[Signal boost for the awesome essay on Style Development. It's an excellent read based on years of experience. ]
"I wrote up this post because I missed my style development panel at FC due to food poisoning. I was honored to ask to do it in the first place, and it was a huge disappointment to me to have to miss it. The idea that I could be considered an authority on this in any way is pretty crazy to me! I'm still developing my style, but I've picked up a decent bit of knowledge so far, and I'm happy to share it. So here's pretty much what I was going to say at the panel.
It is a HUGE topic, so for now I've dropped the media specific stuff. If you get to the core of what's required to develop your style, media actually matters very little. You can use professional grade paints and pigments, but note that it does nothing to make you a better artist. That is and always will be up to the hand and mind of the individual. It's great to be passionate about your tools, but it does you no good to be elitist about them. It will only limit you as an artist. For example, Bill Sanchez, one of my teachers at the Academy of Art, was doing a demo. The charcoal kept snapping in his hand and he eventually had enough of it. He dragged his thumb along the now charcoal dust covered easel to coat it and proceeded to knock out a gorgeous figure study. With his THUMB. It struck me as incredibly badass and left quite an impression on me. Skill is in the mind and hand of the artist, always.
Obviously there are technical aspects you have to account for here and there, but there are a ton of tutorials out there on those specific things, and if anyone has any questions about anything I don't cover, PLEASE feel free to ask! I am happy to help in any way possible.
Keep in mind that style is a deeply personal decision. My way is certainly not the only way, and if there's anything here that doesn't completely gel with your way of working that's totally ok. In the end, you will develop the quickest if you stick with what feels right. Not EASY, mind you, but right. There is a large difference.
That said, there are a few facts that are absolutely constant no matter what style you are trying to develop, and here they are:
The only way in the whole wide world to get better at drawing is to DRAW. There is no magic pencil, no mystic pixie dust. Believe me, I've looked. XD
Every artist anywhere has a minimum of like
10 million bad drawings in them. Best to start practicing now and constantly and get them out of the way! When you make a mistake, FIX it our FORGIVE it, but do not linger, always keep moving. Love all of your art, even the ugly pieces, because even they propel you forward as long as you make sure to learn from them. If you figure out why they don't work, they actually push you forward more than your successful pieces.
Look to others for inspiration, and always try to keep your horizon as broad as possible. If you keep lofty goals, you will never stop improving. If you go about it trying to imitate a single person, all you will ever be is a dime store version of them. It will never come naturally to you, and frankly? It's not something to be proud of.
Immerse yourself in art, artists, ANY material that inspires you. Learning to draw is like learning a new language, the best way to do that is to surround yourself with it and the culture it comes from. Taking in everything helps you identify what you like and don't like aesthetically, it ensures that you will always have ideas to draw on, and you will constantly be shaping your own unique style. Look at it like vivisection, analyze why you like the things you like, ask yourself exactly WHY it works for you. Just as important and often overlooked , study people that don't do it for you, analyze exactly why it doesn't!
On effective ways to use reference First, when referencing, decide what your goal is. Do you want to study gesture? Value? Color? If you pick to focus on one element at a time, you'll learn more effectively.
A good exercise is to study your chosen reference for about 30 seconds, taking in key points, then put it away and draw from memory.
For gesture drawings, I highly recommend noting the angles of the head, shoulders and hips, those are reliable landmarks. If it's value or color, separate those into shapes and block them in. The exercise is an effective way to teach yourself to make very quick, solid decisions.
If you are hitting a wall with certain subjects or specific poses, there is another exercise you can try, which is tracing. Now, HEAR ME OUT. Because the last thing I need is for this to be taken out of context.
It should ONLY be used as an exercise, meant to accommodate for the fact that our eyes sometimes interpret shapes and angles differently from what is really there. Often times we feel we know what something looks like, so we make assumptions without really considering and measuring what is in front of us. If you approach it with the proper mindset, you will feel the shape, length and direction of each line, which ingrains itself to muscle memory. Again, ONLY meant to be used as an exercise you do on the side, you should then take the acquired knowledge into your freehanded art.
If you are just starting out, I highly recommend referencing from life until you feel very comfortable. Simply jumping in with references heavily stylized work has the potential to cripple you. It's very important to draw from life when you're starting out, that way you have a solid grasp as to why the artists you will eventually reference made the decisions that they do.
It will come to a point where studying from life will become a way of measuring what you need more practice in. At that point, if you find that you're having trouble, go look at the work of artists that you're into and see how they solved the problems that you are currently having. It's been my personal experience that if you only ever draw from life and NEVER look at others work, you run the risk of making the same mistakes in your work over and over again.
When you are first starting out, your work will be very unoriginal. That's completely normal. It means that once you do get to the level where you can start developing your own style, there will be a level of sophistication to it because you took the time to break your back practicing the basics, and it'll be coming from a heavily researched place.
I also VERY highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the psychology of color and shape. These are both HUGE subjects that I will only be able to touch upon. Circles are associated with cuteness, friendliness, implies that something is soft and harmless. Reds are obviously associated with anger, dominance, and even devouring. You'll notice that almost all fast food logos ever incorporate the color red. It supposedly induces hunger. And the reason donut boxes are pink is that when tested, people will swear the same donuts taste better out of a pink box than a white one. So for whatever reason, it tricks people into thinking that something is more appealing and desirable. Triangles, with their sharpness tend to imply that something is dangerous and quick. Squares imply a character that is stable and steadfast. Obviously there are exceptions, which is why it's great to research stuff like this so you can learn how to effectively break the rules.
Onto the art slumps that people feel they hit as they go along
there's simply no such thing. Not in my opinion, anyway. I believe it is the disconnect between your hand and your mind. Sometimes your mind will make leaps and bounds forward artistically. Maybe you saw some kickass work and you leveled up in your head, which leaves your hand in the dust. It hasn't had the chance to practice what your mind has taken in. You physically have not caught up yet, so all of a sudden it feels like you're not performing well, that your art is coming out worse. The good news is that all you have to do to fix this is to draw, draw, DRAW.
Now maybe you feel the art slump also includes a lack of "inspiration". I put quotes around that for a reason, and I'll get to that in a bit. What you may need to do is stop thinking about what you want to make, and start thinking about what you want to SEE. What do you seek out in other artists and illustrators? Be that for yourself!
That doesn't work for you? Get a junk ass sketchbook and start drawing from life. In PEN. Figure studies, hands, feet, anything you usually avoid or feel that you're bad at. IN PEN. One sketch doesn't go well? Look at what you did wrong, what line you tipped just a little too far in or out or WHATEVER and do it over again. Do it as fast as you can, try to see how fast you can go and still keep it coherent. Do it slow and see how much detail you can pack in. Over and over and over. In art it is always ALWAYS better to do it poorly than not at all. If you are attempting hands, feet, whatever and they're dragging down the piece, you are still doing better than the person hiding the hands and feet, no matter how great the face is. You will NEVER do something well until you have done it poorly.
On the topic of inspiration, know this. YOUR ART WILL NEVER CHASE YOU. EVER. So you are just going to have to HAUL ASS after it. Inspiration is for amateurs. Anyone serious about their art just gets to work. The coolest thing about just buckling down and getting to it is that you will find that ideas grow from the work itself. Things start occurring to you as you go along. You will try something, but then reject it in favor of something else you just thought of, pushing it in another, stronger direction that would not have occurred had you sat around waiting for the lightning bolt. Always remember, the only difference between you and that amazing artist you admire is thousands of hours of back breaking hard work. Which should be great news, as anyone can be hard headed and work crazy hard! So get out there and DRAW! "