Before I begin, I should probably explain the difference between an “art style” and an “aesthetic”.
Your art style is the unique way that you draw and the artistic techniques that you use. Your aesthetic, on the other hand, includes things like the type of lighting you prefer, the type of colour combinations you prefer, any recurring patterns etc…
Or, to put it more simply, your “art style” refers the technical details of your art (eg: how you draw faces, how you draw trees etc..) and your aesthetic refers to the overall “look” of your art as a whole.
For example, here are several paintings of mine that are set in wildly different locations, yet they look similar due to the fact that they have a similar gloomy type of lighting and a similar (relatively) limited colour palette.
So, how do you find your own aesthetic? Here are a few of the ways:
1) Your favourite things: Take a look at some stills from your favourite movie, take a look at the covers of your favourite albums, take a look at some screenshots from your favourite games, take a look at your favourite comics etc… and see if you can find what visual features they have in common.
It’s possible that they have absolutely nothing in common, but it’s much more likely that they have at least some vague similarities. After all, you chose all of these things. They all appealed to you in some way or another. So, it’s likely that there might be at least a few visual similarities of some kind or another.
For example, they might all use bold colours against a gloomy background, or they might use pale muted colours. They might all come from the same 10-20 year period. They might all feature a similar type of setting etc…
If you can find the similarities between your favourite things, then this will give you a few important clues about what your own aesthetic looks like.
2) Learn colour theory: One of the things that really helped me to find my own aesthetic was learning how colours interact with each other. And, more importantly, learning how to find groups of colours that complement each other.
If you look at a red/yellow/blue colour wheel, you can find groups of colours that will go together well by either drawing a line across the wheel or drawing an equilateral triangle over it. The colours at the ends of the line, or at the three points of the triangle will go together well (and are referred to as “complementary colours“).
Once you know how to find complementary colour schemes, then see which ones are your favourites. Once you’ve found them, you can either combine them in your art or you can look for variations by slightly altering all of the colours in the same way (eg: changing a yellow/light purple colour scheme into an orange/dark purple colour scheme).
This can help you to form part of your aesthetic. Just remember that there’s no copyright on colour schemes – so, don’t be afraid to borrow or adapt any cool-looking colour schemes that you find in other things.
3) Practice, observation and experimentation: Your own aesthetic won’t just magically appear within the space of five seconds. Even if you follow the first two points on this list, it’ll only give you a general idea of what your aesthetic might look like after more practice and learning. I mean, it took me at least 2-3 years of daily practice to learn more than the very beginnings of my own aesthetic.
Likewise, you should always be on the lookout for things that will help you to refine your aesthetic (eg: they almost fit into your current aesthetic, but don’t quite. Or they look intriguingly different).
For example, a month or two before writing this article, I played and reviewed a set of levels for “Doom II” called “Ancient Aliens“. As soon as I saw this, I knew that it was quite close to my own aesthetic (which is one reason why I loved it) but it was also different enough that I also learnt a few more things about how to handle colours in artwork from playing it.
So, keep practicing and keep looking for things that will help you refine your aesthetic.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