Developing Your Personal Style

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When I went to teach my Craftsy class, there was a cake and cookie “graveyard” where a lot of projects from earlier classes were stored.  It was crazy amazing to be able to look at those shelves and say, “Oh my goodness, that’s one of Julie’s!” or “I recognise this one! That’s Heather’s! Oh and that’s Sharon’s, that’s Mike’s, that’s Christina’s!” Truly I felt like I was standing in an art gallery surrounded by these incredible, instantly recognizable creations. A lot of us want to be known for our style, our “thing”, our special way of doing things so that one day, our creations will be in a project graveyard (or in a magazine or on display) and people instantly recognise it as one of ours.

If you’re like me and you’re not an artist at heart, stop for a second and read my thoughts on this. I can be artistic but I am NOT blessed with the soul of an artist, so I had my “thing” but it wasn’t based on an aesthetic. If what you’re wanting to do is be known for an aesthetic, here’s how to go about it:

  1. Remember that this doesn’t happen instantly. You don’t wake up one day knowing what your style is, then wake up the next and the world knows you’re THAT chick. It’s something that develops OVER TIME and then it’s something you share and promote OVER TIME. So don’t get all annoyed if now your projects are mostly copies of  stuff people sent you from Pinterest, or just a random hodge-podge of doing whatever people ask for and are willing to pay for. Eventually those other things fall away.
  2. Try everything even if you think you won’t like it. My daughter Alexis is an artist (of the non-cake kind) and she’s taken classes for the last two years in all kinds of art methods and materials. It’s only in the last two weeks she’s discovered that while she’s capable in many forms, her heart sings when she gets to use pen and ink. It can take a while to find the intersection of what you love and what you are good at. Keep trying things even if those things make you uncomfortable or you do them only to realise you don’t like them. This is about elimination as much as it is discovery. This isn’t just about mediums though, it’s also about the style of things – if you normally do kids’ cakes, try creating one which is kid friendly but abstract in style. Normally a boho chic style wedding cake maker? Try creating something avant-garde.art
  3. Notice the things that light you up. If every time you go to make a fondant cake you’re groaning about it, but every time you’ve got to play with buttercream you’re happy…notice it! Then really pursue that medium with wild abandon. Also notice your personal world around you – what kind of clothes do you wear? How is your home decorated? What kinds of people in the media attract your eye? What is your style OUTSIDE of work? WHO ARE YOU as a person?
  4. Push yourself beyond your own boundaries AND the boundaries of the medium. Suppose you find that one medium you love, you create a cake or two and people are starting to sit up and notice. Don’t stop there! Keep pushing, pushing, pushing yourself to work that medium or concept further than you thought possible. What if you wet it? Scraped it? Used a different tool with it? Froze it? Melted it? Mixed it with something else? EVERYTHING is worth trying and it’s by trying things that seem kinda crazy or weird that we innovate.
  5. Don’t stop learning. Take the time to do classes in mediums or methods which seem to have nothing to do with cake. Papercraft, pottery, jewellery making, glass blowing…all of these have techniques which are ADAPTABLE to your own style and materials. A lot of the tools and skills used in clay sculpting could also be used on frozen buttercream or fondant or modelling chocolate. Watch the bakers shape their loaves, the soap makers cut their slabs, the milliners make their hats, the crocheters use their wool. Sometimes all that’s needed to invent something “new” is just the adaptation of existing concepts to new arenas. Go to craft fairs, art shows and markets and see what other artists are up to and what they can teach you which you can take home and use differently.

The more you do something, the more you’ll get known for it. If after all of this you’ve settled on the thing you both love and are good at, then DO IT. It doesn’t mean you do it to the exclusion of all else, but that’s where 80-90% of your output (especially the output you’ll share publically) will go. You’ve got to lead people down the path of your expertise, it’s not something they’ll just immediately understand. So as an example, if you take part in public sharing days – share things which are a clear example of your style. If you’re going to produce tutorials, teach, share pictures and so on, all those things need to be clear examples of your style as well. Even if clients are still ordering things which are outside of your style, the majority of what you share should be things IN YOUR STYLE.  The rules of marketing a business as a whole are no different to how you market (get known for) a specific style. It’s got to be a consistent effort all around. People need to see what you do and see it often, and it’s even better if you can invite them in to the process by showing some behind the scenes work. All of it needs to be telling the same story.

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Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with some self-promotion to make sure the message of your style is getting across. Use your pictures AND your words to talk about your style: “I’m a total buttercream goddess!” “Buttercream is my thing,” “I just love working with buttercream,” “Give me buttercream over royal icing any day,” and so on. Use your aesthetic as the basis for social media posts, blog posts, styled shoots and so on – don’t keep it a secret! People need to be shown things over and over before they start to make the association between you and that aesthetic. 

I’m repeating this because it’s the important thing to really remember:  finding your personal style is something that will take time. There’s a reason artists fill sketchbooks that never get shown,  why writers crumple up thousands of pages of writing, and singers practice by singing songs written by other people.  Much like a sculpture hiding inside a block of marble, your personal style will show itself over time and evolve as you chip away at it.

One thought on “Developing Your Personal Style

  1. Very good timing this post Michelle – as I work through what is my style – what is my signature…. many cakes people bring to me are from other cake makers designs etc – I always try and alter them a little and say I’m adding a little Monica flair to it – only had one customer say no, I want it like that – anyway, I digress… I am discovering as time goes on I always like the embellishments, the gold, the extra details etc. Now is time to work on a signature style of my own and you are so right -can’t force it… has to develop over time… fingers crossed I get there as I would like a little originality to my work!

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