4 Steps to Your Own Signature Art Style

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.

Creativity

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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75 Comments:

  1. This might help I haven’t tried drawing yet but I am about to do that i hope this works!

    • Hi Kitty, I think you’re gonna be pleasantly surprised. Just follow the steps and you’ll have a unique style quicker than you thought possible. The cool thing is, you can experiment with different styles by choosing different artists for this process. Can’t wait to see what you come up with 🙂

  2. Really useful article! Thank you so much!

    • You’re very welcome, thank you for the kind comment!

      • It helped me awell! I enjoy the doll like drawings, some more magical elements, and just plain shapes used in things like in adventure time, and the article helped me put the key elements together! Thanks!

        Now that I think about it, my drawings look like Bratz Girls

      • Hi Alu, super happy to hear this article helped! Thanks for sharing your drawing. You’re right, there are some elements of the Bratz dolls here, but there’s also plenty of originality. Nice work 🙂

    • Lindsay McWilliams

      I have a particular artist I love, Laura Klein Stephens (and 2 other ones but I like hers the most) but i can’t replicate it. I try but I really can’t. Any tips? BTW awesome article

      • Hi Lindsay, I’m not familiar with her work. Can you post an image or two that you like from her, please? Once I’ve seen what kind of work she does, maybe I can help you with your journey. 🙂 If you feel like it, you could include a work or two from the other artists you mention, maybe together we could walk through this process using your artists as a specific example.

  3. But I don’t have original art :<

  4. // hi~! just wanted to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for making this article!!

    / i used this kind of technique and it’s really help me to realize what kind of art i wanted to make, and has helped me limit myself less when making art ^u^

    / and also, all those people reading, don’t be afraid to do this many times when finding new artists. finding new artists and observing their art will help you to know even more what art inspires you and how you want to make it. it’s great even to practice well known individual styles (( like from a tv show/comic : steven universe, lackadaisy, manga, etc. )) even if you don’t use them much, because the things that you like about them will in the end probably help develop your art style more~

    / also remember that art is all about trying new things, no drawing is the best because each one is different, and making something unique and different is what art is all about :3 each mistake helps you develop your art more, so never give up and just LOVE ART <3

  5. Whats the point? Is it your style anymore if its just a factory process? Dump van gogh, munch, and david lynch into a machine and see what comes out? All this does is limit and restrict what you can do. You should be influenced by other artists, hell, steal from them! but you shouldn’t use specific algorithms to get a style from said artists. Let it come naturally. This article is the easy way out. Like you said mr. Kerry, style should be “DELIBERATE”, not a mistakenly chosen set of rules that you must adhere to as some misguided recipe for success. I respect what youre trying to do, but I dont agree with it. These things cant be rushed.

    • Ian, thank you for the comment. I love a spirited discussion. By the way, Van Gogh, Munch, and David Lynch would make an awesome style. Good call! Now to your comment.. you seem to be mistaking guidelines for limitations and restrictions. The clearest path towards improvement in any endeavor is to start with a set of guidelines. In fact, more often than not, true creativity comes from taking a set of established parameters and then breaking away from them in your own unique way. I would challenge you to find any artist whos style was not derived from the artists that came before them. Further, your statements seem slightly contradictory. You state that we should let it come naturally, but then say style should be deliberate.. please show me a naturally occuring deliberate process. We can find some common ground though. I too respect what you’re trying to say, but disagree completely with what you’ve said.

    • Yes, I agree. You haven’t developed your style at all. You have manufactured it. It takes years to truly develop your own style…and that’s a good thing.

  6. One of my favorite artists is one of my best friends and she sees what i draw, and she has a very unique style an it’s gonna be obvious that i some-what referenced her
    ~Btw this article was very helpful, i usually dp different styles on each of my drawings,. ~im gonna us this method!! (^~^;)ゞ
    • thxx c:

    • Hi Ashley, so happy you found this article useful! Don’t worry about referencing your friend. So long as you only choose one stylistic element from her work, what you end up with will still be uniquely yours, and I’m sure she’ll be flattered to see her influence in your work 🙂

  7. I’ve been drawing for years. I’ve been in school accademically studing art for 7 and half years to be specific, and I’ve never reached the place where what i’m drawing is also what i like. I’m not a bad artist, my work has been received well and i’m technically a somewhat proficient artist, but I personally haven’t felt very happy with my style. My artistic voice has so far just been the conglomeration of all the dofferent teachers and my natural tendencies.

