It’s a Question of Style

Ugg Boy
Photo by Ugg Boy

Style is a topic that ruffles a lot of feathers in artistic circles. It can cause a divide like politics and religion can. A few months back I came across a blog post from a professional artist pretty much attacking other artists for mimicking her style of colouring.

My heart goes out to her as I understand all too well the pain of realizing that your company is in the process of replacing you.

This is an opinion piece, you are free to disagree with me and you are free to share your own take on this thing that we call style.

Style def:

A Drawing Style Is an Artist’s Personal Trademark

Styles are like a trademark. It’s a form of intellectual property. In some respects it can be treated like a piece of fan art; some people are cool with it, others are not. If you sell a piece of fan art even if you created it all by yourself, it is a form of trademark infringement. The same can be said of a drawing style. On the other hand, proving the original owner of a drawing style would be much trickier.

Let’s get a few things straight:

Business is Business

If you aspire to work for big companies like Disney, Marvel, DC, etc. There are certain expectations that you can mimic their house style. Disney makes a ton of money on their how to draw books as do many other artists.

These big companies thrive on being able to hire people who can reproduce their style at a low rate. The more exclusive the style, the more an artist can charge for it. The more people that the company has to choose from, the less valuable you are as an employee.

If she wanted to keep her style her own, she went into the wrong business. She should have gone to work for herself.

We Learn by Deconstructing

Imagine the world if we were not allowed to build on existing technologies. Not allowed to build on existing ideas.

Imagine if Ford wasn’t able to rebuild the engine. Imagine where our science would be if we weren’t allowed to test and improve upon existing methods. Anyone else want to use maggots to close a wound?

It’s the same with drawing. In order to adapt and learn how to solve particular problems we look to how others have solved the problem before us. We adapt ourselves to use that solution and with time, that solution can be made our own.

In college, we are encouraged to mimic the masters. You can learn so much from mimicking.

Of course, mimicking other people’s work is not the fastest way to become a better artist. The fastest and less inspiring way is through life drawing and finding photo references to work with, and developing a genuine sense of shape and form.

We Are a Compilation of Styles and Ideas

Do you live in a vacuum? I didn’t think so. There is no way that you can’t be influenced by what’s around you. The instant you saw that Disney movie as a kid, or flip through the pages of a magazine, you were influenced in some way. You may have really liked the way that lady wore her scarf, or that particular combination of colours.

The thing about style is that you really do need to develop your own, but the way you do that is by learning from your influences and developing your own brand of artistic short hand/ symbols, and that will take time and practice.

As an end note, when using an established style in your work, remember that it can have a powerful sway on your readers. Certain styles create certain expectation with your audience. For example: a Disney-esque style lends itself to family friendly content. Imagine my surprise when I discovered blood, gore, and heavily dark content complete with cussing. I have nothing against any of these; I just didn’t expect it and it turned me off as a reader.

Also, if you intend on selling your comic, short of manga, using an established style can get you into a lot of trouble, so tread carefully.

About the Author:

Amber Dalcourt is the lead design and digital media consultant for Evil Ink. She has recently published the first of many short stories for the Awakening Fractured Memories series. Find them here.

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