At uni, having your own 'style' was a really big deal. It was something that first years believed they'd never possess, and the third years who'd actually achieved this were fervently admired and slightly envied. It was something that some students just seemed to develop naturally, while others spent half their time trying to force one to develop. I remember in third year during a conversation with some friends, I commented on how I didn't have a noticeable style to my work - this was an issue that constantly played on my mind at the time. I felt that although each piece of work I created worked well as an illustration in itself, each individual image was inconsistent in style, and wasn't recognisable as being created by the same illustrator. However, my friends immediately interrupted saying that wasn't true at all. They said my use of hand-drawn typography, and also just my style of drawing, was consistent throughout my work, making it obvious that I created it.
Although this probably wasn't true at the time, or if it was I couldn't see it, I have come to realise that the children's illustration work I create is generally recognisable as my work. During the development of my children's book I'm a little bit scared of... I focussed a lot on character design, and the outcome was the development of a mixed media approach which combines collage with hand-drawn elements. Looking back over the children's book illustration I created during second and third year, I find it interesting to look at how my style developed.
At the time, I thought the more realistic, purely collaged characters I developed as part of the first book I created in third year, I Hate My Freckles, would be 'my style' - I was happy with how it looked visually, and truly believed I would continue to create illustrations in a similar way forever. Evidently I changed my mind; and this was not only due to the fact that I'd cut out so many eyes from the models in hairdressing magazines that I was starting to feel a little guilty. I still use cut-out eyes in my illustrations, but much more sparingly, and mainly when I want a character to look sinister or scary or just silly. Despite the bright, tactile appearance of the collaged characters, the intricate detail in each one made them incredibly difficult to recreate, and since character consistancy is vital in a children's book, I knew I needed to create a versatile method of working with a flexibility that allowed the creation of identical characters in varied positions and situations, and I also knew I need to find a way of working that was slightly (and in retrospect, it's actually probably exactly the same) less time-consuming. The very first character in the images above is part of a book I created in second year - I find it interesting to see how the style of my characters now are actually much more similar to that, then the characters I was producing at the beginning of third year. Anyway, in respect of my children's book illustrations, the style I developed a few years ago and the style I use now are very similar - definitely similar enough, in my opinion, for people to recognise them all as having been produced by the same illustrator.
Recently however, I have been dabbling in a bit of fashion illustration. It's very early days, and if you look at all the seperate fashion illos I've created over the past month, they're all very different - to me, there is no definitely consistent style. This in itself doesn't bother me as I am still experimenting in the area, but what has occurred to me is that the initial quesion would probably be better phrased as; Does a professional illustrator need a 'style' or 'styles'? Basically, even if I DO develop a recognisable fashion illustration style, it is never ever going to be anything like my children's book illustration style, as each area of illustration is so different, and each has its own set of expectations. Upon seeing an example of each, even placed next to each other, I'm pretty sure no-one would think that both pieces had been created by the same illustrator. Judge for yourself;
Most illustrators seem to have just one consistent style. Take a look at the work of illustrators such as Sara Fanelli, Lauren Child and Oliver Jeffers, and and you'll see what I mean; the minute you see a piece of their work, you KNOW it's theirs. You can tell who created the piece immediately purely because their work has such a strong, recognisable style. THEIR style. You might argue that they are all established illustrators with years of experience under their belt, and that such a strong style will develop with time and practice, but then look at the work of some of the amazing younger illustrators - some of whom haven't even graduated yet - that I've become aware of, mainly through Twitter. Abby Wright's work springs immediately to mind, along with Kate Slater and the lovely Kyoko Nishimura, all of whom are examples of illustrators whose work displays a very strong, consistent and highly recognisable style. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that you develop a style and then that's it, done; but looking at the earlier work of some illustrators, you can see how their style has evolved and how their earlier work has influenced the development of the work they create today. These three images of Sara Fanelli's work are a perfect example. Yes, her later imagery has a stronger and more polished appearance, but even though the illustrations were produced at almost five year intervals, they are all still clearly recognisable as Fanelli's work.
I guess really, in synopsis form for those of you who have just skipped to the end, I'm just interested to hear people's opinions on this. Do you consider an individual, recognisable 'style' to be important in becoming a successful and well-recognised illustrator? Do you think a single illustrator can have a number of different 'styles'? Is it possible for an illustrator to have just one 'style' which covers all areas of illustration, even those at different ends of the spectrum?