Sunday Mailbag: When does a “Style” Emerge?

January 26th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I’ve seen you address the question of ape-ing the style of another artist previously, but I wanted to ask it from a different angle: at what point did you begin to shape your own style of art? It’s my opinion that there is no shame in being influenced by superior and more famous artists when you are finding your own lines. In fact, it’s probably silly to assume that it’s even possible to not mock someone (even if it’s your elementary school art teacher) when you’re first introduced to a given medium. But what measures did you take to draw features YOUR way, when you finally felt comfortable taking the floaties off?

A: Every artist is different, but I would venture to say that while most artists start out (and by starting out, I mean as kids) copying the work of artists they admire, most have moved on long before they are serious about making art part of their living. Only those really bent on aping the style of another artist consciously keep it up, and it’s an effort to do it. An artist cannot help but draw things they way they naturally would draw them, and it is very hard to ape another’s style unless you are really trying to do so.

For me specifically, there was no point where I said to myself “ok, time to stop copying Jack Davis and Mort Drucker, and time to start drawing like me”, because I never set out to copy their styles. I can remember once doing a series of studies of some Drucker drawings from his parody of “Superman” in a sketchbook… two pages of doodles, I think. That was the only time I ever copied a Mort drawing, and I never copied a Davis drawing. Oh, I LOOKED at plenty of them. Soaked them in if you will, along with Wally Wood, Will Elder, etc. etc. They influenced me greatly, but I never copied them norconsciously tried to mimic their look.

When I first started trying to work for MAD, I dug out my old copies of the magazine and spent a lot of time looking at Mort and Jack’s parodies as well as Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Harry North and older stuff by Wood and Elder. Too much time. I’ve got a knack for absorbing the feel of what I am looking at and incorporating it in my own work, even if I am not trying to mimic it directly. MAD felt my stuff was “too Druckerish” for them to use me in the magazine, and encouraged me to explore my work further. I put away all my MADs and just started drawing with nothing but the photo reference and my own head. It still took some time to let the Davis and Drucker flavors in my work fade into just some dash of spices, but not too long. If you are left with nothing but a pencil, a model and a blank sheet to paper and you start to draw, even the heaviest of influences quickly fades away to background noise. When there is a direct line from your subject to your drawing, and you are not looking even glancingly at the work of another artist in between, you cannot help but see your own voice emerge. You have to work at it to be a mimic.

My advice to anyone who feels their work is too much akin to another artist’s work, simply stop looking at that artists work. Subtle influence will stay but direct influence and the conscious or unconscious “feel” you are channeling will disappear.

Thanks to Zack Morris for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Zach Morris says:

    Thank you so much for answering my question!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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