When I think of western anime fanart, the first thing that pops into my mind is something I call the “Deviantart style.” Characters are usually drawn fairly realistically, their bodies becoming canvases for a psuedo-airbrushed look, every shadow and every highlight blended so softly that characters can probably be best described as “glowing.”

Artist: Yanimator

Artist: Ramy

Artist: REIQ (NSFW)

Now I am fully aware that Deviantart is home to an incredible variety of artists, and that even among the anime-style artists this is not anywhere close to the sole artistic style present. Nor am I even saying that this style is bad. However, as far as I can tell, this glowing style tends to be the most popular and ubiquitous, especially at anime conventions.

So my questions are: Why is this style so popular, and how did people learn it?

When I look at the most popular manga artists, none of them actually color their images in this manner, not Kishimoto (Naruto) nor Kubo (Bleach), and especially not Oda (One Piece). Branching out, I can only think of a handful of artists who get anywhere close to that Deviantart style, and most of them cut their teeth in the world of adult doujinshi, such as Satou (High School of the Dead), so their styles end up being closer to visual novel CG than anything else.

Artist: Satou Shouji (aka Inazuma)

One major difference is that the aforementioned Shounen Jump artists all color using real tools, and when I think about it, the Deviantart style seems born out of an almost purely digital environment, where textures can be finely tuned to almost microscopic levels, and stroke lines can be edited down with the utmost precision. It is, perhaps, a style resulting from the ability to hit ctrl-z in Photoshop and Illustrator. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s an impossible thing to overcome, but that perhaps artists who have experience with traditional media may be better at transcending limitations and making that style their own.

When it comes to anime artwork among western fans, I feel like there is an obsession with “realism.” In OEL manga for instance, a great amount of attention is put on screentones for smooth shading and for perspective in building backgrounds. With fan artists, perhaps this manifests itself into a hyper-realism where vibrant gradients rule the land. Not to pick on him again or anything, but it feels like the “five-tone shading” concept taken to the extreme, where the number of tones approaches infinity and the whole thing turns into a calculus metaphor. In a way, it reminds me of superhero comics, where musculature is emphasized greatly because they similarly harken to reality through exaggeration.

The closest artist I can think of which combines all of these elements is probably Terasawa (Space Adventure Cobra), but I get the impression that not very many artists on Deviantart take their inspiration from Terasawa.

Artist: Terasawa Buichi

But this is all speculation on my part. What do you think of the Deviantart style? Like it? Hate it? Do you use it? If so, what are you influences?

I just want to figure out how it came to be.