On Style

I like to read FAQs by artists/illustrators/cartoonists and often they’re asked, “how can I get my own style?” Usually, the answer is that continuous hard work will eventually help style float to the surface. My thoughts on that have always been, “but how long do I have to wait? What if it never appears? Will I know once it does?”

Years of personal mental turmoil later, here’s what I got.

If you want to be a professional illustrator, your style should be visually similar but can thematically vary. It needs to have that kind of fluidity especially since it has to bend to whatever content it’s subjected to it. If your style is drawing with flat geometric shapes with tiny faces, it should be able to apply itself to a romance novel or an obituary.

If you want your style to succeed though, it needs something else. Some special sauce. Something invisible that says there’s some real intention to the work, and somewhere in your gut, you just feel it. It means that even though I may not like the visual style, I can still respect it. It’s indefinable but at the same time, people can tell when a work is genuine. What is it? It’s you, real you!

Finding your invisible special sauce is a way better use of time than hopping on the latest visual style train. That’s going to keep people wanting more from you, not more from that flat art deco style you draw really well.

The question remains. How? Yes, continuous hard work is true. For me, if you’re already comfortable with drawing, drawing in your sketchbook every day isn’t enough to develop style. It’s like digging into concrete with a shovel. Right tool, wrong surface.

Instead, let’s make it more directed. Real style should seep through no matter what you throw at it. Spend a week making books and subject your drawings to it. Next week, paintings. Next, GIFs. Next, chalk drawings. Next, package design. Variety, funny enough, brings cohesion. Not only will you develop a visual style that eventually bleeds through all forms, but so will your ideas.

Style isn’t complete without you contributing to it. It’s like a good joke. Visual style is the setup and your ideas are the punchline. One is doomed to fall flat without the other.

Alas, this proposed direction takes time and courage. Fortunately and hopefully, we are all in small abundance of these things and they are mostly free of charge. It’s never too late to start, so I hope that if you want to, you do.

NOTE: This post was brought upon by two things. I’ve been thinking a lot about why people who have tried to steal style from others have failed(Answer: No special sauce applied. Disingenuity detected.). Mostly though, I want to offer a solution to people who haven’t found their special sauce yet. It’s only a matter of time before you do, friends!

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