Five Tips to Help You Find Your Illustration Style

As an illustrator, it’s important to develop your own unique style, but where do you start? With the amount of visual information that we come into contact with each day – via blogs, emails, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to name a few – it’s easy to get side-tracked and feel overwhelmed by the amount of ‘great stuff’ already out there.

Searching for your style is a messy business and the journey required lots of mistakes and mishaps. Unfortunately, most of us can’t just shut ourselves off from the world while we work through the mess, we still need to live our lives. And living our lives in this day and age means being online and coming into contact with the ‘I wish I could draw/paint like that’ art.

We may not be able to stop the visual barrage, but we can change how we react to it. Below, I’ve listed 5 tips to help keep you on-track while you search for your style and work towards carving out a niche for yourself as an illustrator.

1. Stop comparing your work with others

With so much out there it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your work with others. Just remember, everyone had to start somewhere. 8-years ago I couldn’t draw people, but I didn’t let that stop me, if anything, it motivated me to learn how to draw people well.

‘Now I Am Bigger’ by Sherryl Clark and Nina Rycroft

A great way to stop comparing is to get busy on your own journey. After illustrating a number of picture books with animal characters, I signed myself up to illustrate ‘Now I Am Bigger’, a picture book about the milestones a child from newborn to age 5. I not only needed to learn how to draw human characters, but I also needed to learn how to keep the same character constant at various ages. 

2. Don’t hate … celebrate!

With world-class illustrators posting their brilliance on a regular basis, it’s easy to feel just a little annoyed – especially if you’re in the ‘messy’ part of finding your style. Negativity is only ever going to hold you back. So rather than letting the green-eyed monster rear its ugly head, celebrate others success. They put the hours in … and may have 10-years on you … so celebrate their perseverance and talent! Your positive outlook will not only feed your creativity but it will motivate you to aim higher.

‘Possum’s Big Surprise’ by Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft

3. See rather than look

To look at something means to gaze your eyes upon or acknowledge its presence. In order to see, not only do you need to look, but you also need to understand and pay attention to it. These days, with so much visual stimulation, we fall into the habit of looking at things without really seeing them.

I’ve always collected picture books, but it wasn’t until I thought about actually becoming an illustrator that I turned my gaze into an inquisitive one. Once I made the conscious decision to one day become a picture book illustrator, I would not only look at the picture book illustrations, but I would start to see them in a whole new light.

Rather than being merely a bystander, I became more active in the search for my own personal style. I would try to unpack what I liked about certain illustrations. Was it the style .. the medium … the characters or was it the overall composition and imaginative play. Trying to understand other artists gave me insight into how I wanted to illustrate.

‘Dinosaurs Love Cheese’ by Jackie French and Nina Rycroft

4. Continue to grow

Finding your illustration style is a matter of exploring and being brave enough to try something new. It’s important to experiment and bring flexibility to the mediums you work in while maintaining your style. Some people may argue that once you’ve found your style you should never waiver from it. I disagree. Just like our experiences in life shape us, allow the same thing to happen with your illustration. If you stop experimenting and trying new things, in the end, your work will suffer. Continue to evolve and grow … I mean, if somethings not growing then, it’s dying … right?

If you’re a seasoned illustrator, you may have a style that people are familiar with … and if you change too much, people may no longer recognise your work. But that doesn’t mean that you need to stay stuck. As an illustrator, it’s important to be able to exercise (and offer) a range in style. Don’t lose sight of your own style, but use the opportunity to step outside and challenge yourself.  Regardless of the medium, your style will remain consistent based on the line quality and the way you interpret characters, composition, and setting.

Ballroom Bonanza by Nina Rycroft

5. Practice makes perfect

Like I’ve said before, practice, practice, practice, and then – practice some more!
Give yourself the time and the space to start and maintain a regular practice. It takes time to find your illustration style (for some people – it takes years). I may be able to fast-track you, but you still need to put in the time … and practice.

My latest class Watercolor Magic – Illustration Masterclass Exploring Technique & Style is the perfect way to explore, experiment and practice. Join me as I walk you step-by-step through the process of how to illustrate the same character five ways.

This class not only completes my Skillshare classes that walk you through the entire process of how to illustrate a picture book character but it shows just how different the same character can look, simply by changing the technique and style. Whether you’re wanting to be bold and graphic or whimsical and fun, there’s something here for everyone. By experimenting with watercolor five ways, you might just find a style that ‘fits’ you.  

Each illustration takes between 10-15 minutes (or half an hour if you want to take your time). So why not do one a day for five days or one a week for 5 weeks. By the end, you’ll have a feel for what style works best for you, as well as a toolbox of techniques for future projects.

So, now you have not only five tips to help you find your illustration style but also five ways illustrate the same character. So a high-five to that!

Nina x


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