I Want To Be Unique: Developing Artistic Style

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WonHitWonder's avatar

Literature Text

First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few drawing books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.

In my experience, style will either be one of the easiest or one of the hardest things for you to develop as an artist.  I've been there, there is no worse feeling than the crushing realization that your art looks an awful lot like everyone else's.  The weirdest part is that it's really difficult to develop a style of your own consciously, it often happens over a long period of time without you noticing.  If you are interested in differentiating your style, I have a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.

#1: Take a Break From Manga and Fan Art

I have nothing against manga and anime.  I enjoy watching a good anime just as much as the next person.  Heck, I started out drawing manga.  Likewise, I don't have any problem with fan art.  I don't make any, but I don't begrudge you if you do.  It can be a lot of fun to see new character designs and it is really impressive to see perfectly rendered characters from a show or manga.

But here's the thing: you're committed to drawing someone else's style.  The manga style is just that: a style, and a very common style at that.  Even if you take your own spin on your fan art, you still have to conform to SOME of the style, otherwise who would know that it belongs in that fandom?  Fan art and manga have a style pre-attached to them that can be really hard to shake.  Of course, you can put your own spin on manga or fan art, but if you were already doing that, you wouldn't be here in this tutorial, would you?

I'm not saying that you can never do manga or fan art ever again.  Of course not!  You can always apply what you've learned to manga or fan art.  But just take a break for a while so that your style can flow uninhibited by previous restrictions.  Doing this was what helped me find my artistic voice, and I don't regret it one bit.

#2: Go Back To Your Basics

Or start here for the first time, if you've never done so in the past.  Anatomy, color theory, linework, light and shading, texture, technique, perspective, all of that boring stuff.  And trust me, it's going to SUCK.  It's not much fun setting up a perspective grid or drawing bicep muscles until you want to jab your pencil into your brain.  I was stuck here for a long time, about 18 months.  

But I realize now that the time I waited was partially my fault.  I didn't practice enough because I was bored.  I tried to find someone else to teach me how to draw in another style, not comprehending that it was impossible for someone else to do so.  Why didn't I just go back to manga?  Because I don't like drawing manga.  There are parts of the style that I didn't enjoy drawing.  So I was stuck in a dead-zone for a year and a half.  

The essence of style, when you come down to it, is how one artist differs in their representation and usage of anatomy, color theory, linework, light and shading, texture, technique, perspective, etc.   Starting to get why practicing them is a good idea for your style now?  Once you've got those skills developed, you'll have the confidence to say, "I hate drawing ankles, they're just no fun!  I'm just going to draw them really skinny like this so I don't have to worry too much about them!  Hey, that actually looks kind of cool..."  And that's a piece of your style being born.  Do your homework.  Don't get stuck in the dead zone.

Pro Tip: People often leave out from their style the parts of the basics that they aren't good at or dislike.  Know how to do it right before you decide to do purposely do it 'wrong'.

#3: Expand Your Horizons

You need influences to grow and mature in any field.  Don't be ashamed of looking at someone and thinking, 'You are so awesome that I want to punch you and suck out your talent like a talent leech.'  You probably already have some influences right now.  Now expand them.  Watch a movie or a TV show that you never got around to watching (go for the classics, there's a reason that they're so famous).  Browse through deviantART's pages and find artists who are better than you, artists who shame you by putting their amazing work up, artists who inspire you.  That's what will make you better, that burning desire to one day be as great as they are.

Listen to new music.  This helps out a LOT.  Get out of your comfort zone a bit.  Listen to something wacky if you tend to like more serious music and vice versa.  Listen to the whole album instead of just one song from it and do it one go.  Listen to your favorite albums all in one go as well.  

Musical artists express the same things that we do through sound instead of visuals, and it really shows through an entire album rather than in one song.  But it's the mindset, the visuals, the emotions that we have in common.  Try drawing out what you think of when you hear a great song.  I mean exactly, don't just draw the lyrics.  Scribble colors around with crayons in just the right place to make the sound an image of color.  Is this song purpley, but with some gold and orange over here?  I'm getting kind of pumped just typing about it, it's all about pure creativity.

Try a completely different pre-existing style that you are interested in, but it shouldn't be too similar to what you were doing before.  I get interested in caricature, and that interest was what really sparked my new outlook and style on art.

Read new books!  Play new video games!  Do you not go to the school dances?  Go to one and make a concerted effort to try and enjoy it.  Visit a brand new place alone, be it across the country or across the street.  Know the essence of this place.  Feel it in your gut.  Just do new things.

#4: Get Tools that Are Right For You

Your tools are very important and can impact how you work.  For instance, I hate using pencils.  I write everything down in pen, but I have a huge preference for a certain type of pen.  I looked through their product line and found a pen that I fell in love with (I never use it for writing).  I use a Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine pen for all of my sketchbook drawings and nothing else.  

