The biggest concern that I have heard from so many young artists who are either first entering art school or entering the workforce is “what is my style?” or “how do I find my style?” This is a fundamental question that we must ask ourselves as artists, because not only does this define our brand, but also what type of clients that we want to attract.
What Type of Media Do You Consume?
Yes, the media that we consume is usually for entertainment, pleasure, education, or simply to unwind, but your taste could be a big step into finding out what you want as your lifelong career. Whether it be comics, indie video games, or cartoons, whatever you enjoy as a consumer will be one of your first stepping stones to finding your style. Take a moment and write down about five or ten forms of media that you love. These could be phone games, television shows, movies, PC games, magazines, newspapers, etc. Afterwards, take a moment to write down a few examples of different published works on those platforms. For example, if you wrote down television as your medium, list five or six of your favorite shows, etc.
Who are Your Influencers?
The next big question to ask yourself is: who are my role models in the field? What about their art do you love? Is it the colors? The stylization of the characters? It could be as simple as how this creator draws hair or eyes, etc. However, a common problem that I see with a lot of artists is this desire to want to mimic. Even I have been guilty of this. Only take what you like from the artist. For example, I love how artist “A” renders eyes, but I also love how artist “B” renders hair. Make a mental collage of different elements to build your own unique brand.
A tip that I like to give is to never fully copy from one source. Be diverse. I would make a list of at least five artists who inspire you, then I would find five other ones in the same field. I suggest finding new artists’ works you love is so it keeps you on the lookout for new techniques and solutions for artistic problem solving. This is important to keep your work fresh and interesting.
What Do You Like to Draw?
This is the question that can shift your direction. I remember I asked myself this question right before I entered graduate school. At the time, I loved comics and consuming all forms of comic media. However, I didn’t draw comics for fun. It was my pleasure read, and I found myself drawing more stand-alone illustrations versus frames of sequential art. That’s totally okay. Do you find yourself drawing more characters or more environmental art? Do you find yourself drawing more robots? Mermaids? Does what you like to draw match the media you consume? Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it does. If it doesn’t, then explore other artists who draw what you love, study their careers, or where they work.
What Type of Client Do You Want To Attract?
The type of client that you want to attract will have a huge influence, if not the greatest influence, on your style. The world of high fantasy games and novels like Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. has a totally different visual rhetoric than the world of Disney children’s books or Dr. Seuss. This can be a particularly hard question especially for younger artists who are still in school or who are freelancing. It’s okay to not know this answer. My best advice is to list a few different fields that are attractive to you and invest some time to learn about the different work environments or find a job in that field. For me and my list, I put down editorial illustrating as one of the top fields that I loved. After about a year of working in that world, I didn’t feel like that avenue was for me mostly because I felt like my style didn’t match the field, and I wasn’t drawing what I liked, so the job wasn’t as fulfilling. Now a good chunk of my commission work is in fantasy art, which has a distinct style as opposed to editorial-based illustrations for platforms such as literary magazines or newspapers.
Have I Tried Working in that Field?
For young artists who are still in school or artists who want a creative field as their main hustle, it’s imperative to branch out in the beginning and try different fields of work. This is the most important step to finding a style, because finding client work gives you an opportunity to experiment with different platforms and different visual rhetoric. This gives an invaluable opportunity to understand which style is the most marketable for your brand. This also provides you with industry experience and a taste for what you could be doing in terms of a career. Above all else, this will give you the chance to weed out certain fields. Before I entered the workforce, I was convinced that I wanted to do editorial illustration. I experimented with it, and I realized that it wasn’t for me, so I was able to weed that out as an option for my career.
Pro-Tip: It doesn’t matter what the job or internship is. My first internship in art was an unpaid position at my school’s literary journal. No matter how small or unglamorous the position is, the point is to give you both invaluable industry experience and a taste of an industry you are considering. With each new experience, you’re one step closer to your dream job!