What I want to talk about today is an illustrator’s style, the aspect of their work that tells you who created it – to put it another way, their visual signature.
Hello, my name is Darren Di Lieto, and I’m the founder and creative director at Hireillo, a support network for professional freelance illustrators. Today I’d like to talk about style, not in a fashion sense, as I’m in no way qualified to talk about that. My fashion sense comes down to is it comfy and do I think it makes me look cool, but that’s about it. What I want to talk about today is an illustrator’s style, the aspect of their work that tells you who created it – to put it another way, their visual signature.
Just think about any world-renowned artist, say, Picasso or Rembrandt. Does someone need to tell you who the artist is when you see one of their works? Alternatively, with contemporary illustrators, in the same way, does Jon Burgerman need to sell you his skills as an illustrator, or can you look at his work and know it was created by him, and see whether you want to work with him or not.
Not everyone will know who Jon Burgerman is, depending on the circles you run in, but hopefully, you get my point, he has a very distinct style. That doesn’t mean an illustrator can’t evolve, but it’s crucial for a client, before they hire someone, to be able to look at an artist’s portfolio and visualise what that artist could produce for them.
An excellent example of an artist who’s evolved over the last decade, not that Jon Burgerman hasn’t, is Tim Biskup. It’s pretty amazing the change his work has gone through. I can’t fathom the risk he must have felt he was taking when making the transition, many moons ago, from his established style to his current one. I’ve not asked him, although I probably should, I can imagine, until he showed the world his new work, it must have felt like starting from scratch. I might be completely wrong, as, as I said, I don’t know the man, but insecurity, when you’re an illustrator, often comes with the job.
Now, I want to clear something up, and I’ll try to be consistent going forward. You can commission an illustrator to communicate an idea visually. Whereas an artist visually communicates an idea and then attempts to sell the resulting work. Sometimes artists have patrons who fund their work while retaining their freedom, and sometimes illustrators sell their artwork like an artist. But overall, if a client hires you, you’re an illustrator. If you’re selling artwork, you’re an artist.
So, getting back on track, as an illustrator, having and developing a style, something that makes you unique, is essential. I can’t stress this enough, a unique selling point; in essence, your style is what will make or break your career. There are exceptions to the rule, but being a jack-of-all-trades is a pathway few can tread and find success with. We are no longer living in a world where you’re just competing with other illustrators in your local area for jobs and recognition. Everyone is on the international platform known as the internet, and no one is safe from scrutiny. You have to stand out from the crowd.
It can take an illustrator or artist years or even decades before they find their voice, but if job security and longevity is your aim, a consistent style is a target you want to hit. Gone are the days of a one-person band. Being able to do it all should not be your unique selling point, and if it is, you’re setting yourself up to fail. I can count on one hand the number of illustrators who I believe can apply their skill to any style, and even half of them would struggle to get hired in general if they attempted to corner the market by telling clients they can fulfil all their needs.
Find your voice, make it your own and shout it from the hills. Your style can be related to your personality, or it can be born from the type of company you want to work for, but at the end of the day, it needs to be unified and consistent. Your style is your brand, and your brand is why people will hire you.
I think I’ve made my point clear. Find your style, stick to it, sell it, own it!
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