The question of personal art “style” is one that seems to come up really often for artists. Especially if you are a young artist, still learning your fundamentals of drawing. Teaching at the college level, I get questions and concerns about style all the time from my students.
I looked it up and this was this definition I got –
“A particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode or form of construction or execution in any art or work.”
I get it, there are many artists out there working in a myriad of different ways and everybody is looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the next guy. Some styles speak to us more strongly than others and sometimes, a particular style can scream at us so loudly and become so overpowering that it starts to sneak in and overpower our own, natural way of drawing. It’s a real danger for younger artists and it can derail your progress as an artist considerably if you aren’t careful. It can actually hurt you in several very important ways –
- If you put style above fundamentals, you can get caught up in finish and neglect the construction of your drawing.
- If you are basing the look of your artwork upon another artists work, you may be picking up the bad habits of that artist. If they aren’t constructing their drawings correctly, if their proportions, anatomy, or perspective is flawed, yours will likely be too.
- You could be considered a knock-off of a particular artist or style, which could hamper your ability to get work. Why would somebody hire you when they could get the original artist?
In my opinion, you are better served to just forget about style altogether.
You should focus on learning your fundamentals and drawing from life as much as possible. The more figure drawing you can get, the better. Don’t get caught up in style too fast, spend the time to construct your drawing accurately and then worry about style. Knowing your fundamentals will give you a better foundation for developing a style or working in a variety of styles because you’ll already be able to construct a drawing with correct proportion, anatomy, or perspective.
Personally, when I was learning to draw, I found inspiration in many places and from many artists (and as an artist, you should always be looking at other art), but when I needed reference on how to draw something, I looked for real life reference. If I wanted to draw exaggerated muscles, I looked at body builders. If I wanted to draw a mountain landscape, I looked for photos of mountain landscapes. And from there, my style naturally developed to how I work today.
Don’t put the cart in front of the horse in regards to style – your style will come to you as you put in the work to learn how to draw.
Experienced illustrator and colorist, Jeremy Mohler founded Outland Entertainment in 2008. He has been project manager at the Platinum Studios, colored for Marvel Comics, and art directed numerous projects, including an exhibit for the History Colorado Museum. He’s phenomenal at drawing personality into his characters and creating epic settings.
When did you begin to show your artistic capabilities?
It’s hard to remember just when I started drawing. I have some fuzzy memories of sitting at my grandmother’s table with my cousins drawing, but nothing really came into focus until I got to junior high and was introduced to comic books while in the Boy Scouts. From that point forward, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
What’s your favorite childhood moment related to comics or drawing?
This isn’t exactly a childhood memory, but getting a chance to visit the Frank Frazetta museum out in Pennsylvania while I was attending the Joe Kubert School is definitely a favorite memory. Frank has always been a huge inspiration and influence on me. I came this close to meeting Frank – we just missed him that day. But still, seeing his paintings up close was amazing.
Growing up, did you read a lot of comics or were there other activities that you preferred?
I started reading comics when I was 13 or 14 and have pretty much read comics ever since. Before that I was a voracious reader and remain that way to this day.
What about beloved artists? Any childhood idols?
As I mentioned previous, Frank Frazetta was a big influence. Larry Elmore, Barry Windsor-Smith, Moebius, Charles Vess, John Cassaday, Brom – all are favorites. There are a lot of artists I love and adore, but these popped to mind first.
I actually had the good luck to get a great portfolio review from Charles Vess and John Cassaday. Both of which were very kind and gracious. I received 3rd in show at Gen Con some years back that Larry Elmore judged. So I’ve had the good fortune to meet a few of the artists I grew up admiring.
Did you always want to work on this creative field?
Absolutely. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and I freely admit, it’s not always been easy. There have been times it’s really caused a lot of problems, but there’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do.
You’ve worked in mainstream comics as well as indie projects. Which of these lines of work do you prefer?
There are certainly advantages to both. And if the stars align and a cool project comes along that is mainstream, I probably won’t turn it down. With that said, however, I’ve always wanted to create and own my own projects. This is a big part of why we’ve been pushing Outland toward publishing.
It is sometimes tiring to always be creating artwork for other people to realize their vision. And don’t get me wrong – one of the great joys of this business is working with other creative people and I really love that aspect. But I also want to have projects and stories that I feel passionately about out there – material that I had creative control to bring to life and leave my touch on.
