Three Very Basic Tips For Developing Your Own Art Style

2016 Artwork Very Basic Art Style Development Article Sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote about how to develop your own art style, so I thought that I’d quickly offer three very basic tips that might come in handy.

1) Give it time: Your art style should be similar to your “everyday” handwriting in that it should be unique, easy to use and yet still understandable by other people. For example, even though the writing in my comics and cartoons is in traditional anonymous block capitals, I obviously have my own unique handwriting style for everything else.

Not that it's the most legible type of writing in the world though.

Not that it’s the most legible type of writing in the world though.

Unless you’ve taken calligraphy lessons or you only use keyboards/phones, your own style of handwriting will probably have evolved naturally of it’s own accord. After all, you’ve probably practiced writing so much over the years that your handwriting has had time to develop into something that looks uniquely yours.

Well, your art style is fairly similar. The only difference is that you probably haven’t been drawing every day for most of your life. Just like how your handwriting gradually becomes more distinctive over the years, so will your art style. It’ll keep slowly evolving and changing as you practice and learn more. Here’s a diagram that I made to show how my own art style has changed over the past ten years:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Here's a fairly quick chart that shows some random examples of my art style over the past ten years. If you look closely, you'll probably notice that my style only changes gradually and subtly from year to year. However, there's a dramatic improvement from 2012 onwards because this is when I decided to make art literally every day.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Here’s a fairly quick chart that shows some random examples of my art style over the past ten years.

2) Draw. Draw. Draw: If you spend a long time trying to search for or artificially create your own art style, then you probably won’t have much luck. Your unique art style slowly emerges from lots and lots of practice.

So, even if you don’t feel like you have much of a style or if you feel that your style doesn’t look very good, keep drawing regularly.

If you just keep drawing and drawing and drawing then, gradually, your own style will start to emerge. It might take a long time, but it’ll happen.

Even if you just try to copy another art style, then lots of repeated practice will probably mean that you’ll gradually start to add your own unique quirks and interpretation to the style (possibly without even noticing it at first). However, you shouldn’t just copy one art style…

3) Steal ruthlessly, and steal widely: Just copying one other art style won’t make your style very unique. It’ll just be an slightly different copy of someone else’s style.

However, when combined with a lot of practice and experimentation, stealing small parts of lots of different art styles will both improve your own style and make it look more unique too.

For example, the way that I currently draw noses in my art was *ahem* partially borrowed from part of Frank Kozik’s excellent cover booklet art for The Offspring’s “Americana” album. The way that I draw people’s collarbones and the bases of people’s necks was *ahem* lifted from an old 1960s “MAD Magazine” cartoon. The way that I draw shiny hair was *ahem* very heavily inspired by various manga comics. The way that I draw people when their eyes are tightly closed was *ahem* appropriated from “South Park”. I could go on for a while……

And yet my art style looks different from each of these styles. Why? Because it’s a unique mixture of parts from lots of different art styles. Each tiny part of it might not be very original on it’s own but, when combined together, they produce something unique and original.

However, don’t do this just for the sake of doing it – only “borrow” something else from another style if you think that it looks cool enough to include in your art. And, more importantly, only borrow general techniques and/or small functional elements of other art styles. Don’t blatantly rip off entire characters etc….

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

More Thoughts On How Your Art Style Evolves

2015 Artwork Art style evolution article sketch

When you’ve found your own distinctive drawing “style”, it doesn’t mean that your drawings or paintings will all look exactly the same for the rest of your life.

If you make art often enough then, every now and then, you’ll probably start to notice that your art style will gradually change and evolve. This is a good thing, since it means that you’re both still learning and still improving as an artist.

Although I’ve probably written about this subject before, I recently saw an example of my own art style evolving slightly. So, I thought that I’d take a closer look at how this happened, in case it’s useful to you.

Anyway, a while ago, I suddenly learnt a new way to draw noses and I’ve gradually been incorporating it into some of my drawings and paintings. For some weird reason, how I draw noses seems to be the part of my art style that evolves the most often (the last time was sometime in 2013, or possibly 2014).

This is perhaps because it’s a relatively small part of a picture and yet it can make the same picture look surprisingly different. Here’s a small chart of some of the ways that I’ve drawn people’s noses over the years:

And, yes, I know that the third one on this list looks a bit like a... well, I'll leave it to your imagination. Seriously, I'm surprised that I didn't notice this back in 2013 LOL!!!!

And, yes, I know that the third one on this list looks a bit like a… well, I’ll leave it to your imagination. Seriously, I’m surprised that I didn’t notice this back in 2013 LOL!!!!

And here’s a slightly larger drawing of the new way that I draw people’s noses:

It's surprisingly simple (all you have to do is to draw three lines) and it looks slightly more realistic too.

It’s surprisingly simple (all you have to do is to draw three lines) and it looks slightly more realistic too.

