16th August 2012

Signature Style versus Style-less?


This week I happened to spot this on a Creative Review blog featuring my work:

(Yes, occasionally I Google myself. Who doesn’t?)


Creative Review Johanna Basford


To be fair, Mystery Man TM has a point.

My work does all have a signature aesthetic.

But I thought that was good thing?

(As did Mark seemingly).


I dismissed the comment and went about my business.


A few days later, I read an interview with someone I admire greatly, Seb Lester.

The man is a genius with a quill.

(It’s not often you get to say that).


This part caught my attention:


Seb Lester interview


So now Mystery Man TM, Seb Lester AND Bruce Lee are all telling me that anonymity is aspirational?

This could no longer be ignored.


Is a signature style really a bad thing?

Should we be aiming to strip the fingerprints from our work?

If so, I’m in trouble.


Cut me and I’m pretty sure I would bleed black ink.

Intricate, monochrome pen and ink drawings are ‘my thing’.


This was deliberate.

I set out to try and become the very best at my chosen niche.

I wanted people to see a black and white drawing and wonder if it was mine.

I wanted to be synonymous with that style.


Why fade into the generic masses when you can stand out from the crowd?


Or so I thought.


Jack of all trades, master of none?


One trick pony?

Which is worse?


Does a style spectrum increase your client net or dilute your appeal?


I asked Twitter and Facebook.


Flexibility was commonly hailed the Holy Grail.

The ability to turn your hand expertly to any task,

To silently morph yourself into the client’s vision.


But then why hire me?


You want 3D neon typography?

Am I really the best illustrator for the job?


Surely my clients approach me because they like my style, not in spite of it?

That signature aesthetic that caught their eye is the foundation for each new piece,

not an annex.


Then there’s the issue of boxing yourself in.

Small horses with miniature magical repertoires…


Getting stuck in a creative rut will doubtless loose you:

a.     clients

b.     your sanity

c.     your passion for the job.

Copy and paste is not a creative process.


So, evolution or revolution?


I aim to evolve and develop my signature style,

Not continually redefine it.

And with no regard for those things called ‘trends’.



When I scroll through my folio I see progression.

But I also see very clear and inky fingerprints.

There’s one thread that runs through everything.


I’ve been told:

“You’d get more jobs if you worked in colour”

more often than you’d imagine.


I just don’t believe it.

I’m ‘that girl that does the black and white’

Add CMYK and I’m…

Well, just another illustrator, surely?


So maybe it’s all to do with disciplines.

Perhaps the Graphic Designers need to be fluid, bendy, discreet.

Whereas us Illustrators can benefit from a recognizable form?

If so, where does that leave the Photographers, the Typographers, the Animators and the Fashion Designers?


Personally, a signature style is something I have deliberately carved out.

I believe it is at the very core of my practice


(without sounding like a hippy)

me as a person.

It aids – as opposed to hinders – my progress.


I don’t think it’s an ego thing,

I just don’t want to be extracted from my work.


I don’t want to be aesthetically anonymous.

I want to be stylistically synonymous.


But you can’t argue with Bruce Lee, can you?



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