how to change your style

How to Change

Art by  Cory Shaw

Art by Cory Shaw

Everyone wants to improve and try new things, but why is change so hard? Sometimes we box ourselves into a certain identity or style and feel like we can't deviate, or we get comfortable and fear failure. In this episode we discuss why consistent improvement and change is so vital to creatives, and go over practical things you can do to create lasting changes in your life.

Good news, our sound quality should be better because Jake moved and now he and Will are no longer sharing a studio, so we don’t have to worry about there being an echo anymore. Yay!

Life Advice: Never move. 

Jake just moved to Arizona from Utah, which involved slowly driving two moving trucks and unloading things into a storage unit in the Arizona heat. 

Today we are talking about “Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes!...”

Batman for Change

Jake challenged Lee to draw Batman a few episodes back; Lee’s not someone who normally draws super heroes. It really freed him up, he felt like he could do anything that he wanted to. So he thought of a new color pallette to use. He didn’t approach it as: how can I put this in my style? He felt freed to try anything that he wanted to. 

Lee came up with an alter ego: Antonio Blanco Paints The Landscape!

He approached the background from more of a fine art point of view. He leaned in on that identity when painting Batman. He just wanted to paint, and so Antonio Blanco showed up, he even made some pallet changes, and a lot of people really responded to the background.

Then he did another image and it really freed him up, the next piece was a city scape.

So the next image Lee made, he embraced this style, and really started to lean into it. 

So he started to change up his palette and his approach and made a bunch of new images, he was all of the sudden freed up to make changes and try new things.The shackles were off, and it was off to the races for Antonio Blanco!

All the sudden he started getting commission requests, his agent liked his new work and wanted to try and use them for book covers, and a gallery was interested in his new work.

If it weren’t for the Batman challenge, Lee may have never been freed to create this new style of his.



“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why don’t people change? Why do we struggle to change?

We have this idea that people think about us in a certain way and that’s who we are. We feel like we don’t have permission to try new things because it goes against that identity.

NO one cares, no one cares except for you. No one said to Lee when he experimented with this new style, “Hey man, you can’t do that!”  Nobody got mad at him, the only thing holding him back was himself.

If you asked Lee who he was as an artist before he would say, “I’m a children’s book illustrator, I make whimsical images in watercolor.”

Get the power of the Antonio Blanco. He had to give himself permission. Give yourself permission to branch out and try new things.

You cannot define Antonio Blanco.

Will’s Change

Most successful illustrators have a distinct and consistent style. 

Will would sometimes look at other successful artists and get jealous of their style and feel that if he had time he could come up with a new style for himself too. 

What helped him change, was looking at a different market. He didn’t have a track record with comic conventions and so he went to a convention and started looking around and noticed those booths that were successful and those that were less successful.

Illustrators aren’t the best designers, not the best at designing a retail space. He noticed that a lot of the booths looked really hodge podgy and didn’t have a consistent look to them. 

He realized he needed to create a boutique look that was totally different.

That’s when he started doing his “Little” prints in a simple black and white pencil style which was in contrast to all of his painted color work. It worked, and that style got him his Bonaparte children’s book series because he tried that transformation.

Did you feel like it changed who you were? Did you feel separate from yourself? How does it relate to how you feel about yourself?

His approach to the drawing is the same, initially it does feel weird to display both styles on his website but now he’s really embraced it. 

He realized he can do other things, so now he’s writing a book.

Change is uncomfortable. As an artist if you’re really creating art you need to take risks. You need to go down paths that aren’t conventional, things that are not prescribed. If you look over all of the artists that you know and those that have the most success and have had the longest lasting careers are the ones who have made changes. In art history those artists have periods named after the changes they have made.

tin man.jpg

Will slowly started to add spot color in and there were people who liked his color stuff more and some who liked his black and white work more. 

Some people said that they liked his old color stuff more but still enjoyed his black and white stuff as well.

To be true to yourself as an artist, you need to do what you feel is best and not always be chasing the crowd.

