Cultivating Style

I sit here, one of three folks all crammed on a futon, laptops steadily warming our laps, headphones plugged in, all persistently writing. To my right is designer, business owner, and furiously talented metal fabricator Danielle Hills. To my left is arch art director and wig stylist supreme Numidas Prasarn. The three of us collaborated to bring you these photos from Danielle’s most recent show, in which she exposed her brand new fashion line (The Executioner) to the world for the very first time.

You may recognize Danielle’s work from her previous collection, The Surgeon. She brings a unique, organic texture to her objects, while maintaining fairly simple geometries. The closest comparison I can think of offhand is Nervous System, but seen from a handcrafting perspective. You can view the whole series of shots I took of the event over on Flickr. There’s also some more coverage of the night here and here.

Gilding Primal Instinct: The Executioner

So, what does this have to do with cultivating style? Danielle’s work varies in materials, tools, techniques, and aesthetic choices. Although she works primarily in metal, her work ranges through a myriad of design languages while still feeling like part of a larger brand or ethos. How does she manage to knit a common thread into a wide range of work?

I feel that, like memory, strength, and grammatical acumen, having style is a matter of exercise. I mean that having a distinct artistic taste (something that you can apply to everything from the clothes you wear to the design of the packaging your company uses) that can be applied in a concerted and intentional way is a matter of practice.

Gilding Primal Instinct: The Executioner

I’ve always been a cynical, critical person. I spent hours as a kid going through reams of illustrations, trying to tease out the elements I liked in my favorites. I sketched, and tried to incorporate those brands of line use, those ways of conveying space. I would print out line drawings and trace over them, and then use my traced sketch as a reference to try and recreate the original freehand. I tried to turn the huge network of things that made me fall in love with a drawing into a discrete series of steps.

When you go through the world trying to separate the valuable and good from the worthless chaff that makes up the rest it’s important to turn that inner critic on yourself. Why is this pretty? Why is this good? What (and here’s where you fire up the petulant art student) exactly do you mean by beautiful? Over time you’ll learn how to discern different kinds of dislike, different kinds of love.

If you’re looking to get better at pinning down what style logo fits the handmade shoes you make out of recycled leather scraps, start saving up logos you like and compare them to their respective companies. Do it with lots of logos and make a habit of looking at your big pile of images daily. Over time you will become a connoisseur of “how logos fit their companies”.

Gilding Primal Instinct: The Executioner

A few years ago I decided I needed to have more focus on my personal style, on the elements I choose to integrate into the pieces I design. I felt that, even though I’d learned to use a whole bunch of techniques to make things pretty, the best possible design wasn’t simply a mashup of everything I’d learned all at once. I created a Tumblr, Pink Noise, specifically for things that are my style. They’re not necessarily things that are inherently pretty or things that have immaculate execution. They’re all images that make me feel how I want looking at my own designs to make me feel. Through collecting all of these images in once place, I’ve come to realize my own aesthetic is actually very different from the one I’d imagined I had, or what I end up drawing when left to my own devices.

When I had the chance to step back and get some perspective on my own taste, it made me think about what my taste actually was independent of the techniques I’d learned to execute.