Art Advice Issue #5 - How to Find your Own Style

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By far the most common concern I see people on DA mention is, "I wish I had my own style / How can I get my own style?" Hardly a week goes by when I don't see different people saying this. Because of this, I decided to write this article with some tips people may find useful, when searching for a style to call their own. This is what I did, ten years ago, when I was trying to find my own manga style; and I've mentioned this method to some other people and they found it informative and useful as well, so I'm sharing it with you all.

The first part of this article will talk about what is included in what we call "style" (did you know personal style is also found in realism?) and the reasons behind common stylizations (as commonly seen in anime and manga).

The second part talks about how an artist arrives at his or her style, and describes a method you can use if you don't want to wait for your style to surface organically ... in other words, if you want to speed it up.

I. About Style
    * Aesthetics
    * Speed
    * Style in Realism
II. How Style Comes About and What you Can Do To Find It
    * Organic Development of Style
    * Developing Style Analytically
III. Closing Notes
    * Changes Over Time
    * Other Things to Take Note Of
IV. Previous Art Advice Articles



Star! I. ABOUT STYLE


First, let's take a moment to talk about what "style" is. Most commonly, when one thinks of "style," images of manga or cartoons come to mind, where the drawing is not realistic, but has particular traits that repeat from one drawing to another by the same artist; traits that, if distinct enough, will make any new drawing of that artist recognizable as being done by them, before checking to see who actually made it.

Generally, we may define stylization in art as a conscious deviation from reality. (Although, as I will explain later, even realism work may have elements of an artist's style that do not themselves deviate from what is realistically possible.) In this article, I will refer to each individual such deviation as "a stylization," even if that's not proper grammar, but it's simple and gets the point across. And I don't want to use the term "deviation" because, on this site, it carries a completely different meaning and would be confusing. Style itself would be a set of stylizations, as well as common characteristics, that repeat from one artwork to another. An individual work may include one-time stylizations, at the artist's discretion.

These choices may be for the sake of aesthetics or for the sake of speed.



* AESTHETICS


The most commonly thought-of example of stylizations are those made for aesthetic purposes. These are things an artist does simply because they think it looks good, and they prefer it over the realistic standard. These may be anatomical traits, such as longer-than-normal limbs, necks, or torsos, bigger eyes or heads, among others. But they may also cover other aspects of drawing and painting, such as choices of colors and color saturation, lighting, use of or lack of lineart, and refined shading vs. visible brushstrokes.

For example, Colombian artist Fernando Botero is known for using round shapes as the basis for drawing people and animals. Example, on wikipedia

Even anime/manga has different styles, not just what you see in "how to draw manga" books.

Manga Comparisons by barananduen

As you can see here, there is a wide variety of styles within the shōnen genre. Even within the shōjo genre, where the emphasis is on aesthetics rather than action, and more similarities exist across series, if you look at the different facial features, you can see that style varies from one artist to the next. That is why there is no single "anime style," but rather, an infinity of them.

However, it is very important to keep in mind that stylizations should never be used as an excuse for unlearned anatomy. You should always first learn realistic anatomy, and, after you've done that, you can decide to bend it how you will. We'll talk more about this later.



* SPEED


Speed by barananduen
Did someone say Speed?

Speed and efficiency are of paramount importance in sequential art (comics/cartoons, manga/anime), because an artist (or group of artists) must produce many, many drawings in a short amount of time, and those drawings must look consistent. The process followed in the Eastern and Western comics industry is different, but that goal remains the same.

In Eastern comics (manga), it is usually one single artist drawing all the characters in every chapter and every volume, with her/his assistants taking care of backgrounds and screentoning. This is a lot of intense and stressful labor for the mangaka (who is, in addition, the author), and style is what makes it possible for the artist to meet the deadlines. Having a generalized way of drawing a human body (we'll call this the "basic model"), helps the artist speed up the drawing process and meet the deadline. Another, well-known tactic that mangakas use to increase efficiency is the use of the famous (perhaps infamous) manga-shortcuts. A very common one is not drawing the far eye on some panels, perhaps replacing it with crosshatching. In the end, things like drawing noses like triangles, simplifying eyes to key elements, etc. are also shortcuts that help save time.

In Western comics, the teams are usually larger and the tasks are more segregated, where the person who draws the characters is not the same person who writes and develops the story. In fact, the process is broken down into many, many different jobs, and each distinct job is performed by a different person. For example, one person comes up with the story, another writes a play-like script based on that story, the person who fleshes out the dialogue might be a different person, another drafts gesture sketches and panel layout, another draws them, another inks them, yet another colors them, etc. so that efficiency is reached by specialization of task. Given the size of the teams, it would be reasonable to say less shortcuts need to be taken vs. the Eastern counterpart. However, still, the person drawing the characters would draw them using certain generalizations, such as the ones mentioned in the paragraph above, to speed up the process, as well as to make the drawings look the way the publishing house wants them to (but that's an aesthetic, not a speed, reason).

What's important here to notice is that some of the stylistic decisions come from the need for efficiency.



