The ‘influence’ issue

My Sketchbook
My current sketchbook

I used to write a lot. When the company Blurb was founded I got a valuable coupon to test it so I printed a huge full color, hardcover book of my previous blog. I didn’t edit it or proofread it. I just wanted it to be preserved. It’s hundreds of pages long.

As the years went by, the ratio content consumption vs. creation dwindled for me. As for many other people, the more apps, the more social networks, the more videos there are, the less focused we become. Writing requires focus. And so does visual art.

Every time I sit down to write, I get distracted. Every three lines or so, I have the impulse to check something else. Not new, nor unique to me. But as my head space fills up, I become extremely blocked. And this has happened with my artwork as well.

It seems that the more I try to pull in everything together, the more scattered everything feels.

I was listening to the Creative Pep talk episode with Sarah Walsh, it’s a fun casual episode where they discuss how they fit their personal work into their day. Sarah says she begins her day going through her social media to get pumped up and inspired. She can’t simply sit down and work out of the blue. I’m like that too. I need “inspiration¬®to get going. But sometimes, looking for inspiration or reference becomes a huge trap. I’m not talking just about the time that flies by, but how inspiration can become “influence”.

I’ve learned from Sabina to not allocate more than two¬†hours to research and to include a variety of sources including vintage, reference and things out of the beaten path so I can come up with new and better ideas. However, the difficulty of breaking free from influence and inspiration to original idea is too great. I’m not experienced enough.

At the end I prevail, I manage to create something completely new but not after a lot of struggle.

The problem of course is relying on Internet too much. Everything is similar. If you look for floral illustration, the similarities are too obvious. There’s Rifle Paper Co. and then there’s the rest.

I recently finished reading Felix Scheinberger’s book Urban Watercolor Sketching and this paragraph stood out:

“When you Google pictures, all you find is what already exists, what someone else saw before you and put online.”
“Essentially, the Internet is a library where the books borrowed most often are found right at the entrance. This causes us to borrow these books more and more”

So what do do?

Here are a few ideas and things I’m doing:

  1. Taking my own photos. If you say, I want to paint a daisy, I can just google a daisy and draw it and then sort of change it. Paraphrase it if you will. But by going out and taking the photos yourself, you are taking an additional editing step.

  2. Watch art documentaries. These are a wealth of information, usually historical, usually far removed from current pop and internet culture. Something will emerge. And watch them with your sketchbook in hand.

  3. Get beautiful books from the library. Coffee table books are expensive and sometimes we tend to gravitate to those books we are interested in, but in the library, you might find a book on a topic that you never considered and just by taking your mind off art making for a minute, you might be naturally inspired.

  4. Listen to music. If you want an interesting exercise, take Sabina’s color workshop on skillshare.

  5. Look through your old sketchbooks carefully and take notes. I did this recently and I noticed those details that repeat throughout, basically I did this to let go of the things I do not want to draw and feel I must because… that’s what everyone is doing.

  6. Take the Strathmore Artist Studio workshop with Graham Smith, if you have time and you need to loosen up. I loved his free-form style and I finally made up with the idea of a sketchbook as a lab for experimenting and letting ideas emerge. The workshop is free.

What do you do to focus and to safeguard your art from becoming too influenced by what you research?