Styling it out

Styling it out

I updated my portfolio here on recently, and it got me thinking about style.

I’m not, I should rush to point out, speaking sartorially here. Anyone who has seen me try to “dress nice” knows that style and I are only loosely acquainted. No, I am talking today about artistic style. Or, as it turns out, styles.

The man with all the brushes

Kyle Webster is an illustrator and a creator of Photoshop brushes (for which I am eternally grateful – if you use Photoshop and haven’t tried his brush sets, you’re missing out). Last year he wrote an article for Illustration Age all about style. Again, it was actually all about styles, as he has gleefully and gloriously bucked the trend that says an illustrator must have just one style and stick to it.

For me – a new illustrator – this was exactly the article I needed to read.

The new kid on the block

My problem (my style problem, quiet at the back) is linked to my fresh-faced newness at this illustration business. Yes, I’ve drawn things for many years, but it has only been since I set up shop that I have had to produce artwork (a) to order, and (b) across a wider range of subjects and uses. And being new means that I haven’t established myself as that person yet. You know, Jon, the *insert thing I’m really well known for* guy.

Need line drawings for a colouring book? Hello, I’m your man. Looking for black and white drawings of buildings? Why not, here you go. Some illustrations to go with your short story? Of course, I would love to.

In many ways, my early work as an illustrator was all about responding to what I was being asked to work on, and letting the drawings come from the subject. There was little in the way of a thought process around being an illustrator who worked in just one particular way.

New toys, new tricks

The second main factor that has led to my lack-of-one-single-style style, is Photoshop. When I decided to become a full-time illustrator, I also decided to buy Photoshop, hook it up to my Wacom tablet, and to see what it could do.

And there’s no coming back from that, I’m afraid.

You can’t give somebody the wealth of tools and tricks that is contained inside Photoshop and expect them to just trot out the same old stuff as they were doing before. Photoshop opened up new possibilities for me and, as I played around with it and began to get to grips with what I was doing, I saw new images that I wanted to create and new ways of creating those images. Naturally, I began to experiment.


I’m realistic about this business: I also need to earn a living. So I cast around, searching out work that would allow me to draw things for people (as in, for money!). One avenue down which this led was to take on individual commissions and, in particular, pet and animal portraiture. And if I am going to capture your furry/feathered/scaly? friend in their best light, I want to give you the most realistic and accurate depiction I can. This meant tightening things up, looking at the details, and going for something significantly more realistic.

People seem to have been pleased with the results. And, of course, I only do animal portraits in one style: I’m not completely mad!


But not everything needs, or should have, total realism. And I would be lying if I said that I only wanted to draw in that one style, all-day, every-day. So when it came to the other main arm of my burgeoning business – book covers – I wanted to free myself and let my experimental side fly.

And as Kyle Webster mentions in his article, when I speak to a client about what they are looking for, I can just ask them which of the different pieces they like. We discuss a style and we go from there. Having a range of things to show someone can be a good way of opening them up and sparking some initial ideas.

What do you think?

Am I a dangerous subversive? A newbie who has no idea what he’s doing? Possibly. But I know what I like, and what I like is to not always work in the same way.

Now, please don’t think for a moment that I can, or indeed want to, turn my hand to any style or any subject. I still have limits and I still like to stay somewhere I feel both safe and where I know I can produce something I’m proud to send to a client. It is just that I have several styles with which I do this.

See what I mean…

Head to my portfolio for more of my work and please drop me a line if you have an illustration need that I can help with. Just remember to tell me which style you would like…

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