If you asked me whether or not I thought developing your own signature art style was an absolute necessity before you begin selling your art, I would say no. I might then go on to explain how I know dozens of artists who make their living selling their art that don’t have an instantly recognizable, unique drawing style. But in the end I think you would remain unconvinced. I think you would still believe that you need an individual style before you start selling your work. So rather than spend the time we have trying to convince you, I figured it would be easier to just show you how to develop a signature style, step-by-step. Honestly, it is better if you have one and it does help when it comes to selling your work, even if it isn’t an absolute necessity.
I discovered this method by trial and error. Everything I’ve ever read says that developing a personal style takes years, and I’ve never been able to find a step-by-step process on exactly how to do it. I could find plenty of posts titled “how to find your own art style” but none of them actually explained how to do it. They all suggested things like draw for years and years or find your inner passion magnet, whatever that is. I guess it’s good advice but I needed something actionable, something I could actually do that would produce the results I was looking for. In the end I had to develop it myself, but once I did, I had a step-by-step process that I’ve since used to help hundreds of artists find their own personal style that fits them and grows with them as they continue to develop. It really works and all you have to do is follow the steps.
There is nothing mystical or magical about developing your own personal art style. Style, like any other element of your artistic process, comes deliberately. It doesn’t need to take years or even months. Style is something you build, and you can build it in a week. Tops.
Let’s Get Started
The steps I’m about to give you should be followed in order and to the letter. You’ll be tempted to cheat and jump ahead or pick more things than recommended. Please don’t. If you follow the steps and put serious thought into your choices you will have the foundation for your own personal signature style with the very next drawing you do.
One more thing before we get started. Since developing a personal style is usually considered a creative endeavor, it will help if I give you my definition of creativity. Once we get the creative part out of the way you can follow the steps and achieve the results you really want.
With that definition in the back of your mind, let’s get to it.
Step 1: Identify three artists or art styles that really resonate with you emotionally
OK, so here’s where you start. Pick three artists or art styles or art objects that you really love. They can be anything or anyone and you can mix-and-match. You can also choose three-dimensional art styles like sculpture or dolls or toys, but it’s important that at least two of your choices be two-dimensional styles or artists. For example, you could use all three choices on different artists who use different styles, or all three choices on different artistic styles or “isms” like Impressionism or Mannerism etc.
The artists you choose should not work in a distinctly similar style to each other and the styles you choose should be as different as possible. We are going for variety here.
The most important part of this step is to choose artists that you really admire and styles that you really enjoy. You really really need to love what you pick, but don’t forget you can only pick three.
Step 2: Choose one image that best represents each of your choices from step one
Step two is a hard one for a lot of people. What you need to do is choose one painting or drawing or photo that best represents your choices from step one. For example, let’s say you chose Audrey Kawasaki. You would choose your very favorite Audrey Kawasaki painting. Or let’s say you chose Anime. Choose your favorite Anime drawing of all time.
I know, I know, it’s hard! There are so many good ones to choose from! But it’s important, so no cheating, you can only pick one image for each artist or artistic style or 3D object. So take some time with this step and choose images that you really love, images you would hang in your house, images you would actually buy.
Step 3: Analyze each of the images you chose in step two
If you thought step two was hard, buckle your seat-belt. Step three is the hardest part, the part most people don’t spend enough time on. It’s also the most important part, so please take the time to do it right.
Here is how to do it right. Really study each image you chose. Have a pen and paper handy so you can write down your observations. For each image that you chose there is one major artistic element that really makes that image amazing, one something that made it stand out to you over all the rest. Find that. Analyze it. Write it down.
Ask yourself WHAT grabs your attention first. That’s the thing you’re after. Next, ask yourself WHY that particular thing grabs your attention over everything else in the drawing. Now ask yourself HOW that particular thing was used in the drawing.
There are no wrong observations. The only way to mess this up is to make too few observations.
Be as specific as possible. If you chose a figurative artist for example, you shouldn’t just write “I like the way so and so draws the figure.” That’s not enough information. You need to understand why you like the way so and so draws the figure. What exactly is it about this particular figurative artist that moves you over every other figurative artist out there? Is the figure realistic or stylized? Is it strong and powerful, or fragile and delicate? Did the artist use bold outlines or no outlines at all? Is the figure strongly lit with dramatic lights and shadows or softly lit with hardly any shadows at all?
