Develop Your Signature Style: Overcoming Obstacles with a 5-Day Art Challenge | Genna Blackburn | Skillshare

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Develop Your Signature Style: Overcoming Obstacles with a 5-Day Art Challenge

teacher avatar Genna Blackburn, Surface Designer & Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      What Is a Signature Style?


    • 4.

      Make Parameters


    • 5.

      Make Little Pockets Of Time


    • 6.

      Make Bad Art


    • 7.

      Get Comfortable With Fear


    • 8.

      Make Connections


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Are you an artist searching for your signature design style? That thing that makes it so people recognize your work as yours without even seeing your name attached to it? This class is for you!

Join surface designer & illustrator, Genna Blackburn, as she guides you through the process of creating a 5-day art challenge to uncover your signature style. 

A signature design style is important to have because it helps establish your brand as an artist. A signature style isn’t something you search for, but rather, something that becomes clear naturally as you create more and more work. But doing the work can sometimes seem daunting and intimidating, especially if you’re afraid to make “bad” art or feel like you don’t have large chunks of time to devote to practicing. Don’t let years go by without practicing consistently because of negative mindsets!

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Set up a 5-day art challenge
  • Overcome common pitfalls of trying to find your style
  • Best practices for consistent creating 
  • Analyze the commonalities that emerge from your work 

A 5-day art challenge is a great way to get in the habit of creating a little bit every day and not giving yourself too much time to dwell on whether or not you love everything you create. And the benefit of creating every day for 5 days is that by the 5th day, you may start to see some commonalities emerge.

This class is for beginners as well as artists that are further along on their journey but who haven’t quite nailed down a signature style yet. Genna is an illustrator, but the tools in this class can apply to any creative medium (writing, painting, surface design, etc.)

Meet Your Teacher

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Genna Blackburn

Surface Designer & Illustrator

Top Teacher

Hello, I'm Genna!

I'm a surface designer and illustrator in Detroit, Michigan. Inspired by my love of plants and animals, (especially my pets who make regular appearances in my illustrations), I like to think of my work as a playful exploration of shape and color stemming from my background as a graphic designer.

As a licensing artist, I've had the pleasure of seeing my work on many fun products for companies including Target, Papyrus, Hello Bello, Copper Pearl, Little Sleepies and JIGGY Puzzles.

You can see more of my work on my website and get a look behind the scenes on Instagram.

And if you'd like my free guide on developing your signature style as well as resour... See full profile