    I haven’t tried this method yet, but it’s the first time anyone has given me an idea on how to develop a style I like. Most people just say look at tons of art and it will come to you. Perhaps that works for some people, but I find I like too many things and that makes it difficult to pin down how i want things to really look. Thank you for giving me a new approach, a different way to look at art and a practical way to start on my own journey to personal style discovery. I also really appreciated what uomoni said. Doing this multiple times gives you the opportunity to unlock combinations from your orinigal combinations. Perhaps Sargent and Mary Blair don’t look great combined but when adding the brain child of Arthur Rackham and Shel Silversteins illustrations you find the style that makes you happy.

    And the comments about originality, I respect the desire for it, but originalty is inevitable, unless you directly copy. That’s what 7.5 years of art school has taught me.

    Anyway thank you for a new idea!

    • Hi Curly, thank you for the amazing comment! I understand exactly where you’re coming from. When I was studying academically I had the same problems. My style at the time was simply a combination of the instructors that I admired and my own limitations with regards to my ability to apply the things I was learning. Not very satisfactory. In researching this post, I was shocked at the lack of practical advice on actually developing an artistic style. Everyone seemed to suggest that you should just wait and it would somehow magically develop on its own, but that’s not the way any of my other skill sets developed so it didn’t make sense to me that my style would develop that way either. The system outlined above is really cool because it really works. And like Uomoni points out, the opportunity for variation and refinements are endless. If you think about it, this is the way a natural style develops on its own anyway. We’re just shortening the process and guiding it with intellect. Again, thanks for the awesome comment 🙂

  8. It took me FOUR HOURS to find my style.. and I’m so in love I can’t stop drawing thank you so much!!

  9. I like pencil sketching a lot. Usually I try to figure out my own style of fonts (randomly). After reading this great post, I got some ground rules to create my own style of fonts. Now step by step unlike my previous method (randomly). I will try these steps, and one day I will show my fonts to you. Thanks a lot.

  10. I’m going to try this now I’m getting back into art after a long hiatus. I’m usually a jack of all trades and am very experimental, but I have been planning to sell for a long time and figured a signature art style could help. If not that, then at least it might help me get working again.

    Thanks for the post

    • Hi Cat, thank you for the kind comment! I too am a chameleon of sorts, in that I can draw in nearly any style. But once I finally settled on my own signature art style things really took off for me. I hope they do for you too 🙂

  11. I am a beginner at drawing…so will this work for me?

    • Hi Bree, that’s a very good question! Would it be possible for you to show me some examples of your work? I’d like to be as helpful as I can, but not sure I can answer your question without knowing where you’re starting from.

  12. these steps seem really hard and confusing my whole 4 years of art practice i followed what most artists say to do and thats find a artist and copy them with the best ability and it would teach you to draw like them but i found this method to be a big lie cuz as soon as i stopped looking at the images of the artists i couldent draw the image the same and it makes me feel like i just been stealing and not learning for 4 years and its kinda sad to me and makes me want to stop art

    • I think with the method Chris lays out you will make more progress towards finding a style of your own, because it basically forces to actually think about and understand what element you like from each artist rather than just copying and not understanding why the artist does things a certain way or what you like about their style. Seems easier to retain and put into practice if you understand what you’re doing 🙂

    • Hi Blake, I find it unfortunate that there is so little information out there on this subject and that you spent so long working only to end up feeling like you were just spinning your wheels. As you’ve learned from your experiences, just copying an artist will do very little good for you in the long run. However, the method I lay out in this post is different, in that rather than simply copying an artist you love, you’re analyzing that artist to determine what exactly it is that they do that you love. Once you understand what an artist is doing, not only are you able to copy it effectively, you are also able to deconstruct it and reconstruct it in new ways. Give this system a try. It’s really very simple, but I’m not gonna lie to ya, it takes hard work… anything worthwhile does 🙂

