"That Drawing Is So You!": Chasing The Elusive Personal Style

For as long as I've been drawing, I've dreamed of — nay, been obsessed with — inventing a unique, recognizable art style. Something that people could immediately associate with me at first glance.


I remember flipping through those "How To Draw Manga" books at Barnes and Noble, enviously absorbing the apparent effortlessness of...well, everything. I wanted the clean figures, the transparent facial expressions, the suggestions of movement and folds and bends through simple lines. 

And yet, while there was something captivating about the distinctive style, I knew from the start that I didn't want to pursue this brand of drawing. The appeal of mastering manga lay, I felt, in its simplicity and instant familiarity, but there was too little differentiation to accommodate my ambitions.

(I still hold manga — and anime, I guess, by extension — in high regard as both cultural methodology and storytelling framework. Keep in mind, too, that I was getting a particularly limited exposure to the possibilities of manga — a plastic world of willowy, androgynous, ageless beings with few allowances for variation. I've since discovered that the children's-book variation I was sold in the shelves of Barnes and Noble hardly accounts as an exhaustive representation of the genre.)

I just didn't want my art to follow a trajectory with an immediate label and ubiquitous presence. I knew that if I got too comfortable with rendering characters via tiny triangle noses and huge, glassy pupils and kinetic coiffure actively defying physics in jawdropping ways, I might never get out or stand out. Still, there were elements of the style I really liked  not so much the anti-gravity hair as the pristine linework and nonchalant folds. I wanted to pick and choose.

So I learned to steal.

the theft theory

According to a famous person whose precise identity is widely contested: "Good artists copy, great artists steal." Since encountering said quote, I've pretty much been on track to becoming one of the greatest artists ever. 

I am a visual pickpocket of the highest order, a jigsaw enthusiast finding puzzle pieces in a million disparate sources. I've spent countless hours scrolling through tumblr and deviantArt, favoriting things that switch on that lever in my brain labeled "DRAW LIKE THIS."

It could be the shape of a hand, a fluid pose, a dynamic line, the colors of a cityscape, any one or number of elements. I'll pause, linger in the inspiration, then carve out another fragment to drop into the toolbox of my evolving style. My next drawing will then find form as an amalgamation of these pieces. Kind of like a less philosophically challenging Frankenstein monster.

I'm not claiming this process is unique to me at all. In fact, I'm certain this method is true of many. I've probably stolen it, too. 

get going and keep going

At this stage in my experience, I've concluded a personal drawing style is mainly about what feels right where, not solely aping the techniques of a particular art hero, or blazing a dramatic trail off the path of traditional practice. Style development will, from time to time, burn a brighter shade of one of these extremes. But I've found I feel most myself when I'm not adhering to absolute inception or imitation. And it's the kind of thing that happens when you're not paying attention.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Disney animator Walt Stanchfield's Drawn To Life, in which he encourages artists to get going and keep going with the following words (which are the closest things to a tattoo that I would ever get):  

"If it is not as satisfying a start as you would have liked, do not be critical that is where you are face it. Just turn the page and start another. All those faculties that are required to make a more satisfying sketch are being awakened — even now — as you search for a new subject and begin to sketch. No one else in the universe would have drawn it quite like you."

Maybe one day I'll have that instantly recognizable style. But that's not the motivating factor as much as it used to be. I'll stick with creating with all the tools at my disposal, in a way that feels truest in its translation from concept to canvas, like no one else in the universe.