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1. Intro: For artists, one of the most important things you can do to be successful is to develop a signature style, a level of consistency so that people can identify your work without seeing your name attached. But fear can make it nearly impossible to take the steps needed to develop a signature style. Hi, I'm Genna Blackburn, a Surface Designer and Illustrator in Detroit, Michigan. I like to think of my style as a playful exploration of color and shape stemming from my background in graphic design. I've been a designer for over 15 years and as a licensing artist I've had the pleasure of seeing my work on a variety of products out in the world. When I first began my surface design journey, I really wanted to find a signature style. You know you have a signature style when people recognize your work as your own without seeing your name attached to it. I would see people who had a really consistent, identifiable way of creating their art and I really wanted that, but I didn't know how to get to that point. I knew I needed to practice, experiment, and create lots of work, but fear and overwhelm were holding me back from creating consistently. I'm excited to teach this class, because I know how frustrating it can be to be in that place and not know what to do next. I also know what it's like to get comfortable with fear and start to see a signature style emerge and all of the wonderful opportunities that come with it. In this class, I'm going to talk about the roadblocks that I encountered along the way and how to deal with them by creating a five-day art challenge. Creating an art challenge helps you with many things, including making time for your art, being comfortable making bad art, getting comfortable with fear. When you create everyday for five days, by the fifth day you start to see some commonalities emerge. I'll walk you through my process for setting up an art challenge and some tips and tricks that I've learned for keeping the momentum going, and also how to analyze your work at the end of the five-day challenge. This class is for beginners as well as artists that are further along on their journey, but haven't quite fine tuned their signature style yet. By the end of this class, you will have the steps needed to set up a five-day art challenge so that you can move toward developing your signature style. Let's get started. 2. Class Project: When trying to develop a signature style, the number 1 thing you can do is make lots and lots of work. There are several things that might hold someone back from doing that, such as being afraid to make bad art work or feeling like you don't have a lot of time. I've found daily art challenges to be a great way to overcome those issues. For this class, we're going to put together a personal five-day art challenge and then you're going to create a piece of work every day for five days. A five-day art challenge is helpful for developing your signature style because it helps with five things which I'm going to explain in the following lessons. Number 1, you'll learn how to decide on a theme in the make parameters lesson. Number 2, how to make little pockets of time, so you can set yourself up for success. Number 3, why it's good to make bad art so that you can keep moving forward. Number 4, how to get comfortable with fear by making a mindset shift. Finally, number 5, you'll learn how to draw conclusions from your art challenge in the make connections lesson, meaning, by the time you get to day 5, you will start to see some commonalities emerge and some things that you liked and didn't like that will inform the way you draw moving forward. Regarding the materials needed for this class, you can use whatever medium you want. I'm going to talk about drawing simply because that's my medium. But this can apply to any type of creative work. Like writers, ceramics, painters. Choose whatever medium you feel comfortable with. In the next lesson, we'll cover what it means exactly to have a signature style and why it's helpful. Then we'll jump right into planning your project. 3. What Is a Signature Style?: Let's start by talking about what it means to have a signature style and why it's important. First of all, a signature style emerges after you make lots and lots of work. You know you have a signature style when your work has a consistency to it that allows people to recognize it as your work without seeing your name attached to it. Developing a signature style is helpful for establishing your brand as an artist, which will really be good for when you go to pitch your work to clients or post your work online, or trying to sell products with your artwork on it. Creating in your signature style with your history and your personal experience and your taste is what will set you apart from other artists and help others to connect with your work. Your signature style can come across in many ways, including your subject matter, your linework, brushy versus clean, your go-to color palette, bright versus subdued and your choice of medium, digital, watercolor paint, etc. I believe that a signature style isn't something that you really look for. It's something that naturally emerges as you create more and more work. As you make lots of work, you'll start to realize certain things like maybe, for instance, you love drawing animals and there's a specific way that you like to draw animal eyes. Next time you go to draw an animal, you're going to use that information. You're going to plug in those animal eyes in the way that you'd like to draw them. But you'll have to draw animal eyes many different ways before you get to that point and that's a very specific example, but it's an example of how as you create more work, you start to make these rules and parameters for yourself. The number 1 thing that you can do to develop your signature style is to make lots and lots of work and actually all the rest of the lessons in this class are really just about helping you with that one principle. It's important to be creative sometimes just for the sake of being creative and not for a deadline or for a work project. It's through making lots of your own personal work that you're going to figure out which path you want to go down. It can be really frustrating to hear that when you're first starting out or really anywhere on your journey because you just want to jump right into the deep end and have that signature style. But it's an important part of the process and hopefully a fun part as well. When I first started out, I tried many different ways of creating to try to figure out what resonated with me. I tried drawing in this semi realistic style with markers. I tried drawing with markers and incorporating watercolors. I tried this abstract expressive style with watercolors. I tried more realistic watercolors and then I started painting with gouache and I started simplifying a bit. But you can still see some shading in here as I was still experimenting. But eventually I got rid of all the shading and I just started to flatten everything out and here I'm playing around with shape and color and I was using watercolor brush pens, starting to simplify even more. Then I started to vectorize my artwork on the computer because I realized that enhanced that flatness that I was really liking. Eventually, I started to draw digitally right on the iPad and this helped me really lean into that flat graphic style that I was loving and it also helped solidify my signature style. But I never would have gotten to this point if I hadn't done all of those other ways of creating first. Art challenges are a great way to make lots of work and in the next lesson we'll discuss the first step to setting up your five-day art challenge, making parameters. 