  13. Hi! I am writing from Sweden. This was exactly what I needed today and kickstarted my creativity! I am working on step 3 and will surely get back to you once finished. Just out of curiosity, are these guidelines developed by you alone or is there a teacher or someone else behind these steps? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Helena, I’m super happy you found this article useful, and I can’t wait to see your progress. To answer your question, the system described in this article was developed by me through years of trial and error. It is completely original and you can only find it here 🙂

  14. I liked the guidelines, figured out that i LOVE to draw eyes with emotion, though it’s hard with just pencil and paper. However, I am terrible at drawing eyes, any suggestions?

  15. Thanks so much for this article. I’ve been trying to develop my own style for a while now and this really helped!👍😝

  16. Hello!
    I stumbled across your article after I got another down phase with my art.
    I read many articles on style already… not really any good ones to really do something rather than “draw and wait”.
    Though yours really helped!
    After figuring a bit of the stuff out I tried putting together things, overly excited. (which is a surprise because I wasn’t able to draw anything decent all day)
    For once I am even pleased with the result. Sure there’s probably still a long way to go but I think for a while I finally got a push in the right direction. Thank you!
    (doodling is really fun now. Well I’ll see for how long xD)

  17. Hi! I really think this article was helpful. I’m still having a few problems with finding my style. I’m trying to focus on the artists IcarianPrince (You probably won’t know who he is, he isn’t too popular, I’ll upload a photo) I’ve been trying to focus on the head, jaw-line, cheeks, etc. (those are the things I’ve been having the most trouble with) Do you have any tips I could use?

  18. Hi, this tutorial was really helpful however I’m having some trouble actually managing to try to replicate the way the artist draws
    I am in complete love with audria auclair’s art style and I would love to incorporate it into my style however I don’t know how to draw the particular thing (e.g. I don’t the process to draw a face the same way she does)
    This also goes for the other artists I love

    I would love if you could help me with this
    Thank you

    • I had trouble doing this too! Try looking at a picture of her art and sort of matching it. After doing this a few times, try putting in the style of your other artists. If you’re still having trouble, trace the drawing a few times. That’s what I used, and it really seemed to help.

    • Hi Cloe, if I were to dissect Audra Auclair’s style in an effort to integrate it into the system described above, I would categorize her style like this:

      • Linear, dead-weight line work
      • Simple, muted color schemes
      • Relatively standard anatomical proportions with slight exaggeration towards fashion illustration
      • Often animorphic components
      • Hair often plays a big role in composition

      With this list in mind, I would work towards incorporating those elements into the other artists you’ve chosen in order to create a new and unique style. If you’re looking specifically to learn to draw figures the way that she does, I would recommend copying as many of her works as possible until you get a feel for her style. Hope this helps 🙂

  19. Could a type of doll be considered an “artist”? I absolutely love Lalaloopsy dolls (you can find them in stores in the kids section) but does that fall under an artist?

  20. This was such a helpful article! I was feeling very frustrated the other day about finding a unique “style”, and now I can’t wait apply this. Many thanks!

  21. can you see if i messed up

  22. Funny, I wanted to work on my Style, too and what you describe is EXACTLY what I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure about it. And now I’ve read this article and wow, okay, seems like I wasn’t THAT wrong with my idea…! :3

  23. Hey! I’ve been drawing for nine years and have improved a lot since I started, but I’ve never found a style I could stick with… I’m currently trying semi-realistic because it’s a style that I’ve always admired, I think it’s the perfect balance between the real world and a world of my own, but here’s the problem… I’m struggling to find a way to merge the unrealistic style with the realistic one… When I attempt to do so, the final drawing looks like an amorphous mish mash of extremely realistic features and basic cartoon-like features… Do you have any advice on how to combine them without having too much of one of the styles??

