Building a Style Guide... From Scratch.

As we know when we talk about an art "style", we're basically talking about a set of visual rules. I colored this linework recently and it got me thinking about this a lot-- trying to follow a clear, consistent set of rules when drawing/painting something. It was actually pretty hard at first, but it forced me to sit down, look for patterns, and think of why certain things look the way they do.

I sat down and took some notes on what parts stood out the most. These elements actually have more to do with the style of coloring/light than with shape and form. I've marked out example areas to give an idea of what each element looks like in the image:

1. Black Outline

The contours and edges of forms are marked with a visible black line. Not that I really needed to point that out... but this would have a very different feeling if there were no outlines, which often convey a cartoon/comic look.

2. Visible Brushstrokes

The colored forms between the lines have a painterly look, you can see most of the brushstrokes I made when I was coloring this in. As opposed to if I had blocked the forms in with seamless color gradients in Illustrator.

3. Outlined Shadows

Areas of deep shadow are also outlined with thinner black strokes. I was afraid too many thin lines would end up looking strange/confusing so I tried to apply this rule only to major areas of shadow.

4. 'Frosted' Shadows

Major areas of shadow are lighter around the edges marked by the outlines, and deeper towards the center, which for whatever reason reminds me of a window frosted around the edges. The color is also more saturated at the center of the shadow, most obvious in the areas on the knee/torso.

5. Hue Shift in Highlights

Areas directly in light have little change in value, but there's a subtle shift in the hue in areas close to shadow. Look at the edge of the bright areas of her shirt, which is mainly a bright yellow, and you can see the edges veer slightly into the orange/green range. The red-orangey areas of her clothes and skirt get slightly more magenta near shadows.

6. Opposite Temperature Light

The main light source is bright and warm, and even her color scheme is composed mostly of warm tones (brown eyes/hair, yellow shirt, red skirt), but there's evidence of a weak, cool light source near the left edges of her clothes coming from behind.

None of these are particularly new or innovative, but it was just fun to break down rules to follow while drawing. I've had some experience with this working for OnPoint Studios--often times my art director will emphasize how important it is to follow a certain visual style when I'm making an animation, icons, etc. I figure it must be common in the video game industry, since teams of artists will often have to follow style rules that someone else created when working on a project. This character I've drawn here is part of a story universe with others, so they all have to be drawn in the same way for consistency's sake.

I encourage others to analyze their favorite art styles, including their own, and see what they consist of. Just try looking for patterns and major visual elements that stand out. It's a good way to start to understand how different styles convey different moods, and when and where certain elements are appropriate for the intended message.

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