Does a professional illustrator need a “style”?

Note: This is a question I struggled with for a long time and I know we all have different opinions .. Please contribute to the conversation by leaving comments below. Please keep the discussion positive and constructive. Thanks n8w What do you mean by  "style" ?

The way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed:
The combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.
Sort; type:
  • The way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed:
  • Sort; type:
  • Feeling/Tone

A lot of artists have trouble committing to one style  because it  goes against an artist's nature of exploring, being curious and not limiting their expression to one voice. I struggled with this question for a long time.  After working a number of years as a designer and art director  it became clear to me why having a "style" would help my illustration career.

First, I would just like to show you some illustrators with very strong styles.

Jordin Isip




Eric Comstock

16_ufo_mobile jack_lewis lucky_star robot_friends_2

Red Nose Studios aka Chris Sickels




Kevin Dart




Silvia Dekker




Glenn Jones

"Style" isn't only  visual ... for example, when you think of Glenn Jones you think of creative funny concepts.




Modern Dog

Now I would like to show you some work examples from the world renowned design studio Modern Dog. Illustration is a huge part of what makes Modern Dog who they are.  They create 99% of their illustration work  in house and have a wide range of illustration styles.






So you are probably wondering "How does Modern Dog have success with so many styles?" To understand their success you just need to look at the typical process. They are playing more roles than just an illustrator.  Most of the time they are a design agency that hires themselves as an illustrator .. and they choose the best "sytle" for the project.


NOTE: I know this process varies .. but for the sake of simplicity I broke it down to 4 simple stages

#1 - Idea

The idea usually starts as a text document ... it could be a strategy brief, creative brief, power point slide outlining marketing/business objectives, etc The "Idea Person" could be an Editor, Marketeer, Creative Director, Writer, etc

#2 - Art Direction

The art director is like a bridge between the "Idea Person" and the designer.  They outline the artistic/visual direction that supports/reinforces the idea.

#3 - Designer's Toolbox

Based of the art director's vision the designer chooses possible illustrators that reinforce the art directors vision.

#4 - The Illustrator

The illustrator brings the idea to life


When an illustrator is approached by a client  what is the client usually looking for?

They are usually looking for one of the following:

  • Feeling (subconscious) - visual aesthetic, a tone, a mood
  • Thought (conscious)-  a creative way to visualize a concept, idea, subject matter
  • Subject Matter - an expert in a specific subject matter  (ie: famous people, medical illustration,  etc)

How can they find it?

  • Consistency / Predictability
  • As an illustrator, art directors hire you because they want to give a project a specific tone, feeling and they need to be able to count on your work being a certain way for their project, campaign, etc. It's kind of like choosing a font.  Imagine if you bought a Metallica CD and it was full of acoustic Bolivian folk music .. you would be kind of confused??? Art directors usually don't want to play "style roulette". This doesn't mean you can't do other just means when you present them to clients have consistency between the bodies of work. A number of illustrators, writers, and musicians work under various names for this vary reason.

For example, I have two names I work under. 'Alexander Blue' style feels wacky, colorful, geared for kids.

Alexander Blue

Whereas, the 'Nate Williams' style has a more hand drawn naive feel.

Nate Williams

I recommend reading The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries for an introduction to branding.

Does having a "Style" = never changing, never growing?

  • No, it just means have consistency between the bodies of work you present. (ie Nate Williams, Alexander Blue ... both me,  just grouped accordingly)

"Style" Related Polls

Here are some style related polls I've conducted on









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