Illustrators are often encouraged to develop a style. It will help you create a brand for yourself and show art directors that you can work consistently. Finding the right style is an elusive task, so here are a few ideas to get you started.
Style does not mean drawing the same way all the time.
What good does it do an artist to stick himself into a rut? One should always be experimenting, trying new mediums, and filling sketchbooks. A real style will come naturally as a result of continuing to learn and developing your skills. If you fail to do this, any “style” you may have will quickly grow tiresome and dull. An artist is always growing; even after a style develops, it will continue to evolve over time. Some artists become frustrated that their style keeps changing all the time, holding on too tightly to their commitment to consistency. But if this evolution serves to make your artwork better, why fight it?
Style is not an excuse for poor drawing skills.
Many artists will simplify hands using cartoony lines and glove shapes; some artists use circles or dots for eyes. This is not wrong in and of itself, but I can always tell if the artist is either using it as a design decision, or merely avoiding the subject matter. Every artist has to gain some kind of drawing skill first, which means recognizing and tackling weaknesses and learning the basics first. Then you simplify from there. You’ll have a more solid understanding of what you are drawing, and it will show. With real knowledge, even the simplest of marks will evoke more emotion, character, and expression than if you just slap on a few simple shapes and declare it your style.
Style doesn’t come from copying other people.
You don’t find a style by looking at the work of Mr. Hotshot Artist, and then seeking to repeat his success by doing the same thing. That is a bad way to approach this problem, because ultimately you are doomed to an existence where you are always second best. I’ve seen illustrators try to draw in the style of Drew Struzan, Brad Holland, or Brett Helquist and am always left with the same impressions: 1) This artist has many flaws, which are freely evident because it is hard not to compare it to the original, and 2) Does this artist have a mind of his own? It can be hard at times for illustrators; there’s a big temptation to follow whatever kind of work is popular in order to make a living. Pay attention to trends and let others influence you, but don’t let it overshadow your own voice. In the end, it is your one biggest asset that will set you apart from the competition.
Style does not depend on medium.
Sure, there are certain effects that you can only get with certain methods and media, but you don’t paint in watercolor, and just decide that you have a “watercolor style.” Or sometimes in a vain effort to force a style, an artist will refuse to work in a certain way because it doesn’t work in his favorite medium. That can be a very harmful and limiting way to work. I think style comes from the artist’s mind and how he decides to solve problems. The style will come from an artist finding a way make good design decisions, and it becomes sellable when he can do it reliably. It does not come from choosing a method, and expecting the consistency to come as a result. If you master a medium, it can be a great asset, but realize that it is not the only thing that gets an illustrator hired.
How to Find a Style
Simply put: Draw, draw, draw.
I think there is a pattern in a way an artist develops. First, he learns the basics and learns to copy the world around him, probably in a very realistic way. Eventually, he is influenced by other styles and artwork. He develops taste and a better sense of design. As all these bits and pieces of information start to flow together, the artist begins to learn favorite shortcuts and ways of doing things. At this point, images start to come more naturally, and the artist begins to have fun and experiment. It is not conscious or forced — it just comes naturally as a result of drawing over and over again and constantly seeking new ways of doing things. A real STYLE, in the true sense of the word, is born.
The frustration for many artists is that they simply aren’t at that place yet. They think if they analyze their work hard enough, a style will magically appear. My advice? Keep doing what you are doing. Have diligence and patience. Pay attention to what you like and dislike. Learn new things and let it influence you. Again: draw, draw, draw — and have faith. The style will come.