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Eighteen Artists Share Their Opinions on Artistic Style - Part I

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Talk to some artists or take a look at an online conversation about artwork and there's a mighty good chance you'll hear or read a mention of artistic style at some point. But for as often as it's mentioned, style seems under-appreciated and misunderstood. So what exactly is behind a style? How does an artist develop a style and what does style mean to an artist? To find out, I spoke with eighteen highly-talented artists and I've conveniently assembled their responses for your edification and entertainment. This is part one of a two-part series, the second part of which you'll have to wait for ever-so patiently.

This Post is Day 5 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions

Crossroads - From Jack of All to Master of One

OK, so about three years ago, in 2007, I felt like I was at a career crossroads of sorts. Since I'd graduated film school in 1998, I'd been wearing a number of creative hats in my professional life: graphic designer, film director, motion graphics dude, illustrator, writer, photographer, etc. I was a Jack of all visual arts trades, and from my endlessly-self-critical point of view, master of none.

I decided to step back and evaluate my strengths and hone in on what I felt I was best at. I'd been creating digital art for about a decade at that point and illustration felt like the right combination of my skill set and my interests, so I figured I'd focus in and try to move my career more firmly in that direction.

Discovery My Artistic Voice and Style

The technical side of digital illustration has always come fairly easily to me, so I've been able to create just about anything any client or job has presented me with, but I didn't feel like a shred of my professional work really stood out as being, well, "me."

I'd been drawing, painting, and doodling for years, but I felt like most of the work I'd been creating since departing the relatively safe confines of academia was virtually invisible and not all that noteworthy. So I set out on a path of artistic rediscovery and in the process, two things began to happen: my illustration career began to take off and my artistic voice became much more evident. In other words, my artistic style emerged from the deep recesses of my brain and began taking hold more prevalently in my work.

At this point I'm fairly certain that any success I've seen can be credited to my style, my visual identity. Like any decent artist, I'm very versatile and I'm willing to flex my style and even work outside of it when a situation calls for it. But my signature style is my calling card, it's the reason clients hire me, and fans and collectors buy my artwork.

Leavens-Clearing4

Versatility Versus Standing Out as a Creative Individual

Back to versatility. It's always an asset, an incredibly important one, but it's difficult to demonstrate your voice and your artistic confidence if you can't separate yourself from the crowd. Assembled below are seventeen artists who've found ways to stand apart from the masses by creating art in their own personal styles.

Surveying Numerous Artist's on Their Style

Following, we'll look at numerous artists at various stages in their careers and survey them on the subject of artistic style. For format, I presented participants with questions and asked them to respond as they saw fit (hence the disparity in response length and question/answer format).

Lastly, before you start dropping the "But you forgot my favorite artist!" or "But you forgot me!" comments, realize that it's a very big internet and an even bigger world, and there's no way I'd ever be able to include every great artist out there. So without further ado, I present the following artists and their opinions on artistic style.


Wotto

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

My style has taken over ten years to develop. I think it's developed from my influences as an early illustrator, kicking against my university wanting me to have a style that matched their institution and wanting to stand out from the crowd. My work isn't for everyone and that's OK.

wotto-bar

Q: Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

My style choice has been very much a conscious decision. I always wanted people to recognize my work and say, "Hey that's a wotto piece." Having said that, it has also been altered over time. As other people borrow your style you learn to adapt and reinvent parts of your work. Occasionally, I will avoid my style and try something different and that is a very valuable experiment. It either blows up in your face or works great. So I guess my style was conscious, but it's also grown legs, boots, and silly hats.

Q: Do you consider style much when you approach a project?

I am usually employed for my style. People tend to like my doodley, organic work and other people like my more illustrative/narrative work. I think that it's important that a client knows loosely what they are going to get. I guess employing illustrators is like going to a big supermarket. You go and select what you want or what your project needs. I'd love a big supermarket full of illustrators, but I fear the buy one get one free offers may appear!

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc.

