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Eighteen Artists Share Their Opinions on Artistic Style - Part II

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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 the second part of a two-part series. What's that? Missed the first part? Well check it out!

This Post is Day 6 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions

Jannie Ho

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

My style took beyond the four years of art school to develop, and I think it continues to develop over time.

JannieHo

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?

I would like to think my style was a conscious decision, but I believe the subconscious also comes into play. We all have a preference as to what we like and what kind of elements we are drawn to. When I was starting out and still finding my style, I had visions in my head as to what I would like my work to be, but that took years of practice before what I envisioned and what I had as an end result closely matched.

My style keeps evolving and now I'm again at the stage where I would like to take it to another level, which means more practicing and planning. Along the way some happy accidents will slip in. That is what makes art so wonderful.

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

Hopefully when a project comes up, my style will be complimentary to it, but sometimes it is necessarily to push beyond the usual way of executing things. The goal of an illustrator or designer is to problem solve, so I will have to decide whether my style fits or perhaps another way is better. Learning about a different style speaks volumes as to how I've been doing things ‑ it helps me explore my likes and dislikes. It gives a kick to the routine and aids in furthering my style.

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

When I define my style, I think of organic lines, bright colors, and happy characters. The theme is cute with a twist of humor. I enjoy working digitally using Adobe Illustrator but I try hard not to have that define my style. Everyone can use the same technique but achieve a different result. My style is my voice ‑ that is, the way I draw my characters, the subject matters I like to do.

About Jannie

Jannie Ho is a children's book illustrator, designer, and chicken tender. Visit her website JannieHo.com or follow her on Twitter @JannieHo.


Paul Brown, AKA Roctopus

I suppose my style is an evolution which originally stems from me being in the hip-hop scene and loving graffiti lettering and characters. I have always tried to push myself and strive for my own perfection. Back then I preferred just to draw outlines and characters on paper, as this allowed me to take my time and go back over things until I felt really happy.

Although I am not involved in the scene anymore it gave me a great grounding teaching me about form and structure of both lettering and characters. Moving from this to doing my artwork on a Mac was great for me, as this method also allowed me to infinitely adjust my work until I was really happy with it. I suppose this approach of constantly striving for a kind of personal perfection is a blessing and a curse!

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Nowadays, I love looking at Flickr, Behance, Blog sites, Twitter, Anime films, Children's TV and books, street art, nature - I can draw inspiration from anywhere.

My style has definitely evolved over the last 20+ years due to me developing and learning new techniques which have allowed me to express my ideas better. External influences and software evolution has also contributed to my style.

I have two main styles:

  • Fast and quirky - this suits tight deadlines and allows for fast output.
  • Then my super real - gradient filled 'Shiny' style which stems from my love of all things tentacled, which is very time consuming and super complex.

Personally, I don't mind spending time on my illustrations (if the time and budget allow) as I like to be able to look back and be happy with what I have done. I think most artists are very self critical. I certainly am and this helps me push myself to the next level with each new piece I undertake.

I suppose a few things define my style: technique, color palette, and I try to inject a good dose of English eccentricity into most of my pieces.

About Paul

I have been a designer and illustrator for around 14 years. During my professional career I have worked on projects for many clients including: Universal Pictures, EA Games, Dreamworks, BBC, AOL, Mattel and Nickleodeon. I also license some selected work through Getty Images. I primarily use Adobe Illustrator for my characters and scenes and I animate using Adobe Flash. I have some really exciting projects in the pipeline and am really excited about the future. Find out more about work work on Roctopus.net, Flickr, or follow me on Twitter @MrRoctopus.


Stephen Chan

I entered quite a few competitions online during the early part of 2007. I didn't really have any style of my own at that time, and this might have been the reason why I kept losing.

Later on, I entered the "Don't Panic" poster competition, which was a part of the 2007 Manchester International Festival. This was the birth of the illustration style that I'm using now. The deadline for the project was nearing, so initially I needed a style that could be achieved quite quickly. Using repeatable isometric buildings and an assortment of characters, I could produce a detailed illustration in matter of minutes I thought (but that wasn't the case). Laying down a basic composition and mapping out where everything would be was easier and sped up my process, but then I spent a lot of time zoomed in and adding unique details and little features around the piece.

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I ended up winning the competition, and it was judged by Peter Saville too, so I must have been doing something right. I carried on with this style and won a few more competitions, got in a few interesting projects, which helped develop the style and spread my name.

Whenever I start a new project, my style (which is mainly isometric cityscapes and characters) will always be on my mind. So, depending on the theme of the project I will decide which area of my style would be most suitable in approaching the brief.

My style can be defined as vector-based, character-driven with simple color palettes, sometimes involving isometric, large detailed landscapes and scenes. I try to implement as much detail and make the illustration as fun and interesting as possible.