4. Make Parameters: The first thing that doing an art challenge helps with is making parameters because when you have a blank sheet of paper and no parameters, that can be paralyzing. What should I draw? How should I draw it? When you set up an art challenge and give yourself parameters, you take some of the indecision out of the equation. Let's say, for instance, that you decide to draw five animals for your art challenge. You've already gotten pretty darn specific and taken a lot of the guesswork out for yourself. Maybe you get even more specific and you decide ahead of time which animals you're going to draw on that day. The more decisions you make ahead of time, the less work your brain has to do when you sit down to do the work, and the more you can just focus on being creative. To make even more parameters for yourself, you could get really specific about which medium you're going to use. Let's say you're doing a drawing challenge. You might use one specific set of markers for that whole five days, or you might also decide ahead of time to use a very specific color palette and just stick to that color palette for the whole challenge. The more decisions you make ahead of time, the easier it will be to create each daily art piece. It sounds constraining to put all of these parameters on yourself, but it actually frees you up to focus on creating the piece so that you don't have to think about all of the options that are available to you. Another way to brainstorm parameters is to make a Pinterest board. I call mine Things That Resonate. The purpose isn't to copy these things. It's just to analyze what you're drawn to. Start pinning anything that looks good to you: drawings, paintings, rugs, home decor. Anything that when you look at it, you think, ''I wish I had made that.'' That's how you know you're on the right track. Once you've gathered a good amount of things, take a step back and try to analyze. Are there any commonalities among all the things that you've pinned? Are there a lot of bright colors? Are there a lot of muted colors? Is there a lot of texture or is there a lot of flat, graphic, simple shapes in what you've pinned? Can you start making rules for yourself based on these commonalities? For instance, if you found that you were pinning things that had a lot of bright colors and a lot of really simple graphic shapes, can you use those to make rules for yourself in terms of, maybe for your challenge, you stick two bright colors and flat shapes. Or, if when you're pinning you see a lot of texture and a lot of muted colors, maybe you decide for your art challenge that you're going to stick to a more muted palette and try to incorporate a lot of texture. Make your Pinterest board before you embark on your five-day art challenge so that you can have some of these ideas swirling around in your head as you're creating. After you've created your Pinterest board, it's time to pick a theme. You could, for instance, draw five animals for your art challenge or maybe five flowers or you could even decide to draw the same flower every day for five days. Start brainstorming all the different prompts and themes that you could do. I've included a list in the resources section of this class with some ideas for prompts and themes to get you started. Pull something from this list or create your own theme. Once you're done brainstorming, I'd love to see what you came up with. Step 1 is to upload your final theme or your list of five prompts to the project gallery. 5. Make Little Pockets Of Time: The second thing that doing a daily art challenge helps with is making little pockets of time, which will help you do a little something every day. It's important to keep your prompts simple, so that you can complete each daily art challenge in about 30 minutes or less. If you make your drawings or your pieces too complicated or too hard, it's going to make it difficult for you to stick to doing something small every day. I used to have this mindset that I didn't have enough time to create consistently. I felt like I needed this big, wide open space, and if I couldn't get that, then I wasn't going to try. But one day I realized how many days, weeks, months had gone by without me finding that big, open space. I'd wasted a lot of time, and I realized that waiting for that big, open space of time was not working. After a lot of journaling and reading and listening to creative podcasts, I realized that I needed to do something small every day, and that eventually it would add up to something. Everyone wishes that they had that big, open space to create. I often fantasize about renting a cabin in the woods and going there for a week or a month with just my art supplies and no work and just being able to explore to my heart's content. But that's not realistic for most of us and it's not necessary. There's a lot to be said for doing something small, stepping away from it, letting it breathe, and coming back the next day with fresh eyes. It also gives you permission to ditch something if you don't love it, because you said you are only going to spend a little bit of time on it anyway. When you come back the next day, you may create something that builds on that thing that maybe you didn't love, and you might create something that you really do love. Also, if you take long breaks between being creative, you can't be surprised if you feel rusty when you come back to it. When you make little pockets of time, and you keep coming back every day to do something small. You can build upon what you did yesterday because you didn't give yourself time to get rusty, you're building on the momentum from the day before. I love this Maya Angelou quote, it says, "You can't use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have." My tip for making time is to set aside 30 minutes at the beginning of every day. It can feel enticing to wait until you have all of your deadlines met before you jump into the fun and creative work. But once you get started checking emails and whatnot, you might find that the day just slips by, and you don't even get to do the creative and fun work. To recap, if you've been telling yourself tomorrow I'll start creating consistently, tomorrow I'll make the work, it just keeps not happening. Think about all of the days that have passed without making anything. If you start today, your one month from now or even your one week from now self will be so happy with you. 6. Make Bad Art: One of the beautiful things about an art challenge is that you can make bad art. You're only committing