So, how did I learn this? Well, it happened a few weeks ago when I was trying to make a cynical cartoon about 1990s British politics in the style of Frank Kozik’s highly stylised satirical booklet art for The Offspring’s “Americana” album, mainly because I was curious about what a British equivalent of “Americana” would have looked like.

Anyway, like most well-practiced artists, Kozik draws noses in a variety of different ways (depending on the context), but one of them caught my eye because it was so simple and yet so effective.

I was absolutely astonished that he was able to draw someone’s nose using literally nothing more than a single small curved line. So, in my political cartoon, I did the same and then I forgot about it for a while.

A couple of weeks later, when I was making some drawings that will be posted on here in a few days’ time, I suddenly remembered Kozik’s way of drawing noses. So, I tried to use it again – but, since I was already used to drawing noses in a particular way, I inadvertently combined it with the way that I used to draw noses:

In other words, I added these two lines here.

In other words, I added these two lines here.

Hey presto! My art style had evolved slightly.

Of course, this is only one of many possible ways that an artist’s personal “style” can evolve over time. However, it is important to remember that there’s a huge difference between studying a small part of another style (before incorporating it into your own unique style) and just copying another style entirely.

One of these things will add extra depth and richness to your own unique style and the other will just turn you into a pale imitation of another artist.

To use a slightly clunky similie, your art style should be like the English language. The English language is a distinctive and unique language (albeit with many variations), but it isn’t an entirely “original” language. It contains many words that were adapted and/or borrowed from Danish, Latin, French, Norse, Arabic, German etc… but at the same time, it isn’t an identical copy of any of these languages.

In other words, the only time you should copy another artist’s entire style is either when you are practicing (in order to learn which parts of it are worth incorporating into your own style) and/or if you’re trying to make fan art/parodies/pastiches etc…

This is also why, despite what I said about this subject quite a while ago in my article about fan art based on my work, I probably wouldn’t mind if someone copied a few small parts of my style – but I’d probably be extremely annoyed if someone copied my entire style (unless it’s in a parody, pastiche, one-off fan art picture etc…).

Hmmm… I guess that my views on this subject have evolved slightly too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Things To Do If You Feel That Your Art Style Has Stagnated

2015 Artwork Art style stagnation sketch

A few weeks ago, I had a rather disturbing thought which went something along the lines of: “My art style changed slightly near the end of 2012, it changed significantly in mid-late 2013 and it also changed very slightly when I discovered watercolour pencils very early last year. But what has happened to it since then? Nothing.

And, in that moment, I started to worry that my art style had stagnated and that it wouldn’t change or improve any further. Of course, a while later, I realised that I had made some minor improvements to it recently (like getting better at drawing in black & white) – but these were nothing compared to the huge improvements that I’d experienced in the past.

So, in a way, it made me wonder if I’d “reached my destination” and if my art style was as good as it is ever going to get. And, let’s face it, many new artists strive to finally have a unique “style” that they can use for the rest of their lives.

But, once you’ve actually got a unique art style and used it for quite a while, you also quickly get a sense of it’s limitations and, if it doesn’t improve significantly every once in a while, then it can sometimes start to feel very slightly stagnant.

Don’t get me wrong, my art style will probably end up evolving in some way in the future – although, like most things, I guess that it’ll probably happen gradually rather than instantly.

But, in the meantime, I thought that I’d give you a list of things that have improved my art style in the past, in case they’re useful to you:

1) Copying things: One of the best ways of learning how to make art is to copy photographs, other artworks etc.. by sight alone (eg: without tracing anything).

Not only is copying by sight a useful skill to learn in general, but if you do it enough, then you’ll quickly learn how to draw various small details in a much more realistic way than you previously did and these small details can have a startlingly large effect on your art style.

For example, in mid-late 2013, I copied a cartoon illustration in an old “Mad Magazine” book that I found just out of curiosity. And, in the process of doing this, I learnt a very simple technique for making people’s shoulders/chests look more realistic that I’ve used in my art ever since:

Damn it, WHY did I save the original image as a greyscale JPEG!?

Damn it, WHY did I save the original image as a greyscale JPEG!?

Likewise, one of the major changes in my art style in mid-late 2013 was that I finally learnt how to draw noses in a slightly more realistic way. And, again, I learnt this from copying photos and from looking at other works of art. So, don’t be afraid to learn by copying other things.

2) Guidebooks: For quite a while, I refused to look at drawing guides by other people because I was fearful that it would end up making my art look like theirs. This was, despite the fact that when I had looked at drawing guides back in 2008, my art quickly became mildly less crappy as a result.

I was, quite simply an idiot.

Anyway, back in mid-2013, I finally got a book called “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” by Betty Edwards. And, whilst I already knew some of the stuff in the book – one part of it was extremely useful to me.

