Craft Is The Discipline That Leads To Style

Quote from the book, “The Shape of Content” by Ben Shahn. Download Below.

Ben Shahn Quote

The Shape Of Content By Ben Shahn

When I was studying fine art at the University of Oregon, one of my drawing class readings was the book, The Shape of Content, by the late artist, Ben Shahn. I’ve had this quote scribbled in my art journal from that time and always meant to someday create a printout from it. So here it is! I now have this pinned to my inspiration board.

Craft is that discipline which frees the spirit; style is the result. Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content.

Creating a unique style is what most artists strive for. It’s a mistake, however, to put the cart before the horse. Focusing on style first will block creativity because it can come from a place of fear. There is a pressure and judgment on the result. If you concentrate on the discipline instead, you are coming from a place of inquiry and discovery. I don’t think that discipline refers to concentrating only on technique, but it’s the discipline of the whole process, which includes technique. Truly unique ideas surface when we aren’t concentrating on the result or style.

I was listening to an audio by Deepak Chopra where he talks about using meditation to “slip into the groove.” This sounds exactly like what happens when you have a breakthrough in art. As you are working in art (a bit like a meditation), there is a back and forth that happens between thinking, intention, and actual work. People talk a lot about creative vision – about visualizing the final piece before you start. What I find most exciting in art though is when you have an idea, but as you work on it, something completely different comes up that is much better! When that breakthrough comes – for me – it’s as if the idea just slips into place. I’m quite certain that this moment doesn’t come if you aren’t doing the work. Thinking about something is different from doing it. How many times have I thought about a project, but when I started working on it, I discovered that certain parts of the idea didn’t work or that there was a much better idea behind that idea. Knowing the tools of our art so well that they are second nature also frees us to express rather than being limited by our abilities.

The Craft Of Textures

To become completely at ease with texture work, we need to become proficient with using layers, blend modes, layer masks and adjustment layers. It can seem daunting, but just take it one step at a time. Don’t wait to start until you know everything. As you work and learn you will get better. When I first started working with textures, I did almost everything wrong! I used the eraser instead of a layer mask. Then when I figured out layer masks, I would get frustrated because I’d do a layer mask for a texture, then I’d add another texture and I didn’t know how to copy the layer mask. Each little frustration led me to learning the next skill that I needed.

While I have a lot of tutorials on these skills, I’ll be starting a series of posts that are more systematic. I also highly recommend the book by Matt Kloskowski, Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature. See my review.

Notes On The Design

I created the poster using mostly French Kiss Collections assets. Note: although it’s subtle, filling the text with texture gives it more depth, variation in tone, and well—texture!

Using Textures To Fill Text

Text can be filled with textures using a clipping mask. It’s easy-peasy. See the tutorial.

  1. Simply place the texture in the layer above the text.
  2. With the texture layer selected in the layer panel, use the keyboard shortcut: Command + Option + G (Mac) or Control + Alt + G (PC).
  3. Resize and or move the texture to get the desired effect.
  4. Use layer adjustments to tweak the text. The layer adjustments also get clipped to the text.

Texture clipped to a text layer.

 Get The Download

Download and print out the poster and get to work! Poster is for personal use only.


Used In This Post




7 Responses to Craft Is The Discipline That Leads To Style

  1. odile lm May 29, 2015 at 9:24 pm #

    Hi Leslie!

    Thank you so much for this long and very interesting post about art and style… there’s a lot to think and talk about the subject!
    I completely agree with the quote you so beautifully typed into a grunge-style poster (thank you for the download!) and also with the first part of your reflection, that focusing on style is a mistake… style is the result of our creative expression… I agree 100% with the second part of your thoughts too, when you write that the result can be different from the idea we had before shooting (or painting or sewing or any other art)… art is a creative process , not and idea…

    • Leslie Nicole May 31, 2015 at 9:12 am #

      Thank you, Odile. I so agree that this is true in any art.

  2. Su Hall June 22, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    Great read! Thank you! If I had a nickel for every time I started out trying one thing and wound up with an entirely different thing, and loved it, I would be able to retire to the south of France! LOL You are so right! You never know until you sit down and start trying! To me, that is the fun part! Just from reading tuts like yours and the others I have found, I have learned so very much! I love Masks and Smart Objects!
    I just wanted to add, or ask, however you want to take it. When I get through with a layout or art piece that I have fussed with and tweeked, tossed parts and replaced them with others and just spent a lot of time fine-tuning it, I end up totally and emotionally exhausted! I kind of feel that those pieces that leave me that way are my best. But, it is such a drain, often, I have to wait to post it as I am too drained! I am curious if others have experienced that!
    Thank you, ma’m!


    • Leslie Nicole June 23, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      Hello Su, thank you for your comment. xx You know, for me it’s sometimes surprising how some of the pieces I feel I worked on the most get less response than some of the pieces I made quickly and wondered if I should even post them! Maybe those pieces we work on the most though are the “growth” pieces and they make the fast, spontaneous pieces possible.

      • Su Hall July 10, 2015 at 11:58 pm #


        Yes! I know what you mean. I put a lot of work in to some pieces and they received luke warm responses. The piece could be my most fulfilling to date! LOL Go figure. I do think you are onto something, though. Those probably are our ‘training wheels’ pieces.
        This is where we have to decide, are we creating art for ourselves or for others? Either way, though, it still makes you wonder when you don’t get any responses, or, the kind you thought you’d get a few of, at least!

        Thank you!


  3. Larry White July 6, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    The free download file on Dropbox keeps coming back with an “Error 500”. Just wanted you to know, can’t seem to find out why. Thanks. This is from the “Craft is the discipline……” tutorial.

    • Leslie Nicole July 7, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Larry. I was able to download it fine in two different browsers. Can you let me know if this continues? I’ve been using Dropbox with no problems for 5 years, but something seems different! Thanks for letting me know.

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