Art style 2020

Below, I detail my process for figuring out what’s next for my art, and at the bottom are some downloadable freebies so you can make your own moodboards and do this exercise for yourself. If you find this interesting/useful, hit me up with a few bucks on Ko-fi. Thanks!

My Process

One of my major goals for next year is to be more deliberate about the art I make. I’m relatively happy with my progress over the years, as my time to practice is often a random spattering of minutes here and there. But as my time has become more precious, I want to make those minutes count.

When I thought about the art I want to be making, I quickly got overwhelmed. There was so much I could make, and so many things I’d need to work on to get there. In the spirit of avoiding overwhelm, I picked just one thing to focus on in the nearterm: stylization.

Focusing just on style was a sigh of relief…for a moment. I don’t consider my taste very narrow. I take inspiration from flat graphic illustrations, Impressionism, realism… How could I make something cohesive from a mess like that?

I broke down the things I think make up a style, and decided to moodboard around those themes. Namely:


  • What do I want to draw? What about painting people is interesting to me? Is there a common thread between what’s actually portrayed in the pieces I like?


  • How realistic or abstract do I want my portrayals to be? Do I want to go full on comic style, or approach hyper realism? It’s probably somewhere in between, but where exactly is the line?


  • What color schemes do I like? Are there some hues, temperatures or contrasts that I’m particularly drawn to?

I pulled pieces from my inspiration files, focusing on only one of these themes at a time.

What I learned


I chose images that felt complete and compelling to me as a whole. I tried not to pick any images where I zero’d in on one particular quality, such as rendering, or contrast. The styles are pretty different, but they all were people existing in environments. There was a strong element of fanciful wildness to all the environments and people.

Subject See it bigger


I’ve struggled a lot with abstraction, because I feel like I swing from wanting to do realism to wanting to heavily stylize. This was super useful for me, because I realized I am interested in more abstracted mark making, but not really proportions.

Abstraction See it bigger


I thought there was NO way I’d land on a cohesive story for color, but I was surprised. The pro of collecting 18 images is that in aggregate, they do begin to have trends. I liked colors all across the rainbow, but I like a sense of luminescence, regardless of what tones are in the piece.

Color See it bigger


From here, it was much easier to figure out what I should focus on to strengthen my personal style. I’ll be focused on the following next year:

  • Practice lineart and inking to up my abstraction skills
  • Do some landscapes and interiors to learn to do backgrounds
  • Try some character design and expressions
  • Draw some damn bodies, not just heads
  • Explore fashion and costume design
  • Try choosing one palette across multiple pieces

These are incredibly actionable goals, and while difficult, feel way less overwhelming than solidify your style”.

Your turn

Here’s a stylization workbook, if you, too, want to do this exercise.

Templates galore

Download the InDesign template or the printable pdf

Make a style goal

Are you exploring new styles, or trying to nail one down? If you’re in exploration mode, adopt an expansive mindset: save inspiration on a whim, don’t think too critically about what you’re attracted to. If you’re in execution mode, adopt an editor’s mindset: only save inspiration if you can clearly articulate what you like about it.

Choose moodboards

Select the themes that speak to you. You can do as few or as many as you like, or expand on themes you’re interested in. For example, if you notice you’re interested in both landscapes AND portraits, you could make separate Subject boards for each.

Identify patterns

Look at your moodboards and see what the images have in common. If you’ve been staring at your boards too long and have trouble, enlist the help of a visual friend. Based on your trends, create a list of skills to study. Brainstorm exercises and projects, such as improving line quality, or trying neon colors.

There are additional tips in the workbooks, so be sure to download.

If you end up doing this exercise with me, I’d love to see what you come up with. I’m @ashsmash on Twitter and Instagram, and you can use the hashtag #artwithashsmash. Thanks for reading, and if you liked this post, please consider sharing with a friend, or buying me a cuppa.

December 5, 2019
art     planning     freebies    

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