Using Influences and Inspiration

Inspiration and influences are everywhere. We’re influenced in countless ways, many of which we don’t even notice. Everything you do, or see, or try affects who you are as a person and an artist. This post will teach you how to take a more active approach to absorbing inspiration and use it as a form of research and idea generation. Today I’d like to show you the process of creating this Jungle River illustration and how I gathered inspiration and filtered it through my brain to create my own work of art.

Using the week 46 Making Art Everyday prompt, I set out to illustrate a jungle river. I did a google image search for “jungle river” and started making some rough sketches. But I would start a sketch and quickly give up and start a new one; nothing was feeling “right.” Here are three of those sketches. Those jungle refernce photos I was looking at seemed so dense and full of detail and I wasn’t sure how to tackle it.

So at that point, I did what I often do when I hit a wall: I see how other people have tackled the problem. Off I went to Pinterest, my search engine of choice for all things creative. I typed in “jungle river illustration” and was greeted with a plethora of beautiful, original works of art.

Let me take a moment to step up on my soapbox and say that working from influences is NOT the same as copying. I don’t condone copying the work of others and passing it off as your original creation. That’s plagiarism. This approach is a method of research to expose yourself to various ways to solve a problem. It’s a skill to know how to use inspiration to generate your own ideas.

For example, how might one approach the task of simplifying a lush, dense rainforest into something more simplistic? How have other people stylized the fauna you might find in the jungle? What are some ways to depict the texture of water? I’d love to see some creative takes on perspective. What are some fun ways to play with scale? None of these questions are akin to, “How can I shortcut the creativity process by just doing exactly what someone else has done?”

As I browsed the artwork that appeared in my search results,  I saw this piece by Mark Conlan that stopped me in my tracks. Those palm trees! I loved the how simple they were in color and form and how they popped on the dark green background. The water, too, was effortless, with just a few squiggly lines and a teeny bit of color variation to give it texture. This piece became my inspiration. But I didn’t stop there. 

I kept looking at the artwork. I came across this piece from A River by Marc Martin  I loved stylization of the different plant shapes and the overall texture they made when all together.

I was inspired by the way the plant shapes came into the frame of this lovely piece by Illustrator Madame Lolina.

I loved the bright color palette of this cheery jungle piece by Charlie Davis.

All these small observations in other artist’s works started giving me ideas: maybe I could do it this way, or try this color, or draw the plant this way, or try my composition like this. It’s important to research beyond artwork as well: I also looked up photos of jungle plants and flowers to think of other ways I could bring color into my piece. I remebered the curving river from photos I’d seen.

I let all of this sink into my brain, and then got to work. Here is my final sketch. I also started planning out my color palette by doing simple, flat color blocking, coloring book-style. (If you’d like to learn more about this process of drawing environments/landscapes, check out this tutorial.)

 As I continued to work, the piece evolved, I made changes to my original plan (the sketch) and tried different shapes and colors, textures, and more to create something uniquely mine.  

I would say the final piece doesn’t look anything like my influences, but you can see them, if you know what you’re looking for. The palm trees. The stylized plants. The plant shapes coming into the frame in the foreground. The bright colors. I took certian aspects from these influenes, but filtered them through my brain, my skill level, my style, and my experiences.

So next time you’re feeling at a loss for how to approach a prompt, try taking a look at how others have approached similar subject matter. Don’t aim to copy, but do try to pull out little tidbits and ideas that you could incorporate into your work. And if you’re sharing your work, I’m sure the original artist would love to know how their work influenced you! Happy Art-Making!

Categories: Procreate Tutorial

Nicole Baumann at 12:49 am

I loved to read your article and I totally work the same way, when I feel lost and don’t know how to begin. Thanks!

Elizabeth Palmer at 10:19 am

Thanks that was very helpful.

25 Sweetpeas at 9:48 am

This is fabulous! And I loved hearing your process + seeing the time lapse! I totally agree with your take on this subject too. There seem to be a lot of blurred lines in the inspiration/copying/influencing world, and sometimes its like “huh” but I get this version SO much! Also your other post that talked about copying and it had this piece of art in it!

Sheyla Stevens at 9:24 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this! I often struggle with how to translate research and inspiration into my original pieces of work. I quickly give up out of fear. Your explanation is so helpful.

Koneko at 9:41 pm

(25sweetpeas directed me here!) This was a very interesting and informational post. The final art is beautiful — having said that I also really like the colorblocked version!

Sonia Pita at 9:26 am

Very helpful article for losing the guilty feeling of copying when we are actually merging our inspirations with others art in order to improve and find our style thank you.


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