I have been interviewing a lot for a new design job and talking to agents to rep my illustration work and one question I have been asked a lot lately is, “Who influences your art the most?”
I personally hate this question because I feel that if you have one main influence than you are probably creating art that is really too close to that idol’s style, and imitation is not flattery in the art world. In grad school my children’s book teacher, LeUyen Pham, told the class to be an original not a copy. As a student you’re thinking how is anyone original, so many artists draw in the same style. As you grow and become a professional you can start to identify artists work even if their general style is similar, eventually the difference becomes so clear that you’re not sure how you didn’t see it before, but what you have really done is trained your eye.
In art school being original seems so over whelming and feels hard to do, but I think that’s why you need lots of influences, because I believe that the more influences you have the more diluted those influences become in your own work, so then you really do have your own style without even thinking about. Every artist has a way of putting down paint and drawing, be it digital or traditional, I started to have more of a style once I stopped trying to emulate one person (something every art student does at least once). Don’t fight your natural style, every artist has at least one inside them. Once you get rid of at least your first 1,000 bad drawings in you, you’ll quickly see the natural way you draw.
One of my friends once told me that a painting I did looked like a Waterhouse if he did children’s books, and another person told me that same painting looked like if Mary Blair and Margaret Keane had a baby that painted in the low brow style, now I thought this was pretty cool because they are all influences of mine, but sort of all indirectly.
With that I thought I would explain my influences and how I use them, because I don’t have a main one like so many want me to concisely answer. I’ll try to keep the list to ten.
- Norman Rockwell
I don’t think an illustrator exists that doesn’t want to draw stylized lifestyle scenes as well as Norman Rockwell; I mean they are pretty sweet and full of micro detail. The micro detail is what I take from Norman Rockwell, I don’t naturally have a style like his, which is fine because I’m not Norman Rockwell, but what I take from his art is his use of micro detail to make my illustrative world seem real. I love to noodle away at things like seams in pants, sweat on glasses, the way a barrette holds hair, shoelace texture… I can go on. So even though my style looks nothing like Rockwell’s, he influences all of my scene set ups and detail construction.
- Mary Blair
If you have seen my grad school thesis you would clearly see Mary Blair in my collage and gouache pieces as I have a more simplified style at the time. Blair is a master at having simple shapes, brush strokes and color tell a larger story. If you really examine my color choices you will see Mary Blair all over most of them, bright and playful, but also leans dark occasionally, if you don’t see her as dark you haven’t seen her Cinderella or Alice concept art. If you look at my looser gouache brush work, like for backgrounds, you will see Mary Blair.
- Marc Davis
Well duh! He was a brillant draftsman and imagineer! He animated Snow White, Cinderella, Alice, Bambi, Mr. Toad, Tinker Bell, Auora, Maleficent and Cruella DeVil; basically all of my favorite characters. Seriously I would cry if I could draw that well, and have the nuances of posing a stylized human, or animal, down like him. When I saw Marc Davis’ work at the Disney Family museum I cried, because it’s gorgeous. That is what I take from him though, think of how all those characters move and are posed in the movies, amazing, I think about that every time I draw something, and maybe one day I can pose characters just as amazingly.
- Milton Glaser
What!? Did I just name a graphic designer? Yes, though I think of him more as a designstrator (a combo illustrator and designer) But, hey, I design stuff too. His style is simplified and bold, and I love that style too, because I’ve been doing that prior to the current trend of simple and bold. Do you see a theme? Blair and Glaser both have simplified and bold styles that I love to do, particularly in my design work.
- John William Waterhouse
He influences my fantasy and historical images that I use more in my gallery/ personal paintings. I’m a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in general because it’s idealistic and romanticized. Ding ding, and that’s what I take from him, beautiful costumed characters in interesting poses in historical settings, but totally the idealized version. If you knew me early in college my work was more obviously influenced by him, which, as I said above, happens to art students a lot (making work that is really close to your influence).
- Claude Monet
I know I’m an illustrator, but I love sneaking unexpected color in areas in using more choppy brush strokes, which is directly influenced by Monet’s water lily and hay stack series’.
- Piet Mondrian
Ever see those little squares randomly painted into large should-be-solidly-colored areas in my work. Ding, guess where that came from, Mondrian. Also a bold and simple shape loving artist, third one in that theme, I must love that.
- Margaret Keane
I paint in a pop surrealist style for my gallery work. She is basically the mother of that style. I have always, like since I was a child, naturally drawn people with larger eyes and smaller noses and mouths, because I sort of look like that in real life and loved dolls as a child. Then I saw Keane’s work, and was like OMG, I’m just going for it, I’m exaggerating my natural style because I really love eyeballs too. So there you go, how I draw eyes is thanks to Ms. Keane. Also how I draw adults female hands as long, thin and tiny is thanks to her too (my hands don’t actually look like that, mine are great references for child hands, I have ridiculously small non elegant hands for someone who is 5’9”)
- Mark Ryden
Again I paint in the pop surrealism style, he’s like the mega star of that style. I like his juxtaposition of elements, and I use that influence in lots of my work.
- Haddon Sunbloom
As a lover of Santa and Christmas, I have to thank Sunbloom for the modern interpretation of Santa that we are all so familiar with, which will influence every Santa I draw from now until infinity.
I said I would keep the list to 10, but quickly here are some others I won’t explain, but you tell me if you can see how I use the influence.
Maurice Sendak, Lane Smith, Chris Van Allensburg, Leonardo DaVinci, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Cicely Mary Barker, Gyo Fujikawa, Barbara Schwinn, Lucia Larner, Nell Reddy, Rose O’Neill, Bill Watterson, Charles Schultz, Chip Kidd, Paula Scher, Jacqueline Casey, Alvin Lustig, Saul Bass… plus many more.
Who are you influences and how do they affect your work?