What is the commercial/animation style?

  • Hi everyone! During the most recent critique arena, @Will-Terry and @Lee-White mentioned "commercial" or "animation" style a couple of times. For the past few days, I've been trying to figure out what makes a style look "commercial" and I'm a little stumped. I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts on this?

    I feel like lineart is definitely an aspect, although some lineart looks commercial and some does not. Is it a color thing? The stylization of characters?

    Personally, I'm concerned that my work looks very commercial, and I'd like to steer away from it.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

  • Hi @baileyvidler, the way i understand commercial art / animation is heavy on line work and flat saturated colors to draw attention. A good example is all the art you see at the grocery store.

    You don’t see the same art in the grocery store that you see in the picture book section of your favorite book stores.

    See below examples of commercial cereal art.


  • Hi @baileyvidler -- I can't speak to what Will and Lee define as "commercial" or "animation" styles. They're the best ones to answer that question. What I can share is what I see happening in the children's book market (I'm a huge PB fan and read over 600 picture books & chapter books a year). While there are a few styles that are more popular, you'll find picture books currently being published in just about any art style -- loose, painterly, detailed, polished, folksy, realistic, stylized ... and everything in between.

    Reading all these books, this is what I personally have concluded, and I'm sharing it here because maybe it'll be helpful: it's not so much about style; it's about storytelling. Being able to show feeling and render characters consistently. And pairing text with an illustration style that best tells the story.

    So this is the approach I (again, personally) have decided to take: when it comes to style, I'm being me, drawing what naturally comes out of my hand and brain. (Of course, it has to be child-friendly.) Because my style isn't that popular at the moment, I'm focusing on storytelling and emotion. So far, this approach is working. I'm getting illustration jobs and have a waiting list of small clients. (Actually, I work in more than one illustration style, and get work in both.) My goal is to move onward to bigger publishers, so I can't guarantee that this approach will work in the big pond ... but I think it has a good chance.

    Okay. Enough about me -- how can this help you?

    Do you like your current style? Is this what naturally flows out of you? Are the pieces in your portfolio representative of the work you'd like to get? Are you happy with any kind of children's book illustration work, or do you want to focus on picture books? Do you want to fit yourself into a popular style (that someday will go out of style) to get a specific type of work? Or would you rather focus on building your skill instead of focusing on style, and then attracting/submitting to clients that are looking for that type of work, whether they be in the children's book market or not?

    And is the label "commercial" or "animation" necessarily a bad thing? Depending on how you look at it, it could mean that your art is marketable and sellable, and that could be a good thing.

    Looking at your Insta profile and your portfolio, your current work seems like it would fit very well in the chapter book / middle grade market. It seems to be the subject matter, character age, and genre that your art gravitates toward. There have been quite a few recently published books illustrated in styles similar to yours. (A few examples: the Dragon Masters series [2014-2022], New Kid by Jerry Craft [2019] and Extraordinary by Cassie Anderson [2019], both of which are graphic novels.)

    There aren't many, but a few recent picture books are illustrated in a style that is slightly similar to yours: C Is for Country, Buzzing With Questions: the Inquisitive Mind of Henry Turner, and On a Rainy Day (which is coming soon). The first two are illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. On a Rainy Day is illustrated by Sarah LuAnn Perkins.

    If your concern is that your style might not be sellable specifically to the picture book market, you may want to get a portfolio review or critique from an art director or agent who specializes in picture books, since they are directly involved in working with illustrators, producing, and selling -- they've got their finger on the pulse of the market. They might be in a better position to offer insights into how to adjust your style to fit the market, if that's something you want to do. (If you're an SCBWI member, there are often webinars with editor/agent speakers who offer portfolio reviews or critiques. Some editors & agents offer paid critiques on their websites.) Studying the illustrations of recently published children's books will also give you insight into what certain editors and agents are looking for.

    Hope you found this perspective helpful. We're here to cheer you on as you move forward toward your goals!

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    Hi Bailey,

    I took a look at your site and you have lovely work! I love the style you have and your drawing is very good. Your characters are appealing and your composition is fantastic. Color choices are solid too! I think your work looks very professional.

