Having worked as a designer with a focus on illustration in different industries for a long time, I can look back at an evolution in my style. My interests in lettering, collage using vintage children's books and ink pen / watercolor digitally composed are some of the media I’ve explored, developed, and marketed as a freelance illustrator and licensing artist.
In addition to my commissions in these specific styles, add my almost 15 years of experience in illustration and design for private label. Brands like Speedo hire me to develop a range of concepts and styles to appeal to a broad demographic. These type of assignments for Speedo wholesale or retailers like Target help to keep me up-to-date with trends, pop culture and provide an opportunity to learn new tools and ways to draw. Tips on drawing Manga style? Google to the rescue! Private label work has finely-honed my skills for being an illustrative chameleon... and it's really fun!
HOWEVER, in the art licensing world I tend to gravitate to, and admire accomplished designers and illustrators like Elizabeth Olwen, Katie Daisy, and Jennifer Orkin Lewis (August Wren) who concentrate on ONE STYLE. These prolific artists are produce A LOT of art, sticking with their one thing and refining that beautiful look.
I see these artist's portfolios and think; "Ah, the simplicity, the instantly recognizable and consistent look!" I ALSO think: "What am I doing wrong?" My work ethic, my customer satisfaction record and integrity are all top-notch. But still, (like so many of us) I will compare. With a variety of styles on my website, I've been concerned that my work samples appear too assorted for potential buyers to grasp my intent. I've worried that my "brand" is neither strong nor entirely clear.
In January, illustrator and Photoshop brush creator Kyle T. Webster published this awesome article on Medium that I'm going to re-read every few months— if you read nothing else today, read it. Here, he explains the benefits of promoting more than one style. The article has really encouraged me to consider my diverse approaches as an asset. And for me, it's also a necessity in paying my bills while building my art for licensing business. These other looks are an ADD, not a TAKE AWAY. Kyle was also interviewed on illustrator Andy J. Pizza's Creative Pep Talk podcast where they continue to touch on this subject. Kyle says: “If I can offer 5 different things to 5 different clients, why wouldn't I?"
Another artist well known for, and currently celebrating multiple styles is Sally Swindell of Studio SSS / They Draw and Cook. She's doing a great project right now called #the100waysofpineapples that perfectly demonstrates her skill in creating extremely varied looks, such an excellent example of what you can do with a simple subject. Salli says: "When I taught How to Build a Freelance Illustration Business I tried so hard to describe “style” as bigger than your art technique."
Amy Schimler-Safford is a licensing artist / illustrator with an established and sophisticated collage and paint style. When I recently asked about her other work, still-life florals in oil, she explained that doing this other style has helped her illustration work so much and that "I am happier stealing time to be creative for me." Yes— I GET that!
Lastly, I somehow came across Melinda Beck's site and I instantly wanted to re-order my entire portfolio by STYLE (which I basically just did) And let's not even talk about her 900+ pieces of STOCK ART! There MUST be 2 of her. :)
Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all. Each of us is finding our way with what works at the time. I like to sketch while watching TV, I have a busy mind with tons of ideas and different ways to execute them. I follow what I'm interested in, and what clients will pay for. Sometimes I'm presented the bonus of discovering something new that may blossom into a new approach or product. Versatility is my theme right now. And when consciously nurtured my curiosity is a personal strength and resource to my clients.
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