Know your style

Knowing the style you’re working in is so important, especially if you plan to license your illustration as Royalty Free stock. And no, I’m not talking about your own personal illustrative style! I’m talking about the actual art style of your piece.

So often, I’ll see illustrations of common subjects like floral patterns or decorative ornaments. When I look at the keywords some of them use, it’s a hot mess: ‘Victorian’, ‘Art Deco’, ‘Gothic’, ‘Art Nouveau’, ‘Baroque’, ‘Rococo’… There’s every keyword included except ‘kitchen sink’.

Every historic illustration style has a trademark look (or several). It’s critical that you understand why Art Deco looks different from Rococo, because you know what: These styles are from totally different time periods, and they’re not the same visually! If you’re going for a historic influence in your work you really need to understand why one movement in art looks different than another. It’s not OK to keyword a file with a mishmash of historic keywords that you think might describe  what you’re drawing when you yourself have no idea.

There may have been influencing factors specific to that time period such as how the economy was performing, where a style originated from geographically, the influence of different cultures, print technology, or even social influences like revolution or emerging subcultures. Keywording an illustration as a movement you’ve sort of hear bandied about without actually understanding why that period of time earned its own classification as a whole new movement in art indicates serious laziness on the part of the artist.

It might be tempting to add any style-related keyword you can think of, however it’s really, really bad for clients. Like, horribly bad. When clients are searching for an illustration done in a very specific art style they are NOT going to be happy when they find out that your ‘Rococo’ floral pattern was in fact drawn in a style more suited to ‘Art Deco’.

Make sure you are researching your style very carefully, and if possible, sign up for a general Art History course. The more you know about art styles throughout history, ESPECIALLY if you’re planning on creating a historically inspired illustration, the better rounded you’ll be as an artist (plus your keywords will improve!).

You can find a good list of art styles on Wikipedia. A quick search for ‘art styles’ or ‘art movements’ brought up many, many more. You might be able to find something unrepresented so you can create a niche, too :)

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