This week illustrator and visiting lecturer David Callow looks at why developing a style at university might not be as negative as it is sometimes seen. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below.
Style is a word that pops up quite a lot in education and is certainly a key focus for a number of students I meet. This word ‘style’ though can be a bit of a taboo between educators, who often see a student’s focus on it as a distraction from meaningful development. I would like to propose – as style is a product of innovation (trends aside) – that this as an issue not to be dismissed, but understood more fully.
This aversion of the term style on behalf of the educator, is reinforced by the unmistakable display of a student choosing an approach to briefs arbitrarily, passing up a valuable opportunity to explore their own ability to construct unique solutions. We’ve all seen it I’m sure, but from experience I have noticed these students are not necessarily looking to shortcut effort, with certain misadventures requiring admirable commitment and time to produce. Could a focus on style simply be a reveal to the kind of practical knowledge a student may think they require to become illustrators? A sort of silent indicator of what students are looking for from a degree.
It’s not too long before students see that a system of image-making determines many practical factors including production times, levels of applicability to different types of briefs and so on. I have come to think that students who explore the issue of style, do so with the honest intent to transition their efforts into something more real, into something that makes sense in the world.
I believe it is the role of the educator to pick up on this silent indicator and provide clarity. Educators must reveal to students that the way the work looks, the type of content they see and how they see it, are factors informed by an illustrator’s uniquely developed process. By moving the student’s focus from a divergent array of perceived details, to an integrated understanding that these details are unified by a personalised methodology, the educator attends to the source of the inquiry with the premise that learning, exploration and understanding is the source of style formation.
Students understand that effort and commitment are part of what is required to excel, but not every student is aware of the absolutely fundamental role of process. As educators, it is important that we propose a framework of ideas that makes sense and enables the student to develop an independent pursuit. By highlighting the role of process in the formation of style, students can commit in full confidence to a meaningful exploration of practice without shrugging the commercial requirements of the profession they have observed, observations which provide objectivity to the active pursuit of their future careers.