    I do agree a bit with what Jeremy was saying. Your outlines on everything give it more of a "cartoony" style (which leans commercial). You also have fairly solid fills that look digital and that can definitely lean the work more commercial. So if you want outlines, I'd experiment with breaking them up and not having them look so even everywhere. And maybe add some interesting texture in your colors too. I think those two little things is all you need.

  • I felt really bad in the critique arena when things were getting categorized by commercial style vs children's book style. I love line art and your illustrations are great! You have made some of my favorite pieces in the monthly contests but this conversation made me feel like "if your style is not specifically for modern children's books than what are you doing here? Change your style." It makes me sad and makes me not want to do critique arena because I like my line art style and if that is how people will vote than there is not much point. Also for me personally I was trying to use critique arena to build up my comic portfolio a bit and the prompts are so kidsy now that its not going to help my personal portfolio either.

  • @Jeremy-Ross Thanks for your input! I agree that heavy line work and flat colors are characteristic of the style.

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 Wow! Thank you so much for the detailed response. You've given me a lot to think about.

    I definitely agree with your insight regarding storytelling and style. (I believe I've heard a similar idea discussed on the 3PP podcast recently, too.) The wombat piece you just submitted really resonated with me specifically because the story was just too funny. (Also, wow! 600 books a year!)

    "Commercial" and "animation" styles are definitely not bad things and I did not want to imply that. And I appreciate you putting together some examples of artwork similar to my current style.

    That being said, I'm honestly not content with my current style. I put together a dream portfolio and compared it to my work, and there is a disconnect. I was struggling to see the disconnect, although Lee's comments below have shed some light, and I think I now have an idea of the direction I need to go.

    But, moving forward, I'm going to keep in mind what you said, "Or would you rather focus on building your skill instead of focusing on style" to hopefully make sure I don't get too wrapped up in "the pursuit of style" and focus on building good, honest technique.

    @Lee-White I really appreciate your taking the time to look at my work! I will definitely try experimenting with breaking up my line work and introducing more texture. (Sounds like it's time for more master copies!)

    @K-Flagg I'm really sorry that you're feeling that way. I really like your linework, especially your White Rabbit comic. It's super cool. I think that your style fits marvelously in the comics industry, and it's great that you're pursuing an industry that has synergy with your style. It's true that picture books are more strongly represented than comics in this particular community. Although I hope that doesn't discourage you! It's just a difference in focus.

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    @baileyvidler I don't think your work looks too commercial, Bailey. Commercial work is often hyper polished, very flashy colors. It's not necessarily the lineart, vector can look very commercial too. My style has frequently been described as too commercial 🙂

  • @K-Flagg I have noticed the same thing happening in the arena some months. It is very disheartening because you know how much sweat everyone puts into completing a prompt. Sometimes the judges definitely are pushing for people to vote for one illustration over the other. When that happens, I vote for the piece they don't like as much, because I know the judges are affecting some voters.

    But this is a fishbowl situation. Editors and art directors choose a variety of styles for their lists. The best plan is, as Melissa Baily said above, to focus on storytelling.

  • @baileyvidler you're so welcome! Glad you found that lo-o-ong rambling message helpful. (And yes ... there is a strong possibility I might read too much...)

    Even though I love your art, I'd love to see where you go, what you create when you find a style or way or working that you love. May I ask, what illustrators were in your dream portfolio? This is me just being curious and nosy.

    (Oh, and if it helps at all, I thought of one more example for you. There's something about your work that reminds me of Jonathan D. Voss' Hoot and Olive books. It's not the drawing or rendering -- his linework is sketchier and his rendering leans more towards a muted watercolor look -- I think it's the shapes he uses and his characters that led me to make the comparison.)

  • @NessIllustration Ah, you make a good point! I think that's part of the reason it's a little tricky to define! Re: colors, it seems there's a balance to strike between being colorful enough to appeal as children's art, but not too colorful that it reads as overdone.

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 Reading too much?? I wasn't aware such a thing existed!!

    Oh my gosh! I hadn't heard of Jonathan D. Voss, but I'm already in love. I just requested his books from the library so I can take a closer look! Thanks for the suggestion!

    And sure! Here's the link to my dream portfolio. It's a little scatter-brained (like me, lol!) but I think the general direction is texture-y and watercolor-y. I'm focusing on picture books right now, but I think my plan is to eventually expand into both PB and MG.

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