“You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. […] Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal, and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, ‘Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…’ and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.” -Twyla Tharp
So this post is inspired by an awesome little book that is going to teach you how to steal. Now don’t judge me yet. It’s an open secret that many artists are uncomfortable talking about their process, but designs rarely come out of thin air. Unless you are some mega genius who was born with a sketchbook in your hand. Trust me, I was not that kid. Most successful artists I know work really hard to realize their vision, and hey, it’s all about the journey right? First off, here is the book. I highly recommend buying a copy (don’t steal the book!). It will change the way you think about making art and make you a better artist overnight.
To begin, lets talk about finding inspiration. The web is obviously a great start. But don’t limit yourself to Pinterest, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Good inspiration comes from going down the rabbit hole. Get off the beaten path and find the details that will make your design special. I like to browse tattoo sites, sculptures, vintage illustrations and online libraries. There is a wealth of information out there for the taking in unexpected places. Go the museum and take pictures when the guards aren’t looking. Take a bike ride and work on the design in your head. Collect driftwood off the beach. Grab what sticks and mix it together. Find a layout from a vintage sculpture, a drawing style you like from your friends tattoo, a color palette from Grandmas flower garden. This is where you can steal to your hearts content, in fact it’s essential at this point to not worry about where your ideas come from. The trick is to steal from everything. Humans learn from observation and building on the achievements of those who came before. Art is no different. It’s the same process you used to learn how to walk, talk and become the person you are today.
Unfortunately, at some point, you need to get your head out of the clouds. Climb out of that rabbit hole and get down to business. Take all those ideas and put them down on some tracing paper. Don’t stress about making beautiful lines and a perfect layout, you are going to do this a few times. The first draft of anything is usually pretty terrible, so is where you solve the problems with your design. Redraw that statue in the style of your friends tattoo, add some design elements you found in a 19th century book. See what works, trash what doesn’t. Try different media, redraw it with a brush pen or a fat marker. Scan it into Photoshop and move stuff around and redraw that. Get in there and fix what doesn’t work. Refine it over many drawings.
OK, now we are getting somewhere. Transfer your rough sketch to some nice paper with a light box or scan it into Photoshop or Illustrator and redraw it on your computer. Use a Wacom or similar tablet if you are drawing it digitally (way easier than trying to draw with a mouse!). Add some color. At this point only you should be able to track down all the inspiration that went into your final art. All those little elements combined into something unique and a piece you can feel proud of, because it’s your creation! Get some feedback from your friends. Somebody who can give you honest criticism in a great help to any artist. Trading tips and trick with your other artist friends is a great way to improve your technique.
The final piece! Here are all the little bits that went into it:
- I found a tattoo of two elephants with their trunks twisted that was the spark for this design. The tattoo was very realistic so I redraw the elephants in a simpler style more suited to apparel.
- I used pictures of decorated indian elephants for reference and henna designs I had on hand for the swirly elements.
- Redrawing the art with a brush pen thickened up the lines and gives it that nice hand drawn look.
- A little bit of stippling with a Micron pen added some volume and depth to the elephants.
- We are printing this on a natural colored organic cotton garment so I went with a red/brown henna colored ink.
Hope this was helpful Buds!