Inspired Week 1
More often than I expected, I'm asked what inspires me and my style as an illustrator. I've decided to add another routine blog category called 'Inspired'. Hopefully this will serve both the resource-ers (you, me) and resource-ees (the people that I will credit and link to) to help keep freshly inspired and discovered. Feel free to skip down to the books and artists if you're sick of reading yet.
Because this is the first post of it's kind, I'd like to take a second to talk about what inspires me in general in my work. I grew up on comic books, cartoons, and anime thanks to my brothers. It started with the ninja turtles, I can remember long flowy bandanas and a lot of rough jagged angles in their shapes. It moved to Batman and Spawns' giant capes and just exploded from there in the comic book world. I've always loved absurdities in art that don't always make physical sense. I think that's where a lot of my wonky perspective comes from. My rule of thumb has always been to learn the rules (shit i said rules twice..gotta be a rule against that in writing) so that I can break them the correct way. As I got older and more into graphic design and animation as a whole, I started finding that the old vintage disney stuff struck a nerve. The whole mid century era of simplicity just seemed so refreshing and relevant in principle today.
When I think of the term 'Mid Century Modern', first I think I'm a guy that wishes he was cooler than he is, dropping cool-guy terms like that. But then I think, essentials. Not over simplicity or minimal or anything, but essential. The 1930's-1960's (super roughly) had a breakthrough that showed such courage and new ways of thinking.. that really dated back to the basics. Why draw a thousand lines to make a tomato when you can just draw a red circle with some green on top? Change that to brown, ditch the green and its a potato. Widen it out, put 4 lines, make it orange, put that green back and its a pumpkin. Same applies to the characters. Does the character have a trumpet in his hand? why not just make his hands into a trumpet. It's implied he's holding it, right? This is when illustration started taking the form of design and learning from design principles to really portrait a thought and tell a story as simply and out of the way as possible.
Now, I'm not sure if any of that is actually true, but it's a lot of what I take away from the era and it's even more of the inspiration I take. I've got a book here called Cartoon Modern that has been a great resource for some proper education of the period. It's teaching me the real principles and history of what I just made up in the previous paragraph. The visuals are stunning and it fits in great with all the other Chronicle books I've got here like the Art of Pixar stuff.
On trend of Mid Century, I've got some old cook books I've found in a combination of old flea markets, ebay, etsy, and friends giving them to me. Actually some of these are from a little dumpster diving as well. Best case I'm able to find something that you couldn't buy on amazon anymore and is rare, undiscovered inspiration. This cookbook I just got on ebay is probably one of my best finds yet. It's got over 400 color illustrations in it, every one totally unique and fucking absurd. It's called The Fireside Cookbook and it's illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. I found it cheap about $10 but it's worth whatever you gotta pay.
One more book that's in current rotation is The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design. It's a book my brother got for me for christmas that I've only now gotten around to start reading. It's teaching me a lot about something I've had a really difficult time getting the hang of, backgrounds. Making them simple and ambiguous enough as to not detract from the main focus. The principals come from animation. We all remember the Wile E Coyote episodes and certainly can recall the landscape desert backgrounds, but for sure the more prominent things were the acme explosives, the purple road runner, and the red rocket rollerblades on the coyote. This is a great example of supporting the scene, without taking away from the story. I'm very excited to continue reading and learning about this philosophy. At the very least it's filled cover to cover with full color beautiful sketches and illustrations.
Moving to a new direction - Lately I've been focusing on appreciating others' work more than my own. A few years ago I was someone who always said they'd never have someone else's work on their wall. That was because I was sort of an idiot, and also because I hadn't had the chance yet to realize I can't make everything. I was hot headed. I thought I was amazing at art. But I didn't have the opportunity to even try to suck yet. Once I started opening up and learning to bomb, I began to appreciate others and found inspiration in diversity. Even if I was amazing at what I do (I'm not) then I still wouldn't be able to create something so diverse week to week to keep my workplace looking great. That's why I've started buying prints small and large from people like Scotty Reifsnyder, Lydia Nichols, and Brian Edward Miller. There's more but let's focus on them for this post.
Most recent in the mail I've gotten this beautiful print from Lydia Nichols that has really inspired made me happy. She's got so many things to her work that mine never will, but it's something i've been focusing on for a few months, and that's simplicity. There so much to learn from this eagle print. It's important to note and remember, if in doubt, take it out. She's got about 3 colors here, and maybe 5 shapes but the way shes organized them creates an absolute unique illustration that's perfectly identifiable, but completely abstract on it's own. The package came with some fun goodies and a doodle on the envelope, nothing but great presentation all around. Check out her shop and pick something up.
I've also got a print from Scotty coming in the mail soon that's going to have me drooling. The best way to learn from this is to probably get in his skillshare course here. He does a damn good job teaching you how and why he creates the things he does. He's got storytelling down to a science. I do wish the class was longer but for the price it's absolutely worth it. He teaches you the technical know how of designing with all of these sort of styles in mind and keeping illustrations uniform to each other in their own set.
I've got a whole lot more to show right now but I want to get this out the door, see how it goes, get feedback, and continue to post these every 2 weeks or so. I try to find unique things that aren't always intended for illustrators, keeping my eyes open whether it be hikes with my girlfriend and her dog, the way ice hockey players skate on the ice, or the shapes of the skate park down the street.
I'll continue to find books, pictures, artists, and other things to share that can help us all along so if you're interested you can sign up below and I might email you every month or two about what's cool. If that's too much of a commitment, just follow along on twitter.