You’ve probably already seen it. A Youtube video of an artist saying, “This is how you find your style!” and there’s no detailed information in it. They talk for twenty minutes and still don’t manage to answer their video topic: How to find your art style. Or, worse, for newer artists, they tell you to keep drawing, and it will come. Style is some mystical ability that will appear one day in your artwork.
Well, I’m here to help you figure out how to find your style a bit more efficiently.
A Note To Beginners
If this is your first time picking up a stylus or a pencil, stop. Stop reading this article. The worst thing a blogger can do, I know, but it’s essential. Go learn the basics of art, the fundamentals, first. Then come back and start thinking about style.
No, I can’t tell you how long you should wait before coming back to this article. That will depend on you, how fast you learn, how much you practice, and how much time you have to devote to art.
Why am I saying this? A lot of the topics covered in this article cannot even be applied on a mental level until you have at least a basic understanding of the fundamentals of art. So do yourself a favor and learn first.
For the rest of you, let’s continue – first defining what style is.
What is Style?
Style is a mixture of personal choice and our basic tendencies represented in your artwork. Perhaps that choice is to use a small value scale, a specific color palette, brush strokes, brush type, deforming proportions, or perspective. The list goes on and on. The big thing is in the definition of style: it is a conscious personal choice to break those rules.
For those of you beginners that ignored my above section, now you’re going to start to see why learning the fundamentals is essential.
You have to know what choice you’re making before you can make it. You have to know the rules of art before you can bend and break them for stylistic choices. Why? Well, you have to know what you can get away with. Breaking a rule because you’re unaware of the rule is not a stylistic choice. It’s a lack of understanding, and it’s a mistake on your piece.
Now, there are two ways to go about developing your style that I’m going to give a brief overview here and go into more detail later. They are inherent style vs. manufactured style.
Inherent style develops from the way you see the world and interact with your chosen canvas. Everyone has a basic, inherent style that is unique to themselves because everyone’s muscle groups are slightly different, or their eyes are somewhat different. It’s merely how we draw.
My eyes are going to see a flower and interpret it differently through the brain to hand than yours will. Of course, we can force this to some degree with manufactured style.
A manufactured style is a conscious choice. You’ve chosen to draw your flower with six petals instead of four or three or something like that. This is built upon repetition and iteration. You started drawing flowers with six petals, you liked it, so in the next piece, you continue it, and it becomes part of your signature.
Just Keep Drawing and Style Will Come Mentality
Okay, I’m going to start by saying there is nothing wrong with this. It’s just harder to explain, which is why you get those artists that say this, and it comes across as nothing tangible. Their advice is to keep drawing, and it will come. This does happen, and it’s part of the inherent style. You see the world a specific way, and your hand moves a particular way.
So if you keep drawing, you will develop a style.
The problem with this mentality is it’s not a conscious choice. It’s simply happening. At some point, you may get tired of your style and want to try something else. If you learned via the “just keep drawing” mentality, you may have difficulty trying other styles or even just changing your own.
Now there’s a caveat to this. If you’re doing the Just Keep Drawing method, but you’re consciously making decisions of “I like eyes like this, I like my noses a little more pointed,” then you may be able to change your style more easily.
Mimicking an Art Style
When people mimic an art style, they’re either taking pieces of a style and mixing it with another or straight-up copying an art style. There’s nothing wrong with this; people make their livings doing this. Or they start developing their style by taking bits and pieces from other artists they like.
If you use this method to learn, however, you can be harming yourself in a few ways.
If you’re copying a style, but you don’t have a good grasp of the fundamentals, then you may not understand why a person chose that eye shape. You may not understand how to change that eye shape in proportion and perspective. Worse, an artist may be making mistakes that you are merely copying. Do this; yes, let others influence your style, but be careful.
Finding Good Art Style Influences
If you’re going to go about mimicking a style, or styles, to help develop your style – or even just because you want to copy that style, you’ll need to find good influences.
Find artists that are established and making a living or have a large following. Do not use beginner artists as they likely are making mistakes. Developing your style off of errors can be hard to break later on down the road.
Studying Reality to Develop Your Style
Most art teachers will agree: Study real life before you start changing it. Why? If you know what something looks like in real life, you’ve already seen it in proper proportion, perspective, lighting conditions, and color hues.
From there, you can begin to shift it because you’ve also developed your eye. It will tell you when something looks wrong, even if you can’t figure out what it is when you start to deform it and end up breaking something. You also have some idea of what variances might already exist in that object, which will allow you to get away with even more.
Of course, there are some things you can’t study from reality. If you want to draw a dragon, for instance, there are no real dragons out there. But you can take pieces of real animals and put them together to form your dragon.
Using Style As An Excuse
I’ve heard the problem of using style as an excuse quite a few times from professional artists. It seems to be one of their biggest pet peeves. When someone new to art, or perhaps not as well educated, is told about some problem with their art and they reply with “That’s my style, it’s not a problem with the art.”
Again, this relates to the fundamentals and needing to learn them. If you finish a piece, and your composition is off because your center of focus doesn’t have the eye drawn to it, or you’ve skewed your values or any other number of problems, and you state “That’s my style” you need to have a good explanation behind why you chose to break those rules.
And in the future, if you ask for a critique and fight the critique with that excuse, yet no explanation to back it up, fewer people will be willing to give you critiques.
Your Style Can Set You Back Professionally
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll notice I speak of goals quite frequently. Well, what if one of those goals is to go work for a major game developer as an artist? You’ve worked for years on developing your art, your style. You send out your portfolio and resume, but they reject you. You begin to notice something.
Your style has zero influences from the creative places you applied to.
I noticed a post on Twitter the other day from a concept artist that had worked in the game industry to this exact effect, so if you don’t believe me, believe them.
Your style getting in the way isn’t just valid for the game industry, either. Of course, there are going to be times when an art studio is looking for fresh blood to inject into their portfolio. Still, if a specific style is part of their brand, well, you’re not going to get into that place of work if you send them something completely different in most cases.
So, even I went about rambling on how to find your art style. Let’s wrap this up. There are three ways to find your art style: keep drawing, mimic other styles, or use reality to create your own. All three can have downsides, but using reality tends to be the method that will gain you the most long term for your style.
Don’t skip over learning the fundamentals and remember; at some point, if you go professional, you may need to mimic a style.
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