First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few drawing books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.
In my experience, style will either be one of the easiest or one of the hardest things for you to develop as an artist. I've been there, there is no worse feeling than the crushing realization that your art looks an awful lot like everyone else's. The weirdest part is that it's really difficult to develop a style of your own consciously, it often happens over a long period of time without you noticing. If you are interested in differentiating your style, I have a few tips to get you headed in the right direction. #1: Take a Break From Manga and Fan Art
I have nothing against manga and anime. I enjoy watching a good anime just as much as the next person. Heck, I started out drawing manga. Likewise, I don't have any problem with fan art. I don't make any, but I don't begrudge you if you do. It can be a lot of fun to see new character designs and it is really impressive to see perfectly rendered characters from a show or manga.
But here's the thing: you're committed to drawing someone else's style. The manga style is just that: a style, and a very common style at that. Even if you take your own spin on your fan art, you still have to conform to SOME of the style, otherwise who would know that it belongs in that fandom? Fan art and manga have a style pre-attached to them that can be really hard to shake. Of course, you can put your own spin on manga or fan art, but if you were already doing that, you wouldn't be here in this tutorial, would you?
I'm not saying that you can never do manga or fan art ever again. Of course not! You can always apply what you've learned to manga or fan art. But just take a break for a while so that your style can flow uninhibited by previous restrictions. Doing this was what helped me find my artistic voice, and I don't regret it one bit. #2: Go Back To Your Basics
Or start here for the first time, if you've never done so in the past. Anatomy, color theory, linework, light and shading, texture, technique, perspective, all of that boring stuff. And trust me, it's going to SUCK. It's not much fun setting up a perspective grid or drawing bicep muscles until you want to jab your pencil into your brain. I was stuck here for a long time, about 18 months.
But I realize now that the time I waited was partially my fault. I didn't practice enough because I was bored. I tried to find someone else to teach me how to draw in another style, not comprehending that it was impossible for someone else to do so. Why didn't I just go back to manga? Because I don't like drawing manga. There are parts of the style that I didn't enjoy drawing. So I was stuck in a dead-zone for a year and a half.
The essence of style, when you come down to it, is how one artist differs in their representation and usage of anatomy, color theory, linework, light and shading, texture, technique, perspective, etc.
Starting to get why practicing them is a good idea for your style now? Once you've got those skills developed, you'll have the confidence to say, "I hate drawing ankles, they're just no fun! I'm just going to draw them really skinny like this so I don't have to worry too much about them! Hey, that actually looks kind of cool..." And that's a piece of your style being born. Do your homework. Don't get stuck in the dead zone. Pro Tip: People often leave out from their style the parts of the basics that they aren't good at or dislike. Know how to do it right before you decide to do purposely do it 'wrong'. #3: Expand Your Horizons
You need influences to grow and mature in any field. Don't be ashamed of looking at someone and thinking, 'You are so awesome that I want to punch you and suck out your talent like a talent leech.' You probably already have some influences right now. Now expand them. Watch a movie or a TV show that you never got around to watching (go for the classics, there's a reason that they're so famous). Browse through deviantART's pages and find artists who are better than you, artists who shame you by putting their amazing work up, artists who inspire you. That's what will make you better, that burning desire to one day be as great as they are.
Listen to new music. This helps out a LOT. Get out of your comfort zone a bit. Listen to something wacky if you tend to like more serious music and vice versa. Listen to the whole album instead of just one song from it and do it one go. Listen to your favorite albums all in one go as well.
Musical artists express the same things that we do through sound instead of visuals, and it really shows through an entire album rather than in one song. But it's the mindset, the visuals, the emotions that we have in common. Try drawing out what you think of when you hear a great song. I mean exactly, don't just draw the lyrics. Scribble colors around with crayons in just the right place to make the sound an image of color. Is this song purpley, but with some gold and orange over here? I'm getting kind of pumped just typing about it, it's all about pure creativity.
Try a completely different pre-existing style that you are interested in, but it shouldn't be too similar to what you were doing before. I get interested in caricature, and that interest was what really sparked my new outlook and style on art.
Read new books! Play new video games! Do you not go to the school dances? Go to one and make a concerted effort to try and enjoy it. Visit a brand new place alone, be it across the country or across the street. Know the essence of this place. Feel it in your gut. Just do new things. #4: Get Tools that Are Right For You
Your tools are very important and can impact how you work. For instance, I hate using pencils. I write everything down in pen, but I have a huge preference for a certain type of pen. I looked through their product line and found a pen that I fell in love with (I never use it for writing). I use a Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine pen for all of my sketchbook drawings and nothing else.
On the other hand, manga artist Mark Crilley
likes to use a black Prismacolor colored pencil instead of inking his pieces. Our preferences are very different, but what we do have in common is that we've found tools that work WITH us. Do yourself a favor and find your tools, be it pencil, pen, colored pencil, pastel, tablet, or watercolor and find the specific brand that makes you do a happy dance. You'll be so happy that you did.
Those are my biggest tips to discovering your style. The main point is to free yourself from as many restrictions as possible and to expand your pond of experience so that in the future, it will always be large enough that you can fish it for inspiration for your style. Don't be restricted to the carp you're used to catching; dine on salmon tonight. And most of all, stop making awful pond analogies. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to add your two cents in for something that I may have missed or messed up on.
And never, ever forget: I might be wrong. I try not to be, but nobody's perfect. Art is one giant matter of opinion. Feel totally free to disagree or to only utilize the bits that you agree with. If you found this helpful, disagree with me, or just prefer another method to my own, feel free to tell me about it in the comments. After all, I'm here to learn too.