The ideas outlined here are not new and have no doubt been discussed by professional artists. This is just my take on the topic, mostly for my own sake in my own evolution as an artist. And maybe or hopefully it will help other in their journeys as artists. (After finishing writing this, I realized I didn’t even cover philosophy and how that will influence an individual artist).
There is a lot to learn about the techniques artists and illustrators use to create their art. Aspiring artists spend hours, and years practicing to get their techniques better. What I want to talk about is another aspect to the creative process: Style. Or, what makes one artists’ work unique from another. Or to put it another way, the true goal each artist is working towards. (And yes, a super realistic style is a very very valid goal as well.)
I’m am just trying to comprehend the elements that go into making it as an artist. Also, knowing that styles of all kinds are not only valid but cherished by millions of people is a really empowering thing. So if anything, I’m trying to view “technique” in its relationship to the many other elements of art and illustration. If Art is about communicating, and mood, and character, technique is a tool for realizing that, but tools alone do not make art or illustrations, it is people who do.
Often you notice established artists have a certain, unique style to their work, or maybe they are just really really good at a particular style, like a particular way of drawing superheroes. (I know, Marvel and DC both employ artists and illustrators with so many different styles, and that to me is an awesome thing).
For artists (from here I’ll just say artists as short for artists, illustrators, concept artists, and the like), there is a shared knowledge of various knowledge and principles that span the spectrum of styles. Things like, Anatomy, Light and shadow, dynamic movement, portraying emotions, and everything else related to the craft and technique of drawing and painting. For me, Style comes in when an artist decides what they want their work to “look like,” the types of techniques used to achieve the desired effects, the end result itself, what the finished work will look like.
And yet Style is also an end product, an end goal the artist strives for. Artists are often known for the style of their work. Its nothing new that I am saying here: that technique is learned, and yet technique itself does not create an artists style without the artists’ conscious and sustained effort to be consistent in drawing a particular style. Techniques are used by artists to achieve their style. The philosophy of the artist, their worldview, always unique to every artist, often also shared and similar to the worldview of other artists, will also effect their choice of subject matter and genres they might work in, and their choice of the Styles of their work.
I recently spent an afternoon at the Chicago Art Institute and looked at paintings from the 15th century to the 19th century. There were several styles I could discern. One, an more idealistic Greek-like style that was idealized but realistic. A more illustrative style, and even semi-cartoonish in nature style as we’d view it today(almost like comic books today), but also where the trees clearly illustrations and not meant to pass for trees you’d see in nature. And another that went for as much realism as possible.
I could spent the next several months researching historical events, schools of thoughts, prevailing cultural trends and philosophies, to try to figure out why certain artists painted in the styles they did. Everything style that existed in the 19th century, there were also artists and their students, even if not the most popular or famous of artists, creating the same style in the 16th century. And in the 19th century, not everyone created in a realistic style, but retained some elements of illustration and idealization in their landscapes.
And there’s the fact that there was a certain amount of realism in Medieval art before the Italian Renaissance. (Even without the use of perspective).
And so there it is: technique and style and even that word philosophy, if you like. The choices for every artist to make. And its not even as binary as: more cartoonish or more realistic. There are so many styles, so many unique goals artists have for their work and for themselves. I guess what’s important is knowing what style or styles you yourself as an artist want to create, and then put all of your art knowledge and techniques toward creating THAT particular Style.