Style woes. lol

  • Hi. So, I mentioned this before, but I have no idea what my true style is. Almost every book I've done has been in a different style. I'm really frustrated with myself at the moment and I'm not sure what to do. I paid for a portfolio review at the upcoming SCBWI virtual conference, and I think my portfolio is actually nowhere near where I want it to be.

    I watched the lecture today that Lees did about finding your style. It makes so much sense. I spent some time looking through illustrations on Pinterest and saving ones I loved. There's definitely a theme! What stood out to me if that the one I saved are so much more like the art I do just for myself and put in gallery shows and sell prints. The work I've done for books and am even still doing now as I finish up a book, is nothing like what I really love to do!? What the heck?!

    Don't get me wrong. There are illustrations for books that I've done that I'm pround of, but my other artwork brings me a lot more pride. So why am I not doing that?

    Here's some examples of what I've done for book stuff...

    Pirates bw 1.jpg JL DYST2 1.jpg

    Then here's some of the stuff I do for personal work.
    JL Goose and Girl pic.jpg
    JL LRS.jpg
    ![JHill_AngelHair 01.jpg](/assets/uploads/files/1623451211JHill_TheWayBack_lores.jpg 683-jWhat's the rush?.jpg hill_angelhair-01-resized.jpg)

    As you can see, the personal art is way more creative and whimsical and so much more fun. It's definitely closer the the work I saved on Pinterest today. I clearly that's more my true style. I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. Maybe when I do the more 'commercial' style, I feel that people will accept it more. The more personal style, is just that - more personal - and if they dont like it, that means they dont like me. I'm aware that's not healthy thinking, but it is what it is at this point.

    My other concern is that if I start completley changing my style, that means 20+ years of work I've done up until now wont go in my portfolio ... so I'd be starting from scratch, even though I have loads of experience in publishing and illustration ... just apparently not the kind of illustration I feel really represents me.

    The other thing is, I entered 2 pieces for the monthly prompt. Both different styles. they actually critiqued the one I liked most, the one I felt was more like this personal style. They didn't love it, so is that a sign that it's not the way to go? I'm super confused and conflicted right now.

    2021-05-28_JanetteHill_V2.jpg 2021-05-24_JanetteHill.jpg

    Your thoughts would be very welcome. I feel like I'm at a crossroads and I'm not sure which way to go. I wish someone could just take a look at everything I've ever done and be like 'This! Do more of this!' lol

  • @Janette I think all of your stuff looks great! But I would do what you love most, so is that your personal work? I love the textures and designs you use on your personal work. I think the black and white drawing of the peacock and the geese picture are nice. I even like the blue and white picture, but to me, the character gets lost in in. I even like the non-personal drawing of the girl with the peacock tail. They are all great.
    If I remember right (my memory may be wrong though), I think the critique of the contest entry was more based on the coloring and too many focal points in it than the style. I think the style is nice on the piece, but it does look like a winter scene at first because of the blue and white. I also think that your non-personal stuff is nice too, but maybe don't pursue that if you don't love it.
    I think that is good that you are going to do a portfolio critique because they can help you.

  • @Kim-Rosenlof thank you for your response. I do love doing the more whimsical stuff. Using the dip pen and ink and hand drawn, rather than polished and digital (although trying to get that look digitally too)

  • @Janette your work is really good! You've got solid drawing skills and good storytelling.

    Regarding your critique: what I took away from it isn't that they didn't like your style. It was that in that piece, the storytelling was letting you down a bit (and to be fair, the storytelling in your full-color piece is way better). And the other critique was that the piece had value and color issues (which they also nailed me for, and rightly so -- I knew there were value issues when I submitted my piece, which is what I get for uploading at the final hour). The value in your piece was much better than mine, but they were right; it could be improved.

    That's not to say that you didn't have a strong piece, you did! It was beautiful and one of my favorites. I hope that this doesn't offend you, but I took a screenshot and did a quick draw-over. (Yes, I guess the pot is calling the kettle black! Maybe we can see things better when we're not so invested in it?) If you darken some of the values and choose one accent color (I randomly picked the hair), as was suggested, it does help. See what you think:

    Regarding your style: I feel your dilemma! May I share a personal experience?