Jake’s Changes

Little Bot, had more of an illustrative softer atmospheric feeling to it. While his Skyheart comic is a lot more graphical.

Jake has a handful of styles that he dips into. He decides which to use depending on the project.

If the style calls for something more rendered and painterly, he’ll do that. If it calls for something more linear based with pops of color, he’ll do that. That’s what keeps him fresh. Each project he can be working in a different style. 

There are some styles and mediums that he really enjoys working in.

He always goes into a proposed project at first asking, “You’re hiring me for this, what style are you thinking? What do you like of my work?Send me a few samples of my work that you like the best.

He decides to do projects based more on the subject matter than the style.

During his mid twenties to mid thirties, he tried a bunch of things, watercolor, watercolor and ink, colored pencil with photoshop, photoshop with ink. Those years were a time where he experimented a lot and figured out what mediums he likes.

Lee did some landscapes and shared them with Will and Jake. Jake tried out painting a landscape too.

Watching Lee has got Jake wanting to do something completely different, wants to create something less illustrative and more Gallery focused.

Be True to Yourself and Change

2 Personality Types: Super quick to change and want to adapt. Then there are those who are resistant to change and are more hesitant. Will is less on the adaptive side than Lee and Jake. 

Most of Jake’s favorite artists are those who have a set style that they’ve locked onto. He wants to see what type of subject matter they will attack with that style.

Alphonse Mucha: from art history. You should study art history and illustration history.

Muca was really famous for this decorative flat art deco style. He had a very distinct style. However, he wanted to be like John Singer Sargeant and he wanted to be a portrait oil painter, but the community didn’t want him to do that. 

He fought it his whole life, he made these huge 100 feet long paintings. “The Slovak Exodus.”

He couldn’t escape that category people placed him in though.

We’re talking about how you define yourself and how others define you.

Steve Houston painted boxers and wanted to paint other things, but people said, no you’re the boxer guy.

Lee had a friend who gets a lot of attention on Instagram but they wanted to try a new style and when they did they saw their “likes” take a big hit.

You have to be willing to take the risk to do what you want to do.

Will has a goal to paint landscapes from nature. If for some reason they turned out and people want to buy them then great, but that’s not the reason he wants to pursue that later on.

Be authentic to yourself, if you just chase the style because it’s popular, it feels inauthentic.

You always run the risk of being called out or people not liking your work as much.

About the likes going down- You need to be honest with yourself. Why do you create? Do you create because of some inner need, or is it for some sort of external acceptance? If those are in conflict and clashing with each other then you won’t be comfortable changing styles if you’re always worried about the likes.

Create Your Own Persona

Create your persona, if this is how you work. Maybe you need to make a new persona.

“Antonio Blanco is just starting out, and isn’t getting as many likes, but hey he is just starting out…”

This isn’t just for art. Try this in other areas of your life. This can work for health, eating, how you work out, etc.

Disk Golf, this is a sport where you are by yourself and perform on your own just like ball golf. When you putt, throw it into the hoop, you can get freaked out because there’s all of these people watching you and all of this pressure.

Lee used to always get freaked out when he had to putt, so he came up with another persona for himself: Jonny Chains.

Jonny Chains, when he walks up, Jonny Chains is not nervous, he walks up and throws it

Lee would be nervous, and then he would say to himself, “Jonny Chains don’t miss.”

It empowered him. After nailing a few putts using that mantra, someone came up to him and told him that they knew as soon as Lee stepped up that he was going to make it, and after that, Lee had no more anxiety about putting.

As artists, we chose art; we rebelled against becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. If you are in school and are an art major, then people either think that you aren’t serious about making a living or that you are super good and know what you want to do.

We chose not to go the standard route. Are we afraid to make changes now? We already made the big decision, so why not continue with that and give yourself the latitude to move on.

We get into this safe mode and want to make everything safe. Those same artists that are playing it safe, aren’t working as artists anymore, they “safed their way right on out.”

