If you’ve been following our blogs for a while, you might have checked out this one on finding your art style. So along a similar vein, I invite you to explore some styles with me – mainly realistic versus an illustrative styles. This is just a bit of fun experimentation, so feel free to dive in as well!

Realistic Precision

I find it interesting that many art classes are about how to draw things realistically. It’s like the adage: “You have to learn the rules to break them!” This is probably why children often think better art equals more realistic art, as this is how many have been taught in school.

Of course, it’s never a bad thing to learn how to draw certain things, or how to sketch or paint with precision. These skills make up a metaphorical “tool kit” of art skills that you can apply, even if you’re not drawing in a realistic style.

It’s also a great way to learn how lighting works, how to break down more complex subjects into simpler shapes, how to draw in proportion and perspective, and so on. I’ve taken a course on scientific illustration, so I know how useful it can be! And whether you choose to apply these skills later on or not, it’s always something you know you can fall back on, especially if you have artist’s block.

In terms of application, the realistic style is good for capturing moments of history, or if you want to make a record of something. And it doesn’t have to be too complex, either – I’d say that a realistic style is anything that closely resembles what it’s supposed to, even if it’s not as detailed as a photograph. 

Bonus tip: I’ve seen some artwork in the hyperrealism style, which is a style of art that’s so detailed and realistic that it looks even more real than reality itself! Go check it out; it’s worth several closer looks. 

Urban sketching also falls into this category sometimes, as it captures a scenery or atmosphere of a place. And while it can be stylised to look more illustrative, many urban sketchers use a more realistic approach, keeping buildings to scale and in perspective for a more architectural look.

Illustrative Freestyle

On the other hand, we have an illustrative style. This is where creative freedom comes into play, as there are a lot of styles that fall under this category. I’d say that the main subjects for these artworks are still recognisable, but they’ve been stylised like a cartoon or caricatures.

Bonus tip: There are plenty of other styles that are even further removed from the realistic style, such as abstract or minimalistic art. For the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll say that any style that isn’t discernible at first glance won’t fall under the “illustrative style” category.

Certain features may be exaggerated, while others may follow a “filter” created by the artist. For example, eyes may be reduced to a simple black dot on the face, or enlarged like they are in manga or children’s books. 

This style also tends to be more simplified and two-dimensional than the realistic style, as numerous layers and/or tones may be condensed to allow for a more concise and clearer picture.

Because of this, an illustrative style is great for telling stories, or to deliver a clear statement or message about something. However, for some artists, it will take some time to develop a more personal style, because everyone has different preferences and strengths.

If you’re stuck on trying to find yours, do take a look at the blog post I mentioned previously! I also recommend studying other artists’ styles, seeing what you like about each one, and even using some as a base or reference to your work.

Tip: There are a lot of “Draw This in Your Style” challenges on social media, which are a really fun way to practice the illustrative style! They also help you learn how to convert one style into another quickly, so you can play around with the tools you have.


I hope you had fun with this little bit of art exploration! The point is to enjoy the process, and not to say that one style is better than the other. All styles have their strengths and weaknesses, and that uniqueness is what makes art such a wide and fascinating subject!

In any case, keep making more art, and wishing you all the best in finding your special art style.

Do you prefer the realistic or illustrative style? How did you arrive at your current art style? Let us know in the comments below! If you’d like more tips and tricks on the creative process, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter. You’ll be kept up to date with our latest workshop schedule and blogs, too!

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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