What made co-found your own company, Outland Entertainment?
Let’s be honest – I’m not the fastest artist out there. I found myself, at one point, in a position where I had multiple projects coming in that I found really interesting and I wanted to work on all of them. I’d managed to build some relationships with some really great artists as well and it occurred to me that I might be able connect those artists with some of these projects and help manage them – that way I can be involved without being spread too thin.
Has Outland Entertainment grown at the same pace as you artistically speaking?
I think so. A lot of the projects that Outland acquires come to us based on my reputation and my artwork. So I think it has.
What’s the best thing of having your own company?
I love working with all the different creative – the artists, writers, designers, and everything in-between. Helping coordinate these different projects and chasing down new ones is a lot of fun. And I love it when a project comes together.
Going back to your own work: illustrating, coloring, drawing,… Do you have a favorite?
It varies a lot. I like each aspect – sometimes it’s a lot of fun to color the work of other artists. Something about that collaboration can be thrilling. I also like drawing too – especially when it all comes together and the piece turns out good.
And projects? Is there one that stands out from the countless amount of work you’ve been involved with?
Probably the Old Bent’s Fort project for the History Colorado Museum. I spent a year working on that project and I think it not only turned out great, but I’m immensely proud of the work.
Why is that one different?
It might have something to do with the museum. I’m a huge fan of historical material and it was so exciting to be able to go to the museum and see, literally, life-size blow up’s of the characters I drew staring back at me. And to think that so many people have been through the museum and learned something about Old Bent’s Fort from the work we created is really cool.
From making the pencil sketch to applying the last smear of color what is your process?
No big surprises here! It begins with several layouts/sketches. These vary – sometimes it only takes one try to nail a composition, other times it takes ten.
It’s at this point I usually start looking for any reference material or images to take inspiration from.
Once the composition is sorted out in the thumbnail, then comes the drawing. This is the slog and admittedly, I’m not always the biggest fan of this part of the process. For me, it’s always more about the end product than the process and if I could skip the process, I would, haha.
After the drawing is complete (many hours later, and in some cases, weeks), I scan the image, clean it up in Photoshop. The image usually goes out to a flatter first – somebody to separate all the shapes in the image in color. Once I get the flats back, it’s a matter of figuring out the color scheme and lighting.
Do you follow a painfully strict plan or is it a more of organic process?
What I outlined above is pretty much the plan. Each step itself can be more organic though – I don’t approach color the same way every time, though the end result may look similar.
So… can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward in the short run?
I’m definitely looking forward to illustrating Shotguns & Sorcery. This is going to be one of the biggest projects of my life. I plan to fully illustrate the book myself and I want to go the extra mile and pull out all the stops to make this the most lavishly illustrated book I possibly can. I’m looking forward to being able to sit down and dive into it all!
Thanks Jeremy for sharing a little bit of your creative world with us!
My pleasure! Thank you Susana!
Here is a cover I completed for Kraig Dafoe’s latest novel, Skorch, earlier this year.
It was a fun piece to do – I don’t often get asked to just do images like this with a single figure and a fairly uncomplicated background. Though, perhaps that’s partially my own fault for making many images more complicated than they need to be, I dunno. Anyway, I think the most fun I had with this piece was the background, which admittedly, isn’t that abnormal. Especially when it comes to drawing nature, which I love.
Part of the fun is doing the research and looking at all these inspiring images of forests – I take a lot of inspiration from nature and I absolutely love doing pieces that have trees, rocks, leaves, etc.
Below are my initial sketches, the drawing, and the final with type.
You can see that this went through a variety of different approaches until we landed on something the client liked. Personally, I would have loved to do the second background with the twisted up old forest with mossy rocks, but ultimately, it didn’t fit the material as well. With that said, I do really like how the trees, vines, and leaves in the final turned out. And over all, I’m pretty darn happy with the colors.
I’m also not a designer myself and I always feel a little nervous about sending something out that I set the type on. It’s nothing too fancy and the client was happy, so at least there’s that!
2013 saw a lot of work for Th3rd World Studios, from the Orange Man + Orange Woman material, to The Mortal Instruments, and the Aegisteel project. Another project I did for them was an alternate cover for their book, Finding Gossamyr.
