How Do You Find Your Own Art Style

Recently, a wonderful young artist I'm mentoring via email posed an excellent question:

How did you find your own manga art style? Do you have any advice for me on how to find my own manga art style?

This isn't an uncommon question- it pops up a lot!  From kids to teens to adults, people want to know how to develop their own artstyle.

Don't stress about it too much- just practice drawing
The more you draw from reference, draw fanart, and draw your original characters, the more you're going to find elements that you want to use in your style.  Reading a wide variety of comics, watching animation, and consuming illustration will give you inspiration.

Think about art that inspires you, and works that you love
For finding your own artstyle, I think it's important for you to combine what inspires you with what you love.  For example, my style is a combination of the artists and studios that initially inspired me to draw (so Rumiko Takahashi, Adachi Mitsuru, Kiyohiko Azuma, Studio Ghibli, Disney Renaissance  artists like Glen Keane) and elements I think are cute (big hair, big eyes, big mouths, large ears, freckles, easily excited personalities, lots of animals, and flowers).  Your personal style will develop and change over time, but a great exercise for figuring out a base style that you like drawing in is to do style tests!

Consider what you're passionate about, and find ways to work it into your artstyle
This is going to vary from person to person, but what's important to me:

  • Reflecting real-life diversity
  • Creating characters that feel like people the reader knows
  • Reflecting American culture and physical appearances
  • Cartoony, expressive faces with fairly realistically proportioned bodies
  • Representing healthy body images
  • Art that feels like a relaxing escape to the reader
  • Depicting a variety of hair textures
  • Depicting a variety of facial features without diving into stereotypes
  • Taking traits from manga and anime and making it my own- transforming my inspiration into something personally important

While there may not be room in 7" Kara for all of these traits, I try to touch on them through various projects and challenges throughout the year, such as Inktober.

Emulate artists you admire through exploration and practice: 

Practice with Style Tests

Style tests involve drawing an original character (or yourself!) in the style of artists you admire- even if you think you're never going to draw in that type of style!  Carefully analyze WHY artists draw things a certain way- why they draw noses the way they draw noses, why they draw lips the way they draw lips, ect, and interpret your character in that art style.  This will help you figure out a shorthand for human facial features.  Once you've done about a dozen style tests, start combining elements you like from different styles!  Don't worry about copying- this is how all artists learn and find inspiration.  And once you have a base character style you like- draw a minicomic to put your character through their paces!  Doing expression studies is also a great way to figure out your style, and how your character's face moves.

Learn a System for Drawing
Example of simple head construction from Manga Madness
I personally really recommend constructive drawing!  This is the system that really made the difference for me, artwise.  It's a helpful method of breaking down and understanding the world, and it's particularly helpful for learning human anatomy and drawing figures!  It's also GREAT for breaking down the face's landmarks and memorizing them!

I love this system so much that I teach it in my 6 week comic classes, and offer it as in standalone classes!  You can sign up to my class mailing list to learn more about my classes, or you can join my Patreon and get access to the presentations: 
From Stick to Figure Presentation
Manga Madness Presentation

Practice Drawing Other's Characters in Your Style

Sakura (CCS), Mei and Satsuki (My Neighbor Totoro) 
 Tsukimi (Princess Jellyfish) and DeeDee (Dexter's Lab)

Kiki and Jiji (Kiki's Delivery Service) Laura Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie)

Ponyo (Ponyo), Kara (7" Kara)

Interpreting other characters, particularly those in drastically different styles from your own is a great way to problem solve issues that may come up while you're designing characters, is a great way to pay homage and explore your inspirations, and is a wonderful way to get some additional practice in.  Above are some of my Favorite Fictional Femmes, an Inktober exercise where I interpreted 31+ favorite fictional females in a b-style I was developing.

Its natural for your style to change over time

Your style will change and develop as you consume more media, follow more artists you admire, improve your technical skills, and develop muscle memory from drawing.  I recommend you don't stress yourself out by attempting to be consistent- see where your style and imagination takes you! 
It's ok not to have a specific style or to not draw consistently in the same style
Speaking of inconsistent styles- most artists have several different styles they utilize depending on the mood of the piece, or even the mood of the individual page.

Play around and find what you like!   The more you experiment, the faster you'll improve.  It's important to draw just for yourself, for the sake of study and improvement.

These are all the same character- Kara- drawn in a variety of different styles.  Even just changing the coloring style can change the feel of the piece!

Practice (and refinement!) make perfect!

Favorite resources:
Glen Vilppu Drawing Manual
Drawn to Life Volume 1&2
Naoki Urasawa's Manben
Concept art books:
Art of Studio Ghibli
Art of various Disney movies


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