All of my work has a childlike narrative. As I draw, I think of the characters' lives, where they live, what they eat or who they killed. Even down to fine details and relationships. I know it's odd but it helps my style to flourish and grow. Most of my work is dark and that is on purpose. I use certain color palettes and repeat elements so people identify my work. Many of my characters will have elements in common. I am not going to list them because I like that they are there but not everyone notices them.

All in all, I think a personal style is a good thing, but it has to keep evolving and growing otherwise there may be a risk that you stagnate. I like artists who's style is evident from the get go. It suggests a confidence in their own work.

About Wotto

I have been freelance illustrating since I graduated in 1999. I have worked with a range of clients on a pile of projects. I paint, doodle and draw the world as I see it. I develop characters and attempt to take cute into dark places through a visual narrative. I use traditional materials and digital packages to create my art. Visit my website to learn more about my work.


Malota

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

I spent about two years drawing nonstop, watching my style change almost everyday. Bit by bit a few details (themes, forms, colors, etc.) became more and more recurrent in my drawings. I think in that respect, I began to develop a personal style that is ever-changing slowly.

Q: Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

In my opinion, my style evolved organically. When I began to illustrate, I used to find some details in my own work that reminded me of other artists' styles, but I think this is natural because an important step to becoming an illustrator or artist is to review other illustrators or artists work…so sometimes, in a subconscious way we are influenced by them.

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc.

My work is symmetric, static at times, colorful, and cerebral. I use several techniques: digital, watercolor, pencils - it depends on the project.

About Malota

Malota is the pseudonym of Mar Hernandez. Mar was born in May 1980, she is currently based in Valencia, a Mediterranean city on the east cost of Spain. From there, she leads the study Malotaprojects.


Von Glitschka

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

I work in a variety of styles. The project determines the appropriate style needed. That said I do have a signature style I refer to as "Segmented." I was heavily influenced by a 1950's RCA record art director by the name of Jim Flora.

Growing up I'd look at the LP covers my parents had and little did I know at the time that it would have such a huge impact on my illustrations later in life. I didn't make the connection until the late 1990's, a year after Jim Flora died. I had the opportunity of talking to his son who shared with me some of his dad's later work, and I was able to tell him how much his dad's work inspired my own, so that was very cool.

Over the last decade I've refined my style and have used it within a broad range of projects. The image in this post was a poster I did for Adobe and their CS4 launch of Illustrator.

VonG-wormwood_poster

Q: Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

One of the first illustrations I did in this stylistic vernacular was a music CD cover for a fund raiser called "Almost Famous Band." So in that respect it was kind of planned for this specific project because it fit the style I wanted to achieve for it. I've progressed the segmented look since then though to the point that it has a method to its madness.

Q: Do you consider style much when you approach a project?

Style and concept go hand in hand. You can have a great concept, but pick an inappropriate style to execute it in. Or you can have the perfect style, but lack a solid concept. Too many illustrators think in terms of one style and try to force that style into every project, that's like forcing curry into every recipe you use. Curry tastes awesome in Indian food, but wouldn't be so great in cookies. It's not that curry is bad, it's just not appropriate for that kind of recipe. The same principle applies to style and how it relates to any given project as well.

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc.

I try to design my illustrations well. I pay attention to seemingly mundane details to avoid visual tension. I like to use color to reinforce a concept or idea too. I guess my whole creative approach is very systematic regardless of the specific style I'm working in. I pay a lot of attention to form, balance of space and how they all relate before I ever touch the computer.

This means I draw everything out ahead of time before I build it digitally. This allows me to have a solid foundation and removes guesswork on the execution part of my process. That said, I'm constantly art directing myself during the process too, making small improvements and changes when needed.

About Von

Von is principal of Glitschka Studios and has worked in the communication arts industry for over 23 years. His work reflects the symbiotic relationship between design and illustration. This duality of skills within his own creative arsenal, inspired him to coin the phrase and title of "Illustrative Designer."


Julián Dorado, AKA Typefaces

It all started with a simple and concrete idea. The word "Typefaces" started to flip around my head and suddenly I realized that the word itself locked up a very visible secret. Typefaces, or faces from type, would be my new project. Since that moment in time, I've been creating a huge amount of characters based on different typographies. This began about three years ago, and since them I am like a Type-Maniac illustrator, which is fun.