On the other hand, manga artist Mark Crilley likes to use a black Prismacolor colored pencil instead of inking his pieces.  Our preferences are very different, but what we do have in common is that we've found tools that work WITH us.  Do yourself a favor and find your tools, be it pencil, pen, colored pencil, pastel, tablet, or watercolor and find the specific brand that makes you do a happy dance.  You'll be so happy that you did.

Those are my biggest tips to discovering your style.  The main point is to free yourself from as many restrictions as possible and to expand your pond of experience so that in the future, it will always be large enough that you can fish it for inspiration for your style.  Don't be restricted to the carp you're used to catching; dine on salmon tonight.  And most of all, stop making awful pond analogies.  Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to add your two cents in for something that I may have missed or messed up on.

And never, ever forget: I might be wrong. I try not to be, but nobody's perfect. Art is one giant matter of opinion. Feel totally free to disagree or to only utilize the bits that you agree with. If you found this helpful, disagree with me, or just prefer another method to my own, feel free to tell me about it in the comments. After all, I'm here to learn too.
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SamichasArt's avatar
Thank you so much for this. <3 Really opened my eyes.

I drew way too much fanart in the last years. This is why my art lacks uniqueness. ><
Love doing fanart and drawing new themes/outfits/or existing ones for characters. It helped me to improve my art.
But I'll try to draw more original art to develope a more unique style. ^^
iLunaaa's avatar
Thank you so so so so soooo much for motivating me Hug
 i am surely going to start working on my skills damn i need loads of practice!! CURSE YOU! :( (Sad) 
Ronerk's avatar
Actually there are people who draw fan art in their style instead of the style of the person who owns the character drawn in the fan art.
g0thi-cr0c's avatar
I agree. I do,for example.
Huggable-Cactus's avatar
my style and characters are always changing, because i learn new skills, etc.etc.
my style is basically a bunch of styles mixed together to make one style xD
what you say is completely true
Valkeus's avatar
AMEN. I can't add much to this that you haven't said so well already. I just have to keep plugging away at my drawing practice!
pinkeshyrose's avatar
Im on the boat that manga isnt fanart anyway and that copying a style helps improve your own but I see what your saying... especially if the fanart is human meaning you have to learn anatanomy by doing it personally im learning anatomy by drawing mlp characters or atleast I was inspired by that...(Though most of my work im not proud egnough to put up yet.
Dancing-Kitten's avatar
I think there's kind of a double-edged-sword there? Like, yeah, fanart and style imitation is fun, and it can help you learn by challenging you to draw outside of your comfort zone. That said, if it's all you draw, you're not going to learn about why that style is the way it is, and all you'll know is how to copy a style, which isn't very useful.

(Also please do not learn anatomy from MLP. I love the style as much as the next guy, but the anatomy is nowhere near realistic enough to really learn from. You would be better off drawing real horses for a while, and then coming back to MLP not for anatomy, but to understand the style choices that have been made.)
pinkeshyrose's avatar
I meant that Im learning the basics of anatomy by doing that the sizes the porportions e.c.t... as for "copying a style". How do you make style? It comes by blending the diffrents things you are inspired by into somthing unique so the only thing it would really stop for you is imagination and as long as your doing ocs and maniplulating fanart you can still have imagination. Though it is a good thing to draw originally aswell.
Dancing-Kitten's avatar
I def know where you're coming from, but it's still not a very good way to learn anatomy or proportion? Like if you want to try different styles to see what works, it's better if you understand real anatomy and try to stylize that then if you know a certain style and then try to stylize it differently, y'know? Like when I was younger, I did a lot of fanart and later tried to do something original, but it still looked like I was trying to copy the style I usually did. I ended up having to learn everything from scratch.
TheWhiteJewel's avatar
I've been in kind of a rut lately trying to get an individual style. I've filled up sketchbook after sketchbook of different styles (although relatively similar here and there, change the noses, make the eyes bigger, you get the gist) and a lot of the times they come out looking...odd. I've recently began watching old cartoons and I've stepped away from anime/manga for about a year now as the character designs for those types of characters can get a bit repetitive and don't teach me much.

I really need to get a grip on how to shape and shift my own anatomy right down to the pinch so my work doesn't come out looking wonky. I also have a bit of trouble making character differ in appearance but still looking like they come from the same thing.

