Looking back at old (art)work helps to develop your style

Looking back at some old (art)work helps you take your next steps in developing your own style.

Brighton Illustrator
©sandrastaufer 'The Cows" 1994

It's nice to see drawings you did when you were younger because you can see how uninhibited the work was, how you experimented with different styles and media.

Last week helped my mentee put together a portfolio. She is trying to get a place on a prop-making course and I helped her evaluate what her best work is - and how she can develop further some of the work she already has. I helped her identify her style and a path forward to show her brand identity as an artist. (here a link to some tips)

This encouraged me to look back into my old portfolio, some of it dating back decades. Choosing just 10 pieces for her portfolio is hard, but how would that feel for my own, if I had to do this exercise?

I distinctly remembered some artwork, others I completely forgot about, like this one - 'the cows'. Of course, this activity can cause apprehension; when I first looked at some of my old artwork I wasn't impressed. But it helped me see my growth. It's so nice to see drawings you did when you were younger because you can see how uninhibited the work was, how you experimented with different styles and methods. I love seeing my hand-drawn stuff and comparing it to my digital work. On one hand, it is nice to see how far I have come in terms of finding my style but some of it is also surprising, seeing how your current style actually developed very early on.

As a serious illustrator you have to continually look back at work short-term and in a large retrospective view too to review the journey you have made. I am quite good at throwing out old sketches or work that wasn't personal to me. At this point, I am very happy that I had not abandoned all of my old artwork, tossed it out, or completely destroyed it because now, I have a trail back to that time to see where my style developed from and why. It's a little bit like my own art history. You are a critic too and you constantly are analysing what has gone wrong and right with a body of work and what to do about it.

Of course, I often ask myself why my style has developed the way it has, and that is why this retrospective is so revealing. I feel I almost couldn't help but go down the route my hand took me. I may have had heroes and influencers that pulled me in a direction, but I feel looking back now, there were early signs of my style developing the way it has.

Your work gets judged by others on a daily basis, being your own judge feels just as important, because it helps you move forward and make decisions about your direction. You also realise that the path you took to your style is not coincidental, but there is the reason behind it.

It's critical to stay innovative, of course, and just doing the same thing isn't right (and boring too), but I do think keeping to a style you have developed over the years that identifies as you and is comfortable, is really important. I will also take on the challenge I mentioned to my mentee and rework some of the artwork I did 30 years ago. Why not?