* STYLE IN REALISM


Deviations from reality may be harder to spot in realism work, but artistic decisions (the combination of which also form an artist's style) are still there. Examples of these may include:
  • Choice of subjects / themes (*)
  • Favored body shapes, features, or poses
  • Choice of colors / tonality
  • Strength and direction of lighting
  • Composition
  • Brush motion
Even in realism work, the combination of elements such as these make up an artist's style and make his or her work different from that of another artist.

:new: (*) NOTE: I mentioned subjects/themes as an element of style, but many people are misinterpreting this. What I mean is that some people may tend to favor certain themes or subjects, repeating them from piece to piece, but THIS IS NOT NECESSARY TO DEFINE STYLE. Take, for example, Edgar Degas. He favored painting ballerinas. However, when he didn't paint ballerinas, it didn't mean he suddenly had a different style for that painting. He didn't; his style remained! Style shows across themes. All of the elements mentioned above are things that may define an artist's style, but a style does not necessarily have to include all of them, and changing one or a couple doesn't signify a change of style.

Classical Painters by barananduen
Someone once linked me to this funny post about the art masters: (edit July 15, 2020: The original website expired and I was linking to a web archive version of it, but I've now reuploaded the images to Sta.sh) sta.sh/26nsg5tu24z I recommend it; it's funny. :XD: But it's also relevant because what it's essentially doing is pointing out all these artists' style elements.



Star! II. HOW STYLE COMES ABOUT & WHAT YOU CAN DO TO FIND IT


* ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT OF STYLE


Usually, an artist's "style" comes about without the artist him/herself realizing it. As mentioned in the previous section, covering realism, it is the collection of subject, color, lighting, and composition choices, among others, as well as the deviations from realistic anatomy that we normally think of as "style." As you draw and paint more, you start developing these preferences, and that is what makes up your style. Often, style is easier seen by someone other than the artist themselves.

For instance, I've been told a few times that I use a lot of green. This was not something I did like, "Ohoho Chili Anime Emoji (Ohoho) [V2] I'm going to use a lot of green and that will be part of my style that others can recognize!" No, I just like the color and use it because I have a personal preference for it. You have these preferences, so you repeat them, and sometimes, before you know it, it's become a bit of a pattern with your work.

This is how style normally develops; organically rather than purposefully.


That all being said, there are things you can do to bring these subconscious decisions to the surface and start making them on purpose, speeding up the development of your personal style, if that's something you want to do and don't want to wait for it all to surface at its own time. And I know this is what you all have been waiting for, so let's get to it...



* DEVELOPING STYLE ANALYTICALLY


I didn't read this method anywhere; it's something I came up with by and for myself, over a decade ago, and now I'm sharing that process with you.

Note: you should bear in mind is that whatever style elements you opt for should be because YOU like them, NOT because you think they will make you or your work more popular/accepted.


1. STEP ONE! WE WILL HAVE LOTS OF FUN! - STUDY REALISM

The first step of the process is to study and understand realism. Let me begin by stating that the reason I recommend you study realism is NOT so that you adhere to (even parts of) it like some unbreakable law - I am actually very much in favor of art breaking the realm of possibility - though, of course, you can adhere to it if you want to. Rather, I am doing it for other reasons: 1) so that you know how things are in reality and and can better spot stylizations in others and select your own, 2) so that when/if you deviate from realism, you do so knowingly, and 3) so that you have a greater arsenal of options from which to pick when building your basic model or choosing one-time stylizations.

This doesn't have to be boring. Pick subjects you find interesting and practice on them.

Use references! And those references should be real life or photos, never artwork. The reason you shouldn't learn from drawn/painted references is that you will be, unknowingly, reproducing the other artist's stylizations and mistakes without realizing it, and assuming it's accurate.

Pay attention to and study:
  • anatomy
  • proportions
  • lighting
  • colors
They're not going to come out great at the beginning, and that's FINE; EVERYbody starts that way. It's just that many times, people don't post these things, and when they advance, they delete them, but it's not that they didn't exist.

Once you become familiar with how real people (or animals, etc.) work, you can take parts of that and build them into your stylized work, and use them on characters.


2. STEP TWO - TAKE WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM REALISM AND TWEAK IT ... DOZENS OF TIMES OVER!

Personally, I remember very clearly when I wanted to come up with my own manga style. The one or two of you who were here over a decade ago, will remember when I did more stylized/manga work. This is the story of how that came to be: I had done realism work before and then, at a point later-than-most, I became exposed to anime and manga, and really enjoyed the artistic elements some of the artists in the genre put into their work. So, I decided I wanted to draw in a stylized way that had a hint of anime in it, but was different and my own.

I took a sheet of paper, filled it up with drawings of eyes, each time, coming up with different stylizations. They weren't copied from any artist; they were just made applying different deviations from reality. What if I make the general shape rectangular instead of oval? What if I slant it up? Now slanted down. Now rounder. Now a bigger iris; now smaller. Now with the inner corner less visible; now with it completely gone; now with only part of it there. Different ways of drawing eyelashes. And so on and so forth, and combinations of all of the above... until I built one that I really liked.