Brad Holland, in the late eighties, early nineties, he had a style that was easy to mimic so he had a lot of people who copied him and his style because he was doing so well.

Then the styles changed and they couldn’t keep up. But he kept up, Brad Holland is still doing work. He was the original.

Jon Klassen and Carson Ellis, there’s like 20 people who, to us, look like they are mimicking them.

When you see a children’s book from the 80’s you know it’s from that time period, same with the 90’s etc. And the Jon Klassen/Carson Ellis aesthetic is the style that is popular today.

The Jon Klassen style is the style of the time. If you want to get work this decade, that’s what art directors are looking for. But if you want work next decade, you need to be able to change.
The clock is ticking on that style.

Jon Klassen, did an anthology together with Jake, in the Flight Anthology. He had a different style and Jake noticed he was on to something, then Jon transitioned to children’s books.

Jon started out being outside of the box. He had a unique style that has won awards and he been extremely successful.

It’s like a gravitational force once you have enough force then people are pulled towards that style because it’s what everyone wants.

Jon Klassen and Brad Holland are visionaries, they will be okay.

Will became friends with Brad Holland and he asked Brad why people are getting into magazines and Society of illustrators with his style? And Brad said it was because the jury thinks that it is him. And the jury will come and apologize to him later and tell him they thought the work was his.

When People Need to Change But They Won’t

What about when people need to change but they won’t. They aren’t getting work. Should they change?  Should they stay authentic to what they’re doing? Should they stick it out?

You need to ask yourself, do you need to get work from a particular industry? Are you willing to change your style to fit that industry?

If you are content with not getting freelance jobs but you want to develop a fan base with a certain style, then you will find an audience. It will take time.

If you want to get work from a major publisher, animation studio, or video game studio then you need to make sure that your style fits in their range.

You can remain true to your style as long as you aren’t trying to sell it.

But if you want to work professionally then you need to fit within the style range of the market you are pursuing.

Vegetables and Flowers

Jake realized that he needed to get established and become known in AZ. 

He thought of his ancestors that came here. Did they plant flowers first or vegetables? First, it was vegetables to sustain them, and then when they became established they could then plant flowers, and maybe even start selling their flowers at the market. 

It’s hard to plant flowers when someone is hungry. People want to buy apples when they are hungry not a bouquet of flowers. Establish how you will make money first then you can start to experiment with what type of flowers you want to plant.

If you want to stay in the game for as long as you can, then you need to find a way to make money.

2 Personalities in Relation to Change

You are not one thing. Whether you consider yourself a stay at home mom, a jock, or a skater, or an illustrator, etc. You are not a one dimensional person, we are all complex and beautiful.

Typically you are the one who boxes yourself into that one thing.

You aren’t a gun, you can be Superman (Iron Giant).

  1. The Super Charged Changer

  2. The More Reluctant Changer.

It’s a continuum. Jake and Lee have worked for major studios, and working for a studio  demands being more adaptive to change.

Make an alter ego of who you want to be. But don’t be too extreme. Lee has a couple of friends who periodically will go on a health kick and go from staying up late drinking and eating whatever they want to going to the gym at 4am and eating only lettuce. It’s too drastic, and they go back to their old bad habits.

Danger of the Super Charger, from today to tomorrow I’m a completely different person.

Lee’s goal this year, wants to be the guy who is in the gym. When people show up during his morning hours, they will just say, “there’s that guy again.”

That’s huge, for quitting smoking, you don’t say, I’m trying to quit smoking. Say, I’m a non smoker. It’s all about how you frame yourself.

Jake’s trying to do that, he used to think that he was no good at business, and he used to think that he wasn’t good at business or finances. But now he tells himself that he’s a business person. It helps to get you in the zone and do things you wouldn’t normally do.

JP Moneybags, Lee’s Business name.

Craftsman vs. Creator.

Sometimes we group ourselves based on our career or major. And we feel like we can’t do other things because we aren’t that thing.

