The Magic of Influence

One of the magical things I witness as a creator is the fluid action of an influence. Artists are influenced by work that we love. Sometimes we intentionally use that work as a starting point in creation. For example, in designing a poster, I might decide to do my version of a Mondrian painting, or my version of 1960s wallpaper. By the time I've finished the poster, that original inspiration may or may not still be the dominant element in the design. 


However, rather than the starting point, an inspiration often enters the picture at unexpected points in the creation process. What I've experienced is more like this: I begin creating a piece, and what I've come up with suggests an influence. I then use that influence to focus my design choices. I might have begun with a color and a font, and then it suddenly reminds me of a 1970s print ad for cigarettes. That influence then informs the rest of my font and composition choices until the poster is finished. 


Sometimes the influence sneaks in very near the end, and helps tie everything together. My October poster shown here is a good example. My creepy photo of a foggy forest reminded me of 1970s horror movies. But it didn't work with my text with the trees standing straight up. When I slanted it and made the title bright red, suddenly it evoked the design of post-war Japanese movie posters. 


Without having Japanese movie posters in mind at the start, my design choices somehow brought that element forward. To me, it is like a sculptor bringing forth a work of art from a rough block of marble. Is this the piece trapped within the block, waiting to be freed by the chisel? What an artist starts with -- a creepy photo, a unique block of wood, a bird song -- influences what the finished work will be. Where your piece stands mid-process might suggest a new influence that helps focus the rest of your choices. The artist might start with an idea in mind, but these other magic forces are at work as well, and there is no telling when they will manifest.

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The Magic of Collaboration

Collaboration is one of the most fascinating and rewarding modes of creation. Whether or not the collaborators share similar roles in project, the finished piece may exhibit a blend of all of their ideas so seamless as to confound even the creators. 


Most often my collaborations have been as an illustrator/designer working with a playwright on the poster for a premiere. Since they are not visual artists, they give me their ideas in words; sometimes vague, sometimes specific. Either way, I take the handoff, come back with a sketch, get feedback, and incorporate it. The process repeats, tweaks are made, and although mine was the only hand that touched it, the end result is a true melding of two minds. It becomes hard to name the originator of each idea, and yet the result could have never been created without both parties.


The image pictured is a rock poster I drew in tandem with Josh Journey-Heinz.

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Finding the Well of Creation

There may be a place inside you where you can go for inspiration.


It took me years after college to shed the yoke of critical analysis. Studying art history yields a rich understanding of human civilization, and of art making. Viewing contemporary art through this critical lens can allow you to pick up on references and clues within the work, which can provide a deeper understanding of the piece's meaning. However, if you want to get into aesthetic philosophy, I must say that when experiencing a piece of art, your gut reaction of "like" or "don't like" should outweigh almost anything else. This, to me, is the most human way to interact with art. And yet, a critical approach may allow you to appreciate a work you don't "like." So can repeated viewings (or listenings, etc).


After college, my grasp of art history and criticism was censoring my own work before I even lay pen to paper. After a few years, I rediscovered the well of my own creativity. It was the same place known to me back in middle school and high school, but it had been boarded up with the oaken planks of analysis. Part of what still helps me access this well is listening to the music I listened to back in high school. This may prove true for you too.


Another thing I learned is to write down every idea.


If you are an artist in any medium looking for new ways to stir up some creativity, I give my highest possible recommendation to Questlove's 2018 book Creative Quest. It is also available as an audiobook, narrated by the author.

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