I think creating a strong, distinct style is a must if you want to become a great illustrator. You need to create familiarity, entering many competitions and highly rated design projects to spread your name around as much as you can. Then people start recognizing your unique style and personality, and they will be approaching you, asking if you would like to participate in their projects.

About Stephen

Over the last year Stephen has been working as a freelance Illustrator/Graphic Designer with clients such as Tiger Beer, IdN, Boxbird Gallery and Mercy Magazine, etc. He is also one of the founding members of design portal Thunder Chunky, a Tiger AKA (Asian Kinetic Artist) apart of the Tiger Translate project, and an Artist at Blood Sweat Vector. You can learn more about his work at stephen-chan.co.uk, Behance, and you can follow him on Twitter @stephen_chan_.


Eric Barclay

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

I love minimalist, modern design and illustrations from the late 1950s to early 1960s. Growing up, I was also heavily influenced by the cartoons such as the Pink Panther, Underdog, and Bugs Bunny; and by children's books from Leo Leonni, Eric Carle, JP Miller, and Mary Blair. My style is a reflection of things I enjoyed as a child. It has been developing since the time I began drawing, and it continues to evolve. And, I studied as a graphic designer, so my illustration style reflects a heavy design influence.

Eric Barclay

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?

It has evolved mostly organically, but practice and exploration played (and still play) a part.

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

Absolutely. My style is somewhat whimsical, so it lends itself well to more light-hearted, humorous projects... I tend to stay away from really serious subject matter. Having an established portfolio helps prospective clients know what to expect, and the projects they offer reflect that understanding.

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

I tend to work more with shape, texture and solid blocks of color, and less with line. My traditional pieces are created with gouache and acrylic, and my digital pieces mimic that same look; there's not much visual difference between my digital and traditional work.

About Eric

Eric Barclay is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Texas. He works in both digital and traditional mediums, and creates whimsical illustrations for advertising, education and editorial clients, and the children's market. Learn more about his work at ericbarclay.com or visit my blog.


Ben the Illustrator

I may not have set-out to find a defined style in the first place, but I am now very conscious of having a strong personal illustration style. It does evolve, it always develops, but it is still, essentially, my own style. I'm proud of it, I hold it high as an important part of me and my career.

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Everything I have done has always been colorful. Color is something I have always loved to play with, however, whatever it is that is the essence of my style has formed organically over a few years of working.

I graduated from university in 1999, wanting to work in hundreds of different styles, from mimicking vintage illustration styles to the most current trends, however no-one builds a good career doing that. I worked in animation for around 4 years, mostly on music videos, playing with various styles, however, separate to my day job I was always illustrating, for fun or for clients, and it was in this period that I feel my style must have been coming together. It was a blend of discovering vector software, focusing on my drawing skills, understanding the principles of design and design/color psychology and also having the
opportunities to travel a lot (I have always taken a lot of inspiration from nature).

In 2005 I came to a crossroads in my career and decided to leave my position in an animation studio. I decided to go it alone and focus on my illustration work. In the first few months I was lucky to earn a commission from Smart Cars to work on a print ad campaign for them. It was this campaign that refined my style. I was creating landscapes which mixed realism and graphic elements, playing with shape and color in nature.

Soon after, I worked with Airside on a campaign for Mastercard, which taught me the importance of precision, to focus on every element in an illustration to achieve the best work. Ever since, for the past five years, I've always carried these lessons alongside my personal style. I am meticulous about giving a client what they came to me for, a strong sense of color, a fresh approach to the design of landscapes, animals, cityscapes, whatever the subject matter! I do move between creating illustrations that are fairly realistic and others that are a lot more graphic, but they always retain a level of fresh playfulness.

I usually do consider my style when approaching a new brief, what can 'I' bring to this? I often also use a project to develop an element of my work, so if a brief calls for something very natural, very realistic, then I will use it to discover a new way of approaching a realistic texture, color, object or scene.

I hope that although my style may have matured or evolved, it still has the same feel that I was proud to have created when I started illustrating successfully. I try and create illustrations, usually of places, that evoke a feeling, whether it is soft and mellow or loud and exciting. I would love to inspire people to get outside, to enjoy the world, to be one with nature and respect the environment. These are the themes of my work, huge factors in my personal style.

About Ben

Ben O'Brien (aka Ben the Illustrator) is based in the UK and has worked for clients including Hasbro, Honda, Computer Arts Magazine and Sony. He also works alongside his wife on their home wares brand "Wish You Were Here" selling art prints, fabrics and interior design products. Discover more of Ben's work at bentheillustrator.com, wywh.co.uk or on Twitter @benandfi.


Goobeetsa, AKA Brian Gumicza

When speaking about "style" I can only take my work as an example: My illustrations are made of simple colorful shapes and repeating lines. The sense of it makes me happy.