Typefaces

The process of creating Typefaces evolved in a very organic and natural way. Evidence of this appears when you look at the first Typefaces I've created and follow on the process to the latest one. It is really curious how the traces of the typography starts slowly fading away. When you look at my latest creations, it's difficult to clearly distinguish the letterforms. I think that this is due to the fact that my technique gets better and better, evolving everyday.

Basically, the basis of my style is letterforms and without them I have nothing to create. They are my tools and I appreciate and thank them for the inspiration they provide me.

About Julián

You can check out my Type Creatures on flickr.com/typefaces. Also feel free to check out my work as a designer and as a freehand illustrator: flickr.com/juliandorado.


Kukubee

The kukubee style was a child born from a cartoon mommy and a construction paper daddy. My earliest dreams were to draw comics, before I realized I wasn't even a little bit funny. So, elements from classic cartooning have been my greatest source of inspiration, where emphasis on character shapes are the most important facet of their designs.

In 2007, I had an art show in Spokane, WA, where I was given the freedom of creating anything I wanted with the guarantee that my work would be shown. Feeling experimental and growing a bit tired of working in the cartooning style I was doing at the time, I created a series of (probably highly flammable) pieces composed of various multimedia elements.

Kukubee

I had a heck of a lot of fun experimenting with various textures and slowly began incorporating them into my daily repertoire. My current style was semi-consciously developed by combining my love of simple cartoons with these experiments with media to keep it fun for myself to create. But above anything, I draw mostly from my cartooning background and tend to focus mostly on shapes when creating my designs. Our eyes are lazy when it comes to visual association. Rather than remembering details and pretty bells and whistles we include in our illustrations, a viewer ultimately recollects most of their visuals through basic shapes.

So I often ask myself if I were to take away the textures, neato gradients, or any pretty shininess, will my design still work when broken down to its most basic composition? If the answer is no, then it's back to the literal drawing board. All the fancy extras you add on top of a great foundation can always enhance your design, but not vice versa.

Oftentimes, it is these fancy little extra elements you incorporate into your design that gives you your distinctive flavor (unless you're one of the lucky ones I want to jealously punch in the shin whose signature style is just being awesome).

In the days of graphical yore, a jack of all trades could land a design gig and do a good job of whatever was handed to him. But those jobs are so far and few between now. A company now knows that presenting a unique brand is paramount in customer retention. So it is more important than ever now to be able to represent yourself with a strong, consistent, signature style, especially in today's saturated market - where everyone and their brother (and their brother's dog) has access to image editing software and fancies themselves as designers.

Just being good at everything is a much harder sell now. A potential client has no incentive to go with you when they can always find someone else who does what you do, and probably cheaper. Don't give your client the option but to go with you, because no one else does what you do the way you do.

About Kukubee

Kukubee was created by two soulmates, Brent and Brandi, who share a love of all things adorable, crafty, creepy, and sometimes bald. Check out my art on kukubee.com, and follow us on the twitter: @kukubee.


Camilo Bejarano, AKA Ph7Labs

My illustration style and technique has evolved and continues to evolve in a subconscious way. Since I was very young I have always been interested in developing characters as a form of self-expression. I take a very organic approach to my work. I often don't think about creating and communicating a unique style, on the contrary I try to remove any barriers and guidelines and just let my subconscious communicate whatever it wants to communicate. There's something extremely fascinating about letting your subconscious go and expressing itself with shapes, colors and eyes.

camilo-BrownSound_750

About Camilo

My name is Camilo Bejarano, also known as Ph7labs. I am a designer and illustrator based out of Florida, USA. Get in touch with me at ph7labs.com or @ph7labs on twitter.


Jonny Wan

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

My style came to me naturally after a long period of experimentation and exploring. As a time period I would say it took about a year to get the visual aesthetic to the point it is at now.

My style throughout art school was very different to the style that I have now. Back then the majority of my work was hand drawn and focused very much on characters. I felt that this was very limiting and I wanted to create a style that was truly reflective of me, but that also could be commercially viable to any brief.

