How To Create A New Style Of Art: The Blue Ocean Strategy
Lessons on how to develop a unique artistic style from UK pop artist Kerwin Blackburn who has done exactly that – taking lessons from iconic business book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’
In the vibrant and ever-changing world of art, forging a distinctive path and unique artistic style is the ultimate aspiration for many creatives. Yet, achieving true originality often feels like a daunting task.
As a Manchester Business School graduate and entrepreneur who has developed their own unique painting style and built their own art business (www.bykerwin.com), I am an advocate for creatives applying the principles of business strategy to their art practice.
One approach, depicted in the iconic business book of the same name by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, is the “Blue Ocean Strategy”. This remarkable concept, borrowed from the realm of business, holds the key to unlocking a world of new artistic possibilities.
Create a new style of art by combining a set of artistic features or traits in a novel or unique way. Focus on characteristics of your art unique to you to differentiate yourself from the competition. The business book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ uncovers principles to unlock your own ‘Blue Ocean’ market.
In this blog post, I dive into how this strategic framework can guide artists towards the creation of a wholly unique and innovative artistic style. By blending the principles of “Blue Ocean Thinking” with the expressive realm of art, any aspiring creative can set sail on a creative journey that promises to redefine their boundaries of artistic innovation.
Please note I am not affiliated with Blue Ocean Strategy or its authors. I am a business owner who is a fan of the book and has found its principles very helpful. Visit the official website www.blueoceanstrategy.com to learn more about the book.
Introduction to Blue Ocean Strategy and “Blue Ocean Thinking”
“Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne is a ground-breaking business book that introduces a revolutionary approach to market innovation and strategy. At its core, the book challenges the conventional wisdom that businesses must compete in crowded, saturated and established markets. These are known as “Red Oceans,” and competition here is fierce, and margins are often razor-thin.
In contrast, “Blue Ocean Strategy” and the notion of “Blue Ocean Thinking” (sometimes characterised by the similar notion of “Blue Sky Thinking”) presents a compelling argument for artists and entrepreneurs to chart their own course by creating “Blue Oceans.” Blue Oceans are untapped market spaces where competition is irrelevant, and opportunities are abundant.
By identifying unexplored market segments and offering unique value propositions, individuals and businesses can break free from the constraints of traditional competition and carve out a distinctive space for themselves.
Applying Business Strategy To Create Your Own Art Style
Creating a new style of art requires combining a set of artistic features or traits in a novel or unique way. Focusing on characteristics of your art unique to you, and differentiating your approach from your competition, is an effective approach. The business book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ uncovers principles to unlock your own ‘Blue Ocean’ market.
This is something I’ve achieved with my art brand ‘By Kerwin’ and my unique style, which fuses Pop Art with Jackson Pollock-style Action Painting. Having graduated from Business School rather than Art School, I enjoy relating lessons from business strategy to my art practice, and aim to share these lessons to aspiring artists and creatives.
The book, “Blue Ocean Strategy” offers a comprehensive framework for understanding and implementing this strategy, with tools like the Strategy Canvas and the Four Actions Framework. In this blog post, I’ll dive into these key concepts and explore how “Blue Ocean Thinking” can transform the landscape of your art business.
What Is Blue Sky Thinking? How Does This Differ From Blue ‘Ocean’ Thinking?
A quick note as per above: “Blue Sky Thinking” refers to a creative and imaginative approach to problem-solving or brainstorming that encourages unrestricted and innovative ideas, often without constraints or limitations.
While there are similarities and applications with the concept of “Blue Ocean Thinking”, the latter is a method for identifying new market strategies in particular. Blue Sky Thinking is therefore a mindset through which a ‘Blue Ocean’ can be unlocked.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the core principles of Blue Ocean Strategy.
This is an introductory article to Blue Ocean Strategy – I encourage you to read the book or visit www.blueoceanstrategy.com to get you started on your Blue Ocean journey.
