No matter how strange or extreme it looked, at least they had something unique. Something that made people instantly know it was their work. I didn't have that at the time. Throughout my youth, I've been influenced by Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, mecha anime, anime movie posters, chibi's and vector art. Sure, I was nothing more than a 11 to 14 year old kid at the time, and kids at that age are well known for basically copying anything they like, art-wise. But still my style was nothing more than just "generic anime". I was told so many times by art teachers. That I wasted my talent by drawing that kind of "anime crap", only because it was popular on the internet.
Comments like that used to hurt me a lot, because I was only a kid... remember?
And I actually liked anime.
It wasn't until I got older and I learned more about realistic anatomy, that I came to see that the thing we call "style" is nothing more than a bunch of symbols put together in a certain way. And that that so called "anime art" was in fact nothing more than a certain set of symbols (small body's, big heads, large eyes, small noses and mouths). Before that discovery, I always thought that you had to follow a certain formula in order to make a successful artwork. That it would look ugly otherwise. And really, it actually did, back then.
As I got older, I discovered that once you have a certain knowledge about anatomy, it doesn't matter all that much anymore. Because if you use that knowledge as the backbone to your drawings, you could put any symbol together, and still have to knowledge to make it look right.
Over the last few years, I've looked at art a lot, and tried a lot of things. I still copied small things from styles I liked, but I wasn't that bend on following a certain formula anymore. I just took parts and pieces of everything that I liked, art-wise. And I put them together in a way that I felt that fit me. So that, regardless of what people said to me, I would eventually end up with something that at least I liked. Something that would make me happy, at least.
Although I think my art is still pretty anime-ish, I lately got a lot of people telling me that they like my work. That I have a certain style to my drawings. One that distinguishes my work and that makes people immediately know that it's mine. Although I think that statement is debatable, many people still ask me how I came up with my style.
From what I read the topics on the forums and journals around here, I see many people being concerned over this style-issue. Over how they can develop an original style that sets them apart from the others. To them, I would like to say: stop worrying! Style is one of those things you can't force. It's something you'll gain through experience. Something that gets to you naturally, once you pass a certain line of expertise. Trying to force this, will get you nowhere but frustrated. Instead, try to focus on your basics. It's a good investment.
Regardless of what many people might tell you around here, there's nothing wrong with occasionally copying a style to see how it works out for you -- as long as you don't fall back to tracing. Copying from other styles might seem pointless to some, but it learned me what I liked and what I didn't like. Combined with some solid basics, all those small elements you've picked up over the years, might some day evolve into something unique. Something of your own.