• Ivna Lins

How to Practice (and Find a Style) - Not Satisfied With my Art - Part 4

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Part 4 - How to Practice (and Find a Style)

Wait up, "Art" activities could go from Chopin's symphonies to creating memes, so let me make it clear that this is a series focused on drawing and painting. If you missed part 1, the introduction, click here!

If you're been following the series, you know that, in order to become the best version of our artistic selves, we have to study the technical part of it, and that task is not going to be easy just because it's something we like.

But there must be a way to make things smoother, more enjoyable, despite the hard part, right? Yes, you're right! It's not a secret, it's not a shortcut. But indeed it makes things flow a bit more effectively.


I don't mean doing whatever you want, however you want. That would just be pure randomness, and most likely would bring scattered results, which is not what we want. We want to follow the path and direct the looks of our art, what we want it to become. That's why I call it "doing things the way you like it". Let's take a closer look at it!


Your style is something that only you can do for yourself because.. only you have your exact taste! Try to think of the people you grew up with. You know some people who share the same favorite color as you, who love the same exact show on netflix, who want to go to the same concerts as you do, or buy the same type of backpack. You think "well, I see many people like me". Usually we bond quicker with people that have the same interests as we do, right? So that we have someone we can talk about for hours and hours about the new episode of Grey's Anatomy, and to look forward to the new apple pencil model with. Someone to complain about how expensive Taylor Swift tickets are, and how you both can't afford it. But have you ever found somebody with whom you have the exaaaact same taste for everything? Every single thing?? The same songs, from the same bands, the same style of clothes, the same introverted personality, the same ethnicity, the same hobbies, the same favorite sports, the same favorite food? It's nearly impossible! You are basically the only one person with the exact combination of "taste and likings" you have.

And why is that so special? Because when it comes to creating, we are simply putting out the way we like things, using the tools we prefer. We paint with the colors we like seeing on paper. We draw cute objects because we would love to have cute objects. Or.. we tell a story in a comic because we feel it, or want to talk about it somehow. Everything we do is according to what's going on inside of us, and art is no different.

Thus, we understand the first step: have a clear sense of the things you like. And how could you begin finding them? Things you like are things that attract you. Things attract us all the time: cool sentences you read and connect to, a particular way of writing (mysterious, humorous, detailed..), colors (pastels, vibrant, earthy, cool, warm, neon), photography style (portraits, landscape, still life, flat lays, product), typography (round letters, block letters, gothic, child-like, hand written, cursive, minimalist), clothing, design, advertising, movies, shows, youtube videos, animations.. the list is so so long! So to help us not go crazy, we should focus on our routine and what we like to consume the most. That's how to find our gems. The "problem" is that we usually are so used to these things showing up, that even though it catches our attention for a few seconds, we just.. go on with our lives. And then it gets mixed up with the rest of the things we don't really care.

Second step is grabbing those little doses of inspiring things and organizing them so they won't get lost in the void anymore. Some people like to keep notebooks for that, do collages keeping bits and pieces from vacations, magazines, printed goods and all that. And, of course there are the digital friends. Of course pinterest is the first to pop in our minds. It's my favorite place to put all my favorite things. I just love to look at it and see "me". Me, visually represented. All the things that attract me and I chose to keep. It's very revealing once you collect all those pieces and see your own self on the screen, symbolized by so many little images.

You're probably thinking "duh ivna, everybody has a cool pinterest, it's still not helping me to have a distinctive style". Yep, true! That's why we need to get very specific to how we use it! It's not supposed to be a place where we go to always collect and add up more and more images, forever (which is usually what many people do). It's meant to be your "north", a spot to have a good idea of what is the direction you want to be going towards. It's a place you come back to, when you're a little lost to how your art should look like, and try to look at it with the eyes of a producer, not a consumer. You're no longer looking at those images to "consume" them and find it beautiful. That's what you did when you were first saving them. Now it's time to look at them from the point of view of somebody who's ready to analyze deeper. Next time you want to start a new project or path or hobby, you could have a board with the lane you wanna stay in. Then, when it comes the time for you to create a piece, you're not trying to reference from the whole world around you, but from a very detailed sense of what you intend to have this piece looking like. Not picking the whole board at once, but maybe grab a few, 3 or 4 for the current thing you're working on. It gets a lot easier this way. We should never copy from one image directly, that would be just plagiarism, but when we have multiple sources and start spotting many patterns on them, we get a sense of the thing that we like. That's how I found my favorite color palette, my typography style, the way I like to draw characters, hair, shading and do my linework. I stopped to look at the things I saved over and over again, and noticed the common patches. It was only when I saw things repeating themselves that it became clear that that was.. "me". That was my taste.

i noticed i saved lots of orange yellow, vibrant/teal blue and coral - those are my go-to colors!

When we try to copy somebody else's artwork, it's like we're copying somebody else's personality: their fashion sense, their favorite colors, their favorite songs, series and hairstyle. When we have our own boards for "hairdos", "clothing style", "colors" and "rendering", for example, it becomes very easy to put these pieces together and build your own personality, in your own artwork. Very very magical!

To illustrate this better, I'll give you an example! Let's do this together! Let's suppose I wanna develop my style to draw characters. I started by generally creating a "character board", and I saved the ones I saw around the internet (always maintaining credit) that caught my attention.

At this point, if I decided to get my favorite one and tried to copy it... first of all: it wouldn't work that well, because we're not capable of making "perfect" copies. Even if the original illustrator wanted to draw the same character again, it wouldn't be the same. So I'd be left with a wonky version of a character, and I would always compare it to the original and see the "flaws". Secondly.. I'd be copying a lot of things that are not "me". It would be totally cool if it was just as a study, but if I'm looking for a style to be my signature and something people come to me for, maybe I wanna make it look different that what already existed.

