Throughout the course of art history, the concept of an artist being successful has almost always correlated with how recognizable their artwork is. We all know a Picasso when we see one, a Keith Haring, a Monet. Even as modern-day creators, I see a lot of designers and artists attempt to mold and shape their work to this standard of their supposed "style". I myself am often caught up with this fantasy of one day having people just see a poster from me or packaging and just know instantly, "Oh! That's Amanda!" It's horribly egotistical of me but I can't help it!
While it's seductive and exciting to think that you could be pointed out from a sea of other designers, is it good for business? Or even your sanity? Is it even necessary to be a creative? I say everything is good in moderation and that includes limiting yourself with a very specific personal style.
In the case of illustrators, it very well may be their bread and butter, this perfected style they've called their own and receive tons of clients for; but I can imagine that once you've settled for an illustrative style, everyone asks you to recreate it again. Over and over and over again. You end up with a portfolio of the same faces, same gestures, same palettes and eventually it all begins to look one note. Variety truly is the spice of life and changing it up every so often is good for your portfolio and good for the soul.
Take these three pieces by Pablo Picasso. None of these pieces seem to correlate but were all done over the course of only a few years. There was always a continuous progression in Picasso's work as he sought to redefine what art meant to him. It may not be the sort of pieces we remember him for, but had he been an illustrator in today's competitive creative field, he'd still have a greater breadth of skill to showcase than some.
Another thing to consider about developing a style is how, as humans, we're not all super great at being consistent. Since we are only human, we are both spontaneous and repetitive. It's difficult to recreate what we perceive as a masterpiece a second time, that moment of pure creativity is almost impossible to replicate! And yet, we also approach problems the same way; that's just the way we're programmed through years of experiences. As we grow as creators and people, are new ideas and beliefs become clear in what we do every day.
As producers of art and design, no matter how mundane the job may be, it is still better to be curious than complacent. We should move forward and continue to learn, continue to explore with each opportunity presented to us. We should have many styles over the course of our careers, many experiments and trials under our belt in order to become better designers and, more importantly, more marketable to potential clients!
In my case, I am trying to stop relying on defaults so much for the sake of a style. For example, the font used on this website is Raleway. I like Raleway, I think it's very clean and legible and comes in such a broad range of weights, I could use it for a lot of projects. And that's exactly what I noticed I would do when I needed a sans serif. I have an unlimited library of sans serif fonts to choose from and yet my brain immediately went Raleway! Because it's comfortable to me, I trust it. Picking a body copy font for a poster may be a small decision, one that can easily be overlooked, but it still deserves a conscious and thoughtful decision instead of automatically defaulting to what we consider comfortable.
Moving forward, I encourage you to think hard about whether a style really means more than progression to you. The only standard that we really need to set for our work is whether or not it is a proper expression of all that we've learned and our well-honed skills.