The Evolution of Identity (for illustrators)
Swing back to my graphic design days today. This is a great display of how some very familiar logos/brands have changed and evolved over the years (thanks to chrisbrogan.com for the heads up).
This may seem off topic, but it's really not. When I talk to illustrators about self-promotion I often tell them to think of themselves as a brand. I encourage them to buy "theirnamedotcom" as their website rather than something unrelated, cutesy, or hard to remember. I tell them, "You just became the next Xerox, the next Coca-Cola."
It's important that your artwork feed into your brand as well. In other words, have a recognizable style that only you can create. That way when a publisher or art director has a particular look in mind for a new project, they think of you and only you.
Coming from a graphic design background (as I did), I used to think the opposite. "Isn't it good to show you're flexible, that you are capable of many different looks and can help a publisher with different needs?" The answer is no.
There are plenty of illustrators out there who can mimic other looks - it's part of the job description for many in-house illustrators (they called us "wrists" or "hands"). Picture books are not the same thing as graphic design/in-house illustration - far from it. Publishers want something that stands out, something that will jump off the shelves as different and new (and wonderful of course).
But after that kind of background it can be hard to find your own look or style (it took me years of experimenting). Sure, you can successfuly pull off lots of different styles, lots of different looks, but how do you find your look? How do you find what makes your work unforgettable? I have some ideas:
1) Illustrate like crazy. No way around this one. The more art you create, the more your media preferences and style will slowly percolate to the surface.
2) Become aware of the decisions you make unconsciously - certain colors you tend to use more than others (your personal color palette), angles of light you use by default, ways you tend to draw the human form. These will all tip you off to your own style. And once you recognize your patterns, you can play off those decisions by using them on purpose or consciously manipulating them.
3) Master your way of working. If it's not done well, it will not impress.
I had to struggle through all this as well and it flat out takes time. So, if this is your path as well - it's time to get to work! :)
Interesting, somewhat related read: An Interview with Marshall Arisman