*sigh* your tutorials are really helping me out so thank you!
AJInu-Okami's avatar
Thanks for the tips. I do manga drawings, but even I know that I must have to develop my own style of it plus get away from it to expand my knowledge on drawing.
WonHitWonder's avatar
Yeah, it's more about embracing variety and getting out of your comfort zone. Good luck with your art!
extremepacman's avatar
You missed out a crucial step here: You really need to look at other artists in order to develop your own style. All art is developed within the context of a greater art history, and each artist finds their place in the art world as a response both to wider society and other important artists, both contemporary and historical. You cannot understand who you are as an artist unless you understand the world around you.
WonHitWonder's avatar
Very true, it makes sense to look at other great artists! I mostly based this off my experience, and I didn't do that step, so I didn't really think about it. I guess it would fall under #3, though I should've mentioned it more specifically
sakurablossom86's avatar
finally! someone who thinks people need to step out of manga and anime and fan art! now, i know if you look at my page you will glare at me and call me a hypocrite, but i have done those pieces months ago and had after a quite long artists block, just threw those up on my page and haven't bothered putting up my own style. they probably aren't on my page because im a complete chicken... but i've been doing semi-realism with my own twist (ya, because THAT sounds sooo original *eye roll*) haha! but i completely agree with all of this. fantastic tutorial (yes, i know its a wall o' text Dx)
WonHitWonder's avatar
Glad you agree. Fan art is all well and good, but solely doing it isn't really a good thing for style. I mean, if you were to analyze the original style as a means of exploring technique, that's one thing, but I doubt that's why people do it. Although there are some people who find their brilliance in fan art alone, so that's something. Same for manga, since it's a pre-determined style. Neither is "bad," but doing them might not help a person searching for their own unique look.
sakurablossom86's avatar
couldn't agree more! i guess i was just attracted to the manga style because when i was younger and couldn't draw a face if my life depended on it, manga was like this amazing style where, guess what? no noses, super simplified mouths and eyes that consist of an oval and a couple of lines! ya, so glad i stopped drawing like that a while ago! and fan art really doesn't do anything to help people grow in drawing. copying others art isnt going to make people better artists, its not going to get them anywhere. well, at least that's what i think.
WonHitWonder's avatar
I suppose fan art could help with consistency, since the character has to look exactly like the original or people complain and it. I used to draw manga because there aren't as many resources available for other styles and actual realism bores me to tears, but after a while I decided that it wasn't a style that made me happy to draw, so I worked on creating my own style. I'll forever be grateful to manga (especially the art created by the professionals who can do AMAZING things with it) for teaching me my basics and for getting me dedicted to finding my own path.
sakurablossom86's avatar
I know what you mean. I guess fan art does teach consistency if you were going to create an OC. I absolutely hate drawing realism, all the precise little stuff, ugh! So thats why i made my own semi-realistic style! I'll never hate or resent my time i spent drawing manga, it was fun and amazingly helpful! Before i was drawing realistic faces with a big U for a head, same old hair every time, and completely starnge, misshaped, unproportioned features. Somehow in my time drawing manga, it taught me realism (or semi at least) in a way! I learned so much from the people I would look up to like Mark Crilley, Narae Lee, Sophiechan90, and others. Though now that I've learned what I can from it, I have to move on and progress my own specific style.
WonHitWonder's avatar
OMG, I love Mark Crilley! He was the first helpful resource I found on the internet, I STILL watch his videos (and I have all 3 Brody's Ghost books as well as Mastering Manga).

I never went too realistic, but man, my people were all misshapen. I was under the impression that legs were either stumps or stilts. I might actually upload some of my old sketches, they were sooooo bad it's kinda funny XD

It's cool to hear your own take on stuff and how you've progressed through your style, I love getting good long comments like yours!
sakurablossom86's avatar
YES! I'm always worried when i mention mark crilley that people wil get all angry and start saying stuff like, "Oh, he's overrated! Everyone watches him! Go learn it yourself!" but wow, he is soooo helpful, and my first and only place to look whenever im in need of a tutorial on something. I still watch him too, and probably always will c:

Hahaha, don't even get me started on my awful bodies! ugh! I mean, back then, you could look at my drawings and think I had decided to removal all the bones from their body! Instead of elbows, knees and joints, it was all big, forever parallel curves. Hahaha! :XD:

I love it when someone else loves long comments! A lot of the times i'll write a whole paragraph or so to people and all it get back is "lol xD" ...really? come on, if that's all you have to say, at least make it creative! xD
WonHitWonder's avatar
Yeah, I try not to do that unless the commentor leaves a really short comment, because what am I supposed to do then?

But yeah, I don't think that Mark Crilley is overrated. I love how much hard work he puts into drawing and trying to help the viewers and while his guideline system baffles the crap out of me, it's his geunity and great attitude that I think is the most help to the people that watch. Whether or not I understand all of the content, that positive force and addictive happiness is what inspires me the most to keep creating and it keeps me coming back every time. :)
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Pluie-Froide's avatar
Thanks for the tutorial! Though, for me it was less putting me on the right track and more making sure I've been on the right track. :XD: In any case, your words were like acid to my newly-developed art block. Merci~
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