I love doing covers, but traditionally, I get asked to do work that is pretty involved with landscapes and complicated backgrounds. And don’t get me wrong, I really love doing that kind of work, but I rarely get a chance to just do an action piece. So, when Mike Devito approached me about doing an alternate cover for one of their books, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do something a little different!
Below you can see the process – the initial layout, the finished pencils, and the final color work.
Not only did I have a lot of fun with the action in this piece, but I also enjoyed drawing the creatures. I don’t believe I’d ever actually drawn a rhinoceros before, so researching those and trying to convert them into these rock-like creatures was a blast. I absolutely fell in love with how craggy and wrinkled a rhino is.
Anyway, it was a fun project to be involved in! The book is a lot of fun too, so be sure to check it out!
Over the years, I’ve done a variety of work for various publishers of RPG’s, spot illustration, both black and white as well as greyscale, and many full color covers. Eventually, I started moving away from all the spot illustration to doing mostly covers. And there is no other line of products out there that I have consistently completed so many covers for than Goodman Games XCrawl line of books.
For that matter, I’ve also rarely come across any group of illustrations more challenging either!
Anyway, Goodman Games just released their latest in their XCrawl line – Maximum XCrawl, which moves XCrawl over to the Pathfinder system. I completed the cover for this book earlier this year. Below is my process!
In order –
- My initial sketches.
- The finished pencils.
- My first pass at color – which wasn’t quite bright enough. They wanted something that would really jump off the “rack.”
- So, I came up with the final, which I think ended up pretty sharp and definitely a lot brighter!
One of the things I like about XCrawl is the combination of present day with fantasy/medieval elements. You’ll see the characters wearing blue jeans and sporting heavy armor. Or wearing sports pads and carrying hand axes. Or even a group of adventurers being attacked on a roller-coaster! It’s just a fun mash-up of genres.
I’m going to also go ahead and include many of the past XCrawl pieces I’ve completed over the years! I don’t think I have these all in one place. Lots of fun stuff! Images two-four were colored by Tom Scholes.
I’m currently working on another XCrawl cover I expect to have finished later this week. Hope you like these in the meantime!
It’s funny how many projects get started but never finished.
Aegisteel is one of those projects. I worked on it with the intention of designing the characters and illustrating a graphic novel. Unfortunately, the creator and I had some minor creative differences and I had a few life events that pushed me in a different direction. I reluctantly quit the project after the character design phase.
At the end of 2012, I was doing a lot of work with Mike DeVito and Jon Conkling of Th3rd World Studios. They approached me about working on a really cool “sorcery punk/fantasy” world that author Mat Nastos created. After looking over the material, I thought it sounded fun. It had a lot of elements I like about fantasy: magic armor, creatures of all sorts, and giant monsters. Plus ancient races, ruins, and weapons. Definitely up my alley, so to speak.
I got busy designing the main characters for the book. I’m still proud of the work and a little disappointed that I didn’t end up illustrating the world.
First up is the main character in his armor, Morgan. This was a really fun piece to do as I wanted to show the character fully armored and without the armor, so I did a sort of cut-away. I had a lot of fun designing the armor for this guy.
I also designed a bunch of different characters that were part of Morgan’s party of adventurers: Artis, Eckhart, Laerwynn, Longbarrel, and Rowena.
The final character, Breck, was where Mat and I really disagreed. At the time, I was reading the reboot of Rob Liefeld’s Glory character, and I was in love with the idea of a fierce female warrior that wasn’t a waif, as so many comic heroines are. My initial design was a tough, beefy character–massive, stocky, and heavily muscled. The first design was the original; the second design was the final corrected design – honestly, there didn’t end up being a huge difference and I did like the final design. I had to slim up the waist, arms, and legs and we were essentially golden.
Here’s the lineup so you can get a sense of their height and size.
I also did a couple different logo designs, which I rather liked. The second one was my favorite of the bunch.
It was fun doing creative development for Aegisteel, but ultimately I had to move on. There was a perfect storm of events at the time–the birth of my second child, some minor creative differences, and getting involved with the now-defunct publisher Noble Beast (which launched Outland into digital publishing).
It’s a neat world. If Mat and the guys at Th3rd World manage to do something with it, I’m certain to buy the book and read it!