I was recently asked to design the look for next years Scholastic Book Fair campaign starting in the Fall of next year.
These are some recent sketches I did over the Thanksgiving break...
The thing is... I never do sketches this tight. I was looking at some William Joyce sketches on-line prior to this and he left me so inspired I think I ended up rendering the work to much more of a finish than I usually do. This just goes to show how much influence can affect ones work.
One of the biggest struggles I had while I was in art school was to find an art style. Eleven years ago I was a 24 year old art student who had a portfolio that was all over the place trying to find a personal voice or some way to express my work in a way that I felt was most comfortable to me.
The way I felt that would make me the most marketable.
Just like any other art student I wanted to succeed in the business, so I learned by imitation. It's a natural thing. You see someones work that you admire who has become very successful in what they do so you try to imitate it so that you too can become successful, but no matter how hard you try you become a shadow of that person you're trying to imitate. I knew I wanted to try my hand at editorial illustration, animation, graphic design, and entertainment design, but that was pulling me in all sorts of different directions and my work as an individual wasn't cohesive. I didn't know it at the time but my true passion was to illustrate books for children.
I remember years ago I met award winning author/illustrator David Shannon at his house so that he could critique my work. I had about 8 months left before I was to graduate and I wanted to make sure I was headed in the right direction.
He was blunt and honest about my work. That was, 'It wasn't working.'
The one thing he told me that stood out in my mind was that artists are hired for their style. An art director will find the right style for the right project and if you have a unique voice then you will stand out from the rest of the pack. Imitating others would get me nowhere. Why hire someone who paints like someone else if they can just hire that actual artist I'm imitating? Right?
This made me frantic. How am I supposed to get work if this amazing artist thinks my work is going in the wrong direction?! I need to find a unique style that stands out from everyone else and is interesting enough to be marketable all in EIGHT MONTHS!
Thus began my even harder pursuit in finding a distinct art style.
So I started looking for more inspiration and trying different techniques that other artists were doing, and trying different mediums and using new tools to paint with. The problem is that finding a personal art style is like chasing after your own shadow. The harder you try the more frustrated you get. After eight months had passed I had graduated from art school and I still didn't have a clue as to how I wanted to work, but I did have one lead.
In my last term in art school I took an introduction to advertising class with an amazing teacher by the name of Roland Young.
Anyone who attened the Art Center College of Design knows this man. I can't say he would be everyones cup of tea. He was brutally honest, but as an artist I think everyone should have at least one brutal critique in their lives. Roland gave me about TEN brutally honest critiques, but I learned a great deal from each one. He had a much different philosophy about design from an illustrator's perspective. It was more of a product designer's point of view, that being, FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.
It makes sense. Fantasy artists do more fantasy art books than they do cute puppy books. Cute princess artists don't usually find themselves illustrating X-Men covers. It's because their work is more conducive to a certain market than others.
So how does this relate to my style?
Well, for one, I stopped pursuing a style. I just painted what interested me and I created things the way everything was percieved in my mind.
The problem at hand was that I wanted to illustrate children's books and so my portfolio had to cater to that.
Form follows funciton.
I started from scratch. I just drew the way I drew things. I stopped looking at other peoples work and denied by brain of any kind of inspiration. I just sat down at my desk with a blank piece of illustration board and told myself that I would make a brand new children's portfolio one piece at a time and I wouldn't stop on any of the piece until I was proud enough to hang each one on my wall. I painted dogs, robots, kids, and all sorts of stuff that children's book art directors would be looking for in a portfolio and best of all was that I loved painting all these things.
Here are a few pieces from my very first children's book portfolio.....
It's just what came out of me and it was at the best level I could achieve at the time. It sounds corny but 'style' is somehting that really finds you. It's just up to you, the artist, to trust in your own interpretation of things and execute it to the best of your ability.
So if asked about my advice for anyone in art school trying to find an art style?