Three Basic Tips For Finding Your Own Visual Language

2017 Artwork Visual Language article sketch

Before I begin, I should probably explain what a “visual language” is. Although your visual language is a part of your art style, you shouldn’t confuse the two things.

Your art style is the unique way that you draw or paint things, whereas your “visual language” refers to the kinds of things that appear regularly in your art in order to symbolise various things.

For example, when I’m making art that is set in the 1990s, I’ll often include one or two specific 1990s-style fashions (eg: dark floral dresses, layered outfits etc..) as a quick way to show that the picture is set in the 1990s. Likewise, when making cyberpunk art, I’ll often include wall tiles with concentric squares/circles/scribbles on them in the background. Both of these parts of my visual language can (just about) be seen in this old painting from last year:

"All Kinds Of Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“All Kinds Of Awesome” By C. A. Brown

So, how do you find your own visual language? Here are a few tips:

1) Geekiness: Your visual language tends to be strongest when it comes to things that fascinate you. After all, you’ll probably be making a lot more art in genres that you really love than in genres that you don’t.

So, look at the things that really fascinate you and see if there are any elements from them that stand out as particularly cool. Whilst you shouldn’t copy specific details (because copyright), see if you can break down the things that you think are cool-looking into their most generic elements and then try to create something new using those elements.

For example, my “cyberpunk” wall tiles are inspired by the Aztec/Maya style wall tiles from Deckard’s apartment in the movie “Blade Runner“. These tiles have a rather intricate geometric design involving several interlocking squares. So, for both practical (and copyright) reasons, I broke this down to it’s most generic elements (eg: “wall tiles with geometric and/or intricate designs”) and then came up with a simpler, and different, design to use in my own art:

Like this.

Like this.

Because it was relatively quick to draw (due to it’s simplified design) and because it looked so cool, it’s ended up becoming part of my visual language. So, find something cool from the things that you really geek out about, break it down into it’s generic elements and then create something new from those elements.

2) Ignore realism, go for stylisation instead: Since art is something that is created using imagination, you can afford to be a little bit unrealistic when it comes to shaping your own visual language.

In other words, don’t be afraid to use slightly unusual or uncommon things regularly in your visual language if you think that they look distinctive or cool.

Going back to my example about 1990s fashions – many of the fashions that I use to symbolise that a picture is set in the 1990s probably weren’t that common in the 1990s. In fact, many of the things that people wore everyday in the 1990s weren’t that different to what people wear these days (eg: T-shirts, jeans etc…). Yet, they were fashions that were more popular in the 1990s than they are now. So, they instantly say “1990s!” when they appear in a painting.

So, don’t be afraid to make your art slightly stylised or to regularly use unusual things in your visual language, if you think that they either look cool or are a quick visual symbol of some kind or another.

3) Just let it happen: Even if you don’t consciously try to create a visual language, it’s probably going to happen anyway.

If you practice regularly, then your visual language may just start developing without you even realising or noticing. In fact, many of the best and/or earlier parts of my visual language just kind of appeared this way.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


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