Skip to Content

4 Ways to Study an Art Style

Since last year, I have been exploring different art styles because, based on the feedback I received from other artists, my drawing style came off as too generic and lacking a creative flavor.

So in this post, I share four helpful drawing exercises I have been practicing recently to study and explore the different art styles to ultimately improve the way my own drawings look.

How To Study An Art Style?

Here are the four ways you can study an art style:

  1. Do lots of master studies.
  2. Draw something by referring to an art-style mood board.
  3. Draw the exact reference in variations of the same art style.
  4. Draw something without using reference images of the art style you’re going for.

1. Do lots of master studies.

Copying artworks by other artists is the most basic way to learn what makes a particular art style unique and understand how it conveys the mass, form, line, movement, tone, and shape language in the artwork.

Based on my experience as a beginner artist, here are some tips for making the most out of your master’s studies:

  • Instead of trying to create an exact imitation of the artwork, aim to capture the overall feel of the piece.
  • Studying the artworks in increments by replicating one aspect of the art style at a time, such as the line work, shading, color palette, or tonal values, helps to learn faster.
  • When you’ve decided on a specific art style you want to study, try to identify a pool of at least five artists in that genre that you can learn from instead of copying work from only one or two of your favorite artists. This helps to broaden your visual library and find your own creative voice.
  • Write your thoughts about the particular artwork you’re studying in your sketchbook, explaining briefly what makes it unique and appealing to you. This will help improve your understanding of the different components of that art style.

2. Draw something by referring to an art-style mood board.

I learned about how concept artists and fashion designers use mood boards to create something new while remaining true to the art style that has been decided for the project they are working on, such as a video game, a movie, or a line of clothing.

A mood board basically consists of several reference images that are supplemental to the main reference and defines the overall art style you are aiming for in your artwork.

So, for example, if you want to draw a side profile portrait of a girl in a semi-realistic art style, a mood board will consist of drawings or paintings that, although are not necessarily of a girl in a side pose like your main reference, show the overall look and feel of the art style you’re going for.

The main idea is to make the mood board visible to you when you create art, whether you’re drawing digitally or traditionally, so you’re constantly reminded to get inspiration from it.

You can create a mood board in physical form by printing, cutting, and pasting a collage of inspiring images directly in your sketchbook if you want to go the old-school route. Then there is always the option to create a digital mood board using the tools of your choice, such as Photoshop, Canva, Pinterest, Procreate, or Microsoft Paint.

The objective of this exercise is to avoid directly copying another artwork like in Exercise 1 and create a painting or drawing based on a new reference while getting inspiration from a mood board that closely aligns with the art style you want to achieve.

Although it might seem unnecessary and overkill to bother yourself with this, having a curated mood board right in front of you when drawing something can make the process of learning and embracing new art styles a lot easier.

3. Draw a reference in variations of the same art style.

I tried drawing the same face with variations of the shading technique in a semi-realistic art style.

One drawing exercise I find helpful in exploring the possibilities within a particular art style is to draw the same reference with variations of one of its elements, like shading or shape language.

Tweaking one aspect of a reference while remaining within the confines of a broadly similar art style gets you to think about what you like or dislike about between the artistic choices available to you and iterate on the stylization in a way that studying from multiple references does not.

Here’s a video of Loish trying out different stylizations on the same reference, and I find this demonstration informative in learning the general approach to studying different art styles.

4. Draw something without using reference images of the art style you’re going for.

Once you’re comfortable drawing in a specific art style by copying other artworks directly or using a mood board for inspiration, it’s time to attempt creating artwork from scratch in that style without actively looking at art style references while you’re at it.

Doing this exercise can lead to surprisingly interesting results because it encourages you to adopt and improvise some aspects of an art style you like and discard elements you don’t particularly like. I also think this exercise is crucial for artists who want to learn a specific art style and figure out how to make it work for their aesthetic taste.