Surrounding Yourself With Inspiration

So I'm not entirely sure how long this article will be; I'm kind of writing it on a whim. So far this is my first weekend where I started reserving Friday's and Saturday's (and Sunday's if I'm not occupied.) with staying home and just focusing on making prints and clothing for my webstore, or working on commission/commercial work. It's an odd change of pace.. I'm trying to get in that mind set of "this isn't how it used to be; you can't just lounge around and casually do work on these days off. You have to be working on something at all times" and I'm realizing how hard it is to stay focused and stay inspired. And now, to bring us full circle, this is why I'm taking time to write this article; but in all honesty, I can reconcile spending time on this because it's kind of building content for my website, which seems to be desperately lacking any sort of traffic.

Quick foot note: I've had one or two people ask "how do you stay inspired to make stuff?" and the topic of this has also passed around through some podcasts I've been listening too as well. So with no further ado, here's a semi-quick run down of one of the methods I've used for years on staying inspired

Hand-Lettering Ledger: A book my friend Kaitlynn gave to me that's full of Typography reference.

Collecting Your Heroes

Triptych Art Print Series by Dan Mumford

There's two instances in my life where I can first remember feeling so inspired by something that I wanted to recreate it: The first instance was when I was about 12 or 13. I was really into Pokemon and started collecting the trading cards, which was a massive money pit, and I never actually traded them, or knew anyone else that traded them. I also never played the actual fighting mechanics of the card game. I simply collected them for the artwork. Because I thought that the different variations of the art that they would do for so many of the series' were captivating, and brought them to life in a million different ways. This was back in the day when Pokemon were just moderately sized pixel creations on a screen and any instance of trying to experience more of that world was incredibly important to me. After collecting so many of them, I made a few mediocre attempts at drawing up some of the cards myself, because I wanted them to look a little different. Of course, I had no practice in drawing at the time, so they were just little stick figures and I became frustrated with them. 

The second instance was around.. I think it was Freshman year of high school. I started watching the show Heroes, which featured a guy who could paint the future. His artwork was so incredible looking to me, and was like nothing I had ever really seen before. I looked around to see if I could find it anywhere, but to my knowledge I never found anything. I started to think to myself "what If I just drew it.. and then I could have it on my wall." So I did. I copied a laaaaarge majority of his paintings in pencil on whatever paper I could find. I tried to get every nook and cranny right, and they didn't look perfect, but they looked a lot like it. And that's what pushed me to try and draw anything I could. 

                                                    Tim Sale's work for the show Heroes

As I progressed though, I found it crucial, and a part of my process, to collect a piece of every art or artist I found awesome. I wanted it around in physical form so I could look at it at any time. I started printing out pictures of people's art and keeping it in a folder; it nearly drove my parents mad cause of how much ink I was using for the print outs. I eventually started printing some out in black and white to just have the composition at least. Another thing I devised, was when I discovered Electric Zombie clothing, as well as some other indie clothing brands, I used allowance money my family would give me for clothes to purchase these intricately designed clothes, because I loved all the artwork on it. It was edgy and unique, and stood out, and I loved it. I also had a piece of inspiration on me at all times; and it also sparked my love for t-shirt and apparel design. 

Once I started finding out all the crazy artists that did the work on all the shirts I was buying, the next step I took was to save EVERYTHING I could find by them on a computer. I saved them to folder after folder, keeping them there for whenever I wanted to draw something like that. I'd try to redraw the stuff, or to try and figure out how they would use their lines and crazy techniques to make whatever thing they had in mind a reality. Redrawing or "copying someones work" is one of the best ways to learn something new. Deconstructing something and putting it back together has always been the universal way of figuring out how things work; it's where reselling the piece or not giving credit to the original artist is the issue. If you're putting stuff you didn't originally create or come up with in a portfolio or trading it for money, then you're in deep water. Don't ever do that.

                                                             Artwork by Dan Mumford

Getting back on track, after I discovered the artists sold prints of their work, I started taking any money I could to try and get prints of their stuff for my walls. This also led into collecting art books and graphic novels. The art books were even better because it was pages and pages of their work, rather than just one huge piece. I could comb through an archive of my favorite artist's work right there, rather than having to sort through the bulk of the internet for their best prints. Graphic novels were amazing too because they had narrative. It was awesome artwork that told a story, and that captivated me even more. I started out that collection of graphic novels with the Scott Pilgrim series after I saw the movie adaption in theaters. Soon came The Watchmen, The Walking Dead, and quite a few others. 

From left to right: The Fable Covers by James Jean, Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, the Fate/Complete Art Material Book, and Volume 1 of Wayward

From left to right: The Fable Covers by James Jean, Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, the Fate/Complete Art Material Book, and Volume 1 of Wayward

Flash forward to now, I have a whole collection of art prints and artwork on my walls by all my favorite artists, and I have a book case full of books I found online or at book shops. And I also have two massive archives of jpegs from around the internet of artwork by my favorite artists. They're there so that if I have a problem in my head, of something that I want to create, I look at the work by all my heroes and think "how would they approach this problem?" or "what composition would they use?" or "how would they solve this problem of lighting?" Because the best way to get better and improve yourself is to learn from the attempts and struggles of others. Every piece I have on my walls are what I feel to be accomplishments in a person's career, and that appeals to me in a huge way. 

The Art of Godmachine

Vox Art/Music book by Matt De Longis

So in short, be a collector. Keep a file of all your favorite art. If you're going through instagram and you see something awesome, screenshot it! Follow that person! Make Instagram a collection of your favorite artists so every day when you take 5 minutes to look through it, you're inspired to make something at least half as good as what you see on your phone. Or if you're on Tumblr, save that picture you think is awesome to a file and look at it later. Or take it a step further: support the artist and buy a print of their work to hang on their wall! There's nothing as awesome as waking up and seeing your favorite artist's print hanging across the room and awe-inspiring you every morning. Or buy a shirt with their work on it and see it everywhere you go. Or buy books. Or buy music that sucks you in, or stories that capture your imagination. Just surround yourself with anything that makes you a better human. Because that's the point of making art: yes, you need to make money. And yes you need to survive. But it's also about making yourself more impressed with what you are capable of; because when you get to the end, you want all that work in between to feel like it was worth it. So get out there and surround yourself with insanity and beauty.

To end the article, here's a few shots of some other stuff that I have in my collection, in case any of these interest you. I'd advise picking any of these up; they're worth every penny.

-Stephen Willey

Nocturne Apparel by Jon Cottam

Anubis by Kim Herbst, and a brass statue of Alphonse Mucha's artwork

Oil Painting by an unknown artist. I purchased it for cheap at a gallery.

Hope For Nepal print by Suburban Avenger

The Grand Budapest Hotel by Alex Pearson

Various Pop Culture Prints by Sean Mort

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind Watercolor Art Book by Hayao Miyazaki