Occasionally, clients ask me why I am not working in only one illustration style, as opposed to my small handful? To be sure, such inquiries come from US art directors exclusively, some of whom like to work with artists with only one signature style. We need to know what we get, is a common thing I hear.
An unequivocal advocate for artistic expression, I have put together a few thoughts on this topic.
1) Form follows function:
I am about concepts, not styles
A leopard cannot change its spots, and hence all the art I create has “that Oliver look” to it. However, I do not define myself through collage or whimsical line work.
Instead, I am about concepts first and stylistic form second.
A US art director friend labelled me a “problem solver,” and I think he nailed it right there. I am the guy who thinks about a suitable visual for a given topic. This isn‘t about styles. It isn’t about my unique way of drawing noses crooked, pointed, or round. This is, first and foremost, about attempting to conjure up (hopefully) exciting concepts.
While I am happy to follow detailed briefings for my work, in most cases it is left up to me which technique I come up with – line work or mixed Âmedia. Often, some styles work better for specific topics than others.
2) Art is all about expanding,
not about restricting myself
To me, being an artist is all about experimenting and trying to find ways to express myself, and to communicate with an audience.
I couldn’t picture myself doing nothing but, say, collages for the next 20 years to come – I would be getting bored of doing one and the same thing throughout.
I hope I will be tackling projects in my future life that I can’t even envisage just now.
Practically all artists that have inspired – fine artists and illustrators alike – have worked in more than one technique in their lifetime. I would be hard-pressed to have to limit my artistic expression; it would feel like having to confine myself to speaking one language only, to give up playing the piano on the side, or to stick to drawing cats and dogs, for that matter.
I have always been an artist, but I have also been professionally engaged in a great many other fields of interest. I have a master’s degree in science for starters, and have worked in anything from engineering to programming to bonobos to phonetics to writing to editing to publishing to designing to multimedia to music and whatnot. This is where I am coming from, and I suppose it shows in my work.
It appears that illustration is the only creative profession in the US that is demanding its peers to be restraining their creativity. This isn’t so for any other creative profession I can think of. Think fine artists. Think designers. Think composers, filmmakers, actors, writers, editors, scientists…
I am amazed at the readiness of many of my cohorts from the United States to be restricting themselves in their artistic endeavors, which, in my experience, is unheard of in Europe.
When asked, some will shrug their shoulders and go, “yeah, like, whatever, that’s the way it is,” while others, keeping a stiff upper lip, are making every effort to make this sound like a terrific idea at first, before conceding that they don’t understand it either, and that they wish it wasn’t so.
I have seen US artist friends bring into play their “artistic integrity” that bans them from exploring new alleys, because they are known for one specific style, and wouldn’t want to spoil their “brand.”
My gut feeling is that this is backing the wrong horse. In my world, artistic integrity is about growing and maturing. Staying true to yourself, for me, means to keep adjusting your art to your current state of mind, as opposed to sticking to what you (or somebody else) thought was cool twenty years ago.
3) Working in different styles
helps me survive
I believe the very least thing that you should expect from your profession, apart from personal gratification, is to have it pay your bills. In my case, offering multifaceted work allows me to supply for more than only a small handful of clients.
It seems hard to believe, but I have met seasoned US illustrators who are barely able to afford rent, which makes this a pivotal issue that I don’t think many art directors are aware of. Mind you, I am not talking about newbies, but about household names who have built themselves a reputation over time.
So why is that? My guess is that, while their single-style work may be easily recognizable from afar, it also stays so consistently and reliably unchanging throughout the decades that AD’s, careful not to inundate their publication, tend to be reluctant to hire that artist for many pieces a year, which, unsurprisingly, translates into overall modest income.
And things seem to be getting worse still. Young US graduates told me their teachers urge them to develop their own style before hitting the market.
Now, seriously, develop your “own style” at twenty-something? A style that you’re supposed to stick with for 50 years to come? Holy moly, that wouldn’t work for me.
4) Have I always worked
in more than one style?
No prizes for guessing – like everybody else, I started out with one style only, with quite of bit of success at the time. A few years down the road, however, I realized that this wasn’t everything that I wanted from my life as an artist, both intellectually and financially; and while I did have my set of clients that I used to work for on a regular basis, I knew that I needed to expand into new markets if I wanted to feel in sync with my art, and make a more-than-decent living in the long run.
This is when I went to stay in Rome for a bit, back in 1993, taking the time to experiment with two more illustration styles and a comic strip, all of which would keep me going in the years to come. And it has been like this ever since: I have been widening my possibilities, and seen techniques and styles and topics and focuses coming and going. It’s not that I do it all, but these days I do work in a modest variety of signature styles.
As I continue to (hopefully) mature, work that I used to do twenty years ago, I no longer do. Of course not! Such is life, and my art is only a reflection of that.
5) So why am I not working
under a variety of nick names?
Give me Révilot any time. Or how about Wolly Fehrice? Sulliver W. Ice? Vice E. Licorice?
Been there, done that. I know of a number of illustrators who do this sort of thing, and neither one seems terribly happy about it. And why should they? Frankly, I don’t see the point of disguising myself from the public eye, and not be open as to who I am (and what my real name is, however white-bread it may be).
The publisher isn’t hiding, nor is the editor, the writer, or the art director. The ad salesman isn’t pretending to be somebody else either. So why should I be? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I find (in a world that isn’t all black and white).
6) So how do you know
what you’re going to get from me?
There is no way I can be dissuaded from pursuing my multi-style path. However, I do understand some of the concerns that an art director may have when they are unsure if they will end up receiving what they are looking for.
With me, you’ll get what you ask for – no surprises. If you want whimsical line work or collage, then that’s what you’ll get. Unless you want to be surprised ;-)
Choose any piece from the thousands of samples on my web site, and I’ll give you just that style, no bells and whistles.
However, if you’re not sure about styles or techniques, or care more about concepts, I will be happy to come up with a variety of suggestions. In the end, of course, it will always be up to you to decide which route you prefer.