Jonny_wan

I was very lucky to have been on a course that really put emphasis on dabbling in as much as possible before settling on a singular voice or way of working. After graduating and taking in all the skills I had learned whilst on the course, I went back to the drawing board and started to really find my true voice.

Even up till this day I don't see my style as defined, because as a creative I am always looking for flaws and improvements to further my development within illustration and make it more applicable to the commercial world.

Q: Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

My style was never planned. I believe that everyone has their own unique style, just like everyone's handwriting is subtly different from each other's. Sure, styles may appear similar and that's when you have to delve further personally, start to develop a singular voice that really reflects you and separates your style from the rest.

More importantly your style has to become a natural way of working for you so that whatever you are illustrating you have a very strong base to build up on.

Q: Do you consider style much when you approach a project?

My style does not really play a big part in my working process when I receive a project, as I am very comfortable with it and feel that it can be applied to a wide variety of subject matter.

More importantly for me now is the idea behind the illustration. We as illustrators spend alot of time personally away from the commercial world developing and refining our style so that it really shouldn't be that hard when it comes to executing it. The more challenging aspect is to come up with a great idea, then merging it with your style to create a complete and balanced illustration that sends a message, whilst being visually stimulating.

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc?

When defining a style I think it's very important to draw inspiration from imagery that you are really intrigued by. For me, I love looking at ancient cultures and their art, also I have a fascination with symmetry, shape composition, texture and color. All this fuels my work and ongoing development of my style.

About Jonny

Jonny Wan is an illustrator based in Sheffield, UK. His work focuses heavily on combining shape experimentation, facial expressions and symmetry to produce unique visuals. Learn more about his work at: jonnywan.com.


George Coghill

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

The style of the artwork I create is something that I believe is a combination of childhood influences and taking those further.

Q: Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

In some ways it's a mixture of the two. There has always been an underlying vision I've had of the look I wanted my artwork to have, but only when I was able to let go at a certain point and let the art have equal say in where it wanted to lead did I reach a level of satisfaction with the art I create.

I used to struggle quite a bit with the style of artwork I admired, and what was within me. I feel as if I've achieved a healthy balance between where I wanted to go, and where the creativity wanted to take me.

Coghill-Gorilla-cartoon-character

Q: Do you consider style much when you approach a project?

It depends on the project. I am fortunate enough at this point in time that clients hire me to create illustrations and characters for them in the style they see in the existing work I've done, so it's more of an issue of staying on point than considering the style of the artwork.

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc.

I have always been - and still am - a fan of bold, flowing, graphically-stylized line art. I'm also a big fan of underlying geometry, even if that geometry isn't blatant in the final artwork. Color serves as a compliment to the line art.

About George

George Coghill is a humorous illustrator and cartoonist, who specializes in cartoon character design for mascots and logos. You can see his cartoon illustration work at Coghill Cartooning, learn more about his work on his blog, and follow him on twitter: @gcoghill.


Zutto

I haven't been involved in digital art for a long time. I started to seriously make art about two years ago and I'm still growing and trying a lot of new things to evolve my style. It wasn't a conscious decision. When I began, I just picked stuff which inspired me. One day I made a picture that had an absolutely new look for me. I decided that moment that I found my own style. Then it started changing. I can't say how it's happening and where it's going.

Illustration isn't my only source of inspiration. I also find it in architecture, fashion, photography, art installations, folk art and many, many other places, even some crazy science things.

zutto-very-long-journey

Colors and gradients are the big parts of my style. I also like to create a feeling of the space, some kind of depth, and experiment with lighting. Also, I pay alot of attention to shapes, taking time to make each one perfect. Software also affects style quite a bit. When I moved from Photoshop to Illustrator, my style changed very much. Now I'm in love with vector.

About Zutto

My real name is Alexandra, but I'm better known as Zutto. I'm 26 years old, I live in small city called Miass, in Russia. I'm working as a freelance designer/illustrator, mainly drawing with vector. I don't have any special education and am self-taught in this way. You can learn more about my work on zuttoworld.com.


James White

Q: How did your style come about? How long did it take to develop it?