    I’m sorry if the explanation confused you, let me know if you understood what I was trying to say…

    • Hi Silver, I love the concept behind your idea. Would you mind showing me some of your work where you are combining these two styles? I’ll have a better idea of how to help you once I see the work for myself 🙂

  24. I have only been painting for three years and I got represented by a gallery very quickly. But the style that is selling isn’t where my heart is and I struggled becoming 10 different artists trying to find myself. Your article I just read 5 days had tremendously helped me. I followed your instructions and within 3 days, I feel I found my style. Am finishing the first painting now and solo exhibit scheduled in June will show a total of 30 originals. thank you!

  25. Hi, I’ve been drawing for a few years (An example of my best work is below) but recently I’ve gotten stuck. I feel like rather than improving, I’m devolving. I don’t have a consistent style, beyond “anime”. I tried what you said and it seemed to help a bit, but not enough to make any difference. Also, no one really notices my art, I barely get any comments and I feel like no one likes it.

    • Hi Mingdaii, what a beautiful drawing. Tell you what, maybe if we walk through it together that would help. If you’ll show me the three artists you picked when you followed the advice in this post we’ll go through it together and see what we can come up with 🙂

  26. Truly enjoyed this article. Before reading it, I read an earlier article by a nice lady that said finding my style can take years. Finally I found an actual “shortcut” that won’t leave me still searching for my style in a senior home decades from now. I noticed this article was more about drawing and sketching but I’m hoping these steps will also work just as well with paintings. Paint is my medium of choice. I will try these steps out in the next few days and hope to find myself artistically. Thanks again!

    • Hi Ever Lee, happy you found it useful. I wonder if you were reading the same article I was while researching this post 🙂 Just so you know, I started my artistic career as a classically trained oil painter, so I can say from experience that this absolutely will work with that medium. Would love to see what you come up with!

  27. This is really cool. Great article! I never saw the connection in the different styles and artists I like, but I do now! Thank you!
    I teach high school art and I am going to try this with my advanced artists at the end of the semester!

  28. Thank you for this really useful article! I can`t wait to try this out- I`ve been looking for advice on developing my style and this makes a lot of sense! I`ve signed up to your emails so I don`t miss anything!

  29. It is Really useful…. My three favorite Artists are Akira Toriyama, Masashi Kishimoto, and Sui Ishida ….. this drawing below is of Kaneki Ken… i drew it about a month ago what do you think…. is there any room for improvement?

    • Hi Gavin, what a great drawing. Thanks for sharing! I can see a lot of Sui Ishida in this, but whereas Ishida uses a more open color palette and lighter value range, you’ve really added some punch to this by giving it such a strong value structure. Your blending and shading are top notch and your highlights on the mask are awesome. Very nice work.

  30. Hello, Mr. Kerry,

    I just stumbled upon this website and article, and I find it to be very helpful.

    Here are the three artists I chose in order to try to make my own style:
    -Alex Ross (Marvel Comics artist) (line art)
    -Jim Lee (DC Comics artist) (color schemes)
    -Roger Robinson (Comic artist (not sure for what company) (darks and lights)

    I don’t have any work to share at the moment, but I just came up with these choices. I am think about using characters from Japanese anime to build with so I can prepare for making my original characters.

    So, what do you think of this idea?

    • Hi Michael 🙂 Good god, I love this idea! You’ve got really good taste in comic artists. The combination of Ross’s naturalistic figure style with Robinson’s noir style of graphic blacks combined with an anime theme would be something really special. I’m a little confused on Jim Lee for color. My impression was he’s mostly a penciler? Can you fill me in here? Not often I get to ask questions of you guys 🙂 Looking forward to your response, and can’t friggin wait to see what you do with this. Let me know if you need any help or have any questions. I’m really excited to see how this turns out for you.

  31. So excited to have found this article, I’ve been trying for years to find a style of my own, without much success. I can’t wait to try your method. Thank you so much.

    • I suck at this! Days spent on Pinterest and others trying to figure out what I like best, but styles I like are different from one another, for instance I like doing whimsical landscapes, but also characters (whimsical faces etc) so they can’t really both go in the same painting, too many choices I’m going nuts! Any advice?

  32. Thank you; you helped quite a bit but I still believe it’s Super DUPER Hard to find your own style, especially when you think your bad and everyone compliments you on it.

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