There was a time when I found myself coming up short on ideas for an album cover I was working on. I had done a few rounds of sketches already and nothing felt quite right. I took a lunch break outside of my house for once and decided to listen to the unmastered tracks the band had sent me while I walked. As it happened, I passed this crumbling old house that was being overtaken by vines and weeds. As I stopped to take a closer look, the the music changed from a severe section of blast beats and screams to a quieter passage. It’s a little silly but it felt kind of huge in the moment.
I wound up with that snowy tree piece atop this article as a result. We actually didn’t wind up using this for the album cover, but it pushed me through the block and the art came together quickly after this point. Perhaps more importantly, I made this picture that I feel kind of strongly about.
Finding inspiration can be the bane of any artist’s day/month/year/life. There are few things more horrifying to a freelance illustrator such as myself than a blank Photoshop document, canvas or sheet of paper while under a deadline! So what’s to be done when you find yourself staring into the stark white abyss of a blank page and the usual stream of creative brilliance just isn’t flowing from brain to pencil?
Well, the short answer is suck it up and squeeze some brilliance out, this is your damn job! However, I can offer a few tips on how to prevent this kind of inspirational bankruptcy from ever happening in the first place.
Guess what, the internet is your friend! For example, Tumblr can be an incredible source for inspiration! There are tons of artists on Tumblr posting their own work and — arguably even more useful than that — posting things that they like! It’s like taking a peek inside your favorite artist’s head and rooting around for the best stuff. There are also lots of people compiling collections of specific kinds of art or artists. Spend some time every week looking at awesome things! You’ll be surprised how many new artists and great images you find.
Leave the house. I speak from experience, here. I work from home so I can, and have, spent entire days inside, often in the same room. This is occasionally necessary for meeting my deadlines but if you stay stuffed inside your own bubble you’ll miss out on the madness of every day life, and that’s often the most inspiring stuff. Ride a bus, take a walk, go eat lunch in a coffee shop. You’ll be surrounded by weirdos and experiences and sometimes really amazing things will happen. Even if it’s just that you walk down an alleyway you never noticed before, and the sun is hitting it just right and it’s totally beautiful for a few minutes. That kind of thing is invaluable to me.
See movies, go to shows, look at art both good and bad. Sure, looking at great art gets me really worked up and enthusiastic but so does looking at some shit that I HATE. Bad can motivate in exactly the same way. In fact, it can start to feel like it’s you and your work against the encroaching army of ugly, stupid shit! Nothing will bring you and your work together more quickly than a shared enemy. The point is to get enthusiastic so that you’re brimming with opinions, and fervor, and white-hot, self-righteous passion!!! Then all you need to do is let it spill out all over a canvas or page or whatever.
Have hobbies. Play an instrument, play street fighter, knit, cook, whatever you like. Give that powerful artistic brain of yours a chance to rest for a minute. You’ll find that when the pressure is off and your mind can more freely wander, you’ll wind up in some pretty cool places, plus you never know how your hobbies might find their way into your work! The key here is self control. It’s easy to justify four hours of Street Fighting as “necessary to my art.” It is not.
So in summation, live your fucking life, dummy. Sometimes it seems like artists try to cut out all outside influences so their vision is more “pure” or “unadulterated.” That’s crazy. Art is a product of your experiences, and it becomes personal when your reaction to those experiences comes into play. Give yourself a wide range of experiences and you’ll have more chances to react. Fill your eyes with images, and your ears with sounds. Have opinions. Get psyched, get angry, get passionate and the rest will happen on its own.
Illustration by Alex Eckman-Lawn.