Developing your illustration style

As illustrating is my day job since 11 years I have to admit that drawing in my sketchbook isn’t a regular past time any more. But I also miss the joy of drawing something just for my own pleasure.

Although you practise your drawing skills by doing a lot of drawing, finding your illustration style is something that comes from experimenting a lot in sketchbooks. Trying new styles, perspectives, colours, expressions and the likes. I’d say I have my own ‘style’ for quite a few years now, but even as a professional illustrator I feel you should never stop developing.

I carved out some time one weekend to experiment and watched a Domestika-course to get my creative juices flowing!

Art supplies I used (from Splendith):


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Keep learning

I’m a firm believer you never stop learning. You only stop learning when you’re dead. And when you’re a professional illustrator for many years, you sometimes get stuck in your ways. Taking a course that goes back to the basics can be really refreshing, like this Domestika-course.
I took this course because I like how Sarah uses a flat perspective, meaning she draws flat tables and surfaces which results in wonky, playful perspectives. She briefly touches on this in the course but I would have loved a bit more on that.
The course is English-spoken so it’s easy to follow if you understand English. I’ve followed Domestika-courses before that were in Spanish and subtitled in English, but I’ve found it quite tricky to follow as the subtitles were literally translated (I assume automatically) so it didn’t always make sense. This course is perfect for people that have very little experience with drawing, or experienced drawers that want to go back to basics.

If you want 10% discount on this course, use the code MARLOESDEVRIES-10
Code is valid until 04/04/2023 (Domestika Pro and bundle courses excluded)

How to find your drawing style

One of the questions I get most from (aspiring) illustrators is: ‘how do I find my style?’. My answers is quite short and clear: keep drawing, drawing, drawing. It’s like your handwriting: it’s already in you and the more you practice it, the more it forms. The illustration style that will surface is a combination of your natural way of drawing (that handwriting), what you are interested in (the subjects you draw) and the technique you choose to work in. Those combined are your style. So, get a sketchbook and experiment little bit every day! What are you interested in to draw? What tools suit you? What does your hand want to do?

Okay, let’s experiment!

The more you practice, the easier this gets. I sketch compositions and characters on a daily basis for my job and my brain likes to pop images at random, so I have an advantage here. I’m not the type to sketches a dozen things before settling on one image: my brain is working out the image until it gets to a point that I know what I want to draw.

Sketching a composition

I made two little sketches. The top one is how I would usually do it, and the bottom one has a more flat table, as Sarah showed in her course. I like to let go of perspective a bit more so I transfer the bottom sketch in my Hahnemuhle toned watercolour sketchbook. I always try not to center the illustration too much, to keep it playful.

I didn’t photography the steps in between as I wanted to stay in my flow and not interrupt it.

On the left side of the page I tested my colours and marks before applying them on the illustration.

Using opaque watercolours, gouache and coloured pencils

This is the end result! I love the colour swatches on the left page as it sums up the colours used in the illustration.
The sketchbook has a soft pink/brown tone which is a lovely background colour. So much softer than a white or off-white colour. I added white gouache for certain details, which pops off the page.

Okay, let’s zoom in on the illustration!

I started with the Holbein Cake colors as I tend to use these with a bit more water, like a slightly opaque watercolour. This gives the illustration some texture, like you see in the table. Then, I added more details with regular gouache. You can use any brand you like. I used a few Talens-tubes, but I love Winsor&Newton too. I am currently obsessed with Opera Rose from W&N as it really pops on paper. It’s so bright!

Final details

The last step is adding details with a small brush, coloured pencils. I used Polychromos as they are a bit harder and good for small details and Luminance, which are soft and buttery. Then, a gelly roll pen in white for the dots in the dress and some other small details.

And there you have it! I loved spending a few hours this weekend creating this and it reminded me again how much I love doing these kind of scenes. They are more picture book-like, which is something I’d like to do more of.
I also want to incorporate more wonky perspectives in my work and that’s why it’s important to me to keep experimenting in my spare time, outside of client jobs.

Hope you enjoyed this!

PS Although there are affiliate links in this blog post, I purchased all the tools I used and the course I took. I was not asked by either company to promote these specific tools or course.

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