3 questions about a defined style and is it ultimately that important in illustration?

This is not a piece about how to find your style as an illustrator. However, It’s an age old question amongst illustrators “how do I find my style?” or at least “How do I define my style?” What I’m pondering, and have been pondering about, on and off for a long time is that, is it really that important?

Here are three questions on the subject of style which are running through my mind. Yeah I have used some music analogies and yeah, yeah i’m not a musician but bare with.

1. Is it good to be known for one thing?

I was searching for a consistent style for years, trying lots of things out as I thought that’s what you needed to do. To be known as that guy who does that thing. I mentioned to a friend that it bothered me that I couldn’t stick to one thing. This friend had noticed that I changed things up often and compared it when a musician or band change up their instruments on different songs or do something new to get a different album sound. 

I liked this analogy and it got me thinking about my design background and how I have to wear different creative hats depending on the client. A style that would work for a bank probably wouldn’t work for a sweetshop for example. I personally think that versatility with style is something which is very important in many respects to evoke a different feeling or emotion depending on the image you want to create, or if you are musician, the sound.

I personally think that versatility with style is something which is very important.

2. Is it good to spice things up? 

I remembered an interview with Kurt Cobain and how he wanted to do something different musically and said something about how the Beatles went from I Want To Hold Your Hand to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Sgt Peppers in my mind was a real game changer and it got me thinking that had the Beatles not dared to do something different would they still be as revered?

So my thinking is, daring to change things and mix up styles can help keep things original, interesting and keep you moving forward as a creative.

Daring to change things and mix up styles can help keep things original!

3. Is it important to keep moving forward?

I follow a lot of illustrators and artists because of their unique ‘house style’ and I love it. I’m a little envious to be honest of their focus and passion for a consistent look and feel. But to be honest I don’t think I have it in me. Maybe it’s my design background where I have had to adapt my thinking and hand to different styles but I think it’s ultimately the fact I like to play too much and want to keep moving forward and keep things interesting for myself.

So in conclusion…

Is it important to have a defined style? I don’t know what the answer is. I personally think there’s pros and cons to either avenue. Yeah I’m sitting on the fence which is standard for me but that’s just me. 

A massive pro in having a consistent style is that an art director commissioning an illustrator with a defined look will know exactly what they’re going to get. This is my worry when I experiment. However, I’ve made and I am making a good living creatively mixing things up from time to time. I think people who have commissioned me like my versatility and like the fact that I can adapt and change things up to tailor to a particular brief. 

On the flip side to all of this, I HAVE been told I do have a style and in many respects there are some consistencies. Bold colour, strong lines, cartoony and a bit of humour. That’s always there but for me I’m not always bound by the same instrument or process. Ultimately, for me and my work and journey I don’t think it matters. It’s still my hand whether i’m using paint, a brush, a stick, a sharpie or working digitally. It’s still me feeding the creative and it’s still my hand and brain doing the work.

It’s a minefield and I don’t really know the answer. Whatever works for you I guess. I’ll leave you with a quote from David Bowie which I try to keep in mind when thinking about style and approach to creativity.

“I always want to be fresh, and I always want to apply myself and try new things. That makes going to work every day exciting. And I realize that if [my work takes on] a repetitive nature then I’m going to get stuck in this kind of systematic approach to how I approach my work, and I don’t want to ever feel that way.”

David Bowie

Get articles like this from me straight to your inbox!

Sign up here for all the latest news, insights, thoughts & tips!

* indicates required