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.
There is always that small flaw that only you see. There is always that tiny glitch that everyone assumes originates on their end, but that you know that it was something you didn’t deal with properly before launch. There is always that sentence that is way too long to be in the middle of that paragraph on that specific chapter. There is always the possibility of overusing the repetition technique for emphasis in a blog post.
What I am saying is that we make mistakes. We strive for perfection, but there always seems to be a bump on the road that keeps us from getting there.
Does this seem too trivial? Perhaps. Nonetheless, have you ever thought how many artists (no matter what their field is) may be keeping their work under wraps, away from anyone, preventing it from being seen/enjoyed/experienced just because it isn’t “perfect”?
Perfectionism taken to the extreme can be a debilitating trait. Instead of making you work harder and harder to make something to the best of your abilities and leaving you comforted that it is indeed your best (at least at that precise moment), it can lead to a creative block.
More than the dreaded white canvas, the pressure of getting it all the way to pure perfection will stop you from doing anything at all. So embrace mistakes. Welcome the unwanted streak of color that fell right when you were finishing up your illustration. Appreciate the fact that you know you can draw it/ write it/ record it better next time. But if you don’t start, there is no way you can improve “next time”.
I’m not saying to mess up your work for a client, I’m just trying to state that you have to own your mistakes with the certainty that they won’t be there next time. But only because you made them now!
Have you ever encounter yourself at the “it must be perfect or I won’t do it” crossroad?
Any epic fail that proved to be actually helpful?
Share your stories in the comments or on our social media pages (FB, Twitter even Pinterest,…)!
This is a loaded question in the comics and game community (and while I’m speaking directly to that community, I feel that this applies across the board to ALL creative endeavors).
With the rise of the internet, there is absolutely no shortage of artists looking for work. There is also no shortage of people wanting to have work done for free. And as a young artist, sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out just what the best course of action is as you build your portfolio and reputation. It’s also easier to take chances when you are younger and fall into traps because you just don’t have the experience to know what kind of mess you might be getting into.
There are several situations you may find yourself in –
Somebody approaches you to work on the project for a royalty. This is typically called spec work and no matter what the person approaching you might say, there is no guarantee of payout. Please be wary of dropping weeks and months into a project with no guarantee of payout.
- The other situation you may find yourself in is the case of free samples. Again, this is often considered a test to potentially get a project. I’m here to tell you – any decent art director can take one look at your portfolio and know whether or not you’ll fit the project. Plus, you may sink days or even a week into working on these free samples and still not get the job. Samples are fine, but getting some sort of payment for them is reasonable.
- Finally, watch out for contests from big companies. Often, a large, well established company will run a contest for a poster, design, or anything, really. Please read the fine print – often-times there is just one reward and the company running the contest will own rights to every contest entry. This is simply an easy way for them to generate new ideas cheaply.
I personally feel that any payment, even a low payment, is better than no payment. There is almost always room for some sort of negotiation. And it’s not good for the industry for artists to take on free work as it devalues the work across the entire industry. More personally, it’s also not good for you, as I’m pretty sure you are still going to have to pay your bills on time, whether or you are paid or not.
Now, there is almost always an exception to the rule, so when you find yourself in this situation, and you will (every professional I know has been in this position), you need to ask yourself several questions –
- Who am I working with? Is this somebody I know of? Do they have a reputation in the industry?
- What is the product I’m working on? Is it well known? Does it have a following?
- If the person approaching you cares so much about this project, why aren’t they willing to put their own money into it?
Sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where the lines aren’t so clear. It’s easy to turn down a project from a complete stranger. But if it’s a peer or colleague, or even somebody who has some pull in the industry, it may be worth taking a chance. The same can be said for established properties. If it’s an established brand with a large following, it might be worth taking a chance.
To give you several examples –
- I took on a coloring project for a graphic novel a couple years ago. It was for a well established property with millions of novels sold and a feature film in production (which, incidentally, flopped). I researched it before hand to find all of this out and to educate myself on whether it was a smart business decision or not – from all indications, it seemed like a sure thing! I colored over a hundred pages of artwork over the course of a year and at the last minute, the owner of the property decided to change the terms of the contract, and I’ve never seen a dime. This is a cautionary tale – even with research and a well-established property, taking on spec work is still a gamble.