It took me a lot of time to understand this. In the beginning, I was just copying the style from other illustrators as I didn't really know what I wanted to be in my style. I copied lots of features from Iraville, for example, because I loved the overall vibe of her characters.

I don't really like 3D realistic shading, I don't like earthy muted tones, I don't like big eyes and i don't like outlines. I like flat, vibrant colors, minimal shading, dot eyes, noodle limbs and soft lines. I'd be making a drawing that is not me, even though "I drew it". It's not only an obvious problem of plagiarism for copying her technique and idea, it's a deeper question of not expressing yourself in your own creation. I think nobody would want that! But we do it because we don't know better. We don't understand what to do otherwise.

So a smarter approach to building your style is taking apart the elements that make up a character and understand what we like about them. Look up in your "characters" board how you like the gestures, poses, noses, eyes, shape of head, overall proportion, ears, neck, limbs, body, feet. Are they 3D? 2D? How are the lights and shadows? How are the colors? What medium? What materials would you use to finish your piece?

Next time we want to draw, we will no longer get a single reference from one illustration that belongs to somebody else. It already avoids direct copying, which is a huge deal per si. From now on, we're going to remember the things we like, and how we like them.

i started picking parts from many different artists as references

I like dot eyes, noodle limbs, flat colors, simple cell shading, pastel or primary vibrant colors, 4-5 head proportion characters. This is my puzzle.

We can do the same game to generate ideas for new ideas as well. Let's say I wanna draw a character. I'll pick a reference for the pose (you can also take a picture of yourself!), another one for the outfit, one for the hair, and a color palette. And of course I can adjust each reference, and choose what to include and what to leave behind.

See that I'm not taking references from any illustration? That's gonna make sure I'm not imitating any body! I'll sketch just by remembering the main features and the way I like to draw them. Triangle-shaped flat nose, tiny eyebrows, floating hair. I also don't need that many colors, so I pick the ones I think fit (on the right).

To paint it, I know I want flat colors with a colored pencil texture, some cell shading on occlusion shadows (what a mouthful) and no outlines. For the finishing touches and final details, I wanna add some noise + grainy textures, and draw a few elements on the background.

Now the secret for this recipe is baking it many many many times. The first muffins we make may turn out soggy, tiny, too sugary, with a terrible consistency of the icing. The more we do, the better we know what to do differently, next time. The same thing happens with drawing and finding our art styles. With every new piece comes a new canvas (haha double sense!) with something new to try out, and to experiment with. And of course, you mix and match with your last one, keep what you like, try again what turned out wrong.

My "figuring out what I like and want" took me lots of experimenting, and still does. I'll get bored of some features, then I'm excited to begin a new drawing and try some new things, new ways. It's a journey, and it pretty much never stops.


A style is "you being you". You drawing the thing you like to draw, adding what you want to add, and also NOT adding things as well. We are constantly making choices, so if we decide to draw a nose or an eye a certain way, that means we are not drawing it some other way (unless it's an alien...), because we relate to one of them better, we feel like it translates better the way we like things. There are so many possibilities, even within the things you like. So go slowly. One drawing at a time, trying new things each time. Don't bother with how many times you draw, but try to enjoy it, try to make it a fun experiment. Something you get excited about, not something scary! We all have an idea in our minds of what our art should look like. Where we want it to go. We don't know exactly how to, or else we would be doing it already, right? But we know from all our influences, pinterest boards, and overall noticing around the internet and life. But when we sit down to draw and look at the blank page, the idea of what it "could" look like and the level where it actually is can be quite different. And that's ok! It's part of it all! But when we carry that idea, it doesn't help at all. It just makes everything nerve-wrecking. It's painful to try and "fail". When we draw something, even if we enjoy the process, but then get frustrated because the end result does not please us for our idea of how it "should have been", next time we decide to sit down and draw... that's the feeling that's gonna come back and haunt us. The solution? Go draw and draw what you know, practice what you know right now. Drawing by drawing, as long as you're experimenting and studying, it is gonna become different. When it does, you'll be comfortable with it and then you'll be able to go forward. We cannot go forward if we don't even feel like taking the first steps and if they're so draining! The formula to successful practice sessions: please please please be interested in what you're gonna draw. You're about to spend some time with it. We all get inspired by things that strike us, things we find beautiful, and then we want to portray that somehow, we want to show the world how we see that, and why that is so cool. That's the perfect starting point, then don't forget to be gentle with your learning curve, take it slow, but steady! You'll get anywhere you want :)


With time, we discover new things, live new experiences and become very different people! Our tastes and likes change as well, so it's only natural to expect that our styles will change too! But it shouldn't scare you in any way, it'll happen naturally, and you won't really notice it as a bad thing, because it's happening to.. you! According do what you want! Art will always be a reflection of your own adventures, so there is nothing to be scared of! It's truly a journey, and it's fun to see our own world spinning around while we take the time to discover new parts of it.

As always, I've gathered a few things to back up our style conversation, if you'd like to read/listen/watch more on it. It's always lovely to hear other people telling us how they deal with finding their voices, and we can learn from that too! Thank you so much for reading!!

How to find your unique style & creative voice: 5 podcast episodes

Chuck Jones - The Evolution of an Artist

Ragonia - Arty Business Ep 4: Style

Seth Godin: How to Do Work That Matters for People Who Care

Neil Gaiman - Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Pascal Campion - So You Want to Be an Artist?

The first 20 hours - How to Learn Anything

Not Satisfied With my Art:

Part 1 - Why Can't I Draw (intro)

Part 2 - How to Study Art

Part 3 - Understanding Motivation

Part 4 - How to Practice (and Find a Style)

Part 5 - How to Generate Ideas

Part 6 - How to Develop my Projects (Managing, Organizing)

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