the idea that I should change my style.

It’s weird. Why would anybody want to change their style once they have figured out what it is? Especially if they happen to love their style deep inside.

Well, for me, that word CUTE has played a big role. It’s like CUTE can’t be taken seriously, and if you take your art seriously, as I do, it gets under your skin.

Whimsy is an important element of my style, and whimsy is fertile ground for CUTEness. To get rid of that potential, you have to get “edgy” with the whimsy, which usually means introducing sharp angles or attitudes which are then fertile ground for UGLY.

When I was studying illustration at Parsons, I actually lived in California, and the instructor wanted me to get rid of my “California naive” and darken things up. In other words – lose the CUTE.

I have never managed that.

So, I have learned, finally, that I will have to live with CUTE feedback once in awhile.

Other artists may not deal with the CUTE label, but they have other issues with their style – the most common of which is “loosening-up”.

I have that issue too, but it’s not because I don’t enjoy being highly detailed. I try to loosen up for the sake of time.

I can never get a journal page done on site. The sun would set before I was satisfied with my details and tweaking. So, I always have a camera or my iPad along to capture my subject before it disappears.

If I could just loosen up, I could be one of those sketchers who grab a whole scene before their coffee is finished.

So, I try.

One of the things I do is find an artist or illustrator or sketcher whose style I really like, and I try to copy them.

I love this series of travel journals by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler.


She has 4 or 5 books in the series and I have them all. They are very charming, illustrated travel journals, which you can find on Amazon here:


So I sat down and decided to see if I could sketch a few things quickly and loosely – just like Diana did.

Here is a Sunflower by Diana . . .


And one by me . . .


Oh Oh. At first I had just paint strokes like she did. The lack of definition really bothered me. So, I added lines to “tighten” it up a bit.

Not “loosening” up. Try again.

California Poppies by Diana . . .


Poppies by me . . .


Not so bad. This actually turned out the loosest of all.

So I tried some Tangerines. Diana’s . . .


Just some well spaced blops of paint. I can do that.


Ok, now, I’m getting somewhere.

Let’s try Diana’s Apple Pear . . . hers is on the right.


There I go again blending – and ramping up the color.

Am I hopeless? I thumb through the book and find a page about Artichokes. When I lived in California, we had artichokes a few time a week. In Santa Fe, they are hard to find, and expensive when you do. But, I had just found some at Whole Foods, and Mark and I had a feast.


So, I thought I would just sketch a simple artichoke on my Apple Pear page to keep it company.


At this point, I know I am in trouble already. I am enthralled with getting the red tips that were on our artichokes, and am concentrating on that more than remembering to be loosey-goosey.

But it is very important to follow where your instinct leads you, so I did . . .


And there I am – back to doing what I do. I give up!

This is just so interesting – how hard your style fights to be your style.

So, why fight back? You think this is CUTE? That just has to be ok with me.

I would love to hear if any of this resonates with you.

Have you manifested your style yet?

Are you happy with it?


Orders for Sheer Heaven have been pouring in and my supply will probably not make it as long as I thought. I am pleased that you love the product as I do, and that you will have your stash when this one is gone. Thank you for your support in this difficult decision. I really appreciate that.

Handwriting Analysis

If you are interested in what your handwriting says about you, one of my bestest sister-friends, Vesta Abel, has become a certified Handwriting Expert (she’s always up to something exciting!) Here’s her site . . .





  1. I remember being so shocked when people on line said they could recognize my style and knew it was my work before they read who the artist was.
    I still don’t know what constitutes “my style”.
    I think having your work out there, on the interwebs, gives you more feedback than most artists had before computers. I know there are many contemporary artists whose work I recognize instantly.
    Thanks for the article. I may want to look at my own work and try and figure out what this style I have is…

  2. I had a good laugh reading this. You just keep being YOU. I love your style.

  3. Jessica, I just love “your” style. The vibrant colors, shading, outlining/definition all draw me in. I try to achieve this overall when using mixed media. I didn’t think I had a personal style, but when I look at my Art Journals, I see a running style there. Stay true to yourself. That’s what I or we love about you. I would never say your style was cute in any way. It is beautifully simplistic and clean. Hope those are definitions you are pleased with.