- Several years ago I met an industry veteran, Bo Hampton. I’d grown up reading his books and I have always been a fan of his work. We started talking, exchanged some emails, and eventually, he had a really awesome project come together called 3 Devils. It’s a supernatural western with zombies, werewolves, and gypsies and he invited me to work on it with him. For me, since Bo was somebody I’d grown up admiring and reading, I jumped at the chance to work with him. We’ll be publishing the series through IDW later this year. In this case, the royalty didn’t matter as much to me as the opportunity to work with an artist I admired.
You have to judge each project on a per case basis, just keep in mind – nothing is a sure thing.
I come across many up-and-coming artists and students who are worried about posting their work online.
They’re afraid that somebody is going to either steal their ideas or their work. While it does happen, it’s not nearly as widespread as people think. Personally, I’ve been posting my work online since I was 16 or 17. I’m 35 now and I’ve never, at least to my knowledge, had any artwork or ideas stolen.
I’m here to encourage you to post your work online. Post your work everywhere, in fact! You want to get your work out there. You want people to start associating your work with your name. Only good things can come of it.
Still worried about theft? Read on:
- Protect yourself by posting lower res images. Simply don’t post high resolution, print quality (300 dpi or dots-per-inch) images online. Use 72 dpi images, which are standard for viewing on the web. These don’t print well at all; they look pixelated and ugly. An art thief would have to be very committed and talented to convert a 72 dpi image found online into something salable.
- The world is full of ideas. The odds of anybody trying to steal your specific idea are pretty low. As artists, we have to let go of the conceit that our ideas are completely unique. There are projects in development right now that are pretty similar to the ones you’re working on. Don’t worry. They won’t turn out the same.
- Furthermore, while your art may inspire others, it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will want to put in the effort it takes to develop your ideas into fully finished works. Everyone has their own ideas to develop. If you’re worried about it, try to relax. If you continue to worry about it, just avoid posting a lot of supplemental material about your story or idea. Stick to posting specific, unconnected pieces from each project so you don’t reveal the whole picture.
- Whatever happens, you own the original. Whether it’s created using traditional or digital media, you can prove to a court of law that you are the creator. That always puts my mind at ease.
I’m not saying that nobody steals art or ideas. It happens. But you’ll find that the community is small and word spreads quickly if someone is ripping off other artists. Artists tend to protect their own because we all know what it takes to create something. We don’t tolerate stealing.
So please, don’t hesitate to post your work online. Start now. The sooner the better.
Check back next week, where I’ll discuss in more detail why it’s so important to post online and provide a list of places to start posting. Thanks for reading!
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of creative people adopt aliases.
I can see the appeal of using an alias, especially if you’re a young artist. It can offer a certain level of anonymity when starting out. That said, I personally think this is a really bad idea. You should always just keep things simple and use your own name. Here’s why:
You want your work to be associated with you.
Your name is your brand. As you develop as an artist, you start to develop your own style. The way you draw a line, or make a brush mark, is like a fingerprint. You want people to associate your art with your name, not with an alias you thought was cool when you were nineteen.
It’s easier to develop a following.
The longer you work in the field, the more likely it is that people will begin to recognize your work. You’ll build a fan base, which is the best possible thing for you as an artist! It’s these fans that’ll support you and buy your work, whether it’s paintings, comics, whatever. Don’t complicate your interaction with fans by using a fake name. It’s easier to introduce yourself to people when you use your real name.
You may be stuck with an alias, even after you outgrow it.
Changing your working alias may be confusing for fans and make it that much harder for people to find you.
It’s easier to meet people and clients.
When you’re out at conventions, seminars, or even the grocery store (you never know where you might run into a potential client), you’ll introduce yourself as…well, yourself. Not as your alias. It’s much more likely that when remembering you or looking you up, the potential client will look you up by your name.
Keeping and using your own name will help your career tremendously. As soon as you decide you want to be an artist, drop everything and do these three things.
- Buy a URL using your real name, preferably a dot com. Keep it simple – www.yourname.com.
- Set up an e-mail address that’s simple and includes your name – firstname.lastname@example.org. Set up your email through your own website so it’s easy for clients or art directors to track you down and recall your e-mail.
- Stop using dopey handles when you interact with your peers in forums on in online communities. You guessed it: Switch over to ones that include your real name.
All of this will allow you to start being associated with your work and building lasting relationships. You just can’t go wrong using your own name from the start and avoiding an alias entirely!
Thanks for reading, folks. Stay tuned for the next Professional Practices.