On Style

What most people mean when they ask about “style” is handwriting–something that isn’t worth worrying about. But every young artist wants his or her work to appear individual. So the question is this: How can you accomplish this in a meaningful way? How does an artist find a style that goes beyond mere surface?

Put your time and energy into figuring out what you want to communicate– what feelings, images, ideas. When you focus on these, you’ll find your pictures will call for certain changes as you try to more closely approximate what’s in your head: Maybe a change in picture-plane depth, maybe a more conspicuous use of line that emphasizes iconic qualities over representational. You might want warm, likable characters, or you might want to stress their worst aspects. Are these the people next door? Gods come to earth? Ridiculous goons? Mindless, slogan-repeating drones? Do you want your reader to be enjoying your authorial audacity while he’s reading, or should she just be focused on what happens next? Is the depiction of light on solid form important to the mood you want to create? Are you trying to be funny? If so, is your picture a visual shaggy-dog story or is it a one-liner? Would believability be a plus or a minus? Are you illustrating a graceful moment or a spazzy, awkward one?

Learn to recognize how other creators have answered these questions, analyze your reactions to the results and try to figure out why this or that element would or wouldn’t be helpful in communicating the stuff that’s in your head. You may have to compromise if you find that the best solution is beyond your capacity as an artist. For some artists, these compromises form the bases of their styles.

Concentrate on these sorts of questions. When you haven’t gone far enough, you’ll look at what you’ve drawn and feel inarticulate, cowardly and lame. When you’ve gone too far you’ll frown at your work and feel tawdry, exhibitionistic and lame. If all is going well, you won’t choose your style– it will, eventually, choose you. This may take a while, but recognize that self-satisfaction is a bad thing when you’re trying to learn. Good luck.