Frame yourself instead as an artist or a creator, you can branch out from the thing you have pigeonholed yourself into. Master that field and then don’t feel like you can’t do other things too.

Chris Spollen: he did these crazy sculptures that are so cool, its super different from what he wanted to do early in his career, He totally changed and started working for movie studios making props. 

What do you want to do? Then do it.

11 Steps to Change:

This is a list we found online and we’re giving our thoughts on it and expanding it.

  1. Understand the change, see if it’s what you want and then go for it.

  2. Figure out if it’s possible. Lee disagrees with this one. There are somethings like if Lee wanted to try and play in the NBA, not gonna happen. Sometimes you have to do it to see if it’s even possible. Maybe if you run into too many walls you can see that it’s not the right time but you can experiment with things to see if they’re possible or not.

  3. Be honest with yourself. Lee doesn’t like this one either, this really boxes yourself in. You’re trying to expand your definition of yourself.

  4. Write down your outcome. Know where you’re going.

  5. Find some role models, and learn from the best. Look to the past as well, study from dead people. Find some role models, it doesn’t have to be people from right now. SVSLearn is full of good mentors.

  6. Immerse yourself in that community, you need to see what is apart of that lifestyle. Who is making that lifestyle work? How are they going about that lifestyle, what are they doing? Make friends who are doing the things that you want to do.

  7. Find an accountability partner, find someone else who is wanting to do the same thing as you. Someone you can share successes with and someone who you can share the difficulties with and support each other.

  8. Write down tangible goals for weekly and monthly progress. Jake has a book that’s on his reading list: Atomic Habits, by James Clear.In the book James talks about, instead of focusing on outcomes, focus on systems. I.e. 8am-12pm, 4 hours a day of working on a children’s book, show up everyday, you’ll get there. Will’s book he is writing has 80 sections (chapter headings and topics going into the book) he has to work on 1 or 2 sections a day, then he will be able to finish by the end of the summer. These ideas and things percolate for years. Some of you may know that Will’s wife recently passed away, he had talked about writing a book with her and he needs something to focus on and work on when he has free time so that’s something he’s focusing on now. Will’s Youtube channel has over 200 videos, he didn’t set out wanting to make 200 videos. Establish a pattern a consistent system. For the slow adapter come up with a list of things to do and slowly adapt them, it’s all about consistent habits.

  9. Evaluate your changes and modify your goals as necessary. Don’t go blindly down the path. Ask yourself, “Did I achieve that goal?” Goals can change and meander, there’s comfort in that. Just because past me set this goal, past me isn’t me now, you might realize that with your new knowledge changing your goal is the best decision. If you’re changing your goals and giving up on them every week, then that’s maybe not the best. But if you try it and learn that it’s not the best goal for you then feel free to change directions. I.e. maybe you realize after going down the path that gallery painting isn’t the right fit for you.

  10. Accept and be happy with your successes. There’s this weird thing in our society where people feel that they can get down on themselves when they fail, but we are afraid to celebrate our successes because we don’t want to come across as egotistical. You can celebrate without bragging. I.e. if I achieve this thing then I will treat myself to a Cinnabon. There is a younger generation on Twitter who do a good job at being happy for their own successes. Jake saw a tweet from a girl that said something along the lines of, “for the first time in my life I have been able to make enough money to buy something that is not a necessity, so I’m going to go buy decorative pillows for my couch.” Essentially: I’m happy for this thing that I was able to do, it’s not “I killed it this year, I made x amount of dollars.” Share happiness from your successes.

  11. After experiencing success, keep setting new goals. Change and learning things is processed in a different part of your brain. Sometimes it’s painful. When you are learning something it’s hard, it’s a struggle, once you master something it’s more relaxing. Learning something in the beginning always involves some discomfort, but it won’t always be that way. If you are really learning there should be some discomfort. You can grow. I.e. Will couldn’t paint for more than 4 hours but now he’s worked on a painting for over 100 hours.