Are you constantly trying to find inspiration by admiring other artists' work and find yourself copying more than you'd like? Do you feel like you are making no progress towards finding your own artistic style? Are you simply unable to produce as much original artwork as you'd like?
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."
In this post I will explain one of the methods I use to make sure I produce original artwork while getting inspired by other artists. This strategy is an amazing way to work towards finding and developing one's own artistic style. Plus, it's very fun!
The act of copying is a very delicate subject in the artistic field and just the word seems to put many of us on edge.
I say, let's try to relax and admit that each one of us has been constantly inspired throughout his/her life by people, experiences, artwork (and by “artwork" I mean movies, music, theater, books, etc.), the environments we have lived in, advertising, and pretty much everything around us.
Everything, and I mean everything, has a conscious or unconscious effect on us and, therefore, on the work we produce as artists.
We have all been influenced by a combination of different things and have different likes and dislikes. This is not to say that two different artists are never going to produce similar work.
There are bound to be similarities amongst us in terms of technique and/or subject matter because there are only a certain amount of techniques and subjects to work with.
However, if we put in the effort to discover ourselves as artists (what techniques/supplies we enjoy working with most, what our own distinctive abilities as well as areas of improvement are, what ideas we want to put out into the world, etc.), we will eventually get to a point at which our work will be a direct representation of ourselves.
This is, in my opinion, what matters most and what I am personally working towards. At this point in my artistic journey I allow myself to admire and analyze other peoples' work, but make sure that the bulk of my time goes towards looking inwards and doing my best to apply what I have learned in my own way.
Having said all this, let's begin!
The Artist Mishmash Exercise
The purpose of this exercise is to start pinpointing specific characteristics of other artists' work that you are drawn to, whether it's related to subject type, technique used, general mood of the piece, etc. Afterwards, you will explore how to use characteristics found in different artists' work in one same piece!
To begin you will need a phone, computer, or any other device on which to search for existing artwork, a few pieces of blank paper and a pencil. Make a list of three artists that create work you greatly admire. If you have already created a Pinterest inspiration board like I have, go ahead an use it! If not, now is the time to investigate.
I really recommend keeping it at only three and trying to select artists that produce very different types of artwork. Once you have finalized your list, and perhaps read a bit about each artist if you don't know about them already, analyze several of pieces of each, and write down four to five specific characteristics that you have found in each artist's work.
a) Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
French artist Toulouse-Lautrec was both a painter and an illustrator. He is known for his provocative paintings and drawings depicting the decadent Parisian nightlife, that he was a part of himself. He created many posters and advertisements for nightclubs including the Moulin Rouge, and elevated advertising to a fine art status. He was a skilled Post-Impressionist painter that experimented with a variety of techniques and supplies. In his posters, he made use of bold, flat shapes of color.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Roughness/raw quality of his work in both subject and technique
-Bold use of color, perhaps unnatural at times
-Variety of mediums and substrates used in his sketches and paintings (charcoal, pastels, oils, lithographs, graphite, crayons, canvas, paper, cardboard, etc. )
-Hand-lettering in posters
b) Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
Höch was a German visual artist that is considered the pioneer of the photomontage technique. Her work transmitted deeply rooted social and political messages regarding issues that were occurring at the time (sexism, war, etc.). Though she also worked with oil paints, she is primarily known for her bold collages created with images taken from fashion magazines as well as illustrated journals. Her work conveyed strong, important messages, but were humorous at the same time.
Characteristics of her work I really like:
-Collage/photomontage technique (I think it's quite interesting how we can take bits and bobs of already existing images and create a whole new meaning for them by combining and rearranging them)
-Charged with deep meaning about political/social issues but humorous at the same time
-Incorporation of popular elements into artwork
c) Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Hopper was an American artist that started his artistic career as an illustrator and turned into a fine artist later on. He is considered to be one of the most important realist painters of the twentieth century. His enigmatic artwork depicts the loneliness of modern urban life in America. The arrangement of elements within his compositions, as well as his amazing use of light/shadow and detail, create very visually striking pieces that very effectively create tension and emotion in the viewer.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Realist style but not literal copy (certain degree of interpretive rendering that makes artwork more expressive)
-Artwork tells a story or makes the audience think
-Use of color and contrast creates very striking imagery
-Feeling of mystery and solitude
Alright! Once you have your three artists, and you have listed a few characteristics of each person's work, start brainstorming ideas in which you could incorporate most of these into one same piece. Create several different sketches! You don't have to use ALL of the points you've written down, but make sure to at least use one characteristic of each artist.
Having trouble? Consider these tips.
-Start with the artist that uses subjects or styles that you have a bit of practice in already and then see how you can incorporate characteristics of the other two.
-Instead of wasting too much time thinking of the overall idea you want your drawing/painting to transmit, start drawing ONE object/person/animal/shape and add to it as you go. You'll start making connections between the elements you start adding.
-After you have learned a bit about your favorite artists, think of an idea that is personal to YOU and YOUR LIFE, and then think about how one particular artist might go about representing that particular idea.
Once you have selected an idea to work with, go ahead and start with your final piece! Remember, this is an exercise and is not meant to produce a finalized artwork. As with all types of explorations, try to have fun with it and not pressure yourself to create something perfect. If a great idea for a final piece, awesome! If not, at least you learned something new!
My final exploration piece:
After having sketched out a few different ideas, I selected one and created a composition in Photoshop using five different pictures. I used this (digital) collage as reference as I drew and painted. In this piece, I used a variety of supplies and techniques including watercolor pencils, Prismacolor Soft-Core pencils, Gamsol, watercolor paints, black gouache and even a bit of charcoal.
Some areas in the painting are purposely made to look more realistic and polished than others. Finally, I did my best to create an image that propelled the viewer to think about and interpret what he/she is seeing.
Which are your three favorite visual artists and what is it about their artwork you love so much? Do you think any of these characteristics can be found in your own work? I'd absolutely love it if you took a minute to comment below!
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