Maybe it’s not the figure that interests you, maybe you find it’s the color that really stands out to you. What is it about the color that caught your eye? Are all the colors bright and vivid or are they dull and muted? Maybe there’s a combination of both. If there is a combination of both, are the bright vivid colors near or surrounding the main subject matter? Or are all the bright colors in the main subject matter and all the surrounding colors dull and muted? Did the artist use lots of different colors or are the colors mostly in the same color family? It’s things like this that you really want to know.
You should write at least a good-sized paragraph for each image describing the one artistic element in that image that makes it special for you. Several paragraphs is better and a full page best, but do what you can.
Right about now I’m betting your mind is throwing up all kinds of objections. Maybe you feel like you’re not a good writer. Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough about art to make good observations. Or maybe you feel like you just don’t have the words. None of those things matter. No one else is ever going to see this so it doesn’t matter if you’re a Pulitzer Prize winning writer or not. Simple is good as long as it’s carefully observed, and you don’t have to know anything about art to know what you like. It’s not important to use big impressive technical art terms. What is important is that you know why you like what you like. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. So take your time and really look at each image that you chose.
Teaching yourself to do this step well will be extremely valuable to you as an artist. You may recall that I made a comment in the blog post, Are You Ready to Start Selling Your Copic Marker Art?, that marketing your art and talking about your art are the same thing. Most artists have trouble with sales because they don’t know how to talk about their work. They don’t know how to talk about their work because they never learned to talk about art work in general. If you don’t know how to explain a thing, it’s difficult for other people to understand that thing. Nobody likes things they can’t understand.
By spending enough time on this step you will learn to analyze and talk about art which will help you develop the tools to analyze and talk about your own art. The more you talk about your own art the better it sells.
Step 4: Combine each of the individual artistic elements you identified in step three into an original drawing of your own
This is the step where my definition of creativity comes into service. In this step you combine the elements you chose so carefully in step three into an original drawing of your own. To be clear, here you are not combining the subject matter from the images you choose, you are combining the artistic elements you identified into a subject matter of your own. The subject matter for this new drawing should be the subject matter that you draw most often. It should be the subject that you love to draw most.
For example, let’s say that most of your drawings are of popular comic book characters but you haven’t yet developed a style that really sets the characters you draw apart from everybody else who draws comic book characters. Up to this point you’ve been drawing more or less in the style of your favorite comic book artist but now you’re looking to find your own style. You have decided to draw comic book hero “A”.
Now here’s where the work you did in step three comes in handy. Let’s say you learned that you love artist “X” line work, artist “Y” bold color schemes and art style “Z” for its bold use of lights and darks (think Rembrandt). So you start your drawing of hero “A” the same way you always do, with a rough sketch. You clean up the sketch and then do your line work in the style of artist “X”. When it comes time to color you use the bold color schemes of artist “Y” and the dramatic lights and darks of artist “Z”.
When you finish the drawing it will be in a unique style that no one has ever seen before. It will still be recognizable as your work because, in the example given above, the anatomy proportion and figure style is all the same as you’ve always done and so is the general conception of the character. It will also be seen as unique because the choices you made are unique to you. Even if two people choose the same artist or style, the way they adapt that particular element into their own work will be unique to them, and consequently, their drawings will be unique to them.
The really interesting thing about this approach is that it instantly sets your art apart from everyone else but still retains some familiarity with the work that everyone has seen before. It’s different yet familiar, unique but still recognizable. It’s not so different that no one will accept it (think Van Gogh) but not so familiar that they feel like they’ve seen it before. You’ll be surprised how many people will identify with the work saying it reminds them of their favorite artist but you’ll also be surprised how many people tell you how unique your style is and how much they love it.
Using this method to develop your own signature style really works.
Because you choose each element carefully and intentionally, the style that emerges will fit you as an individual and it will grow with you as you grow artistically. The more drawings you make, the more your style will refine itself and evolve. You may find a year or two down the road that your style has changed significantly. Most of us do. But because you started from a well-planned, foundational style, the changes will be natural and will look like they still belong to the same body of work.
Give it a try and see what you think. There’s no need to be an artist in search of a style any longer. I can’t wait to see what you make.
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