to spending 30 minutes on each piece anyway. Spend 30 minutes and be done. No need to labor on something until you love it. That's freeing. In general, are you afraid that you're going to make bad art? Well, you will. From time to time, you will make something that you think is bad and it's inevitable. But know that even if you don't love it in that moment, it doesn't mean that it wasn't good practice or that it was a waste of time. One time, I made a drawing of a pine cone that at the time I thought this is bizarre. I am never going to do anything with this funky pine cone drawing. I almost wanted to rip it out of my sketchbook because I just thought that it was bad and I felt not so great about it. But then a couple of weeks later, I was sitting down to make a repeating pattern for some wrapping paper and I thought actually what if I put that funky pine cone drawing into a repeat, what would that look like? I did it and it looked pretty cool. I sold a lot of that wrapping paper. All that to say, just because you don't love something in that moment, doesn't mean that you won't love it in the future, or that it isn't going to amount to something and if it doesn't amount to something, that's fine too. Sometimes you make something that you don't love and it's okay to move on because the next day you might make something so good because you gave yourself permission to keep moving forward. In the next lesson, we'll tackle one of the biggest barriers to creating lots of work and developing your signature style. Dealing with fear. 7. Get Comfortable With Fear: Now for the juicy stuff, in my opinion, the biggest thing that you can do to develop your signature style is to get comfortable with fear. Not get rid of it, just get comfortable with it. Let me list some of the things you might be afraid of as an artist. You're afraid of a blank page and endless possibilities. You're afraid that you don't have enough time. You're afraid to make bad art. Did these sound familiar? Well, they should, because these are the things we've been talking about in the previous lessons. This is why doing a five-day art challenge helps with developing your signature style because there are all of these fears that can stand in your way and breaking them down in the form of a five-day art challenge is a great solution. Now for an anecdote about my personal fear revelation. I've found that if I create something I love, then for the rest of the day, I'm going to be feeling great, I'm going to be feeling accomplished, I'm going to be feeling really good about myself. If I create something I don't love, I'm going to spend the rest of the day feeling not so great about myself and feeling a lot of self-doubt. I didn't even realize that this was a thing for a long time. I was letting a lot of days go by without creating and I finally realized that part of my problem was that I was afraid to make bad art and be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. When I realized that this was holding me back, I set to work trying to fix it. I had to tell myself that even if I create something I don't love, it doesn't mean it was a waste of time or wasn't good practice. Let me say that again. If you create something you don't love, it doesn't mean it was a waste of time or wasn't good practice. I realized that yesterday's bad art can create tomorrow's good art. It can build off of the day before. This mindset shift was huge for me. Once I realized this, I started making more work than ever before. To my surprise, I was proud of a large majority of it. In the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, she talks about how fear is always along for the ride, especially when you try to do something new and different. The key is learning to accept that fear exists without letting it dictate your actions. This is one of my favorite books on creativity. Actually, probably one of my favorite books of all the books. I love to listen to it while I'm drawing, especially if I'm feeling blocked or anxious. I highly suggest you try it maybe while you're working on your art challenge. Here is one of the best quotes in the book and there are so many and you will probably find yourself stopping over and over to write them down. "So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?" That is so good. I wish that I had a mic so I could drop it right now. Even though I didn't say that brilliant thing, Elizabeth Gilbert did, but I like to drop the mic on her behalf. 8. Make Connections: The final thing that doing an art challenge helps you with when you're developing your signature style is making connections. Meaning, when you create every day for five days, you start to see similarities and make discoveries. You'll see things along the way that you liked and things you didn't like and that will influence what you do moving forward. You start to make rules for yourself. For instance, if you're drawing birds, you might realize by day four or day five that you like drawing bird feathers a specific way and so you make a rule for yourself. This is how I like to draw a bird feathers. The more of these rules you make for yourself, the less decisions you have to make every time you sit down to create. The more rules you make for yourself, the more consistent your artwork becomes. I don't even want to use the word rules because it sounds so constraining, when actually it's really freeing to have some of these decisions made before you sit down to work and you can always break your own rules. When you're still in the experimentation phase, you should draw lots of different ways. Try drawing with lots of texture and shading, try drawing more flat and graphic, try using really bright colors, try using really muted colors, try it all, and start seeing what you gravitate toward. Maybe eventually you realize you really like it when your drawings have more texture in them, or maybe you realize you really like it when they're more flat and graphic. You take what you learn from that, and you let it influence how you draw moving forward. When you're five-day challenge is complete, look at your work through the lens of making connections. I'd love to hear what discoveries you make. 9. Final Thoughts: Congratulations on completing this class and banishing fear from your art practice. Just kidding, fear will always be present to some degree. But hopefully this class has given you some tools to keep it in check and get you motivated to do your five-day art challenge. Remember to keep it simple, keep it brief, and don't be afraid to make bad art. If you have any questions about this class, you can ask them on the discussions page, and you can also follow me by hitting the button next to my name. Please leave a review, I would love to hear what you think of the class. For a list of my favorite books and podcasts that complement this class, go to to download my free guide to developing your signature style. Finally, I'd love for you to upload your five-day art challenge to the class project tab as you go. Upload day 1 of your art challenge and keep coming back to upload as you complete each day of your challenge. I can't wait to see what you created.