Dear Endling, I've been a huge fan since I saw your comics on Snafu. I'm struggling, and have been for awhile. Art is my passion, but I don't have the right education to pursue a career in it. I've been unable to find my style, and have been stuck for a year. Do you have any advice on where I can read/study to improve my skills to eventually, find my own style?
This is a question I’ve been asked a lot, but to be honest it never really gets that much easier to answer. Every artist being an individual, it’s tough to find catch-alls that work for everyone, you know what I mean? And hell, truth be told, I’m still trying to figure this stuff out for myself. :]
Let me get this first bit out of the way, the bit nobody wants to hear: “Practice, practice, practice.” It’s the biggest, stinkiest old chestnut in the book, the one you’ve probably heard a million times before, but unfortunately, it is the most rock solid, time-tested advice any artist can swear by. Even when you feel down and out, even when things don’t look like they should. You keep on drawing, because art has a funny way of growing with you, even if you’re not aware of it.
But try different things. Some personal suggestions:
- Draw from life. Do figure studies. Your art will only go as far as the strong foundation you’ve built on. It can be arduous, but it is worth it. There is no way around this, much as many folks find this the token ‘boring’ advice.
- Look up light and color theory online. Nowadays there is a ridiculous amount of information on this subject on the internet. You could probably cobble together a near full education on the subject just from all the different people who have guides, examples, even youtube videos on the matter. It’s really amazing. There are tons of people out there trying to help young artists get on their feet, and they aren’t charging a thin dime. Take advantage of it. :]
- Warm up before you draw! Draw scribbles, cubes, shapes with some zing to them. Drawing can be a workout! So like any workout, warm up! Don’t dive right in and injure yourself. :] It’s a good way to stave off feeling discouraged because things didn’t turn out looking brilliant right off the bat.
- Try emulating a variety of other artists’ work. (With their consent if you’re posting it somewhere of course.) Sometimes when drawing in someone else’s style your own little mannerisms and stylistic influences tend to pop up in the result. This is more a fun exercise though, certainly not something to fall back on as a means to improve. You don’t want to end up relying on the same artistic 'shortcuts’ your chosen artists employ in their own work without a firm understanding of the basics yourself.
- Draw quickly, loosely, even carelessly. Less thought, more winging it. Fly by the seat of them pants. Have fun letting go! At least, for a practice run at first. While 'style’ is at best a nebulous concept, I’ve always found that if you draw speedily, you tend to put emphasis in certain areas, sort of feel your hand moving a particular way? If you don’t let too much thought get in the way, you can sometimes see the raw tendencies you have underneath the art.
- Animation! Regarding stuff to read to improve your skills, there is no shortage of books available in places like Barnes & Noble. Entire sections on art. I recommend, personally, books on animation techniques. I was originally an animation major in college, and I think any artist can benefit greatly by studying it thoroughly.
- Draw for yourself, not for the internet. This is a more fairly recent issue I’ve been seeing with some people, but there are folks out there who get a little too attached to the reception (or lack thereof) they receive for posting their work online, or worse still, seem to only draw with the specific intent of putting things online. While it’s all well and good to share your work with other people, please please please do not forget that you are drawing for yourself. You don’t have to post everything you make. Allow yourself plenty of time to make plenty of terrible drawings. Fall flat on your face. You can share the stuff you’d like, but you don’t have to feel compelled to share everything you do.
- Art blocks and burn out will happen. Don’t sweat 'being stuck’ so much. Don’t rush getting OUT of it either. Art blocks are kind of a way of telling you you’re running on empty in one way or another. I’ve gotten asked quite often what I do to get over an art block. The answer is really simple: wait. Haha. But you find things to do that get you feeling charged up again. I like listening to music and playing games. Games are what got me into art in the first place, so it’s kind of a back-and-forth process for me. But what I’m trying to say here is, art and your life are pretty much connected in every way. If your art just doesn’t want to come out easily on the page, maybe you should find something else to do that you enjoy. Refill, recharge, re-energize, but NOT just to get over an art block. Your daily life might be more attached to your work than you realize. Which brings me to my next point..
- Don’t look so hard for 'your style’. You need to grow as much as your artwork. As I said before, style is kind of a strange subject. To most people style is simply 'how your art looks’, what sets it apart from other folks. But if you ask me, style is whatever ignites your passion to create in the first place. Style can be influenced by other art, sure, but it can also be influenced by music, games, sports, books, your background, the things you enjoy, just the person you are from the ground up. Style comes from pouring yourself into your work. And you know what? You need to grow just as much as your artwork. If you put a piece of yourself into your art, it will undoubtedly be unique, because you’re a unique person yourself. Find something you want to say and let it come out through your art.
And yes, that’s about the floweriest answer I’ve ever given on the subject of style. I guess when it comes to the subject of art I can be a sappy sap. But DAMMIT I BELIEVE IN YOU. And anyone else reading this that might have been feeling the same way! And I really appreciate the question! Hell, I’m honored, and hope in any way at all I can help, because art is a beautiful thing to have in your life, and I wish you the absolute best of luck with it.
Now DRAW. DRAAAAAAAAAW, I SAY!