The afternoon before I wrote this article, I was preparing one of March’s daily art posts. To say that I was feeling uninspired was something of an understatement, but I was determined to keep up with my art schedule nonetheless. So, in the end, I made a digitally-edited painting – here’s a reduced-size preview of it:
At the time, it just felt like I’d made a “generic” painting (even after using a mildly different colour scheme to my usual one). But, the more that I thought about it, the more that I realised that even though I probably see this painting as being “generic”, “under-detailed” etc.. it probably looks distinctively like the kind of painting I would make.
There’s the high-contrast lighting (eg: a technique involving covering 30-70% of the total area of the painting with black paint to make the lighting stand out by comparison, used by everyone from Caravaggio to 1980s heavy metal album cover artists), there’s the influence from classic 1980s/90s sci-fi, there are CRT monitors and retro fashions, there’s my usual drawing style, there’s the slightly limited colour palette, there are the usual digital effects etc.. It’s certainly not my best painting, but at least it still looks like one of my paintings.
So, I thought that I’d give you two basic tips about how to do something like this yourself – how to make art that looks and feels like it is distinctively “your” kind of art:
1) Take inspiration!: First of all, it is important to know how to take inspiration properly. So, here’s how to do it:
First of all, work out what the general (non-copyrightable) elements of the thing you’re taking inspiration from are. Although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a general principle (in most copyright laws) that copyright only protects highly-specific details rather than ideas, concepts etc.. For example, the concept of “a grey spaceship” can’t be copyrighted, but the exact visual design of the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon etc.. can be copyrighted.
Then, once you’ve done this, try working out what visual “rules” your inspiration follows (eg: lighting, colour choices, compositional techniques etc…). Then, once you know what the general elements and visual rules are, taking inspiration means doing something new and different (eg: not an exact copy of all or part of the inspiration) with that information. But, of course, you shouldn’t have just one inspiration.
One common misconception amongst people who are just getting into making art is that their own type of art has to be completely and utterly different from everything that has ever been made before. This is, as you might have guessed, a completely impossible thing. Even if you don’t consciously try to take inspiration from other things, you’re going to do it unconsciously. The thing to remember here is that “originality” comes from having a unique mixture of many different inspirations and not from never taking inspiration.
On the flip side, another problem with people who are just getting into art is that they can spend too much time directly copying things (eg: making fan art). You won’t be able to make art that is distinctly “you” if you do this. You’ll just end up making second-rate copies of other things.
As I mentioned before, there’s a difference between copying and taking inspiration. Taking inspiration requires you to use your imagination and, yes, this is something that will need to be exercised regularly and fed with as many inspirations as you can find if you want to turn it into something interesting and distinctive. Using and improving your imagination is harder than just copying things, but it results in much more unique artwork.
Taking inspiration is key to finding your own distinctive “type” of art. Taking inspiration from lots of different art styles will help you find your own art style. Taking inspiration from things that look cool (eg: working out what “rules” they follow and then using those rules in new ways) will help your own art to look cool. The more cool things you find to take inspiration from, the more you’ll be able to come up with your own “uniquely cool” type of art and, more importantly, the more you’ll be able to apply this style to things in different genres to your inspirations.
Taking inspiration will also help you to work out what colour combinations, lighting styles etc.. you like to use the most. As ironic as it sounds, you can’t make your own unique art without taking inspiration.
2) Practice. Practice. Practice!: You won’t find your own unique “type” of art instantly. You might think that you’ve found it but, a couple of years later, you’ll look back and think “my art used to look like THAT?!?!“.
However experienced you are, you will always have moments like this every year or two. Your own type of art is something that will be constantly changing and refining itself slowly over time. This is a good thing, it means that you are developing as an artist.
To give you an example, here is what my own “type” of art looked like on a good day in 2014 (after 1-2 years of daily art practice):
And here’s a more recent example of my “type” of art (made on a bad day, when I was totally uninspired). As well as looking at least marginally better than the “good” picture from 2014, it also has a very different “look” to it too. Practice works!
But this can only happen if you practice. It can only happen if you keep making art. If you tell yourself that, regardless of how good or bad it looks, you are going to make a piece of art every day/three days/ week/month etc…
Regular practice not only helps you to become more skilled and confident as an artist, it also forces you to regularly come up with new ideas for paintings or drawings. Yes, this is difficult to do at first, but it is important because it forces you to get to know your own imagination. To learn what kinds of art feel best to make, what subject matter you prefer to include in your art, what type of emotional tone you want your art to have etc…
It also forces you to experiment occasionally and learn new things for the simple reason that making the same type of art over and over again can quickly get boring. It makes you focus on different sources of inspiration every now and then, helping you to discern what you do and don’t want to be a part of your own type of art. It’s just incredibly good for your artistic development.
So, practice often and take inspiration regularly and you’ll find your own “type” of art.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