Summarising The Key Points from “Blue Ocean Strategy”
“Blue Ocean Strategy” lays out a strategic framework that encourages businesses, including artists, to shift their focus from competing in saturated markets to creating uncontested market spaces. Here are some of the core concepts from the book:
1. Red Oceans vs. Blue Oceans:
The book introduces the concept of “Red Oceans”, where industries are overcrowded with competition, leading to intense rivalry and commoditised offerings. In contrast, “Blue Oceans” are undiscovered market spaces with no direct competitors, enabling innovation and higher profitability.
2. Value Innovation:
Kim and Mauborgne argue that successful companies create “Blue Oceans” by practicing value innovation. This involves simultaneously pursuing differentiation (offering unique value) and cost leadership (increasing efficiency).
3. Strategy Canvas:
The Strategy Canvas is a tool that helps businesses visualise their current competitive landscape and compare it to the ideal value curve of a “Blue Ocean”. The Canvas allows a business to plot how their offering of specific product features ranks against competitors, and therefore which features to offer more of, and which to eliminate. This visual representation highlights areas where innovation and new value can be created.
4. Four Actions Framework:
Once a business has plotted its Strategy Canvas against the established competition, this framework guides businesses to ask four critical questions about their industry or product:
a) Which factors should be reduced or eliminated (reduce)?
b) Which factors should be raised well above industry standards (raise)?
c) Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered (create)?
d) Which factors should be taken for granted and should not be offered (eliminate)?
5. The Six Paths Framework:
This framework helps businesses identify new market opportunities by exploring six different dimensions of market boundaries, including looking across industries, strategic groups, and more.
By applying these concepts, artists can uncover unique artistic niches, audience segments, or creative styles that set them apart from competitors. Embracing “Blue Ocean Thinking” in your art business allows you to break free from traditional confines and redefine your creative path. In doing so you can unlock new audiences and supercharge your sales.
In the upcoming sections of this blog post, you’ll discover in more detail how these concepts can be applied specifically to your art style and business. I also provide personal experiences and practical advice from myself as a UK artist and entrepreneur to illustrate these points. Read on for insights on making “Blue Ocean Thinking” a transformative force in your art practice and career.
I’ve also written a comprehensive guide on How To Start An Art Business: 9 Simple Steps For Success. Have a read and let me know your thoughts.
Lesson 1: Red Oceans vs. Blue Oceans
“Blue Ocean Strategy” introduces a fundamental distinction between “Red Oceans” and “Blue Oceans”. Red Oceans represent overcrowded markets where competition is intense and often results in a race to the bottom, characterised by price wars and little room for innovation. Given how many aspiring artists there are in the world (and those who’ve come before), the art industry is packed with saturated genres and competitive niches.
In contrast, Blue Oceans symbolise uncharted market spaces where competition is virtually absent, allowing for creative, untapped opportunities. To an aspiring artist who, by definition, enjoys creating new things, this is clearly a much more attractive space to be in.
With my own art business, By Kerwin, I recognised the limitations of competing in a Red Ocean. The art world is traditionally viewed as highly competitive, with established norms and artistic conventions. It seemed challenging to stand out in a sea of talented artists. I therefore knew that developing a unique style of my own was critical to my chances of succeeding.
How I Applied Blue Ocean Thinking To Create My Own Art Style
By applying Blue Ocean Thinking (a book I’d read a couple of years before while studying for my Master’s degree at King’s College London), I started exploring new avenues and audience segments, searching for a unique artistic style could thrive without battling any existing competition.
In the years before this, I had created a few abstract acrylic ‘action’ paintings, imitating Jackson Pollock’s technique of throwing his paint at a canvas on the floor. I’d learnt about this painting technique from The Stone Roses album cover, and this style was fun to create and produced dramatic results. I also knew this style of painting could be easily replicated by many other artists; there was nothing really unique about my own use of this approach.
The idea later came to me to take this action-painting technique, but instead of applying this across an entire canvas (known as an ‘all-over composition’; read more about Jackson Pollock’s style here), only to apply this dramatic effect to parts of a canvas, leaving other areas blank. I then figured that using the outline of a stencil-like face would be a good subject matter.
In attempting to try this new style an create a painting for my bedroom wall, I took a simple, iconic image of The Beatles. Drawing the outline onto the canvas and then using masking tape to cover off the parts I wanted leaving blank, I produced the Jackson Pollock-style effect over the top.
