A few weeks ago, I was talking about style on this blog.
In that post, I discussed whether an illustrator should have just one style of illustration, or many. And, being an artistic magpie, picking up pieces and approaches and hopping from style to style, I came down firmly on the side of, yes, an illustrator should be allowed to work in more than one style.
One thing I did not really consider through that discussion was why. What influences the decision to use a particular style for any given piece? And that’s what we are talking about today.
This is the simplest way of choosing a style. If I am commissioned to create a portrait of a client’s animal or pet, then I know immediately which style I am going to use.
Why? Because the subject demands it.
I advertise my services using pieces I have already completed. Whether explicitly, or through the examples you have seen, I am telling you – my client – that you will get a portrait that will be drawn in this style. To not then follow through on that promise would be a strange and unnecessary decision.
When a client asks for an animal portrait, then the subject dictates the style.
Again, this is a relatively straightforward decision to make.
When a client says, “I would like a painting of ——, in the style you used for the —— piece”, then I have only a couple of things to think about. Because that client has already looked through my work and has seen something they like.
I simply need to assess whether it is possible to produce what they are looking for, in the style they have picked out. And I have yet to come across an example where that has not been possible.
Secondly, and just as importantly, I also need to make sure that I am comfortable producing their piece in that particular style, to ensure that the two things – subject and style – will work well together. Again, I have yet to find an example where that has not worked out well for all involved.
Tools: the things with which I make marks on a page.
Sometimes those are pencil marks on a sheet of paper. Sometimes they will be digital marks on a computer screen. And the choice of which one to use can have a definite impact on the style of the resulting illustration.
Take the animal portraits again, as an example.
These are all digital paintings, in Photoshop, and the choice of tool leads me to make marks in a particular way. I choose to paint these portraits the way I do, in part because of the choice I have made to paint them digitally.
This point was brought home to me recently when I sat down – carefully – with a pot of ink and a dip pen.
While it is true that you can recreate the style of a dip pen in Photoshop (and do it very well), the physical act of working with the pen, the paper, the ink, made me make marks in a different way. I found that I held the pen differently from the way in which my Wacom pen is held.
I approached the drawing in a different way, thinking about the order in which I should ink sections of the page, so as to not smudge the work already completed. The ink itself came out in slightly unexpected ways at unexpected times, and that forced me to adapt where that particular mark was going to be placed, and why.
Having made my choice to complete the illustration using a pen and a pot of ink, led me to draw it in a style that suited itself to those tools. It is not the same illustration I would have made had the decision been made to complete it digitally.
My own work
Sometimes, I create work for me. Or, more accurately, I create something that has no external client brief.
Often, these will be the things I am looking to place into my shop. And this means I have a much greater freedom to choose the style in which to draw or paint each design.
This has led to me being able to experiment with different styles,always with one eye on creating something that I believe my customers will want. Whether that be the stylised, Devon-inspired designs like the one above, or the selection of cards that I have on offer.
Different styles. But – I hope – styles that appeal to different customers as well.
Drawing our conclusions…
If you are, like me, a nomad when it comes to illustration style, then there are undoubtedly things that influence why you choose to use a particular style for a particular piece. Do they differ from mine? What drives you to choose to draw something the way you do?
And if you are not, if you stick with a single style, then I am sure there are equally as many reasons why that is a decision you have made. I am sure that there are just as many creative choices that you make in order to work within the style you have chosen, yet still meeting the client’s brief.
That’s the great thing about this business. There’s no one way to do anything.