    When I started out freelancing, I thought that there was a "children's book style" that you had to work in. And being able to mimic styles, my portfolio was full of a bunch of styles that I could replicate. In my first jobs, clients asked me to try to mimic the styles of artwork they liked. And sometimes, it was frustrating because I never felt comfortable in that art style -- it was like I was trying to figure it out in every illustration in that book.

    Then I focused on learning all I could about the children's book industry and I read a TON of picture books. And guess what I found out? Those books were illustrated in a variety of different styles. There is no one "children's book style" -- it's the pairing of words and illustrations created in a style that will complement that story.

    So I stopped agreeing to mimic other styles. I took those pieces out of my portfolio. While I still work in more than one style, they're MY styles -- what just naturally comes out when I'm not trying to illustrate like someone else. My styles aren't trendy, but work is still coming in. And because I know that I don't work in a popular style, my focus is on storytelling and nailing emotion in my characters. And I'm much more comfortable and happy with my art (for the most part).

    Full disclosure: obviously, I'm not all the way there. I'm learning and enrolled in SVS just like you because I know I need to improve, especially if I want to reach my goal of working with larger publishers. This is a great place to get critiques from pros and fellow artists in the forum.

    Hopefully you find this little storytime helpful. I've been there, and am still there in some respects! Stick with the style that flows out of you and makes you happy. Not everyone will like it (that's why there are a ton of art styles) but some people will love it. They don't know you as a person, so liking or not liking your art is just about preference. Even a professional or art director who hates a certain style or color -- the next art director might LOVE that style or color and it's the reason why you were hired.

    Don't give up and please don't be too discouraged! Remember, you only need a few pieces in your portfolio, and if you decide to change your style, you're halfway there with what you already have. All that experience you have, even if the "old" work isn't shown, will be there in the new work.

    And also remember: just because a piece was chosen to critique doesn't mean that they didn't like it! This time around, I think they chose a lot of strong pieces to show that everyone can improve and so that they weren't picking on or targeting the pieces that they felt were the weakest.

    Keep on drawing! (And for what it's worth, I love your style!)

  • Its all beautiful but love the look of your personal stuff much more!

  • @Janette I think @Melissa-Bailey-0 nailed it on everything she said.
    I do think that your personal stuff is more interesting. Not that I don't like the non-personal ones, but your personal stuff has something very unique to them. You have something very whimsical in your textures, for instance, the tree on the red swing illustration is beautiful.

    I already told you my story regarding style in my fantasy maps illustrations, so will just add, go for what is you, start developing from there. I think we can never be at our best until we are able to be authentic in what we do. And yeah, sometimes it is a life process to be able to live in our authentic self, but I assure you, it is worth it. 😉 It may seem scary now, but after the first scary steps, you will feel much more happy and fulfilled. ❤

  • Pro

    @Janette 20+ years of past work would NEVER fit in your portfolio, no matter what style you go for 🙂 You only need 12-15 pieces! I've done thousands of pieces up to this point and I'm sure you have to. The vast majority of this body of work is not in our portfolio and that's okay! It doesn't mean it's wasted. If you don't think of the endeavor of finding your signature style as "wasting' all your past work, I think you'll be more likely to let go and throw yourself into this with no reserves, and with all your soul 🙂 Best of luck!

  • Thanks everyone for your comments and encouragement. I know I'm super hard on myself and alwyas think I ought to be doing something different. @Melissa-Bailey-0 I definitely relate to your story. (and not offended by your draw over at all). I started my carrer in an educational publishers in England and adapted my style to work with whatever they needed, and I feel like I've been doing that ever since! Rather than telling people that 'this is my style', I've said 'what style do you want'. That's good for getting work (although all smaller projects), but not good for focusing on what I feel I'm best at and building a strong portfolio of work in order ot get the work I want!

    For this months prompt, I know what animal I want to do, but I KNOW I'll end up doing it in two different styles again. Maybe I just need to be a bit more patient with myself. It takes time to grow.

    I'm so glad I found this community. You're all wonderful! 🙂

  • @NessIllustration That's SO true. Thank you for pointing that out.

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