Once dry, I unpeeled the tape to uncover a striking image. My new style was born. From here, I stuck with the music theme; later making my colour choices even bolder and as colourful as possible. People started commenting how my paintings resembled Pop Art – and it was here that I knew my ‘Pop Art created in a Jackson Pollock-style technique’ was onto a winner.
Lesson 2: Value Innovation
“Blue Ocean Strategy” emphasises the concept of Value Innovation, a pivotal principle that redefines the traditional trade-off between differentiation and cost leadership. It encourages businesses, including artists, to break free from the conventional belief that offering something unique inevitably leads to higher costs.
Instead, Value Innovation inspires a mindset where businesses create unprecedented value for their customers while optimising operational efficiency. For an artist, this might involve examining how they can create their masterpieces as efficiently as possible, or identifying a business model that allows them to amplify the reach of their artworks and scale their audience.
Through Blue Ocean Thinking-inspired Value Innovation, an artist can achieve operational economies of scale and cost-savings that can be passed onto the customer while preserving profit margins.
How By Kerwin Achieved Value Innovation
In my art business, embracing Value Innovation has been a game-changer, as I applied both of the principles mentioned above. I realised that I didn’t have to choose between producing high-quality, unique artworks and maintaining affordability.
I identified that by commercialising print editions of my original paintings I could effortlessly produce multiple reproductions of my hand-made original paintings that can take upwards of fifty hours to create. My e-commerce marketing approach allowed me to scale my audience reach and tapped into my own digital skillset.
Meanwhile, using a drop-shipping business model and a specialist third party company to handle printing and delivery of my prints minimised my operational costs.
The actual painting of the original pieces has also been streamlined. By focusing on only the most compelling and unique aspects of my art, I’ve produced a striking range of colourful action-painted music portraits unlike anything seen before in the world.
Over time I’ve emphasised the Pop Art-elements of my paintings to further amplify my brand messaging and to make my works further stand out when being viewed online or on search engines. I don’t incorporate any other artistic styles or elements that neither make my paintings distinctly unique or of my best standard.
Through this Value Innovation mindset I’ve been able to provide unparalleled value to my customers while ensuring the success and sustainability of my business.
Lesson 3: Strategy Canvas
The Strategy Canvas is a central tool in “Blue Ocean Strategy,” guiding businesses to visualise and assess their competitive landscape. It helps in creating a strategic roadmap for moving from a Red Ocean to a Blue Ocean. This visual representation allows businesses to compare their current market offerings with the ideal value curve of a Blue Ocean, highlighting areas where innovation and new value can be created.
By encouraging a business to plot the extent to which their product provides specific features relative to competitors, the Strategy Canvas highlights avenues for further unique value creation for their business. The canvas pinpoints specific product features to emphasise and provide more of to unlock this value – as well as which features are not critical to the customer and can therefore be eliminated.
For an artist, regardless of their medium, the Strategy Canvas can help illuminate the specific features of their artistic approach that makes their style unique. This might be their unique combination of colour, subject matter, and humorous messaging, that no one else in their space is currently providing.
For me, it was my distinctive blend of Jackson Pollock’s action painting technique, a striking Pop Art portrait style, and bold and vibrant colour choices. My choice of music and pop culture icons further established my niche.
Applying Blue Ocean Strategy Innovation At The Business Model Level Too
In my choice of business model, the Strategy Canvas was also instrumental in my journey toward Blue Ocean Thinking. It enabled me to map out the existing art print business norms and expectations of audiences who purchase art prints, and identify areas where I could differentiate myself.
By meticulously plotting the competitive landscape, I could see gaps and unmet needs that my art could fill. This tool served as a compass, guiding me toward untapped market spaces where my unique artistic style could flourish, unburdened by conventional constraints.
As this article is only an introduction to Blue Ocean Strategy, I would highly encourage reading the book, or visiting its website, www.blueoceanstrategy.com, to get you started on your Blue Ocean journey.
Lesson 4: Four Actions Framework
Once an artist has plotted their Strategy Canvas and their offering against the competition, the Four Actions Framework is a critical tool in the “Blue Ocean Strategy” toolkit. It guides businesses in asking four pivotal questions:
a) What factors should be reduced or eliminated?
b) What factors should be raised well above industry standards?
c) Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?
d) Which factors should be taken for granted and not offered at all, and eliminated?