  4. Please, oh please do not change your style. Change your hair color, nail colour, lipstick color, underpants, your nose, your favorite dog(ha) your furniture, your husband if need be, but do not change your style. I wouldn’t be here year after year, if it weren’t for your Style.

  5. Greetings Jessica;
    Your post hit a chord with me. Several years ago, I had a box of about 100 handmade cards that were made by several people including myself. As they were for sale, people could browse thru them and pick out what they wanted. There were no names on the cards to indicate who made them. One customer picked out all the cards I had made. I was somewhat surprised by her choice as all the cards were lovely. I had asked her why she chose the cards she did. She said that she liked the style of the cards and she surmised that they were made by the same person. Up to that point, it never occurred to me that I had a style. Lesson learned. I don’t purposely create with a certain ‘style’ in mind but it is what it is. Btw, I never thought of your art as being cute. I don’t do cute. Cuteness to me is having that “awwwww” factor, e.g. puppies and kittens.

  6. I had this “cute” conversation many years ago with bead artist David Chatt. I was taking a workshop with him and several “cute” comments had been made by the participants about his work. He was not pleased. Now mind you his work is extremely detailed and thought provoking but dangit some of it is so darn “cute!” I explained to him that this is a huge compliment not a slur. Cute makes people smile, take a second look. It is a positive response! You just try to say “cute” without smiling. I suspect it’s an automatic response that really means clever, well done, “I like that!” It’s lazy semantics but definitely a positive thing. As an artist I get where you’re coming from but if someone responds “cute!” to one of my pieces it makes me smile and feel appreciated. Yes, your work is sometimes cute, but it’s also clever, well done and I like it!

  7. I love your style too, Jessica. The bright, vibrant colors, the whimsy, it’s YOU and I like it! As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
    By the way, the link for Vesta’s website isn’t working, and I tried googling, but couldn’t find a site with that name. Help!

  8. Jessica, i love your style and yes, it’s very distinguishable from others. that’s a good thing, i say. whimsical is how i usually describe it, seldom does the word “cute” come into the picture. your attempt at loosening up reminds me of the journey Liz Steele is on to do much the same. her style has really evolved from the very structured way she used to paint to a much looser style, similar to your examples above. i know what i, the viewer, prefer, but it’s not my journey, it’s hers, so more power to her. and to you for making the attempt and sharing the process with us.

  9. Well, I don’t know about style – or mine at least. My daughter says she can pick mine out of a bunch because there will be something wonky about it. I guess I break a lot of “rules”. I have to say, I prefer your detail over lack of detail. I can’t leave something as just a suggestion of a subject either and I seldom can keep from adding pen work. I guess I can see the cute but more, I see the whimsy in your work. Cute, to me, is something childish and although your work is make believe, it’s not childish. It may be simple but it’s not childish. I think of a kitten as cute. I don’t think of cats as cute so that’s the difference to me. I don’t know if I make any sense. To some people I guess anything simplified in colors, details or whatever could tend towards cuteness but it doesn’t mean that to me.

  10. I’m so flattered that you chose my work to copy. I think that is a wonderful way to learn and I can honestly say that your style takes my style to another level…your own level. Bravo!

  11. Hi Jessica
    A few days ago I sent you the following to instructor@cre8it.com but never received an answer. I guess the email address is not active any more and therefore I am sending it again here
    Hi Jessica
    I purchased the iPad studio some while ago and since I got a new iPad and transferred your PDFs files there I noticed that books 11 and 12 are missing
    I wonder how I could receive them again
    All the best and thanks for your help in advance

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