It’s important to develop unique illustrator art styles and develop your own voice, as illustrator Eliot Wyatt explained: “When I left university, I did have a style to my work, but I really hated it. I think one of the big problems was I had been looking too much at other illustrators' work and unconsciously picking up things, so it looked like a bad mix of other people's styles.”
“After uni I spent the first six months away from freelancing and focused more on creating work that I liked, drawing every day, and not looking at any other illustrators work. After a while my own natural style came through and, unlike my older work, it did not seem so forced,” he added.
Don’t rely on a dry illustrator style guide to form the basis of your work either. It’s important to take inspiration from what inspires you as Lara Ripley, freelance product, and graphic designer, explained: “My style has developed and changed a lot over the years, but has always been influenced by my love for fashion. As a child, I always drew girls and, as I got older, I mainly drew portraits of stylized women.”
The same is true for freelance illustrator and artist Mickael Brana. His illustrative style developed naturally when he understood what illustrator styles appealed to him. Mickael said: “I prefer to speak about my ‘universe’ rather than my ‘style’ because I think I have one universe but many different styles. I use different techniques, different mediums, and different shapes in my illustrations. But I always draw crazy characters, weird animals, and funny monsters, which form the basis of my special universe. I draw it just because it’s what I enjoy the most.”
Other illustrator styles are unlocked by the medium the artist works in, as illustrator Beth Goody explained: “My style really began to develop when I was given a stylus and tablet to work with. I had previously been experimenting with bold inks and a lot of my work would be black ink on white paper. I found the contrast so pleasing to the eye. However, I found that working digitally really suited my way of working and my bold graphic style only grew from there.”
Consistency is key when developing your illustrator styles to make your work recognisable. Eliot said: “I think it’s pretty important to have a consistency to your work. Obviously, your style is always developing and being pushed, but you want everything you do to fit together. That could be the weird way you draw things or as simple as following a similar colour pattern. When you’re being commissioned to do work, art directors want to know that the work they see in your portfolio is the work they are going to get if they commission you.”
Such style consistency also needs to be matched with flexibility. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a relative newbie, illustrator art styles evolve to match the needs of the project, client or medium you may be working in, as Beth explained: “I do think it’s important to be flexible to fit the needs of the client. For example, a greeting card company noticed my conceptual work at the New Designers exhibition in London. Obviously, this kind of illustration wouldn’t usually work for greeting cards, so I adapted and created some funny, yet still very graphic cards for them.”
You also need to experiment and bring flexibility to the mediums you work in while maintaining consistent illustrator styles. Lara added: “As my drawing skills grew, I began to take more risks with techniques and went from using completely traditional mediums such as painting and drawing, to using digital programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. I like to think that regardless of the medium, my style remains consistent based on the line quality.”
Other illustrators are more flexible in their overall approach. Illustrator, graphic designer, and writer Gleb Toropov, said: “My style is very interchangeable and ranges from painterly to clean vector to pixel art. The style is very much dictated by the project and what message needs to be communicated through the image. If working digitally, I chose which software to use to match the desired mood and feel of the image. I tend to think of software as a traditional artist’s toolbox full of different media. Considerations may be 3D or 2D, clean or sketchy, flat or textured, retro or modern.”
This ability to step outside of your comfort zone for specific projects is important, as Lara said: “It's absolutely a designer or illustrator's choice whether to stick to one main style or to exercise a range in styles. It's important to not lose sight of your own style, but being able to step outside and grow and challenge yourself is something I welcome.”
Flexibility can bring disadvantages and advantages as Gleb explained: “I am flexible in my style which is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand being versatile opens up more possibilities for work. On the other, it is harder to be pinpointed, or called upon when a particular style is desired. It would be nice to be the “go-to” person for a style, but it may also mean less variety of work. I am still at the point of my career where I have not specialised in one area, but on the plus side, it means that I am able to work across a very wide variety of projects across the creative industry, from children’s publishing to scientific visualization.”
The clear message from all of the illustrators we spoke to seems to be simple: do what you love and stay true to your artistic roots and illustrator styles.
To find out more about life as a freelancer, check out our exclusive events and Masterclasses here.
Featured image: Two prints from Lara Ripley’s Lady Series