In the context of my art business, the Four Actions Framework encouraged me to critically evaluate my approach. I identified elements of my artistic process that were no longer essential and could be reduced or eliminated, streamlining my creative workflow.
Simultaneously, I focused on enhancing aspects that set me apart as an artist (notably my action painting technique, bold portrait compositions and use of striking colour schemes), raising the quality and uniqueness of my art.
In 2019 and 2020 when developing my Pop Art painting style, I sometimes incorporated metallic paint finishes and 3D textures to my original portrait paintings. However, I soon realised that these don’t add any value to the print editions that I was promoting (and in fact made it harder to photograph and create the flat 2D print image artwork), and instead required more time and cost.
By eliminating the elements that didn’t contribute significantly to my value proposition, I could create a more focused and compelling artistic brand, one that resonated more deeply with my audience. This framework provided a structured approach to align my business with Blue Ocean Thinking principles.
The Four Actions framework is perhaps the crux of Blue Ocean Strategy, as this is where the key strategic decisions for your art business and artistic style will be made.
Lesson 5: The Six Paths Framework
The Six Paths Framework is a strategic tool that encourages businesses to explore new market opportunities by looking across six different dimensions of market boundaries. These dimensions include looking across industries, strategic groups, different buyer groups, the scope of product or service offerings, functional or emotional appeal, and time.
In my art business, the Six Paths Framework opened my eyes to the vast potential for creative exploration. By examining these dimensions, I was able to identify new avenues to expand and innovate within my unique art style.
For example, alongside my e-commerce, online marketing efforts, I also exhibit in-person at various types of solo art exhibitions, professional art fairs and pop-up shops. Beyond the print editions of my original paintings, I have also developed a range of homeware merchandise and clothing to suit different tastes.
Building Out The Different Parts Of My Art Business
In marketing my art business, for instance in my blog, I seek to tell the story of both myself as an artist and myself as a business school economics and finance graduate (such as in this article you’re currently reading) – which is one of my Unique Selling Points as an artist.
This approach allowed me to break free from traditional artistic boundaries and discover novel market opportunities that aligned with my artistic vision. The Six Paths Framework serves as a powerful tool for artists seeking to redefine their creative boundaries and uncover untapped artistic territories by differentiating themselves from the competition.
In my series of blog posts on the topic of art business, I’ve also written a comprehensive guide on How To Start An Art Business: 9 Simple Steps For Success. Read this one here and let me know what you think of it.
As I mentioned above, I would recommend visiting www.blueoceanstrategy.com or purchasing your copy of the Blue Ocean Strategy book to learn more about these exciting principles.
Conclusion: Navigating the Blue Oceans of Artistic Innovation
As we wrap up our journey through the waters of “Blue Ocean Strategy,” it’s evident that the art world is not immune to the transformative power of Blue Ocean Thinking.
By contrasting Red Oceans with Blue Oceans, embracing Value Innovation, utilising the Strategy Canvas, applying the Four Actions Framework, and exploring the Six Paths Framework, artists can create their own unique style and chart their course to untapped market spaces.
My own art business, By Kerwin, has benefitted from a remarkable shift inspired by these principles; breaking free from the conventional constraints of competitive artistic Red Oceans, and thriving in the creativity-rich Blue Ocean.
Now, as you embark on your artistic journey and seek to develop or create your own unique artistic style, remember that the horizons of innovation are boundless when you navigate the Blue Oceans of artistic expression. I encourage you to have fun and embrace an open mind as you continue your artistic exploration.
What is the most helpful principle to you that I have discussed above? I’d love to hear your thoughts – email me to let me know
Read more of my blog articles on the Business of Art in my blog section here. You can also learn more about the exciting topics of Pop Art and music art in my dedicated blog section here.
My full range of Jackson Pollock-inspired acrylic paintings can be viewed at www.bykerwin.com – the originals and prints of these are available to purchase, with worldwide delivery. You can follow my art progress on Instagram and Facebook.