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acrylic painting of mountains and a lake

What’s Your Painting Style?

When I first started in my art journey I was often asked “What’s your painting style?”. I would usually reply that I just painted whatever I felt like in that moment. I had no idea what style I would classify my art in (and I still don’t).

Over the years I have learned about the many different types of art and explored some wonderful artists, past and present. Viewing and learning about all types of painting is a great way to boost your creativity and explore the world of art.

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I thought it would be interesting to compile what I have learned in one area for you to explore. You may find something new and interesting, take your art in a whole new direction or solidify ideas you already have. Either way, I hope you enjoy this journey through the world of painting styles.


Realism involves painting a subject or photo exactly as you see it in detail. A realistic painting looks so much like the real thing that you often can’t tell the difference between a photograph and a painting.

Realism generally depicts ordinary subjects in ordinary situations. Each element in the scene is painted exactly as they are without any embellishments or added drama.

Want to add more realism to your own artwork, read my post on Realism for some ideas and tips.

Realism painting of a woman with a parasol by Monet
Claude Monet – Springtime 1872

Painterly Style

The painterly style became popular during the fist half of the 19th century. Subjects are painted in a realistic style but unlike realism, the brush strokes are obvious and are an integral part of the painting.

The subjects are identifiable but there is a lack of fine detail. Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh used this style of painting.

painting of a wheat field by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows 1890


Impressionism was developed in Europe in the mid 1870’s -1880’s. Impressionistic painting is achieved by using color and light to give the “impression” of the subject.

The emphasis is on light and color rather than detail. Impressionistic artists often painted outside to maximize the light and the play of sunlight on the subjects they were painting.

painting of people in a garden overlooking the ocean by Claude Monet
Claude Monet – Jardin à Sainte-Adresse 1866-1867


The artwork of the expressionism movement is meant to depict the thoughts and emotions of the artists themselves rather than the subject.

The paintings are characterized by wide sweeping brush strokes and unrealistic colors used to convey strong emotion.

Probably the most well known expressionist painting is The Scream by Edvard Munch.

painting of a person screaming by Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch, The Scream 1893


Fauvism concentrated on pure intense color to express the artists thoughts and feelings. Often the colors were unnatural and unblended.

The subjects were often flat on the canvas rather than painted in 3D since the emphasis was on the color rather than the form.

Unlike expressionism, fauvism tended to depict happy, joyful feelings in the artwork. Henri Matisse is one of the best known Fauvist painters.  

painting knives with text overlay what's your painting style


Abstract works put emphasis on the colors, textures and materials used in the painting. Works of abstract art are a “freer” representation of the artists imagination rather than a depiction of a reference photo or still life.

The artist uses color and texture to invoke emotions and ideas. Abstract art is the artists attempt to depict ideas and thoughts rather than physical reality. In many ways, abstract art is the opposite of realism.

There are many types of abstract art. One you may have heard of is Cubism. This type of art is characterized by the use of geometrical solids to form the subject of the painting. Pablo Picasso is probably one of the most famous Cubists.

abstract cubism painting by Juan Gris
Glass and Checkerboard Juan Gris 1917

Another famous abstract artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, painted isolated parts of subjects close up. For example, painting the center of a flower rather than the whole flower or a field of flowers. This form of art shows amazing details and patterns in nature that we don’t ordinarily take the time to see.


The surrealist art movement began in the early 1900’s and is characterized by artworks depicting dreamlike or hallucinatory scenes which are often bizarre. The basis of surrealism is to free the imagination and render unconscious thought onto the painting surface.

The images in surrealist paintings are recognizable and painted realistically but the whole scene takes on an unusual or bizarre twist similar to a dream or nightmare.

Surrealism often incorporates symbolism, visual puns and automatism, which means allowing the subconscious mind to to do the painting.

Two of the more well known surrealist artists are Salvador Dalí and Rene Magritte.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, there are literally hundreds of painting styles throughout the world. These are just a few I am familiar with and a place for you to start exploring different types of artwork.

Vincent van Gogh Starry Night
Van Gogh – Starry Night 1889

Exploring the different types of artwork and the works of famous and not so famous artists is a great way to kick start your creativity. It is a good tool to use when you have artists block and are feeling uninspired.

Spend some time exploring famous artworks and reading about the artist who created them and the motivation behind their creativity. You may find something you love and over time you will develop your own style.

If you would like to learn more about artists and art movements The Art Story is a really comprehensive and informative site to learn and explore.

Also, check out Creative Arts Chat for interesting interviews with some modern artists and photographers. I’m sure you will find them interesting and inspirational.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

1 thought on “What’s Your Painting Style?”

  1. It was interesting to learn that surrealism as an art style, which is characterized by dreamlike or hallucinatory scenes, started in the early 1900s. My sister is starting to get interested in learning how to paint ever since she saw a video on speed painting. Since she will be having her birthday party in a few months, I’m thinking of hiring a professional speed painter for the event which can also serve as a great souvenir for her to keep.

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