Starting out #1

Last week in amongst markets, talks and meetings – was mentoring. There were three sessions, one hour each and it was terrific. I feel pretty privileged to get to see the work of people at all different stages of their careers – some just beginning, others well and truly on the way but perhaps just lacking confidence. It reminded me of when I was starting out. So I though I’d share some thoughts over the next few days…

#1   Stick to your strengths.

Some people develop one strong style because it is all they want to do, or even all they can do. Nothing wrong with that – it’s actually a slightly enviable position. But those who have a broader range of skills, perhaps without one particular leaning, are met with a bit of a dilemma. What style? What medium? What subject matter? They, like me, often learn to be all things to all people – turning their hand to whatever is needed. For the artist it is very satisfying. You broaden your skills and you can make sure that you address the needs of the story rather than bending it to suit your style.

But unless you’re working with a publisher all the time, not many will think of the all-rounder-illustrator when a book comes up. They tend to read the text and someone’s style pops into their head. And that’s who they contact first. If you’re writing your own work it isn’t much of a problem. You can present yourself as a whole package. But it wasn’t until I developed a distinctive style (going back to my strongest loves) that publishers contacted me more regularly.

So, what do you like doing the most – what do you doodle, what do you always fall back into when sketching, what do you do that you love – however unpopular? What is your most successful use of line? What design elements do you personally love to death? That’s You. That’s your style. Now – play with it, perfect it. How can you use that in illustration? By all means practice lots of techniques and mediums if you like. There is always more to be learnt, greater skill to be attained, nuance you would never have dreamt of nuancing. You will find new elements that are invaluable and mean that you can play with confidence. And there are certain things that every illustrator will need some confidence in – drawing people especially.

But don’t think you have to be someone else to get work.

Top row – A sketch done in my undergrad days at melbourne uni. I loved doing pencil and detailed pen sketches around the campus.  Beside it is a recent pen drawing in Carlton (using crosshatched pen) with an added storytelling flair – lots of cats on the rooftops.

Middle row – A figure study done in life class and illustrated characters for ‘The Elephants’  Big Day Out’. Similar use of colour, stroke and tone and both done in oils. The illustrations tend to be a little more crisp in their execution – probably owing to the smaller brushes and need for finer details.

Bottom row – Florence painted on the spot (one-off landscape painting) and an illustration from Where’s God?’. Both in oils. In the illustration I have warped buildings for a more looming effect – but use the same techniques as in my regular painting.

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