Style – does it really exist?

Sherlock Illustration

My work: An example of style

Style is a poor description for an artist’s unique vision. Style is for women’s magazines and fashion gurus. But despite this, young artists place a great deal of importance on the pursuit of it.

Style can be boiled down to the following:
  • Overall look, tone and mood
  • Concept/idea and visualisation (how an idea is represented)
  • Subject matter
  • Composition
  • Mark-making and technique (line-work, method of ‘painting’ or otherwise)
  • Characters, symbols and narrative
  • Colour themes

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At Loughborough University, students are discouraged from focusing on style, and to concentrate instead on drawing from life, creating concepts and experimenting. Actually, the following quote sums up the tutors’ approach to the subject:

Today’s students are bombarded with imagery (…) so the temptation to employ second- or third-hand imagery is (great). Drawing directly from life allows you to process first-hand visual information in a uniquely personal way. Many illustration students inquire early on in their studies, ‘when do we learn about style?’. The answer is, of course, that we don’t. Style is a word that other people use when talking about your work. If your drawing is to develop naturally and with integrity, it is vital that you do not consciously pursue a ‘style’.  – Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury.

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However, this does not mean that an artist producing work for clients should be a wild card; it is important to be consistent.

The more well-served the market, the pickier clients can afford to be. Showing too many styles to a fussy client introduces the career-cramping element  of doubt; it makes the illustrator look capricious and unreliable instead of steady and dependable. – How to Create a Portfolio & Get Hired by Fig Taylor.

Style, or voice, is present in every successful artist’s work, and is simply used to describe the way one artist’s work is different from another’s.

Ok, so now you understand what style is, and why you shouldn’t worry about it too much. Are you ready to hear the secret to creating unique artwork?

Hard work

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The above quote is never more true than in the arts. Once you realise that, the rest is easy:

  • Practise: Dedication. Practise drawing every day, set time aside each day and take a sketchbook everywhere; basically, get into the habit of producing work. They won’t all be masterpieces, but you will get better.
  • Reflection: Take breaks and look at your work with fresh eyes. Be critical and ask others to do the same. A thick skin comes in handy here! If you don’t know any artists, find a good forum online where you can share your work and ideas.
  • Love what you do: Draw stuff that interests you, and use media and techniques that give you satisfaction. It’s important to make time for personal projects. Don’t be put off if others don’t like what you do and  they don’t give you constructive feedback.
  • Experiment: Draw things you might usually avoid. For example, I never used to draw bikes because they look so complicated, but I actually enjoyed drawing them while out in Oxford and I am now planning to draw more. Try different projects.
  • Patience: It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
  • Look: at the world around you; at artists you admire (past and current); films, books, tv, music – anything that inspires you. Think about incorporating these interests into your work. I like gritty dramas and dark fantasy stories, so right now I’m thinking about doing a project that uses a sinister mood.
  • Be Brave: Something I am still learning to do! Remember, you don’t have to share ALL your work!
Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote from Marta Dahlig, a professional digital artist:

It doesn’t matter whether you love classical American comic art, Chibi manga or photorealism – do what is most fun for you, as every choice is good. Never force a style on yourself just because it turned out to be commercially successful. There are no golden solutions or patterns to follow. Development needs years of devotion and, to truly improve, you should always put your whole heart into your work. – Imagine FX November 2007


About Madeleine

Illustrator and Graphic Designer
This entry was posted in Illustration and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Style – does it really exist?

  1. Pingback: Experiments: Photoshop Painting (Lips) « What If, What Then

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