I get this species of art question so often that I now think it’s worth making a blog post to answer it (for posterity). The question usually goes something like this:
“How did you find your style of art?”
Which is a valid question. Unfortunately, this is a question with extremely vague and mundane answers. Note: these answers are very rooted to my particular development as an artist, though bits and pieces can be applied generally.
Yeah there’s really no secret to it – just keep drawing. All that practice will teach you what your eyes and your hands like, and what you like.
Do a lot of studies – gesture drawings, anatomical studies, style studies, composition, etc. There are plenty of online gesture drawing tools listed on Google.
Observe life with your eye.
Experiment with different tools.
Take a closer look at drawings from artists you like and ask questions: why do you like it? What has the artist done to make that work appealing to you? Is it the lighting, the colour palette, the inking style, the way they stylise hands? Identify and pick up those elements and do your own spin on it. (This is different from tracing/copying, because you’re engaging in critical and analytical thought)
Find out your favourite artists’ influences and study those influences’ portfolio the same way as above.
Consume art from outside your field and medium and genre. Film cinematography, theatre, set design, graphic design, packaging, music, physics, history, architecture, the list goes on.
Figure out who you are as a person first, then artist. Find what you love and indulge in it, and put that love into everything you draw, no matter how little.
I’ve always had my style since I was… 9? I rarely ever had anxiety over “finding a unique style”. What I would worry about, despite my strong artistic voice, was the immaturity of my skills – anatomy was trash, I didn’t know how to draw humans, some elements could be improved… which made sense cos I was a new artist. So between the ages 13 – 17 I really went in hard on Answers 1 to 4. I wrote a monthly journal cataloguing each thing I wanted to work on, and I did exercises. And it’s helped a lot.
If you can bother going through my Deviantart from the first art to the most recent one you can see the learning journey.
Growing as an artist takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Avoid comparing yourself to artists your age group or younger who already have clocked in more hours, and avoid thinking it’s a difference of talent. It’s not. The difference between you and the other person is practice.
But what is an artistic voice? I think it’s the essence of yourself – the way you observe and interpret the world – that can’t be helped. It shows as the little quirks that persist – maybe it’s a particular line style or a repeating motif or a colour palette.
For me, for example, I tend to stylise shapes and emphasise clear silhouettes, even when I attempt realism. This may or may not have influenced me into being a highly graphical illustrator. You won’t see me doing highly-rendered conceptual painterly drawings. That’s just not me.
Honestly I’d recommend not worrying about your artistic voice, or trying to force it out. An artistic voice is something that already lives within you. And if you say you can’t see it, that you don’t have it, it may just be an issue of self-confidence, rather than an issue of non-existence. You just haven’t reached the level where you can see it. And how do you get there? Answers 1 to 4.
Focus on expanding your foundational skills, critical thought and inspiration toolbox instead. Doing this will gradually build up your self-confidence. One day you’ll find that you have clearer eyes, and you’ll be able to look back and admire how much you’ve grown.
Here is a list of my foundational influences – the ones that inspired me as I was developing my art.
Chris Riddell, Shaun Tan, Emily Carroll, Dave McKean, Joann Sfar, Milt Kahl, Tadahiro Uesugi, Alessandro Barbucci, Tom Oreb.
Nowadays, my influences are all over the place. I don’t think I can point to one specific illustrator that majorly influences me anymore. From the top of my head:
40’s to 60’s stylised book illustration and animation. UPA animated shorts, JP Miller, the Provensen illustrators, Golden Book series, Soviet animation, 101 Dalmations.
Illuminated manuscripts from different cultures and history.
Early 20th century Japanese woodblock illustration and its 21st century descendent. Hamui Kawase, Tatsuro Kiuchi, Tadahiro Uesugi.
Rifle Paper & Co.
Stop motion animation, especially from Laika.
European graphic novels (bande dessinee)
Thematically, my advice is similar to the one in my Where Do You Get Your Inspiration? post — just chill, pal. Don’t force it. Engage in the world a lot. Do your thing.
This ‘Where do you find your style/inspiration?’ question has been going on since at least 15 year ago, but it definitely feels more urgent in this socmedia era of the internet with a rush to produce art that gets shared and becomes capital (social and financial). There’s a lot of pressure to come out with perfect and consumable art. Like Athena out of Zeus’ head. And it can look like you either need A Style, or have a particular genre of style, to be successful.
As someone who’s been drawing for more than a decade and has gradually become more professional, I can assure you what matters more is that you’ve a good work ethic and you love what you do. Your style, whatever it is, will become more clear as long as you put in the hours and the dedication.
Good luck with your journey.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
PCAF, July 29 – 30
Papercuts Festival, September 17
Australian Cartoonists Association, October