The Artistic Identity
Who is your favorite comic book artist?
Think about it for a second; who inspires you, energizes and shoots a rush of creative blood throughout your veins? What is it that draws you to their wondrous works of comic book craftsmanship?
I’ll take a stab in the dark here and bet beyond the comics they illustrate, their notoriety or fame, they’ve got you hooked as their No.1 fan thanks to their signature style – The impossible to miss artistic identity, you’re the first to recognize in each and every one of their mouth drooling master pieces.
An artist becomes recognized for their artistic flair; the undeniable brand containing its own unique flavor of appeal within the art work itself. It’s what they’re hated, loved, or hired for.
Let’s talk about you for a moment though. Does your art work have a style? I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question, more than once. When people look at your art work, could they ever tell it was crafted by your very hands?
For a long time, I honestly couldn’t answer this question on my own. So I’d hold up my work to friends or family and rely on them to tell me instead. To my surprise they’d say “Yeah Clayton, of course you’ve got style”, but I seemed blind to what it was that made my art work appear as distinctly mine.
What most don’t realize is that as we travel along the ever expanding path to self-creative mastery, the work we produce visually transforms through the challenges we face and the mileage we make. It wasn’t until later on in my career that I began to see a consistency in the way I drew my comic book characters and the worlds they inhabited.
Getting to know Your Artistic Alter-Ego
You might ask why style isn’t innate within us from the beginning. In fact it is… it’s just a little unchiselled.
Style may start out primitive, but from the moment you’re able to wield a crayon it’s present in your artistic output. Over time it matures through careful nurturing. With every new drawing you get to know and understand yourself a little bit better as an artist. You figure a unique way of working that allows you to better project the ideas inside your mind, down onto the drawing board.
Along the way the challenges you face force you to level up your skills. Your confidence grows with every feat, and overtime your workflow becomes more and more refined as you iron out its flaws.
Style is the visual foot print of that experience.
But it goes deeper than that… The typical genres and themes you choose to work in will also leave your drawings with a unique visual appeal.
So how can you speed up the solidification of your style?
It’s said that repetition is the mother of all skill. So it’s simple. The more drawings you draw, the closer you’ll come to knowing your inner, artistic self.
Balancing family, friends, and life’s higher responsibilities with your creative priorities is easier said than done. In reality, time comes at a premium with the day to day rat race of life. For your style to take form though, it’s going to need time dedicated to its development in some capacity.
It can be 15 minutes on the weekend; it can be 16 hours a day. Whatever time you put into developing your skills still counts.
Know though that the higher that stack of drawings climbs, the clearer what’s working and what’s not working will become. You’ll tweak your characters and their features to the pinnacle of your personal taste, the contours of your drawings will become slicker, sharper, faster and more confident than ever. But overall, the lasting result of all those hours, months, even years of experience will be the steady increase of consistency in the personal methods naturally developed to craft your creations.
That consistency directly translates to style.
Let Your Influential Guides Lead You
In the beginning let those who inspire you lead you. Literally replicate their style in your study sessions, taking advantage of the techniques they’ve used in their work to create your own. Here’s the trick to it though, don’t just copy what you see, understand it.
You might be worried that you’re not being original enough or that you’re cheating by copying someone else. I get that, I had the very same bad taste in my mouth when I was trying to find my feet.
But that’s just it. Before we begin the climb we need a sturdy ledge to grip onto. This might come as a surprise, but did you know that the artists you admire most likely all have influences of their own? They, like you and I, had to begin somewhere.
Let’s take Todd McFarlane for example, one of the comic book greats whose work has had an incredible impact on the evolution of my personal style. Among the many influences that helped mold his artistic aesthetics you’d find comic book legends like John Byrne, Gil Kane, and even Akira creator Katsuhiro Ōtomo. If you look closely at Todd’s work you can see all of these artists combined into the gestures, anatomy, costumes and the capes of his characters and the intricate details of his backgrounds.
We draw what we’re drawn to. Your influences will always be a part of your style. The way you’ll make it original and unique is by taking their ingredients and concocting a brand new recipe of your very own, carefully fine tuning it until it tastes just right.
Lastly understand that your style will never be set in stone, and as you expand beyond the level of skill you’re at now, so will it. It’s important not to be afraid of losing the old and replacing it with the new insights inevitably unveiled through practice and persistence.