Should You Use Lots Of Different Art Styles? – A Ramble

A while before I originally prepared this article, I happened to watch the final episode of the BBC’s “The Big Painting Challenge”. One of the interesting things about the episodes was that the tutors often seemed to try to get the artists to paint in different styles. For example, in one part of the show, they deliberately gave a couple of the artists larger brushes than they were used to working with.

And, this made me think about my own art. In particular, how incredibly annoyed I would be if someone tried to get me to make art in a style I wasn’t accustomed to. This might be a slightly old-fashioned view, but part of being an artist is finding, developing and refining your own unique style.

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with being influenced by other styles (in fact, being inspired by several different styles is essential if you want a unique style) , but the idea that an artist should be some kind of robot who can paint or draw in literally any style just seems kind of wrong.

An artist’s style is kind of like their handwriting, it’s a slightly unique and personalised way that an artist conveys information to an audience. It’s something that has developed organically over time in accordance with the artist’s own preferences and sensibilities.

For example, my own style is rather cartoonish (inspired by various western cartoons and some elements from anime/manga art). I tend to work best with drawing-based mediums (eg: I only started painting after I discovered watercolour pencils. Traditional painting would seem ludicrously imprecise to me). I also prefer making smaller works of art relatively quickly. I like to make art using a mixture of traditional and digital tools.

Likewise, I tend to use a slightly limited colour palette these days (inspired by the use of colour in these “Doom II” levels) and, for quite a while, I’ve had a rule that at least 30-50% the total surface area of each of my paintings must be covered with black paint (since it creates a high level of visual contrast that looks really cool). This is a style that I’ve spent several years developing and it’s a style that will probably gradually change slightly as time progresses.

But, even in the days where artists were only expected to make realistic portraits, or realistic paintings about historical and/or religious subjects, artists still managed to have their own unique styles. For example, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper (1498)” is a world apart from Caravaggio’s “Salome With The Head Of St. John The Baptist (1607)”. Yes, these two “realistic” religious paintings were made a little over a century apart, but they both come from an age where attitudes towards art were more traditional and restrictive. Yet, each artist still had their own unique style.

So, an artist’s style is an important thing. It’s the thing that makes the work of an artist instantly recognisable.

Whilst artists can learn to add things to their own style by practicing with other styles, another thing that annoyed me about the “Big Painting Challenge” TV show was the subtly-expressed idea that there was a “right” type of art style. There isn’t! Some artists thrive when making loose, impressionistic artwork. Some artists thrive on making minimalist art. Some artists thrive on making hyper-detailed art. The idea that there’s a “right” art style just doesn’t reflect reality.

I don’t know, this whole attitude reminds me of how – in the past – many people were trained to write in various formal types of script. Yes, they look very ornate and fancy, but you can’t really tell who wrote anything. It’s as impersonal and anonymous as the computer font that this article is displayed in.

Yes, when I’m not using block capitals for lettering in comics/cartoons, my handwriting looks like a series of tiny, barely legible scribbles (and, yes, I’m left-handed). But, this is the style of writing that tends to work best for me, it’s the type of writing that feels quick and spontaneous. I love how I can cram lots of writing into a relatively small space and how, if I write really quickly, my writing has an extra level of privacy to it since I’m often the only person who can decipher it. It’s a style of handwriting that developed because it was right for me.

The same is true for art styles. Generally, an artist’s style develops the way that it does for a reason. It reflects the artist’s aesthetic sensibilities and their inspirations. It reflects the types of art that made them want to become an artist. It reflects their attitudes towards making art. It’s something that develops alongside the artist. It’s the type of art that an artist thrives at when they are making.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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The Individuality Of Art, Webcomics And Prose Fiction – A Ramble

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One thing that always amuses me is watching videos and reading articles about how Hollywood films portray reality in unrealistic ways. How large numbers of major films can make the same kind of “unrealistic” mistakes as each other, because “it’s what the audience expects”.

Likewise, it always amuses me when I read articles on major sites complaining about “comics” (or enthusing about them) for the simple reason that they’re almost always writing about just one well-publicised genre of comics (eg: American superhero comics). There’s often nothing about manga, webcomics, horror comics, newspaper comics etc… it’s literally like comics are only about superheroes, even if that’s blatantly untrue.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to illustrate one of the strengths of art, webcomics and prose fiction. Namely that, since they’re often made by just one or two people, they can often contain a lot more individuality and creativity than things made by larger teams of people do.

Because there’s a much smaller number of people involved in creating these things, then they tend to reflect the imaginations of their creators a lot more vividly.

For example, a webcomic like Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” is set in a slightly surreal version of Canada and it features a strange cast of characters (including a sphinx!) who often like to talk at length about all sorts of introspective and philosophical topics. The comic is both incredibly realistic and incredibly unrealistic in it’s own unique way. There is quite literally nothing else like it in the world.

Likewise, an absolutely amazing writer called Billy Martin (who wrote under the pen name of “Poppy Z. Brite” before retiring) set most of his stories in a “realistic” version of America. But, the locations in his stories are often depicted in an extremely vivid, descriptive way that almost makes them seem like something from a comic or a painting. He’s written gothic fiction, splatterpunk fiction, surrealist stoner cyberpunk beat literature and heartwarming romantic fiction and yet all of these vastly different stories still seem to come from the same unique imagination. Again, there’s nothing else quite like these stories in the world.

Yet, I can’t imagine Hollywood ever adapting anything from these two amazing people. Yes, both of them have had their work adapted (eg: Winston Rowntree wrote and made the art for an animated web series called “People Watching“, and one of Martin’s short stories was adapted for an episode of a TV series called “The Hunger”), but this has often been done by smaller or slightly more independent outlets.

The interesting thing is that this gulf between individual creativity and mass media wasn’t always so wide. I mean, just look at Clive Barker – he makes really unique-looking paintings and writes very imaginative and distinctive horror/fantasy fiction. And, during the 80s and 90s, he got to direct several Hollywood films (eg: Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord Of Illusions). Yet, it’s very unlikely that he’d be able to direct a major Hollywood film today without it being reduced to some kind of bland, mass-market, CGI-filled, focus group-designed “PG-13” rubbish that contains at least one superhero.

Ironically though, this historical trend can also be seen in computer games too. Back when “mainstream” games were the only games out there, there was a lot more creativity and innovation. But, thanks to gaming becoming more popular and the internet allowing independent studios to distribute their games cheaply, games seem to have split into two very distinctive “types”.

There are the major large-budget games that seem to require the absolute latest hardware and which seem to focus on both a few simplified types of gameplay and on flashy hyper-realistic graphics. Then, you’ve got lower-budget indie games which sometimes tend to run better on older systems and often display the same level of variety, innovation, complexity, uniqueness and creativity that used to be standard in computer games.

Yet, art, (non-superhero) comics and prose fiction have rarely seen these kinds of changes. And I think that it’s all because of individuality. In all of these formats, there isn’t really a large team involved. Likewise, actually writing a story or making art costs considerably less than, say, making a film or a game does.

So, I guess that the rule here is that the more money and the more people are involved in creating something, the less creative it will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