Let's look at some eye studies (from real people) and some possible stylizations. Studying different types of eyes gives you more variables to play with for your stylizations.

DA-style tutorial-eyes-small by barananduen
Real people's eyes (boxed) vs. a few stylizations. Your page(s) could look something like this.


Notice all the different things you can alter in an eye:
  • shape
  • angle
  • shape and length of eyelid crease
  • space between eye and brow
  • shape and size of inner corner
  • shape, weight, and slant of eyebrow
  • type and weight of eyelashes
  • size and shape of iris
  • size and shape of pupil
  • size and shape of highlights
...among others. Experiment combining these different variables. You can even make little patterns inside the irises and pupils, if you want. It's really a fun exercise and trains your creativity. :D

Then I did the same thing for mouths. Here's what something like this would look like. Again, the ones inside the box are drawn from real people references; the ones on the right are stylizations.

DA-style tutorial-mouths-small by barananduen
Try it. How many different mouths can you come up with?

Some things you can play with include:
  • thickness of upper lip
  • thickness of lower lip
  • width (horizontal length) of upper vs lower lip
  • total width of mouth
  • prominence of "cupid's bow"
  • presence or absence of crease lines ("lip wrinkles")
  • bottom boundary of lower lip: rounded vs. straighter vs. reverse arch
  • shape of the curve between the two lips
  • split vs. non-split bottom lip
  • shape of "wings" on upper lip


You do this for each feature, including hair (different ways of drawing the same hairstyle). Select the ones you like best from each trait, and narrow it down until you have all the building blocks to build what I call your basic model.

Note: This exercise is also good for making characters that are different one from the other, since now you have a menu of traits you can pick from, to mix and match.

Then you pay attention to what sort of colors you favor; what shading style you like best; whether you prefer lineart or lineless (and if you prefer lineart, whether it will consist of black or colored lines)... all via trying different things.

Alternatively, instead of drawing floating eyes, etc., you can draw complete figures, altering the way you draw the features on each. Then look at each drawing you've made and try to pinpoint what you like and don't like about each, and put together all the things you like about the drawings and build your basic model that way. For instance, you like the nose on one, the hair shading on another, etc.


3. STEP 3 - THEN YOU PRACTICE YOUR BASIC MODEL

Draw it a few times, until you start getting consistent results. It doesn't have to be a faceless dummy; you can practice with your favorite character, if you want. Thing is, once you have that set of characteristics defined, then it's all elbow grease: the more you draw it, the more consistent it will become.



Star! III. CLOSING NOTES


* CHANGES OVER TIME


Over time, even when you've become an expert at your "basic model," your style may change, and that is normal and perfectly OK. On the one hand, you never stop improving as an artist. On the other, your taste changes over time; you stop liking some things, start liking others instead. And there are things you will still like, and those you will carry forward with you, over the years and perhaps even across media.

For example, in my quest to find my manga style, back in 2005, I developed my basic model after the process I described in the "Analytical" section above. I continued doing my manga-styled work in this way, with minor changes here and there, for the next three years. During that time, changes happened due to practice, but my basic model remained the same.

After that, life changes forced me to take a prolonged hiatus from art, but when I came back in 2013, I wanted something different from what I'd been doing before. Since I picked drawing back up, I've definitely learned more things, but I also made a conscious decision to incorporate more aspects of realism into my drawings, just because I wanted to. Not because I think one genre is better than the other, but simply because my taste changed. Nevertheless, you can see here that some things remain the same (not because I wanted to maintain consistency, but because I genuinely still liked them).


So the takeaway from this section is, don't be a slave to your style/past decisions. If, over time, you stop liking some things, feel free to drop them and replace them with things you like now. At the same time, don't feel like, if X amount of time has passed, you should have changed X amount of things. You never stop liking some things, and that's perfectly OK, too.



* OTHER THINGS TO TAKE NOTE OF


During your artistic journey, as you advance in your realism and stylized work, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Practice different poses and compositions.
  • Learn how lighting, color, and composition can be used to convey mood. It is not all done through facial expressions and body language!
  • Don't be afraid to experiment in different media! Doing so opens your mind to a new way of doing things, and you can learn things that will be useful across media (including your main/preferred medium)
  • Remember the Three Ps: Art Advice Issue #3 - Advancing in Art: The 3 Ps
  • And when you're feeling things don't turn out right: Art Advice Issue #2 - How to Have a Positive Outlook




That's it! Thanks for reading and I hope you found this useful!
If you liked this article, please help spread positivity: go to a stranger's page here on DA and say something nice about their art.Swingin' On a Star _revamp_ 
Have fun drawing and see you next time!
~B~Heart Balloon Emote



Star! IV. OTHER ISSUES


Issue #9 - Debunking Common Art Myths

 You can always find a direct link to these articles in the "Art Inspiration Corner" widget on the bottom right corner of my profile page.

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Luxter1a's avatar

Hopefully this helps! Ive been trying to perfect wolves and horses but ALWAYS go to a cartoony style I never though to use realism. Thank you sp much!