With the internet being so saturated with artists and designers from all walks of life, it can be hard to stand out as an illustrator. It often feels discouraging to see all of the fantastic art other people create, and like there are no new niches left to fill. Everyone always talks about finding a unique illustration style, but what does that even mean?
Whether new to the industry, or a working illustrator still struggling to find their unique style, these tips might be able to help. Here are four key ways to start figuring out an illustration style.
1. Understand What This Means Personally
Defining illustration style is difficult because every artist sees it in a different light. Some illustrators focus on maintaining a very consistent style that’s easily recognizable from anywhere. Others prefer a more versatile approach that gives them some artistic leeway. Yet despite the difference in approach or technique, their style is still recognizable as their own.
It’s crucial to make this distinction when finding one’s artistic style. After all, being creative equals not conforming to a single idea of what that definition means. In this case, whether it’s sticking to a very rigidly defined art style or experimenting with different techniques that complement each other.
The best way to approach this is to look at what other artists have done and start experimenting with different styles. See what works, what doesn’t, and what feels versatile enough to stick. As with anything in the creative world, practice is the only thing that will make the process easier.
Something to consider as well is how the work will ideally be used. What niche to become a part of?
2. Start Building a Reference Library
Some would say an artist is only as good as their references. While that may not be entirely true, having a strong library of references can help fuel the creative process. One way of finding a unique style is by trying to combine different references from admired artists. It may turn out to look nothing like expected, and even if nothing comes of it, something valuable would have been learned in the process.
There are plenty of places to collect references from, including:
● Google Images
Even photo-sharing sites like Flickr can help with some more realistic photo references. Just be careful when visiting various websites online, as malicious websites and hackers are prevalent. Especially when downloading images, whether on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
Try to use security tools like anti-virus programs and VPNs to stay safe. What are the benefits of VPN? This service (usually an app) that encrypts a device’s network connection and routes it through secure servers. This keeps attackers from tracing the connection and enacting various types of attacks.
3. Experiment with Textures, Shapes, and Colors
Finding a style comes down to experimentation. No one draws (or paints) in the same way, and that’s a good place to kick off from. Try to vary between different:
● Colors: Choose about 3 – 5 solid colors at a time and combine them with other elements to see how that goes. Some illustrators stick to a specific color palette through all of their works.
● Shapes: Are organic or geometric shapes preferable? Maybe a mixture of both? ● Line variation: Try both thick and thin lines. Then try leaving out hard lines entirely and see how that goes. Then try a combination of all three in one illustration.
● Textures: Prefer lots of textures? Or simple, clean lines? How about different shading techniques?
● Mediums: It’s impossible to know whether a medium is great before trying it. There are so many different types of mediums available today, too – from stenciling and watercolor to digital options like photoshop and illustrator. Try a combination of different approaches and see what happens.
4. Sketch a Subject Multiple Times
Start off by picking something simple like a fox or dinosaur and try to sketch it at least 5 times, with different styles and angles. Do this again and again, and see what patterns emerge. Try to emulate that pattern to find a unique voice within the body of work.
This approach can be replicated with more complicated artwork like landscapes as well.
At the end of the day, don’t put too much pressure on finding a unique illustration style as that can stifle creativity too. Trust the process and be realistic about goals and timeframes.
Some people take years before they truly find their unique perspective as an artist. But with so many influences and avenues of exploration, there’s never been a better time to try!