Weakness to overcome or keep for developing style?

  • I asked this under my sept. contest post, but I wanted to open it up for a little more discussion.

    How do you tell when something in your current execution abilities is a strength that you want to lean into and keep in your developing style vs something that would be better to avoid and work to overcome?

    Just keep creating and figure it out as you go?

    How do you personally chose what elements of reality to keep and strive for and which you let go of?

    Is this just one of those personally questions and eternal quandaries all artists face?

    What do you think?

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  • @Shara-Mills I struggle a lot with this myself. It's hard to look at your work objectively. In my case, I found this chunky outline style pretty recently that I find aesthetically pleasing. However, I'm not sure if it really works for anyone else. It can be seen(and most certainly is) a crutch to help cover up a weakness of mine which is that my inking skills aren't great.

    The advice I'm trying to follow is that of Andy (Pizza) Miller from the Creative Pep Talk Podcast. He says that if you think that you have good taste for something (like in our case, if we can tell a good childrens Illustration from a bad one.) Try to make one that you currently believe is "good" and send it out into the world. If all you hear are crickets chirping, tweak it, and try again. If you continue to hear nothing then your taste might not be as keen as you thought. At this point, you can continue to develop your taste by talking to others who are doing the thing you want to do (and getting paid for their work) , or decide that it's not for you.

    The example he used was Billy Corrigan, the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins. His voice isn't great, but he knows what makes good rock music and did so. Now, his voice is seen as unique. So that thing that you're trying out or using to cover up a weakness of yours, could end up being what makes your work unique. Just as long as your taste compass is pointed in the right direction.

    Sorry for the novel-length post. I hope this helps. Like I said, I'm trying this method for myself so we'll see what comes of it I guess...

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    @Shara-Mills For me it's all about how much I enjoy these stylistic elements. In college I went through a transformative period with my style. I used to draw in this very anime style but grew not to like it anymore, and I started doing a lot of studies of other people's styles to figure out if anything would stick. Little by little I found out I liked drawing noses like this artist, liked drawing lineless more, etc. I found it very similar to shopping, where you browse the shop and suddenly you see something and your heart goes "ba-dump!" and you know that's a winner.

    Sometimes there's no big "ba-dump" moment and you're less committed to a particular feature. Just last year I experimented with different styles of eyes, and there wasn't really a clear winner in my mind. So when my new agent told me "lots of publishers don't want dot eyes, they're very specific about that. Is that something you mind dropping?" I was like "Yeah sure whatever. No more dot eyes." Some other things, if she'd asked, I would NEVER have been agreeable to changing it.

    So it all depends! If you're not sure I suggest you try different things and then ask yourself "is this truly the one I like to draw the most? Is it a defining feature of my style, or is it just because I can't draw it any other way yet?". There's a big difference there! In high school I had half convinced myself not showing hands was a part of my style, just because I couldn't draw them. That was not my style, that was denial lol

  • What an interesting question! I've heard that style is actually a laundry list of someone's weaknesses. I think this is sometimes true, but not always, and I think it comes down to choice. I think it is ideal to be able to draw and paint everything realistically if tasked to do so. Though this may be a tall order, if you have this basically under your belt, your style comes from stylistic choices based on your preferences, rather than your weaknesses. I think you know what you may or may not be doing based on weaknesses as opposed to choices. Nothing wrong with that! In fact, I think it's quite smart to design illustrations always keeping in mind what you're good at, and enjoy doing. (The recent SVS Podcast on style talks about this a bit.) But, you don't want to feel limited on what you can and can't do, so always be working on improving weaknesses and hard skills.

    On to your specific question, "How do you personally choose what elements of reality to keep and strive for and which you let go of?" I've been leaning pretty hard into figuring this out lately, since I have spent the bulk of the last two years really working on hard skills (anatomy, perspective, composition, color and light), and a lot of my experiments in really honing in on my style is listening to what people are liking in my work and wanting more of, and then crossing it with what I'm noticing I enjoy and want to incorporate more of into my work. I think this middle ground is where good style happens. I think that it's a better goal for your style to be driven by your strengths, rather than cover up your weaknesses. Find things that you love in other artists' work and work hard on re-creating it in your own way.

  • @Shara-Mills Great question/inquiry! I like what both @zacharygephardt and @NessIllustration have said here.

    I have two thoughts.

    1. It's partly about self-honesty, and one way of developing this self-honesty is practicing fundamentals. Even if you decide to stray from the fundamentals, you want to do it consciously, and not have it be as a crutch because you can't do something. I think of a loose painterly style as an example. When someone does it well, it looks effortless and makes you go wow. Someone who doesn't do it well might not be able to tell the difference, but to the impartial observer, it just doesn't move them.

    2. Another way to develop this discernment is looking at a lot of styles that make you feel something and then really studying them and asking yourself why it works. Is it the chunky line quality? Or is it the fact that the chunky line quality contrasts nicely with something else, or flows beautifully, or creates a sense of tension, or informs the characters. I think great artists are able to do a lot with what looks simple, whereas their imitators are merely doing the most surface level technique.

  • Thank you @zacharygephardt @NessIllustration @Elinore-Eaton and @robgale for your thoughtful responses to this question. Your thoughts are ones I can really sink my teeth into and chew on.

    Thanks so much!

  • @Shara-Mills I use a simple (probably way too simple) sorting method.

    Is it something you are capable of doing but choose not to? If yes, then it's a style choice.

    Is it something you cannot do or hate doing and so choose not to incorporate it for 'style' reasons? If yes, then it is a weakness.

    When in doubt, ALWAYS just keep creating and figure it out as you go 🙂

    As for choosing what elements of reality to keep and what to let go I'm still kinda struggling with that question.

    Good luck! Style is a weird, elusive and fickle little monster.

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