Thinking Outside the Sketchbook

Different ways to find inspiration.

I have this wonderful cartoon by Judy Horacek stuck to the front of a writing journal. ‘Inspiration’ is a tricky word. It seems to conjure some divine light that will strike when we least expect it. As artists, we’re supposed to get these otherworldly flashes of passion daily. After all, we’re artists. Personally, I see creating art as a regular job. I have to create the stuff in order to get paid. Sometimes I really don’t feel like it and parts of the job are mundane and necessary like any job. You show up anyway.

Side projects.

The best time is the start of a project when the pages are blank and waiting to be filled. Often the author’s words conjure up a wealth of imagery and you wake in the night with those illusive thoughts and ideas to scribble down. But there are times between projects that can also be productive. I love having side projects going on. Things that can be picked up and put down, like a bundle of knitting. At the moment I’m creating an animal alphabet. I might get it printed eventually but for the moment I’m enjoying drawing it.

Learning from other artists.

These ‘between jobs’ projects are often a perfect opportunity to practice new ways of creating art. I’ve always admired other illustrators. Freya Blackwood, Emily Gravett, Lucinda Gifford, Russel Ayto, Julie Vivas and Bruce Whatley are all artists that I’ve desperately wanted to emulate in the past. But when you study how other artists work and learn from them, your confidence grows and you start loving the way you work. I’m ten years into this and I’m still developing my style. It never ends. My most recent work involves much more sketchiness, linework and texture. This has developed from learning techniques of other digital artists like Lisa Glanz.

Stressful and busy times.

I find it really difficult to look away from a work project. Of course, you want to get the work to the client on time so it’s head down time. But these are also some of the best times to do something else. It doesn’t have to be work-related. Creative people are curious about all sorts of things. I take my dogs for a walk every day. I’m lucky that we live in a semi-rural setting where we have creeks and woodlands. At this time of the year, there are hundreds of different types of fungi around. I take photos of them but I don’t use them for anything. The trees, leaves and even the dogs find their way into my work all the time though.

Other times and places.

The paths our lives take are unique to us. Childhood memories can be a wonderful source of ideas. My mother had a fascination for whimsical things like dollhouses, miniature furniture, crockery and kitchenware. She also sewed and made ragdolls. There’s a clear connection between her and the products I design and sell. My illustrations also draw heavily on the rural, agricultural setting I grew up in. It’s almost impossible to shake off.

Artist Play Dates

‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron is a cult classic amongst visual artists. For me, one of the best takeaways from it is giving yourself permission to play and go on dates with yourself. Heading into the city has to be one of the best things I can do to spark ideas and enjoy life just for the sake of it. It sounds trivial, but it works. Don’t go looking for inspiration or for any particular reason. Just go.


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