I don't really like thinking of style in the conventional sense because it kind of sounds like a destination, where creating art should be about the journey. In my early 20s I had a notion that once I came up with my style everything in my career would snap into place. It put a lot of needless pressure on me when I should have been learning the tools and having fun. But of course, I didn't learn this until I grew up a bit :)

However, when it comes to the kind of work I've been doing, it's essentially a culmination of alot of stuff I'm interested in. Not just other artists, but design cues that were prevalent back when I was a kid in the early 80s.

Over the past few years I've shifted my focus to just creating work that was fun, things that 7-year-old James might want to hang on his wall back in '82. This led me to looking into design and animation from my childhood, and kind of re-inventing that idea with what I have learned about design. So if you think about it that way, I've been developing the style since I was a kid (I was always on the hunt for cool stuff).

jameswhite_2010

Was the birth of your style a conscious decision, or did it spring from the subconscious? In other words, was it planned and practiced, or did it evolve organically?

It evolved very organically, which is how I try to work on every level. I started working with a lot of skulls with painterly effects, similar to the work of Converge frontman Jacob Bannon. I started to add different design elements and color themes to keep things interesting, and enjoyed working with broad lines and shards. I took it to the next level by putting these weird shapes into Flash to generate groups of random assortments, which I ported to Illustrator to manipulate and clean them up. Once I discovered that they looked really cool when overlaid on top of one another in Photoshop, it was all systems go.

After that I became very interested in network ID animations from the 70s and 80s, particularly the NBC logo with all of it's wild colors. I watched a lot of these animations on YouTube and tried to apply the aesthetic and palette to my work in an interesting way. They also had insane lighting effects on letters and designs, which is something I took directly and put into my work.

Q: Do you consider style much when you approach a project?

Sort of. I ultimately try to have fun while working on something, no matter what the project may be. The clients I am currently working with are hiring me because of what they see in my portfolio. I enjoy this because they can essentially say "You know how you made that Network poster? Can you do that for me?" If time allows I will always try to add a unique spin on what I do so I'm not simply replicating myself for a client. I want to give them something that is uniquely them, not simply an extension on my own portfolio.

When it comes to my own work I consider style to an extent. I like having my Signalnoise posters fitting together as a whole, where you can hang them all on a wall without so much of a difference that they look weird. I like consistency, but that doesn't necessarily mean complacency. Ultimately, I want to have fun creating something and I want that enjoyment to show in the final product.

Q: What elements define your style? Think themes, forms, line, colors, technique, etc.

I've been asked this before by friends and I always say "Oh, I don't know. Lines and rainbows!" The elements I use are mostly inspired by the network IDs I mentioned earlier. Typographic forms, full-spectrum colors, lighting flares, distressed textures, gritty blurs and glows. I'd like to see my work fit well with something that NBC would air in 1977.

That being said, I also try to add elements learned from looking at the work of Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Josef Muller-Brockman and Saul Bass. These guys know their stuff, and I immediately feel stupid every time I research them. But they knew their mediums, they knew their rules and their portfolios act as a fantastic learning source for a guy like me, who just wants to make posters forever.

Advice Time

What I have learned over the past decade is that the quest of needing a style to define yourself does nothing but add pressure and frustration to something you genuinely should enjoy. Instead of trying to force something out, think about who you are and what you are genuinely interested in. Learn your tools and have fun doing it. But the biggest point is trying new things... try things that you wouldn't see yourself doing because you just might love it. Hell, I'm a metalhead who makes posters with rainbows. You think I could have predicted that 10 years ago? :)

About James

James White is a visual artist and designer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. With 12 years of experience, James has worked on an array of personal art projects. His clients clients include Toyota, Nike, Google, VH1, Armada Skis, Wired Magazine, and more. He has been featured in Computer Arts, Computer Arts Projects and Advanced Photoshop magazines. Learn more about his work on Signalnoise.com, Behance, Flickr, and follow him on Twitter as @signalnoiseart.


Stay Tuned for Part II

Keep an eye out for Part II of this two part group interview. We'll have some more great responses from awesome illustrators about developing their artistic styles coming soon.


This Post is Day 5 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions
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