Notes on Style

24 04 2012

“…we must not force (style) upon our artwork, but rather let it grow of its own volition, from the totality of our influences and abilities (or inabilities, as the case may be). When style is not the natural outcome, the outgrowth, of all these things, we have instead a repugnant, off-putting mannerism. Many beginners, sadly, approach the whole matter “bass-ackwards.” They fret about style long before they master some reasonable drawing ability, learn to handle the tools of the trade, intuit the basics of design and composition, or (worst of all) eliminate affectation and dishonesty from their stories.”

Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice

I’ve been wrestling with the idea of style lately. I read an essay years ago about painting (apologies, I can’t find it and have no idea who wrote it) that talked about “manufacturing a style,” and made essentially the same point that Brunetti states so eloquently. My response was to ignore the idea of style as much as possible, drawing with a focus on communication and expression and letting the drawings assume whatever visual character they want. I’ve had some success doing 24 hour comics this way, but my other projects have suffered from a lack of design consciousness.

Basically  I’ve been so set on not falling into the trap of manufacturing a style, I’ve avoided making conscious decisions as much as possible. But that’s ridiculous. Art has to be deliberate, it has to consist of intentionality, or else it’s just noodling. Sometimes that’s enough, but usually it’s not.  And anyway, like the song says, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

I feel kind of silly that it’s taken me this long to figure this out. You probably already know it, so just humor me as I spell it out for myself.  Honest self-expression can come from conscious as well as unconscious sources. The important thing with stylistic decisions is to ask, “Is this best for the story?” (Or the painting or the film or whatever the whole piece is.) Not, “Will this sell?” Not, “Does this look enough like artist X or genre Y?” Also not, “Is this different enough from artist X or genre Y?” Just, does it express what it needs to express in the best possible way? The artist can and should closely examine his/her own work in order to make it the best it can be.

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