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So I look for elements of it everywhere. Not only in the work of mid-century illustration and design, but in the everyday things around me. The not quite parallel power lines outside my studio, the cracks in a car window, the bright orange rectangle of a delivery truck as it rumbles by; My mind records it all- sifts through it and later finds a use for it in my illustration work.

After graduation, I spent many years drawing, and art-school deprogramming. Finding myself in my work has become the most important recent development in my career as an artist. I believe this sense or search is at the core of what style is.

About Brian

Brian Gubicza grew up in Pennsylvania surrounded by the works of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle... sadly none of it stuck. His illustration work has been published nationally in the US in magazines and newspapers and his "dreams" blog enjoys an international audience. Learn more at goobeetsa.com.


Sascha Preuss, AKA Bubblefriends

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

My style developed bit by bit. I liked the work of different vector artists so much that I decided to work with this kind of medium. I have occupied myself with it and discovered my fun with cute characters and shiny colors. In matters of my work, I like to be inspired by my own current flavors. Someone's style is just a personal matter.

In this process it all depends on personal preferences. The secret is to listen to one's own mind and to be loyal to it. It is a question of defining factors of one's work that you keep applying. From my point of view, the development of a personal style is never really finished. But the direction in which the artist keeps moving should be retained.

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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?

A personal style cannot really be planned consciously. That would mean that the style is only chosen to appeal to someone. Such styles do not have a great future as they chase topical trends and opinions. Style can only convince when the artist sticks to it in a confident way.

From my point of view, a style runs through an organic development with much effort spent by the artist. It grows and transforms into something personal. Frankly said, I have set myself some guidelines in order to stand out from the mass with my own unique look. This has always been my fundamental idea. In my mind, an illustrator can only be successful, if a certain image or feeling is connected to his name. Many people are skilled in drawing or know how to use a computer.

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

I check my sketches to see that they fit my style. In remittance work it is the client's task to say what he imagines, of course. In my own projects I try hard to maintain and to advance my style. It is important to stay on a course and to show it to others. If you differ from your style immensely, your distinct design won't be perceived.

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

The prevailing mood in my pictures is positive. I use round and clear forms. Everything is very colorful as I use a big color palette. My characters are cute and happy. Not realistic but reduced. Bubblefriends figures have small eyes, correspond to the scheme of childlike characteristics and are imaginary.

In the process of elaboration I only use a few or no contours. I try to make my pictures and figures appear as three-dimensional as possible. In order to achieve that I apply gradients and shading. The application of the computer is the center of my work. When I use other media, like for example acrylic colors, the result should be similar to those on the screen.

About Sascha

Sascha Preuß – Bubblefriends, born 1973, lives and works in Germany. Visit the bubblefriends.de site.


Jonathan Woodward

As I'm sure is the way with most illustrators, style was something I struggled with for years. I'd spend hours looking at my favorite illustrators, comparing my work to theirs and becoming intimidated and paralyzed by the comparisons. I got to the point where I was procrastinating so much that I wasn't even producing any work.

jonathan woodward illustration

That is the point at which I consciously decided to take the pressure off and just see what came out organically. I began a long period of experimentation, creating work based on different subjects and in different media, such as: pastel, paint, digital, ink and finally collage.

It was a photo of a model's hair in a magazine advert and the idea that it would make a great texture for tree bark that got me started with my current style. This was a real turning point and although it has evolved since then, it quickly became the traditional cut and paste collage style that I work in today.

I tried to re-create my method of working digitally, but found that because it was so easy to change the color, shape and layers in Photoshop, that my choices weren't as creative. It also wasn't as much fun as there is nothing like finding the perfect texture in a magazine for whatever it is I'm working on at the time, or even finding a great texture that spurs a new unplanned illustration. It's also nice to have a physical original piece at the end of the day!

I'd say the main elements that define my style are texture and shape. I'm constantly trying to refine both of these down to their simplest form.

The main thing I've learned through the process of finding my own style is to stop looking at what everyone else is doing, put away the art books, turn off the computer and just create your own work. Before long, you will see certain patterns bubbling to the surface and a style which begins to evolve organically.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Woodward is a location independent freelance graphic designer and illustrator. He is also the author of the blog zero2illo, a blog for aspiring illustrators and along with his wife runs the popular network locationindependent.com as well. Visit Jonathan's portfolio site jonathanwoodwardstudio.com.


Style Fingerprints

So is there a right or wrong way to approach artistic style? Of course not! As with all things artistic, it's not only subjective, but it's really about what works for you. As you've read, there are plenty of divergent opinions on the subject of style, but there's one fairly solid through-line: a personal artistic style is, at it's core, an expression of the artist's personality. Can an artist have more than one style? Why not? An artist can have more than one personality, right ;) ? But the most successful styles are like fingerprints; unique to an individual and sometimes incriminatingly so. Artistic style is your chance to leave your mark. Don't underestimate it!


This Post is Day 6 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions