Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Word About Style Part 2: What Is Leading Your Style and How To Use Trends

Part 1 of A Word About Style focused on how to analyze your interests to pin point what your personal style wants to naturally be. In Part 2, I want to focus on some common pitfalls that artists and illustrators face a lot, pitfalls that mislead your personal style and will only serve to trip you up.

Let's jump in. Here are two questions that can seriously complicate your mission to find your personal style.

1) What style is the most popular right now?

2) What style will make me the most money?

Don't get me wrong, these are completely valid questions to be asking yourself, but if they are the only questions or the main questions leading your art-making process, that's a big misstep. Let me elaborate.

Working in a style mainly because it is popular and "out there".

It seems logical, right? if a style seems to be EVERYWHERE right now, than obviously there is a demand for that style and you will have success if you follow suit. 

 First of all, just because numerous people have a certain style in their portfolio, it doesn't guarantee that they are all being hired for that kind of work. They could have had the same thought as you, when really only a fraction of those artists out there working with that style are the only ones getting hired. You may be entering an over-saturated market.

Another issue is that there are numerous trending styles happening at one time, and sometimes they heavily contradict each other. You could drive yourself crazy reinventing yourself constantly trying to "strike gold" when you should be focusing on what you can bring to the table, not trying to chase the Style of The Month.

Don't forget that when everyone is running left, it pays to run right. Being able to do something that not everyone is offering can work to your advantage. 

Picking a style because you think it will get you money.

This overlaps the first point to a certain degree, because if you want to produce work that will make you money, you probably will try to pick a style that is popular. The reason I want to specifically approach this viewpoint about financial success is that letting dollar signs lead your stylistic choices means you will be ignoring more important issues, like do you even enjoy making your artwork?

Let me state that being aware of the marketability of your work is obviously an important factor in your business as an artist. You should be conscious about what markets best suit your portfolio and how you can make the most profit. However, I truly believe that the steps to artistic success should follow in this order:

1) Make art that you enjoy creating (which will always be your BEST work).

2) Figure out what markets your portfolio is best suited for and start marketing yourself to them.

Most of the time, people skip the first step and just try to make work that they think clients want, instead of trying to introduce their own unique product. It's easy to get so focused on just getting hired that a person can find themselves doing work that ultimately they find very unsatisfying (and you've made sacrifices to take on this career path, so why would you settle for doing work you don't even like?).

So, we know that producing work that you enjoy creating is going to make you happier. That' kind of a "duh" point, but there's more to your success as an artist/illustrator if you follow this logic:

1) If you truly enjoy your work, you will invest more time in it and make a superior product every time; thus leading to more clients, more returning clients, and more recommendations.

2) You will be more motivated to get your work out there and seek opportunities, whether it's getting a gallery show or contacting a client you've always wanted to work with.

3) You will be excited to tell people about what you're working on, which will spread the word and improve your networking (My first year in Nashville, I pretty much got all my freelance jobs from simply meeting new people at social events and telling them about my profession).

It's absolutely natural to go through these sort of issues. When I graduated, I started in editorial illustration, mainly magazines. I can't tell you how many promotional images I made that were awkwardly forced into what I thought art directors wanted. Oh! I need a random business guy in a suit. Oh! I need a woman going shopping. I was trying to make things that I thought looked like editorial images because I was a new graduate (excited and anxious in the "real world") and too focused on someone-just-hire-me-already-dammit, when I really should have been concentrating on the fact that my art offered a unique flavor to art directors (and my personal work always turned out much better than these awkward watered-down promotional pieces I was forcing). I started to focus more on my art rather than a paycheck, and eventually my more personal work took off in both galleries and with clients, which made me realize that people were responding positively to the work I loved making naturally.  I just had to find the "home" for my art and not try to force it anywhere. Easier said than done! The point is it can be done.


I feel like now is a good time to talk about trends and how one should work with them. Earlier I was just talking about being mislead by popular styles, and naturally trends can be seen as a distraction or pitfall, too.  There are many opinions out there, many that revolve around the thought that trends could be viewed as an invitation to copy other artists or "selling out". Although many artists and illustrators choose to ignore trends, there are some markets (especially surface design and illustration for products), where it's beneficial to be aware of trends and use them to your advantage.

Using a trend in your art is like an Iron Chef using a Secret Ingredient.

I like comparing art-making to cooking (you probably noticed this in Part 1 when I talked about "Style Soup"). If you've ever seen or even heard about the cooking show Iron Chef, it involves two professional chefs that are battling it out and making several dishes to be judged. But wait! There is always the twist of the secret ingredient that both chefs must use. Now, the chefs are already established professionals and have their identifies. Maybe one is known for Asian Fusion food and the other chef has mastered seafood. Well, when they reveal the secret ingredient (Watermelon! Squid!), it's not like the two chefs just throw away all their strengths and completely change their views as chefs- they still cook the same way they do, but now they just incorporate the secret ingredient. Seafood guy makes a watermelon and salmon salad, and Asian Fusion guy creates a watermelon-based ponzu sauce.  In the end they just adapt the ingredient into what they already do well.

That's how you should use trends- as a secret ingredient. So whether it's Pantone's Color of The Year or woodland animals, this isn't about you copying someone else's version of a trend or letting that trend take over your art. It's about your unique vision and take on it. Moustaches are still popular, but don't think you have to regurgitate what you've seen out there. Do it in a way no one has seen before. If you like illustrating animals and that's your thing, maybe you do a series of animals in vintage suits with moustaches and monocles (note: I would pick an alligator or a walrus, I think. Those have a lot of class, right?) 

And it's ok not to use every trend. There are so many trends out there that you will only want to pick the few that interest you.

So there you have it. Thanks for reading! My blog is about to BLOW UP with activity soon. I'll explain in the next post...


  1. Lauren, I love your work, and I love your advice! Best wishes on your new adventure—can't wait to see what you've got cooking!

  2. Thanks, Joanne! I'll make sure to share often. :)

  3. Inspiring and comforting, great post again Lauren. Thanks

  4. A great follow up to Part 1 Lauren! Loved it. It is so easy to lose your way while finding your style, and this is stella advice.
    All the best with your new venture! :-)

  5. This post seems to have been written for me, everything I needed to hear/read. Thank-You for sharing!

  6. This post is SO solid and well-written. I can't wait to read more in this series.