Updated: 6 days ago
Photos, magazine cutouts, printouts, colour palette samples, keywords, poetry, nature keepsakes.
As creatives, we instinctively are introspective; we are constantly searching out our muse. That or that one, which or who inspires us to render, draw and paint. As illustrative sketch artists, we are mostly driven by what we see. It helps to collect, not hoard, those things that mean something, are precious or just simply beautiful to contemplate. Take a moment to see where you can neatly keep these things. They are reference points when we feel stuck or want an extra depth in our work. It also helps us to be more accurate as illustrators; it fine-tunes our interpretive skill of the subject at hand to precision and makes it plausible for the audience, especially if we are unfamiliar with the theme or subject presented by our client or project.
Case in point, one of my first illustrative contract works was to illustrate a children's book about a pelican who loved bluegrass music.
I was unfamiliar with both the animal and the genre. I mean, of course, I knew what a pelican looked like from a distance. This was before computers were used as primary sources of information. Thankfully, my client, Dr. Phil D. Mayers, was so enthusiastic about the music and the culture that he lent me some CDs to listen to and let me use a sculpture he had of a pelican as a model for the main character. I still had to look into books and magazines for anatomically correct photos of pelicans, people clogging, what modern-day clogs looked like (this was the late 90s) and read up on anything I could find on Appalachia, a specific region of the continental United States. I was living at the time in South West Louisiana, which has its own very deeply rooted culture. Luckily, there are many country music fans who live there, so I asked those I knew for relatable information as well. Bit by bit, it all came together. It was like putting a puzzle piece together in my mind and commanding my brain to figure out how to creatively deliver the story in picture form.
Pretty soon, I had a shoe box full of notes, cutouts, photocopies of specific photos or maps and so forth, even bird feathers, to help me give the pelican some detail. It was a lot of fun, but without my collection of creative trinkets, it would not have gone smoothly. At times, having a creative licence and going rogue on a character is allowed and useful, but for the most part, when working with specific characters that cling closer to reality than imagination, having legitimate visual references is a huge help.
Digital or Physical?
How about both? We live in a time where technology has come a long way, from the noisy phone connection to the internet, and zip drives were a pretty penny when trying to save digitized artwork.
At times, allowing your eyes to rest on a physical prop or letting your hands feel a specific texture can trigger an idea for your piece. Other times, due to a restrictive schedule or moonlighting hours, a digital folder can do the job.
I like to see these bins of creative references as my metaphorical coworkers, helping me out whenever I need another perspective in triggering my creative mind to do what it does best- make art. Today, I have my expandable folder full of photos, ribbons, magazine cutouts of my favourite animals, domestic and wild, and even a handmade book marker my 5th-grade teacher made for each of her students some 37-odd years ago, with a special note and all.
It's your nook to build and cultivate, so take the time and enjoy it.
And remember to always...
If my art inspires you, check out my art on some nice little spiral sketchbooks. Good for doodling, note-taking, introspection, you name it.
or CREATE your own! And share on our online community on Facebook.
As always, Color, Connect and Share...Compassion.