Here are top tips from top illustrators about adapting style to different clients
It can be both a blessing or a curse to have a distinctive style of illustration. On the one hand it can signify that you are involved in a project. However, adapting that style for different commercial contexts can be challenging.
We asked five illustrators with different creative styles to discuss how they can combine the best of both worlds. They shared their unique creative styles with us.
A set of “building blocks” that can be used to build your own custom-made building projects
Rob Flowers sees a set of blocks as the foundation of his creativity. These elements, he tells Design Week, include a palette of around 15 colours, a selection go-to nose shapes and faces and characters’ hands drawn using three fingers rather than five.
He says that the building blocks are the same regardless of the brief. His unique style is the sum of all these elements. He says that it was inspired by Max Ernst’s German work, Penny Dreadfuls, and 1970s American children’s TV. This approach has led to him working mostly with character-driven clients such as Asos and Nike, Google and the British Red Cross.
Flowers believes that he is not restricted by a rigid style. Instead, he can be flexible and collaborative because he has a set of clearly defined building blocks. Flowers says that he will not stray too far from his core style and is willing to adapt things based on feedback from clients in other areas of a project.
He gives an example of a recent print ad series he produced for Boots. It was a simplified version of his usual style with only two colours. Although it was quite a departure from his usual busy and colorful scenes, it was still based on his “building blocks”. He said, “The line weights were consistent with what I normally do.”
“It’s important to choose your battles when it comes to making changes or protecting how it looks. I ask myself this question: “Can I accept that change or should I take a stand? ?’,” Flowers” I believe that when approaching a commercial project, you should be open to change. After all, you are working for a client. It is your responsibility to fulfill the brief.
Talk style with clients “early”
Ben O’Brien (also known online as Ben The Illustrator) encourages creatives alike to choose a style that is unique and easy to use. He also stresses the importance to have open communication with clients at the beginning of any project.
O’Brien’s distinctive style can be seen in his work for Microsoft and the Guardian. He also created the official emojis to Elton John and Mariah Carey. Whatever the commission, all work is done from “clean geometric shapes and straight lines”, and with as little detail as possible, he says.
He says that he prefers to consult clients to make sure they are on board with his creative decisions.
O’Brien said, “I’ll often check to clients on how I do things.” “For example, I don’t usually draw figures with a neck. If we’re doing something more figurative, I may even ask them if they’re okay to have no neck.”
He says it is better to have these conversations early in a project because this lets him know when and where he may need to “compromise”. For example, with a color palette that revolves around the client’s brand colours.
A portfolio that “exemplifies what you love to do”
Helene Baum, a French-German illustrator, emphasizes the importance of dialog between client and illustrator. Design Week hears from Helene Baum that she loves sharing “new visual solutions with clients” as a result.
Baum emphasizes the importance of having a well-curated portfolio before she and her client reach this stage. She explained that she only includes work that is enjoyable because it exemplifies my passion for what she does.
This is often the first time a client will engage Baum. She can show her “her way” and encourage others to hire her “because they like what I do”.
Baum believes that her success in four years of her career has been due to the fact that many clients have allowed her freedom and she can do her own thing. These clients include Zalando, Penguin Random House, and New Statesman.
She recalls that she was only once forced into a different style by a client who used a color palette which was not my own. It was uncomfortable. “There are many illustrators who have different approaches and aesthetics. Clients should be able find the right artist and trust them to deliver – it seems like a waste to both of us to try to make a circle into triangles.”
Keep your style consistent, even if it’s not “on trend”.
A signature style can be great, if it’s fashionable. However, it can be daunting to continue creating in the way you feel comfortable. Linzie Hunter, a Peckham-based illustrator, mentors illustrators at the beginning stages of their careers. This worry is often a topic of conversation.
Hunter says, “It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. You want an established style for work, but you can’t perfect it without work.”
She insists that the key to owning a style in different contexts is sticking with it. Hunter explained that it took Hunter some time to get used to her “cute” approach. This has led Hunter to illustrate many children’s books, and most recently her own book deal.
She says it took her a while to understand being cute, rather than political or edgy. Hunter says that it’s important to keep an eye on the trends, but not so much as to try to change your style entirely. She recalls the “Ibiza chill out album” style that Hunter used when she started her career in illustration 14-years ago.
You have the right to say “no”.
As all those Design Week interviewed, part of being an illustrator is to work with clients to create something they love. However, an illustrator should not feel obligated to accept a commission that feels too restrictive.
O’Brien states, “If a client wants you to do a commission, but you really want to control your style, or take you in a direction that is not creatively satisfying, then you might not be the right illustrator to commission.”
This sentiment is shared by Mattieu, also known as Mcbess, a French illustrator. Bessudo is influenced heavily by the graphic inspirations that he was exposed as a child. He cites Betty Boop, Merrie Melodies, and Fleischer Studios for his dark, black, and white illustrations.
He is proud of his style, which has won him projects with Nike, Nissan and Deezer. Bessudo believes that “being able say no” is an important aspect of his practice. His website, for instance, clearly states to potential clients: “Don’t ask for colours.”
Bessudo says that when clients approach him with ideas that are “miles apart” from his work, he will often try to “bend the brief” to fit his style and approach. If he cannot do this, he will tell clients upfront that the work is not a good fit.
He says, “I know what I won’t draw and often my clients end up liking this quality about me.” It’s true for all other crafts – you wouldn’t ask a chef to alter their recipe if you had respect for them.