Basically, up until that point, I almost never drew people in profile because I wasn’t very good at it. But, as soon as I read the part of the book that explained a very easy technique for drawing people’s faces in profile, my reaction was kind of similar to the “I know kung fu” scene in “The Matrix”. Suddenly, something that seemed impossibly difficult was now extremely easy and I could make a wider range of drawings as a result.

So, if you want to improve your art style, then try looking at a few drawing guides.

3) Experiment: This one is pretty self-explanatory really, but one way of improving your art style is just to mess around and try new things. Whilst you’re unlikely to discover anything groundbreaking every time you do this, it can happen every now and then.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment.

4) Practice regularly: This is probably the most important and useful thing that you can do if you want to improve your art style.

Even if you don’t consciously set out to change anything about your style, regular practice will almost inevitably lead to gradual improvements in your art.

Yes, these are usually the kind of subtle improvements that you won’t even notice until a few months or years later when you look back on your old art, but they will happen.

In addition to this, other three techniques on this list will probably only really “work” for you, if you also do a lot of regular practice. Yes, doing something new once is rather cool – but, unless you keep doing that new thing on a regular basis, then there’s a good chance that you’ll either end up forgetting or abandoning it after a while.

So, regular practice is pretty much a requirement if you want to improve your art style.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Open-Source Drawing Styles For Beginners

2014 Artwork Open Source Drawing Styles Sketch

Even though this is an article about art and art styles, I’m going to start by talking about some vaguely geeky computer-related stuff. This is mainly because it was how I ended up coming up with the idea for this article and because it also offers a good metaphor for what I’m talking about.

Well, a few weeks ago, I was vaguely curious about Linux and eventually I ended up making a bootable Puppy Linux CD (albeit using one of the old versions of this system, since it was easiest to find the ISO image for it) in order to try it out.

And, yeah, it seems to work fairly well as an operating system – although most of the programs I own are only really compatible with Windows and the old version of Puppy Linux I downloaded also didn’t seem to be WiFi compatible either. Still, it was really cool – it was quick, it was efficient and – well- it allowed someone as technologically inept as me to feel like a real computer nerd for about twenty minutes or so.

Anyway, one of the cool things about Linux is that, unlike Windows or OSX, it’s an open-source operating system that anyone can use, download and modify. And, well, this made me think of what I said a couple of months ago when I likened an artist’s personal style to the underlying code used to run computer games.

It made me wonder if there are any “open source” drawing styles out there that new artists (who haven’t found their own personal style yet) can use either as their own style or as a stepping stone to finding their own style.

Although I’m still very much attached to my own personal style (with the obvious exception of anything I teach you how to draw in one of my old “How To Draw” guides), I’ve come up with a couple of ideas about other art styles that are “open-source”, which might come in handy.

1) Manga/Anime Art: One of the first things I will say about this drawing style is that it’s fairly consistent (I mean, it was originally designed for comics), relatively simple (again, this is an advantage if you’re making comics) and probably not that difficult to learn the basics of either.

Because it’s such a common and widely-used style, there are literally hundreds of free “how to draw manga” guides out there on Youtube, DeviantART and various websites. So, you can learn the basics of how to draw in this style completely for free. Plus, since it will also teach you the basics of drawing – you can also eventually modify it into something that’s uniquely yours once you’ve had a bit of practice.

Not only that, since it’s so widely-used, no-one can really claim “ownership” of the style either. So, in practice, the basic manga drawing style is pretty much open-source.

2) Stick figures: Literally anyone can draw these with no artistic training whatsoever and there has been at least one successful webcomic that uses simple stick figure art. So, if you want to make a comic quickly and have little to no artistic knowledge, then using some kind of variation on basic stick figures might be an idea.

The only problem with this style is that, unlike manga art, it can’t really be used as a very good basis for learning new things and it’s also quite difficult to modify it into something that is uniquely “yours”.

But, like with manga art, no-one really “owns” this style. So, you can use it without worrying that anyone will think that you’re ripping off their style.

3) Public domain art: You need to check the laws in your own country, but – for example – in most of Europe, the copyright on a piece of art expires seventy years after the death of the artist.

What this means is that everything in their art – including their own style – can be used by anyone in any way without any kind of permission or royalties.

Yes, this will probably involve learning how to copy by sight but if you find any interesting old public domain illustrations or etchings, then you can borrow the artist’s style without any worries. However, most old illustrations generally used a rather “realistic” drawing style which probably isn’t really suitable for beginners.

Even so, some old public domain illustration styles (like the ones used in traditional Japanese woodblock prints) are relatively simple and might only be moderately challenging for a beginner to learn. Plus, they can be easily customised and altered in all sorts of interesting ways once you’ve had a bit of experience with them.

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Although I can only think of three examples of open-source drawing styles at the moment, I hope that this article was useful 🙂